By Osaro Franks
THE Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] is, for obvious reasons, an institution of great interest to politicians, governments and different individuals and even the international community. By its primary function as the agency that oversees the choice of who becomes what in Nigeria’s democracy, it is very understandable why what happens inside INEC and what happens outside it should be of great interest to many.
While there is nothing wrong in anyone paying special attention to INEC, a deep analysis shows that this interest in the affairs of the election management body does constitute a major operational distraction and can indeed, be identified as the root of many problems for the agency and Nigeria’s electoral system.
The belief in many quarters, from government and political parties to individuals with political ambition, is that to make progress in the electoral system, you must either court the INEC leadership or overwhelm it. This accounts for some of the present distractions and problems INEC has faced. Analysis of the Commission in the past years, indeed since it came into existence in the late 1990s, shows clearly that governments and politicians have always resorted to all manner of strategies to drag INEC leadership to paths it ordinarily will not want to tread.
One debilitating approach by some politicians and powerful elements in government in trying to influence INEC involves alleged use of personnel of the agency to undermine its leadership. Often, the aim is to force any independent-minded INEC leadership to either cave in to demands made of him, or be made to look bad before the public.
The moles living up to their assignment are often paid heavily and promised protection in case anyone moves against them. They have been reported to do all sorts of damage in the agency, from leaking sensitive information and documents to those who hired them, to derailing policies and programmes of the agency. These insiders resort to all sorts of tactics to ensure that concerted efforts made to elevate the quality of elections in Nigeria do not yield the desired results. Of course, the leadership of the Commission carries the can. While INEC leadership battles these distractions, the ultimate losers are the Nigerian political system and Nigerians. But those who sponsor such subterranean assault on the system do not care. If they cannot succeed in influencing the leadership and policies at INEC, everything can as well collapse.
When the interest of some manipulating parties outside seeking to influence things at INEC combines with the interest or ambition of some INEC officials inside, who are motivated by the quest for power, wealth or some other reasons, the challenge before an INEC leadership can be enormous. The new leadership of INEC under Professor Mahmood Yakubu seems to be going through a rough patch in the conduct of elections. This much is obvious. What is not clear at the moment is what is going on. As things stand, there seems to be an increasing need to look closely at the conduct of elections by INEC in recent times with a view to understanding what is going on.
To the best of the knowledge of Nigerians, Prof.Yakubu came to office with no political baggage, with a clean record. Nothing has been said to tie him to any political interest group. This record is currently facing the challenge of a clash of interests. Many of these, the chairman may not even comprehend yet. As should be expected, the INEC chairman and his team are still in the learning curve of their five year assignment. It is also true that some of the elections that have held since the appointment of Yakubu occurred in environments that were not peaceful at all, and could therefore not have had peaceful ends, no matter who conducted them. The still hanging case in Rivers State is only one of them.
Without doubt, the fact that Prof.Yakubu has the fortune or misfortune of coming to INEC at the point when for the first time there are two strong and keenly matched political parties contesting for power, makes his assignment somewhat more challenging than was the case for his predecessors.
However, in spite of all these factors, there is an increasing suspicion that the INEC chairman may be dealing with forces within his fold that are pursuing an agenda that he may yet not understand. A national newspaper recently published a report in which it asked when the Yakubu-led INEC will get it right in the conduct of elections, considering the inconclusiveness of virtually all the elections that have been conducted under his leadership. That is an important question.
The other critical question being asked in some quarters is: are there forces that are working equally hard within INEC to avoid system hitches in recent elections? Is there an attempt to make the new INEC leadership appear as if it is taking it a long time to have a full grasp of the nuances in the conduct of elections? Are all the relevant departmental heads in the administration of elections at INEC on the same page with the leadership, or do they have multiple allegiance? What happened in recent elections conducted by INEC appears strange and suspicious.
.Franks writes from Lagos.