On Monday, November 9, 2020, reappointed chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, handed over the affairs of the commission to a national commissioner, Air Vice Marshal Ahmed Muazu (retd).
It was a class act of responsible leadership, as he did not take the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria nor the Senate for granted, given that President Muhammadu Buhari had given him a nod for a second term.
Presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, who conveyed the reappointment in a letter to President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, said the move was in accordance with the provision of Section 154 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
However, Yakubu didn’t sit tight, but stood down on the expiration of his initial tenure, an action that suggests he very well knows that the Senate may elect not to ratify his reappointment by President Buhari.
Of course, knowing Nigeria as we do, this can be a possibility. The experience of the immediate past acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, is a case study. Indeed, up until he was eventually removed as EFCC boss, the Senate never confirmed his appointment as substantive chairman of the agency.
But Yakubu has done enough to merit a second term and I am persuaded to pray that blind partisanship does not pop up its ugly head when he eventually appears before the Senate for clearance hearing and screening.
Yakubu was first sworn in on November 9, 2015, alongside five national commissioners. Six other national commissioners joined the train on December 7, 2016, and one more on July 21, 2018. Even before the five-year tenure expired, President Buhari, on October 27, reappointed Yakubu for a second and final term of five years, subject to confirmation by the Senate, and so Muazu would only hold sway in the interim.
At the handover session, Yakubu said the subsisting national commissioners had resolved that Muazu should take charge of the affairs of the commission. His valedictory speech very much summarized his stewardship for the last five years. Hear him: “Our work as election managers requires us to enforce the law, regulations and guidelines. In doing so, we must demonstrate strict respect for, and compliance with, the Constitution of Nigeria and subsidiary laws”.
The reappointed chairman had succeeded another academic, Prof. Attahiru Jega, who supervised the 2015 general election, the 2019 general election as well as off-cycle elections in states such as Anambra, Osun, Kogi, Bayelsa, Edo and Ondo.
The first test of Yakubu’s tenure came with the conduct of Osun State governorship election in September 2018, which was declared inconclusive by INEC. The returning officer said the declaration was because the number of cancelled votes was higher than the margin between the two top candidates.
The candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Senator Ademola Adeleke, scored 254,698 while the All Progressives Congress man, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola, scored 254,345. The total number of voided votes was 3,498 whereas only 354 votes separated the two leading candidates. This development was greeted with outrage as the main opposition party, PDP, cried foul.
When, eventually, the APC candidate, Oyetola, was declared winner of the election, Yakubu’s INEC was heavily criticized. He, however, stood firm on principles of law and the Electoral Act.
The 2019 governorship polls were another severe test of the determination of the Yakubu-led INEC to bequeath a clean electoral culture to Nigeria. Elections held in Kano State were again declared inconclusive by the state returning officer, vice-chancellor of the Federal University, Birnin Kebbi, Prof. B.B. Shehu.
At that point, Abba Kabir Yusuf, the PDP candidate, had more votes than the incumbent, Gov. Abdullahi Ganduje, with a slim margin of 26,655 votes. Yusuf polled 1,014,474 votes to Ganduje’s 987,810.
PDP again protested and called INEC all manner of names, including “Inconclusive National Electoral Commission”. Others labelled the body “Incompetent National Electoral Commission”. Despite the severe pressure, Yakubu’s INEC did not budge to blackmail or threats. INEC insisted with firm resolve that, with 2,211,520 accredited voters, 172 polling units being cancelled making a total of 100,873 votes cancelled and 49,761 rejected votes, the very slim margin and very high cancelled votes, it could not declare PDP winner of the contest in Kano State. So, the cancelled units were reviewed by INEC. When it was eventually concluded, Ganduje of APC was declared winner. The PDP and its sympathizers slammed INEC as partial. That was understandable.
