As Nigerians prepare for national elections next year, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is still grappling with a deluge of problems threatening to disrupt the elections. The challenges must be resolved, one way or the other, in the next two months, before the elections start in February. INEC is properly funded by the Federal Government to conduct free, fair, credible and transparent elections. It is, therefore, not a good idea for INEC chairperson Mahmood Yakubu and his senior officials to continue to furnish the nation with daily accounts of real and potential problems that threaten smooth conduct of the elections. Yakubu and his team must get on with the job for which they are paid.
INEC was set up by the 1999 Constitution to oversee national elections in Nigeria. It was also mandated to undertake key tasks, some of which are to:
“Organise, undertake and supervise all elections to the offices of the President and Vice-President, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a state, and to the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each state of the federation;
“Register political parties in accordance with the provisions of the constitution and Act of the National Assembly;
“Monitor the organization and operation of the political parties, including their finances, conventions, congresses and party primaries.
“Arrange and conduct the registration of persons qualified to vote and prepare, maintain and revise the register of voters for the purpose of any election under this constitution;
“Monitor political campaigns and provide rules and regulations which shall govern the political parties” (https://www.inecnigeria.org/home/about-inec/).
Despite these directives, many people still see INEC as an umpire that should be honest, lawful, genuine, and transparent in the way it operates across the country. Unfortunately, INEC’s performance and track record of conducting national elections have fallen way below public expectations. INEC has proved to be duplicitous sometimes, prejudiced at other times, and outright unethical and biased in the way it conducts elections in Nigeria.
For elections in Nigeria to be free, fair, trustworthy, meaningful, and acceptable to citizens, INEC officials hold the key to success or failure. They would demonstrate a high degree of professionalism, commitment to ethical principles, and uncompromising adherence to the rule of law. Unfortunately, ever since INEC was created a little over two decades ago, the integrity of elections conducted in Nigeria has been vigorously challenged in the law courts and in the court of public opinion. This suggests the public has no confidence in INEC.
Political parties and their agents are able to rig elections in Nigeria only to the extent that they can find corrupt and demonic INEC officials who are willing and able to bend the rules, twist or inflate election results and engage in criminal activities with people of dubious character. This means that, within INEC, there are men and women of questionable reputation.
When people describe Nigeria’s election process as a work-in-progress, they point to all the illegalities, chicanery, manoeuvres, the treachery, and the audacious attempts to disrupt the smooth conduct of elections in the country. These violations of election rules couldn’t happen without the active support of duplicitous INEC officials.
It is only in Nigeria that staff of an organisation that was set up to oversee the free and fair conduct of elections undermine the same organisation in which they work.
Over the past 23 years since the return to democracy in 1999, INEC officials have consistently found reasons to explain why previous elections were flawed. In keeping with that tradition, INEC chairperson Yakubu most recently spoke endlessly about widespread violence and thrashing of the organisation’s property in certain parts of the country, all of which posed serious challenges to INEC’s ability to manage the elections in 2023. It is either that Yakubu was blustering or that he was seeking federal attention and more funds for INEC.
Speaking when he appeared last Friday before the House of Representatives’ ad hoc committee examining the damage to INEC’s offices and facilities, Yakubu said: “The attacks have far-reaching implications on preparation for the general election. First, the facilities that are destroyed, especially offices, would take time to rebuild. They are not like items of procurement that you can procure off the shelf. So, an alternative arrangement has to be made.” “Secondly,” he continued, “several materials lost would have to be replaced. In the recent attacks, some of the PVCs, for instance, were lost. But for the PVCs, we have instructed our state offices to send the Voter Identification Numbers of the PVCs lost so we can reprint them.”
While we must express genuine concerns about the attacks on INEC’s offices and facilities, it is important to remind the organisation that it has a duty to secure, protect, and maintain its property anywhere in the country.
INEC must prepare to prevent or overcome violence to its property. Pre-election violence is not new. The organisation must draw on its previous experiences to prepare its own action plan. This is what Nigerian voters experience every four years. Politicians like to win elections at all costs. The general perception of elections as a do-or-die contest has not helped Nigeria to achieve free, fair, credible, open and violence-free elections.
This is not the first time that Yakubu would cry foul over elections mismanaged by INEC. In July 2019, following public anger over the misdemeanours that occurred during that year’s elections, Yakubu claimed bizarrely that fake news on social media endangered the outcomes of the elections. The allegation was unwarranted, unfounded, and unsupported.
It is unimaginable that the chairperson of INEC could attribute the poor conduct of the elections to the impact of fake news and social media. How unconscionable. How illogical. How ridiculous. How inconceivable. The malpractices that occurred during the 2019 elections were perpetrated by human beings. They were not engendered by social media and fake news. They were not caused by technology, as INEC alleged. The transgressions were aided by INEC officials.
INEC must be bold enough to take responsibility for the failure of the elections. That is one way to show leadership, responsibility and to seek solutions for persisting problems that continue to stun the nation.
Let’s be clear here. The 2019 elections were flawed because INEC officials compromised their positions, their integrity, their oath of office and their commitment to serve their motherland. As the saying goes, those to whom much is given, much is equally expected.
Perhaps it is to avoid public condemnation of the infractions that are likely to damage the 2023 elections that senior INEC officials have started to talk about other difficulties that might mar the elections.
Last Wednesday, December 14, 2022, Achumie Rex, INEC’s Head of Voter Education and Publicity Department, alleged that politicians were attempting to construct the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) that would enable them to gain access to INEC’s server during the 2023 elections. The allegation was made at a two-day seminar on voter education for civil society organisations. A grave allegation such as this would require substantial evidence to be sustained.
The senior official said INEC was determined to protect the integrity of its servers during and after the elections. He said: “There is no room to hack into INEC server…politicians are doing everything possible to get into the INEC server or even to manufacture BVAS, but, unfortunately for them, INEC is three steps ahead of their plots.”
Next year’s elections would truly test INEC’s public profile as an upright, dependable, and independent election umpire.