There is something hilarious but hideous in the manner in which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been jumping from one excuse to another to explain why the 2019 general election was beset with so many flaws. Rather than admit blunders committed by his officials, Mahmood Yakubu, the chairperson of INEC, has continued to shop for any reason that could overturn criticisms of the organisation’s dreadful performance.
In July last year, following from the nationwide outrage over the transgressions that marred the elections, Yakubu made the ludicrous claim that fake news on social media jeopardized the elections. Everyone was startled by that groundless, wild, and fictitious allegation that was intended to divert public attention from the dishonorable way INEC conducted the elections. It was decidedly a shoddy performance. If the claim was designed to entertain, it failed outright.
Amazingly, INEC has found fake news and social media to blame for the misconduct that undermined the integrity of the 2019 elections. It was most disappointing to see Yakubu, as the chair of INEC, deny that his officials contributed in any way to the production of election results that lacked credibility and international standards.
How could fake news and social media be responsible for the deplorable activities that took place during and after the 2019 elections? How could fake news and social media account for the criminal behaviour that occurred at various polling booths and collation centres? How could social media and fake news be blameworthy for the behaviour of election officials who collaborated with delinquent and dishonest political party officials, security agents, and election candidates to undermine election laws?
How could INEC boss Yakubu blame social media and fake news for the dreadful performance of officials of his agency who were hired to oversee the conduct of free, fair, transparent, peaceful, and credible elections?
More than one year on, INEC has shifted from its previous position that social media and fake news were responsible for the imperfections that occurred during the elections. Early this month, INEC announced that technology played a major role in creating the problems that destroyed the integrity of the elections.
Following a review of its performances during the 2019 elections, INEC claimed that the use or operation of technology was a key factor that undermined the elections. How outrageous!
Looking back into the history of the use of modern technology, INEC said: “The growing use of technology in the planning of elections became a feature in our elections with the introduction of MRI in the voter registration process in 2006… Since then, INEC has increasingly deployed technology to address some of the key challenges in the management of electoral processes. However, the deployment of technology in electoral process is not without its challenges.”
This sounds like a valid point. It is not. INEC’s latest reference to technology as a half-baked excuse to avoid responsibility for electoral flaws must be scrutinised carefully. INEC receives massive funds to enable it to plan, test, re-test, and refine scenarios that might play up during national elections. Part of that funding is meant to acquire modern technology and to ensure the technology is used productively in a hitch-free manner to ensure that electoral malpractices are reduced significantly or, in some cases, possibly eliminated.
INEC also found reason to blame the legal process for its inability to prosecute those who disregard election laws. I do not believe this is a good excuse or the right way to go. Prevention of election misconduct should be the priority, not prosecution of miscreants who violate the laws. INEC’s overriding aim should be to put in place mechanisms that would prevent abuses of the election process.
INEC’s claim that police are frustrating the prosecution of election offenders is nonsensical. It just does not jell or sell. Prosecution happens after an offence has been committed. Election-related offences that deprive contestants a fair and equitable opportunity to win an election constitute grave injustice. They should not be tolerated. They should not happen. Those kinds of criminal activities are antithetical to democracy.
Aiming to prosecute election law offenders after an election is much like looking for a domestic animal after it had left your premises. While it would be good to apprehend and successfully prosecute election officials who commit crimes, the focus should not be on prosecuting offenders but on preventing the hoodlums from criminal interference in every election.
This point must be advanced whenever INEC argues unconvincingly that: “The power to arrest and investigate electoral offenders is vested in the Nigeria Police while the commission is empowered to prosecute electoral offenders using legal officers or any legal practitioner engaged by it.”
As argued elsewhere here, emphasis should be on prevention rather than on prosecution. This is particularly important in every election in which the aim is to ensure that every vote counts. Crooked INEC officials and their partners in crime must not be given any space to tamper with legal votes. They should not have any opportunity to manipulate election results after voters had left the polling booths. Similarly, political party officials and unauthorized security agents should not have access to ballot papers long before an election in order to prevent illegal practice by some officials who organise pre-poll thumb-printing of ballot papers that are used to replace valid votes cast on election day.
These are the kinds of loopholes that INEC must aim to plug. INEC must be proactive and pragmatic. It must aim to be ahead of criminal groups whose objective is to disrupt elections. It must not play second fiddle to hoodlums. It must be way ahead of illegal schemes prepared by political party officials, their agents, corrupt INEC officials, security agents, and other groups to undermine the integrity of any election.
It was obvious to voters, as well as national and international election observers that INEC officials undermined the elections, in collaboration with crooked party officials, duplicitous security agents and other interested representatives. The pervasive nature of the indiscretions that damaged the elections exposed INEC officials’ treachery, incompetence, irresponsible behaviour, decadence, dark practices, and lack of autonomy.
Notwithstanding Yakubu’s reluctance to accept responsibility for overseeing the disgraceful elections, his implausible explanations for mishandling a major national assignment, his supercilious claims about the role of technology and fake news/social media during the elections, must be deemed as one man’s strange abdication of the national duty assigned to him.
Yakubu led an organization that supervised flawed national elections that were not free, not fair, not credible, and not peaceful. Voters went to polling stations to cast their votes but met unanticipated challenges such as unparalleled violence, periodic gunshots, and hoodlums who snatched ballot boxes and papers from the grip of election officials. Despite rampant disorderly conduct at polling stations, some voters who succeeded in casting their ballots found to their dismay that their votes were torn and replaced with thumb-printed ballot papers generated by criminal groups.
These violations indicate that INEC lost control of the elections. It also lost public trust to conduct any free, reliable, and peaceful elections. At the end of the elections, everyone found there was nothing independent about INEC. This is an agency of the government that has become, you guessed it, a lackey of the government in office and a servant of the political party in power.