It took Attahiru Jega, Professor of Political Science, guts and determination to move elections in Nigeria beyond the fictitious numbers politicians allocate to themselves. In those days, politicians determine their own scores at elections, hence the ‘landslide’ victories of yore.
But when Jega came, between 2010 and 2015, the activist Professor found one effective way around the antics of election riggers when he introduced the Smart Card Reader (SCR) just before the 2015 General Election. One of the reasons for introducing the SCR was to stop multiple voting on election day and it took some time for the import of this strange, handy device to sink in. By the time the riggers realized what had befallen them, the 2015 Presidential election had recorded significant improvement. Indeed, political analysts have said time and again that the Muhammadu Buhari victory was brought about largely due to the SCR. But while the 2015 Presidential election went relatively well, some of the governorship and national assembly elections were nullified by the Tribunals, resulting in many court-ordered off-season elections that Jega’s successor had to grapple with.
But trust the election riggers. They promptly returned to the trenches to fashion out the most effective way of dealing with the new INEC threat. In the interim, Mrs. Amina Zakari was asked to take charge at the Commission after Jega’s departure. Six months later, precisely on 9th November, Mahmood Yakubu, Professor of Political History and International Studies, was sworn in.
Many thought Buhari ought to have appointed a Southerner into that office for sake of ethnic balancing. Since the advent of this political dispensation, chairmen of the election management do not come from the same axis as the President. Many did not also think Yakubu had enough political experience to manage INEC. However, those who knew him associated Yakubu with three uncommon advantages. Firstly, he is a guerilla warfare expert, which metaphorically puts him in a good defensive position against the powers and principalities in the electoral system. Secondly, he had been Executive Secretary of the Education Trust Fund, (ETF), later renamed Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) and was thus well grounded in civil service administrative manners and government business. Then, thirdly and best of all, he is reputed as a calm, discerning individual with a rare ability, according to sources, to read minds correctly from a distance.
Within the first four weeks of his appointment, Yakubu had to conduct two end-of-tenure off-season elections – the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections – on 21st November and 5th December 2015 respectively. But Kogi presented two unique problems, one of which had never occurred in the history of electoral contest in Nigeria. One of the candidates in the election died suddenly before the declaration of results, a situation not envisaged in the existing legal framework. Then, the number of votes cancelled in 91 Polling Units as a result of various electoral malpractices exceeded the margin of lead between the two leading parties and this could affect the final outcome of the election.
To resolve the problem, the Commission applied the most proximate section of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) by requesting the party of the deceased candidate to replace him for the supplementary election held in 91 polling units on 5th December 2015.
Deluge of Elections, human losses
Since then, it’s been a roller coaster of some sort for INEC. Between November 2015 and October 2020, the Yakubu-led Commission conducted over 200 off-season, court-ordered, re-run and bye-elections. They include 11 governorship elections in Kogi (November 2015), Bayelsa (December 2015), Edo (September 2016), Ondo (October 2016), Anambra (November 2017), Ekiti (July 2018), Osun (September 2018), Kogi (December 2019), Bayelsa (December 2019, Edo (September 2020) and Ondo (October 2020).
Bye-elections have also been conducted into 163 electoral constituencies, comprising 15 Senatorial Districts, 47 Federal Constituencies and 101 State House of Assembly Constituencies, occasioned by death of the incumbent and nullification of the original election by the Election Petition and Appeal Tribunals. Besides, the Commission conducted the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Council election in April 2016. Of course, the 2019 General Election was the largest electoral undertaking in the country’s electoral history in which 24,353 candidates nominated by 91 political parties contested for 1,558 Constituencies, spread across 119, 973 polling units. Again, the voter population in the country, as at August 2018 was 84,004,084.
It was no doubt a challenging start for Yakubu at INEC, for no other Commission had conducted this number of elections since 1998. The costs, especially in terms of human lives and fatalities have been enormous, yet not often talked about. Figures obtained from the Commission revealed that during the 2019 General Elections alone, a total of 12 ad-hoc staff lost their lives in the course of duty. Three out of the 12 were killed as a result of electoral violence. They include Idoko Sunday, who was shot by hoodlums in Ogun State; Emmanuel Alison and Ibisaki Amachree who were both victims of gunshot in Rivers State. The other nine ad-hoc staff died in various accidents. Besides, 11 others sustained varying injuries from gunshots fired by hoodlums.
Between Riggers and Inconclusive elections
The Commission was compelled to hold a number of inconclusive elections, between 2015 and 2016, which were largely not the fault of the Commission. Yakubu had, in separate interviews revealed that when some desperate politicians or their agents unleash violence on INEC officials at polling units on election day or disrupt the process in certain areas with the hope of gaining advantage, and if the total number of registered voters in such places was more than the margin of lead between the front-runner and the runner-up in the election, the law forbids the Commission from declaring a winner until another election is conducted in the place where the disruption or violence took place.
