This letter is coming to you, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, as a public mail. As the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), sending this letter to you via the mass media is deliberate. And it’s coming barely 75 days to the February 25, 2023 presidential election. Even this, is also deliberate. It will enable you reflect on your time at INEC, your actions and inactions in previous elections, and help you review the election project plan for the 2023 elections.
Needless reminding you that unlike previous elections, 2023 election has attracted most attention, both from home and abroad. It’s a defining moment for Nigeria and Nigerians. Already, the 2023 election has grossed over 84 million registered voters, the highest number ever in the nation’s history. Unlike in previous elections, usually narrowed to a two-horse race, 2023 election is more than two-horse leap. For the first time, there are three, maybe four, national parties jostling for the coveted prize among a motely crowd of 18 parties.
Next year’s election is unique in its sheer size, larger than the electoral size of all other countries in the ECOWAS sub-region put together. With 176,846 polling units spread over 774 local governments to elect one president, 28 governors, 109 senators, 360 members of the House of Representatives and 993 State Houses of Assembly members, the 2023 election is indeed a democratic festival of monumental proportion.
But I have no doubt that you are able and capable to take on this difficult task. As a former student union activist who joined your colleagues to heckle past governments, drawing their attention to the inevitable need to do the right thing, I am persuaded that your experience as an activist, lecturer and administrator effectively lends you to this job. The 2023 election also confers a historical honour on you. By conducting the 2023 election, you will become the second Nigerian electoral umpire to conduct two general elections. The first is Professor Attahiru Jega who conducted the 2011 and 2015 elections.
But beyond being the second in the honours’ roll, you have already distinguished yourself as the INEC chairman with the most-friendly human relations; the most energetic; the most engaging and by far, the most willing-to-learn. Countless times, I have watched you closely as you engage the media, diverse focus groups, civil society organisations and the international community. Let me place on record as someone who has reported Nigeria politics actively from 1998 right from when the General Abdulsalami Abubakar military government blew the whistle for the commencement of the 4th Republic, that you stand out, very clearly, as the most visible, most accessible and most willing to engage electoral umpire. Let me also state, unequivocally, that your active public engagement has elicited a new voter behaviour. More Nigerians of voting age have, without coercion, shown more keenness in the electoral process. Some openly say they can trust you to make their votes count. This, in addition to the frustrations visited on the people by the old and extant order, have compelled more Nigerians, especially the youths, to crawl out of their cocoons to participate in the forthcoming polls.
Some even reference the outcomes of the elections you conducted in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun as raison d’etre for their enthusiastic participation in the 2023 polls. And I reckon they are right. Despite obvious intimidation, name-dropping and subtle coercion from power brokers and political mandarins, you stood your ground to deliver what have been generally hailed as free, fair, credible and verifiable elections. For this, the trust quotient on INEC from the electorate has notched up by many rungs. I commend you, sir!
Prof, you elicit hope. You ooze calm confidence even when you were prodded to be angry. Always, an iron-cast resolve drapes your visage. Whether learned or innate, such resolve is what Nigerians want to see in an electoral umpire, especially at these times when desperation and aberrant rascality are driving politicians and their cheerleaders to morbid frenzy.
Yet, I fear. I fear for your life, for your family and for your staff. I fear because 2023 election will be like no other. It’s heavily tech-driven, largely unobtrusive and for the first time ever, all results from polling units would be transmitted electronically. This eliminates ballot-snatching and all the brute banalities associated with elections in Nigeria at polling units and other centres. This is bad business for the politicians. And you’re definitely a bad business to the politicians.
Prof, I fear because even with limited innovation, your predecessors did not escape death threats before, during and after elections. I fear because the odds are stacked sky-high against the politicians and their hired goons. The Electoral Act complete with its props, especially instant electronic transmission of results has disarmed the election grifters. But, Sir, don’t ever think the politicians are sulking in a corner. No, they are incurable optimists. They are not sulking; they are innovating in their small corners with all shades of technologies to undermine the INEC system.
And this throws up the issue of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing portal (IReV). While the BVAS has been described as the booster shot against rigging, the IReV has turned Nigeria election to a movie streamed real-time and online. This exposes the entire exercise to public scrutiny and further makes rigging an unfancied adventure for the politicians. For this, they will hate you, beef you and even attempt to set you up. Avoid them and their treacherous and slimy banana skin. They will try to induce you and your staff with big money. Stay strong and instill the same strength in your staff, both bonafide and ad hoc.
Prof, I know you’re not a spirit, only just human; therefore, you cannot be everywhere at the same time. On account of this, it’s easy to compromise the process through any of your staff. This is where you must show leadership. Tell your staff the implications of any electoral misconduct. It’s arrest, prosecution and conviction. Tell them, it has happened in the past and it will happen again, that any electoral officer, at any level, could be jailed. No immunity, no protection. Tell them that the whole world, including global media and governments, is watching keenly. Above all, tell them that Nigerians, having been bitten by the bug of election rigging for many decades gone by, have woken up from their self-induced slumber. This time, it cannot be business as usual. These past years, you have proven to be a good communicator, I trust you to communicate the values you espouse to the entire staff value chain.
Prof, on matters of elections, please note and know that the buck stops on your table. Don’t try to read the body language of President Muhammadu Buhari (who, by the way, has expressed enough neutrality when he asked the electorate to vote for candidates of their choice) or the body language of any politician. The only valuable thing to read, meditate on and act upon is the Electoral Act and the body of innovations and rules arising therefrom. Don’t waver. Play by the rules and history will be waiting on the wings to judge you fairly.