What does this latter-day Pope at the INEC do if security operatives do things or fail to do things that run contrary to what the election body prescribes?
The office of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is by all reckoning a very important one. When the INEC chairman speaks, virtually everyone in the political arena listens. Indeed, at a certain critical stretch within the political cycle, the INEC chairman is the Chairman easily and commonly recognised across the length and breadth of the country. For good reasons. The commission he leads may be collegiate in structure, but the chairman is, without doubt, the main man. He is the kingmaker within the ambience of democracy in the land. As with all such arrangements, however, the main man does carry the can along the line. Every INEC chairman comes to terms with this lot.
Professor Mahmood Yakubu, incumbent chairman of INEC, has handled the burden of his office with an appreciable calmness. Not given to grandstanding, Yakubu has gone about the task before him with an air of studiousness and calmness, which at times seem to border on trepidation. Confronted right on his appointment day on November 10, 2015, with the task of conducting a governorship election in Kogi State 11 days later, Yakubu seemed to have accepted his fate with equanimity. That personal disposition has obviously come in handy for the INEC chairman for, as it turned out, the 2015 general election, which preceded his appointment, generated far more court-ordered repeat elections than any other elections previously. Yakubu thus found himself conducting far more elections than any other INEC chair within the very first year of his tenure. To be fair to him, he has weathered the storm quite well and has along the line consistently improved on logistics arrangements in elections in the country.
But the job of the INEC chairman can be a very treacherous assignment. An INEC chairman is like a soccer coach. He is as a good as the result of his last match. It hardly matters that there are two sides to a match. Far more than is the case in a soccer match, perception is everything in an election. The recent governorship election in Osun State has, therefore, left Yakubu and the election management body he leads with a burden of proof. The chairman is almost being called upon these days to swear an affidavit that he will be there for all sides in the 2019 elections, all because of Osun. Here lies a lingering problem for INEC and for the Nigerian society.
A key question concerning the Osun governorship election, especially as it relates to the dominant public perception of what transpired is, how did an exercise that started so well and substantially went so well end up so shabbily? And we are not talking about the ultimate outcome of the election! It is the process, stupid!
Indeed what went awry? The answer can be found in the situation in which assignment is given without a matching authority to deliver on the task. It is a scenario that sees the INEC chairman sadly situated in the same range that the Pope inhabited in the later part of World War II as cynically captured by Stalin. With the WWII raging fiercely and threatening to consume Eastern Europe towards the later part of the war, Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain had admonished Joseph Stalin of Russia to be careful and consider the views of the Pope/Vatican in decisions taken about the war. To Churchill, the Pope was a strong moral force whose views must be considered even in war decisions by the powers that were. Obviously, Stalin had a different view. In a most cynical and cold response, the Russian leader had asked the British Prime Minister; “how many divisions does the Pope command?” In other words, this Pope whose influence must be considered, what is his worth in military might? As far as Stalin was concerned, if all that the Pope had was moral power, and if he was not in command of appropriate size of military divisions to counter other armies, then he was not to be reckoned with.
In the conduct of elections in Nigeria in the present dispensation, as the Osun experience seemed to have shown, the INEC chairman may have found himself on that spot of moral influence and position sans control of troops, the same situation in which Stalin located the Pope during WWII. Political leaders who command divisions of the key security agencies may have sadly taken the position that the INEC chairman and his team can say what they like, but since they command no divisions of their own, they will ultimately be helpless in the long run in enforcing certain rules.
In Osun, during the original election and in the concluding phase of the election, INEC was not found wanting in the layout and arrangement of the polls. Materials were duly supplied in time, officials reported on time and polls opened appropriately and the process of accreditation went on smoothly. But what transpired subsequently? Voters were reportedly waylaid, intimidated and prevented from getting to the polling areas by elements that had no connections with INEC. The issues that ultimately defined the Osun election were security. And all of that occurred outside the area under the control of election officials on duty. So sad. It is not about who won or who lost. It is about what happened and how it all happened.
With the 2019 general election around the corner, a critical question that needs urgent attention now is what will be the relationship between the election management body and security operatives during elections? If security operatives on election duty comport themselves in a manner that undermines fairness and neutrality at the polls to the disadvantage of a section of the electorate or a contending party, what are the options open tor the INEC leadership? If complaints go out from, say, INEC chairman or a resident electoral commissioner to, say, the police high command on certain unbecoming behaviour by security men at the polls and nothing comes out of the complaint while the disapproved tendencies persist, what is to be done?
It is most unlikely that the INEC chairman will be temporarily elevated to the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces for the period of elections. That being the case, the issue of how to rein in security operatives and ensure their neutrality during elections has become critical and must be satisfactorily addressed for the upcoming general election to have a level playing ground. The Osun governorship election has drawn attention to things that could happen. So, what is to be done? Beyond assurances and political proclamations from the top, what does this latter-day Pope at the INEC headquarters, who commands no divisions, do if security operatives who take orders only from their commanders do things or fail to do certain things during elections that run contrary to what the election management body prescribes?