INEC and the Uncertainty of 2019 Election

INEC and the Uncertainty of 2019 Election

By Azuka Onwuka

Professor Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman
Professor Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman

Last week, Thisday newspaper ran a headline which read: “I Can’t Guarantee Conclusive Polls in 2019, Says INEC Chairman.”

The first two paragraphs of the story read: “The National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, on Friday said he was not in a position to guarantee conclusive polls in 2019 because he would not be pressured to step outside the lines of the Constitution, the Electoral Act and the Guidelines to impress anyone.

“The INEC boss, who said this last night during an interactive session with journalists in Lagos, noted that the conclusiveness or otherwise of any election owes greatly to the behavioural pattern of voters, of which he has zero control, adding that he would not dare second-guess any election.”

The message did not portray the INEC boss as someone who was passionately concerned about the successful execution of his assignment. He sounded like someone who was overwhelmed by his job and was not hopeful about the future. The story renewed my fear – and the fear of many Nigerians – in the ability of INEC to conduct free, fair and credible elections since the end of the tenure of Professor Attahiru Jega last year.

From one state to the other, INEC has been churning out inconclusive elections. Most of them were mired in violence despite the amount of security agents deployed. It happened in the gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa, as well as the legislative elections in several states. The fear has been, if INEC finds it difficult to conduct smooth and credible elections in a state or a senatorial district within a state difficult, how can INEC conduct a successful pan-Nigerian election in 2019, when election will be holding simultaneously in all the states of the federation, and the stakes are higher, since the presidential election will be involved?

Why there is much stability and peace in most Western countries is not solely because of the economy; it is mainly because of freedom – especially freedom of speech and freedom to vote and be voted for. The reason many non-democratic countries seem to be stable and peaceful is because of the oppressive governments that run the countries. Anytime an opportunity presents itself, such non-democratic countries erupt in violence or armed struggle or war.

However, in Western democracies, the people know that they can always change any government or office holder that is deemed ineffective. They know that there will be no manipulation or intimidation during that process of choosing their leaders. So they usually wait for election time to punish mediocre leaders and reward success-driven ones.

That is why the action of INEC is worrisome.

Since 1999 when democracy returned to Nigeria after many years of military rule, there has been some slight rise in our electoral culture. During the eight years of the tenure of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as president, there was a turnaround in the economy, with the return of the middle class, which made it possible for many Nigerians to resume the purchase of brand new items like cars and electronics, which had disappeared in the mid 1980s. However, our electoral process was an embarrassment. That was when the phrase “do-or-die elections” emerged. That was also when the chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party boasted that PDP would rule for 60 years.  Some say it was because of Obasanjo’s military background: that Nigerian soldiers, especially generals, are trained to get whatever they want, rather than allow the wish of the people to prevail.

The 2003 election supervised by Obasanjo was terrible. That was the year the then ruling PDP collected all the Southwest states, except Lagos State, from the Alliance for Democracy. In like manner, PDP also won all the Southeast states at a time the then newly registered All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) was very popular in the Southeast. After that onslaught, only Mr Peter Obi of Anambra State was lucky and dogged to retrieve his mandate after three years of electoral battle. The All Nigeria Peoples Party was also dealt with in the Northern states where it held sway.

The era of Obasanjo was the era of political godfathers, with Obasanjo as the godfather of all godfathers, who decided who would be the party chairman, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, gubernatorial candidate of the PDP in all the states, as well as the eventual governor of each state. Governors were “impeached” by even five members of the House of Assembly, while some governors were impeached under a tree or in a hotel room outside their state. The then governor of Anambra State, Dr Chris Ngige, was kidnapped by powerbrokers right inside the government house in Awka, the capital of the state.

The opposition ANPP, AD, and APGA were perennially enmeshed in crisis, which either asphyxiated them or emasculated them. The ruling PDP was accused of being behind most of the crises.

If the 2003 election was viewed as terrible, the 2007 election was a rape of democracy. All the local and international bodies that supervised the election lampooned it. It was a mockery of election.

After Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua emerged president in that discredited 2007 election, he brought some changes in our democratic process. He began to obey court judgements and no longer brazenly interfered in the National Assembly or the states. However, it did not stop people like Mallam Nasir el-Rufai and Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, who were seen as not being in the good books of Yar’Adua, from fleeing into exile.

The only major election held under Yar’Adua was in Ekiti State in 2009, and it was not clean. It was at that Ekiti re-run that the resident electoral commissioner, Chief Mrs Ayoka Adebayo disappeared for some days, saying that she was being pressured to do what was against her conscience. She, however, reappeared later to declare a result that was suspicious in Idi-Osi Local Government Area, thereby returning Mr Segun Oni of the PDP as the winner. That decision was eventually upturned by the court, with Dr Kayode Fayemi of the Action Congress of Nigeria, becoming the governor.

The death of Yar’Adua in 2010 brought in Dr Goodluck Jonathan as the President. Whatever the shortcomings of Jonathan, he made our electoral process hugely transparent and credible. He said repeatedly that his ambition was not worth the life of a Nigerian. He warned that nobody should rig for him. He brought in Prof Jega, who already was nationally known as a man of character. The introduction of technology in the electoral process also reduced malpractice.

Victory at elections moved away from the hands of godfathers or INEC to the hands of the electorate. The 2011 election saw big guns like Mr Dimeji Bankole, who was the incumbent Speaker of the House of Representatives, losing election. The daughter of Obasanjo, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo, also lost her seat. Incumbent governors and senators lost election in many states.

That emboldened the citizens to know that power had returned to them. Many Nigerians who dreaded Nigerian election because of its bloodiness and lack of transparency began to nurse the ambition of getting involved in politics.

But since 2015 when Buhari took over as President and appointed Yakubu as INEC chairman, the belief in the electoral process has dropped. INEC’s partiality seems to be in question because of some of the actions it has taken. The most glaring is in Abia State where a certificate of return was hurriedly issued to Mr Uche Ogah based on a high court judgement despite the constitutional provision of the right of appeal within 21 days of the judgement.

The electoral process is what differentiates true democracies from quasi-democracies and dictatorships. INEC and the government in power must ensure that the modest progress recorded in 2015 is not reversed but surpassed. That will show that our democracy is growing and maturing.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *