Over the years the electoral umpire in Nigeria, Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC], has gone through series of reforms. Even its name has changed from what is was in the days of Professor Humphrey Nwosu, National Electoral Commission [NEC]. Perhaps the addition of the word ‘Independent’ would wrest it from the apparent clutch of the executive. The result of the reforms has shown in the marked improvement over the years. From the time of Nwosu, whose election of June 12, 1993, was adjudged free and fair, the commission seems to have made steady progress, in spite of the charade that was the election of 2003. Amendments in the Electoral Act and subsequent reforms, exemplified in the use of card readers, have moved the process light years away from the path of retrogression. Now we see those states where votes were counted in millions in the past merely accounting for hundreds of thousands. If the past figures were not doctored, new figures from those places ought to have made quantum leaps, given that more people would have reached voting age. The card reader has, indeed, demystified most of the figures bandied about in the past. In place of vote-padding, something akin to budget padding, the card reader has exposed hitherto hidden malpractice in the system. Now, desperate politicians have resorted to physical harassment of voters that may not thumb-print in their favour. They devise means of ensuring that such people do not vote, given that they can no longer manipulate the system.
The foregoing led to massive voter apathy in the just concluded gubernatorial election. The turnout was less that 20 per cent in some places, even lower in others. Candidates do not beat their opponents with wide margins except in some places where the people seem to have decided to cast block votes for certain candidates. The elections, in my view, are becoming increasingly credible, which is why I am worried about that pressure said to be mounted on the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, to jettison his resolve to contest that election result in court. Such contests help to deepen democracy and the process. President Muhammadu Buhari helped to deepen the process in his previous failed attempts at becoming president and his subsequent moves to the court to challenge the process. Those telling Atiku not to follow this matter through in the court have not reckoned with the effects of such moves in helping the process, except, as they say, the guilty are caught in the vortex of possible exposure of their electoral misdemeanor. That ought to be left for the courts to decide, not underhand moves to stop a process that would help the system.
Away from the court, as it were, to the matter of the moment. INEC has declared the gubernatorial elections in Bauchi, Kano, Benue, Plateau, Adamawa and Sokoto inconclusive. Another election has been fixed for Saturday, March 25, 2019. They have advanced various reasons for making the declaration. The last gubernatorial election in Osun became the first recent taste of the pudding of inconclusiveness in elections. The opposition party claimed to have won but the umpire averred that the winning votes were less than the number of expected votes in areas where elections were cancelled, implying that elections must hold in those places for a winner to emerge. When the elections held, the hitherto winner held the short end of the stick. How did the fortunes change? That is the question the courts are seeking to answer in Osun. But the umpire has a duty to ensure a reduction in this seeming aberration. The Electoral Act has guidelines for cancelling elections. It would not augur well for the body’s credibility if it applies selective application of the law in making decisions on this matter. The opposition party is already crying foul, and has made the illegal demand on its supporters to go on protests. However, it is instructive that virtually all the states affected by this inconclusiveness are controlled by the ruling party. Initial exit polls showed that the opposition party was in clear lead to the point that some of its supporters had already rolled out the drums of celebration before the umpire turned the impending victory to ashes in their mounts. The electoral body is at a crossroads to make or mar its credibility, and that of the process. The opposition would shoot itself in the foot if it fails to redouble efforts to reenact the winning strategy that gave it the lead in the previous election. The implication is that the polls were probably too close to call, such that no clear winner emerged. If the opposition were in the lead, it would do well to ensure that the rerun vindicates it. It comes at great expense of human and material resources, but it would prove to the umpire and the ruling party that the people have made their choice. Those at the losing end would seek to also turn their fortunes. The deciding factor would then be left with the electorate. The only snag is that the people have become election-weary, and may not show up in their numbers. That fatigue is the reason INEC must avoid inconclusive elections, which seem to have become the hallmark of the body in recent times. The opposition is bound to cry foul but the electoral body will do well not to justify its cry. There is resurging electoral apathy in the land. Although this is the last lap, if the system continues in this trajectory, the apathy would worsen in coming years. President Buhari has promised to bequeath the nation credible elections, he must stand up and be counted on his word, else his much-avowed integrity would be in jeopardy. It would be a great personal loss for a man whose profile has stood like a rock on that singular quality.