INEC’s leadership, over a period of time has been worrisome. In like manner, the outcome of elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, under Professor Mahmood Yakubu, have been source of worries to Nigerians. In most cases, elections are either inconclusive or end up in Supreme Court. This worries formed the kernel of Emeka Omeihe’s piece titled ‘Yakubu’s INEC: Matters Arising,’ earlier published in The Nation newspaper
Why did the recent governorship election in Edo State turn out a success in reflecting the collective will of the electorate as expressed at the ballot box? Was there anything novel in the organization and conduct that had been lacking in previous ones, especially since the tenure of the current leadership of that electoral umpire?
Or, do we attribute the outcome to a combination of the huge deployment of security agencies, the determination of voters to take their destiny in their hands and a possible resolve by politicians to play by the rules of democratic engagement? The impact of these intervening variables requires serious interrogation for us to get a clearer picture of all that shaped the outcome of that election.
This inquisition is further dictated by the unenviable record of the Mahmoud Yakubu-led INEC’s leadership in organizing what has come to be generally known as inconclusive elections. So, beyond the euphoria of the success of the election which the government, INEC, the winner and the general public are celebrating, what strategy did the magic?
It is vital to unravel what factors saw to the success of that poll because in them, we may find a clue to the constraints that had overtime stood on the way to free, fair and credible elections especially since after the 2015 outing. It would however, seem a remote possibility that indication can either be found in the huge deployment of security agencies, the determination of the electorate to have their votes count or a change of orientation by the political class to play by the rules.
In the first set of off-season polls conducted by the present INEC’s leadership in Bayelsa and Kogi states, heavy security presence was in place, the voters were also poised to have their will prevail but its outcome was compromised by the process as some of the technological innovations that were introduced in the 2015 election which gave it a large measure of success were criminally discarded by the INEC.
In those two elections, card readers were not used for finger authentication, thus depriving them of the concomitant technological innovations that would have guaranteed the sanctity of votes cast. That paved the way for rogue politicians to embark on all forms of electoral infractions including the alteration and falsification of results before they get to the collation centres. The use of card readers provided for the snapping of result sheets and direct transmission of same to the collation centres to stave off alterations. This did not happen in those two elections. The inability of INEC to effectively deploy that technology in those two elections is evident from the rancour that trailed them resulting in their inconclusiveness.
It was not surprising that the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Bayelsa State, Baritor Kpagih had to declare that the “election was substantially marred by violence, ballot snatching, hostage taking of election officials” and therefore had it cancelled. The last governorship election in Osun State also suffered the same predictable inconclusiveness. These outcomes took serious toll not only on voters’ confidence in the electoral process but the capacity of INEC’s leadership under Yakubu to organize free, fair, credible and conclusive elections
So what made the difference in the Edo election that it became a substantial departure from the fumbling and wobbling of the past?
Though mono-causal explanations may be of limited value in accounting for all that shaped the outcome of the Edo election, experts attribute the success to the efforts made to deploy some form of technology to the exercise. They cited the introduction of the Z-pad to complement card readers and fast-track transmission of results directly from the polling units to a central server where they are readily available for public view. Yakubu also corroborated this view. That left unscrupulous politicians, thugs and sundry characters with devious skills in ambushing and doctoring the results before they get to collation centres helpless.
This reality throws up questions as to the sudden realization that available technology could make the difference many years after the permanent voters’ cards and card readers were deployed to enhance the credibility of the 2015 elections? Why INEC’s leadership under Yakubu allowed the technological gains recorded when Jega superintended over the 2015 elections to regress to the point of foisting a discredited and embarrassing culture of inconclusive elections on the polity remains a moot issue?
Whatever the case, it is a big statement on the performance and credibility of that electoral body that over the past four years, it failed to improve on the technological gains of the past to the point that confidence in the electoral process took a serious nosedive. Yet, free, fair and credible elections constitute the lynchpin on which the wheels of the democratic order revolve.
Curiously also, just last week, Yakubu sought to impress the country by flaunting what he called virtual demonstration and screening for the use of electronic voting and collation of results with over 40 ICT firms. Ordinarily, that should have been the proper path to tread. But it strikes as a puzzle why INEC suddenly woke up from slumber to the realization that technology is the way to go barely a month to the expiration of the tenure of its current leadership.
Matters are not made any easier by available figures from election observers which indicate that the success rate of the card readers in the 2015 election was above 54 per cent. But, in 2019 it dipped to 19 per cent and 16 per cent in the Nassarawa election. This has left us with the embarrassing contradiction of the technology deployed to shore up the reliability of previous elections regressing instead of improving. What this meant in essence, is that under Yakubu, the nation lost serious grounds in some of the technological advancements recorded in the conduct of the 2015 general elections.
The controversy that surrounded the pulling down of the central server in the 2019 elections did not speak of an umpire with sufficient courage and commitment to call into decisive action the powers conferred on it by section 160 of the 1999 constitution as amended. That section stated inter alia, “in the case of the Independent National Electoral Commission, its powers to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure, shall not be subject to the approval or control of the president”.
Another indication of the loss of confidence in the process can be gleaned from the rise in election litigations. This is a measure of public dissatisfaction with the election process and conduct. And since free, fair and credible elections constitute the salt through which the taste of representative democracy is gauged, the inability of the electoral umpire to satisfy these basic conditions casts serious legitimacy slur on our democratic engagement.
We are at the crossroads with our democracy standing the risk of being imperilled if something urgent and far-reaching is not done to shore up public confidence in the electorate process. Already, it is seriously assailed by a crisis of relevance on account of its serial failure to properly reflect the collective will of the electorate. It is vital to re-build the confidence of the general public on the sanctity of their powers as the ultimate sovereign. This can only happen if their inalienable rights to choose their leaders are neither abridged nor circumscribed by acts of omission or commission by desperate politicians or the electoral umpire to satisfy predilections of questionable hue.
No doubt, the role of INEC is pivotal to the nurturing and survival of democracy in this country. With the tenure of the current leadership of INEC coming to an end, the question that should worry us, is the kind of individuals that should head that agency to restore public confidence in its capacity to live up to its statutory mandate.
The time to re-jig the commission ensuring that competent, neutral and non-politically exposed individuals are appointed to manage its affairs is now. We are cruising on borrowed time with little room for experimentation and rhetoric given the crisis of relevance assailing democracy on account of compromised elections.