Ibuchukwu Ezike is Executive Director and National Secretary at the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO). He says the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has not learnt any lessons from its years of organising elections in Nigeria and that the present INEC is the worst ever.
The 2019 elections have come and gone, but the exercise is still a topic of discussion in many quarters. How do you rate the process?
The 2019 elections were abysmally poor and did not reflect the desires and aspirations Nigerians. There were lots of fraud; the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not do good preparations for the elections. In fact one can say there were no lessons learnt from the past election which INEC corrected. Everything that happened in the past elections, especially in Osun and Ekiti states were repeated or were even worse. In the North we saw underage persons voting. We saw that the smart card readers were not working and in some places INEC used the manual method to conduct elections and in other places they used the smart card readers. The same electoral body in the same country, in the same election, why use different methods to conduct elections? The law is that you should use the electronic devices for accreditation so why must you use manual registers? For us, the INEC failed totally to conduct free fair and credible elections.
What was the nature of irregularities you observed?
We saw politicians openly buying votes in the full glare of security agencies. You collect money then you go and vote or in other cases, you vote come out and collect money. These things were done in front of INEC officials and security agencies and at the end of the day many elections were cancelled. This was an election in which there was lots of violence. Several people including security agents and INEC officials were killed in the conduct of elections. There were killings in at least 10 states including Rivers, Bayelsa, Kaduna, Kogi, Lagos and several other places. We saw thugs disrupting the election process, carrying ballot boxes or burning ballot papers and other election materials in front of INEC officials and security agents. Most of these people were not arrested and nobody is being prosecuted in the court of law. So where were the people who told us they were prepared for the elections? The state had money to organise and monitor election, to ensure that all the process is credible so that votes can count? At the end, the election in several states was declared inconclusive. If election in some states were inconclusive, it means that things were not done properly. So looking at all these killings, snatching of ballot boxes, torching of ballot papers and the massive rigging of elections, we cannot accept such figures that came from war-torn places as credible voters that participated in the electoral process. We saw situations where armed soldiers were sent out to intimidate people who have come out to exercise their franchise. It is unacceptable and this election is one of the worst practices in the history of elections in Nigeria. We can’t say that we conducted an election that was free and fair or that met the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians.
Comparatively, how would you rate the evolvement of the electoral commission in the 20 years of organising elections in Nigeria?
Judging from the level of violence and inconclusive elections, like I said earlier, INC has not learnt any lessons from the past and you can’t say the present commission is better than those we had in the past. We saw the buses load of thugs arrested in Akwa Ibom, and the information we are getting is that those persons have been released. These are thugs who came from other parts of the state to unleash violence and rig elections. They were arrested and then released by security agents. We have never had this kind of inconclusive elections in the history of electioneering in Nigeria. In the current INEC we have situations where those contesting election will force INEC officials to announce them as winner of the election like the case in Imo State. INEC and the security agencies did not manage the election well judging from the huge amount of money voted for this purpose. The present INEC did not manage the election well and there was no free and fair election.
In Imo State, about 41 political parties are challenging the decision of INEC to declare the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Emeka Ihedioha winner on the grounds that he did not meet the constitutional requirement of winning 25 per cent votes in two-thirds of the local government areas in the state. What is your position?
I didn’t write the constitution. If the constitution says that a candidate must win 25 per cent votes in two-thirds of the local government areas of the state to be declared winner of the election, then that is the law. The political parties have gone to court to challenge the decision, it is for the law court to decide, I am not the law court.
Do you think the fact that the sitting president appointed the INEC chairman and its commissioners affected the neutrality of the electoral commission?
INEC is a public institution created by law to register voters and conduct elections in Nigeria and they should be responsible for that. The commission should not wait four years to start preparations. They should start their preparation ahead of time, know how many voters are expected to participate in the election and also train the ad hoc staff months ahead of the election.
How can the electoral commission be made more responsive to its duty?
I will suggest that INEC should be unbundled. The present responsibility is too much task that it makes it almost impossible to conduct free, fair and credible election. There should be a commission to monitor electoral malpractices, including those committing acts of violence, whether they are thugs or security personnel. So many acts of violence were committed during the election. A policeman accompanying election results was killed in Ogun State and the list is endless.