Dealing with Vote buying
Ekiti governorship election of 2018 elevated the phenomenon of vote buying. According to the Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, “vote buying reared its ugly head in the Ekiti Governorship election as a result of the frustration that some politicians faced when they could not penetrate our processes and procedures. With no other way open for them within INEC, they opted to go after the voters on election day by offering cash and other gifts to sway voters.”
On what the Commission did to counter the menace, Oyekanmi said: “Remember that we conducted the Osun governorship election two months after Ekiti governorship election. That was why we banned the use of cell phones or any other photographic device in the polling booth on election day. We discovered that those willing to sell their votes would snap the ballot paper on which they had thumb-printed and then show vote buyers in exchange for cash.”
Changing the tide
However, the last three elections – the Nasarawa Central State Constituency bye-election held on 8th August, the Edo Governorship election conducted on 9th September and the Ondo State Governorship election held on 10th October featured the Commission’s latest innovation – the Result Viewing Portal (IReV Portal).
It all started with a statement issued on 6th August 2020 and signed by National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee (IVEC) Barrister Festus Okoye, in which the Commission announced its decision to introduce the IReV portal. Okoye said the Commission was aware that election result management had remained a major source of mistrust in the country’s electoral system and that “citizens were often concerned and sometimes rightly so, that results may not always be consistent with votes cast.”
He added: “It is a fundamental principle of democracy that in elections, votes are not only correctly counted, they also count. Consistent with its commitment to transparency in election management, the Commission introduced the Form EC60E, which is a poster version of the primary result sheet, the Form EC8A. This replica of the polling unit result is pasted at the polling unit after votes are counted, recorded and announced. This poster, now widely known as the ‘People’s Form EC8A’ has incresed transparency in result. To further strengthen the transparency in election management system, the Commission has decided to introduce a dedicated public portal that will enable Nigerians to view the polling unit results real time as voting ends on election day.”
Nigerians were pleased with the innovation and began to pour accolades on the Commission. However, Oyekanmi noted that INEC had introduced the People’s Result Sheet (Form EC60E) at the polling unit level from November 2017 when the Anambra Governorship election was conducted.
Apart from the IReV, the Commission has also put in place the Direct Data Capture Machines and portals for the recruitment of ad-hoc staff, candidate nomination, media accreditation, E-Learning, INEC Observer Group and INEC political party management system. There is also the online newspaper, inecnews.com
The Commission has provided a number of incentives for Persons Living With Disabilities (PWDs) to take active part in the electoral system. For the visually challenged voters, INEC deployed Assistive Tactile Guide (ATVG) on election days to aid them vote without pressure from any quarter. Magnifying glasses were also provided, especially for persons living with albinism who are susceptible to sun rays during the day. This is in addition to Special Voting Support Systems for vulnerable groups and the development and implementation of the Framework for Voting by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) nationwide.
In collaboration with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), INEC conducted a baseline survey of Persons Living with Disabilities and subsequently developed a Framework on Access and Participation of PWDs in all aspects of the electoral process. This was intended to reduce the barriers facing them as voters, aspirants, candidates, party officials and election officials.
Perhaps, one of things that worked in favour of the Yakubu-led Commission is its constant consultation with stakeholders. From 2015 to date, the Commission held regular consultations with political parties, CSOs, Media, Security Agencies, Religious and Traditions Rulers. Before the 2019 General elections, Yakubu met with Northern Traditional Rulers, Catholic Bishops of Nigeria and Southern Traditional Rulers. The electoral umpire reaped bountifully from this habit in both Edo and Ondo governorship elections. In Edo, the intervention of the Oba of Benin is believed to have had tremendous influence on the political actors which resulted in peaceful governorship election. The same thing happened in Ondo when Yakubu met with the Traditional Rulers Council and appealed for its intervention in calming nerves. The Council responded and peace reigned during the election.
Yakubu’s nomination for a second term by President Muhammadu Buhari, which is awaiting confirmation of the Senate, has attracted commendations from many stakeholders, some political parties and even critics. But stakeholders have also been listing the actions that they expect him to undertake over the next five years in order to strengthen the electoral system.
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They have urged him to quickly work with the National Assembly for a timely amendment of the relevant sections of the extant laws to remove the current problems inherent in the electoral system and pave the way for electronic voting and transmission of results. They also want INEC to initiate the process that would enable Nigerians to register online for the Permanent Voters’ Card or in the alternative, enable eligible voters to walk into any INEC office in any local government in any state to register and obtain a PVC instantly. Besides, they want the establishment of the Electoral Offences Tribunal, specifically to try suspects arrested for electoral offences with dispatch. The stakeholders also want Yakubu to immediately commence the process of establishing new polling units in an even manner across the country, especially in areas where the population had increased substantially over the years.