The inconclusive elections bug hit five other states in the 2019 governorship elections, namely, Benue, Adamawa, Bauchi, Plateau and Sokoto. Eventually, PDP carried the day in Benue, Bauchi, Adamawa and Sokoto and lost Plateau, giving a balance to the seemingly compromised integrity of INEC’s conduct of the elections. The outcome of Benue, Bauchi, Adamawa and Sokoto, for many non-partisan observers, vindicated Yakubu and his team and faulted PDP’s cry of electoral malfeasance against INEC.
When the electoral umpire declared the rerun of senatorial election in Kogi West inconclusive due to the fact that the margin between Smart Adeyemi of APC and Dino Melaye of PDP was lower than the number of registered voters in 53 polling units of 20 registration areas in the zone where elections were cancelled, Nigerians had already come to terms with INEC’s uncompromising stance on stalemated elections.
Adeyemi is said to have scored 80,118 votes while Melaye polled 59,548. The returning officer, Prof. Olayinde Lawal, said the margin between APC and PDP was 20,570, explaining that the total margin between both candidates was lower than the 43,127 registered voters in 53 polling units of 20 registration areas in the zone where elections were cancelled and, accordingly, declared the election inconclusive. Nigerians simply moved on, a sign that INEC had finally earned the confidence of the masses in its conduct of elections.
Yakubu’s five-year reign, especially vis-a-vis conduct of elections, has certainly been criticized by local and international observers for inadequacies, especially when the initial angst and public uproar over the inconclusive elections subsisted, but the same international and local observers heaped praises on INEC and him for the two most recent elections, Edo and Ondo governorship elections, conducted this year. As hotly contested as both were, INEC creditably acquitted itself with PDP clinching Edo while Ondo was retained by APC.
Indeed, President Buhari deserves commendation for reappointing a man most influential members of his party blame for their loss of several states to the PDP. Under his watch, APC lost about six states to PDP and that is clear proof that Yakubu has lived above board in supervising INEC.
In the last five years, INEC firmly rejected candidates of the ruling APC for the March 2 governorship and House of Assembly elections in Zamfara State, citing inability of the party to conduct primaries within the specified period of August 18 to October 7, 2018. That was an unprecedented act of political will and courage to stick to the rule and do what is right.
In the end, APC lost out completely in Zamfara State and suffered the same fate in Rivers State, where its candidate was disqualified from the 2019 governorship polls.
I fear the Senate may be sharply divided along the fault lines of partisan politics and power play between the two major political parties when Yakubu eventually appears before it. But that should not be allowed to abort the promise that a second term for the INEC boss holds for Nigeria.
Just before he handed over, Yakubu had disclosed plans by INEC to work towards the full introduction of electronic voting in major elections, starting from 2021 and thus move the nation away from manual voting and collation of results, even though registration for voting has been digitized.
It is expected that, on his return, Yakubu will implement the use of e-voting machines at the earliest possible time and ensure the full introduction of electronic voting from 2021. It is also expected that the commission will adopt electronic platforms for the submission of nomination forms by political parties ahead of the 2023 general election. These are some reasons the overwhelming majority of Nigerians are eagerly awaiting his return as INEC chairman to consolidate on the gains made in his first tenure.
Only time will tell what the new INEC will be like as national commissioners whose tenures ended with him include former Acting Chairman, Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari (Jigawa), Prof. Antonia Taiye Okoosi-Simbine (Kogi), Alhaji Baba Shettima Arfo (Borno), Dr. Mohammed Mustafa Lecky (Edo), and Prince Adedeji Solomon Soyebi (Ogun). It is not yet clear if they would be reappointed or replaced by the President. Engr. Abubakar Nahuche, a national commissioner from Zamfara, resigned recently.
Yakubu would return to continue with some commissioners, namely, Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu, Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola, Muazu, Mallam Mohammed Kudu Haruna, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu and Barr. Festus Okoye.
•Ahirika, thespian and reverend gentleman, is a doctoral student at Akwa Ibom State University