THE Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently identified litigation as a major challenge to general elections in the country. The chairman of the electoral agency, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, disclosed that the commission has been taken to court 680 times by litigants over the 2015 elections. He, however, explained that of the 680 court cases, 600 were dismissed while 80 were upheld. The commission, he said, has since commenced rerun elections in the 80 affected constituencies.
Yakubu also disclosed that INEC has conducted 11 out of the 14 by-elections, while the leadership crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has remained a challenge to the electoral agency. He lamented that within a period of three months, INEC was served with 11 judgements and orders from coordinate courts, with most of them contradictory. He argued that it would be wrong for Nigerians to condemn the commission, but promised that INEC would consolidate on the gains of the 2015 polls.
The high number of litigations on the 2015 polls is, indeed, a reflection of the highly contentious nature of the 2015 polls. It suggests that something may be fundamentally wrong with our politics and electoral system. Like previous elections in the country, that of 2015 witnessed observable lapses and inadequacies. Unfortunately, some of these lapses recurred in the rerun polls conducted by INEC under Yakubu’s watch.
The electoral agency, however, needs to see the criticisms trailing its elections as a stimulus to improve its performance in subsequent polls. We do not see anything wrong with litigations over election matters. Aggrieved parties in any electoral contest are free to contest its outcome at the tribunals. That is the major reason the electoral tribunals were established. It is better than resorting to self-help or violence to settle electoral disputes. Litigations are permissible under our laws to seek redress for injustice. They are part of the electoral process.
Beyond that, INEC should strive to improve its conduct of elections in the country. Although the litigations arising from the last general elections are many, they should spur the agency to perform better.
It must also be said that our politicians are mostly litigious because of the desperation with which electoral office is sought in the country. Considering the fact that there must be winners and losers in every election, we enjoin our politicians to eschew undue litigation and accept defeat when it is clear that they lost. They should not try to obtain in the courts what they lost at the ballot.
But, whenever the conduct of a poll is seen to be unfair, aggrieved parties have the right to seek for redress in the electoral tribunals.
When the conduct of an election is free, fair and transparent, there will be fewer litigations. Therefore, let our future elections be free, fair and transparent in order to minimize the number of electoral disputes in the country.
While INEC may be partly responsible for the high number of inconclusive polls in the country, some of our politicians should share in the blame. Many of them are involved in acts that are capable of derailing the electoral process or lead to inclusive polls.
To avoid these pitfalls, INEC should consider the adoption of the electronic voting system to reduce some of the problems that lead to litigations and inconclusive elections in the country.