WITH two off-season governorship elections conducted in Nigeria this year, it is doubtful if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has learnt any lessons. With Anambra (2021); Ekiti (2022); and Osun (2022) still as hurdles to cross, one can only pray that relevant lessons would be learnt and necessary steps taken towards making 2023 General Elections truly free, fair and credible. Otherwise, Edo and Ondo have signposted the shape and size of Nigeria’s democratic fate, come 2023.
Lest we forget, the 1999 Constitution established INEC to, among other things, organize and administer elections into various political offices in Nigeria. However, based on the elections of September 19, 2020 and October 10, 2020 in Edo and Ondo States respectively, can we safely say that INEC is doing what it is supposed to be doing? Why has the Election Management Body become an object of serious criticisms – locally and internationally – as falling below the acceptable benchmark of a credible umpire of our electioneering processes? Why have controversies become its middle name and why has it become very difficult for the Commission to faithfully implement real reforms in Nigeria’s democratic system? Why are elections here marred by widespread violence, election materials unavailability, ballot box snatching, smart card readers malfunctioning and other irregularities? If, with appearances in only two states, the electoral umpire continues to drown itself in excuses, what should we expect, especially, when we have general elections, which will simultaneously take place in multiple states of the country – all at once?
With the benefit of hindsight, that INEC is ill-prepared for certain exigencies is no longer news. It may have adequate financial resources; yet it lacks the requisite coordination to deliver on its core mandate. Put differently, resource persons can be assured of payment of their Per Diem after any election exercise; but, when it comes to service delivery, it is one excuse or the other, or a rediscovery of both existing and newly-inflicted problems from the body polity. Thus, the envisioned manpower development and the inbuilt institutional capacity of INEC continues to hemorrhage, and unable to function optimally.
To start with, the idea of recruiting university dons as collation and returning officers at elections is beginning to lose its aura of respectability. Indeed, it neither bestows legitimacy on the process nor robes the outcome of the elections with the garb of authentic credibility. Of course, the job is offered to the unoccupied of lecturers, as the studious and brilliant academics are busy thinking about research and the next paper to be published in those reputable International Journals of their respective fields of study. If one may ask: what stops the Commission from training people to acquire requisite skills for electioneering processes?
The issue of over-voting and how to address it was again brought to the fore during the last election in Ondo State. At a particular place, the smart card reader suddenly stopped working and the masses protested, to the point of rioting. The voting public at the scene clamoured for the jettisoning of this institutional inbuilt check, designed to minimize the incidence of fraud and rigging. Unfortunately, the ad hoc staff on duty could not assert their authority. So, they allowed it! At the end of the day, multiple voting became the new normal; and the people over-voted, more than the accredited registered voters. So, this is an issue for INEC! Let Nigerians not start dancing around, thinking that INEC is fine; or, that it is impeccable. No, INEC is not! If it is, how could its card reader be malfunctioning on Election Day without possible replacement? With the jettisoning of the gadget at that stage, of what use are the trillions of naira already sunk into the procurement of the smart card readers?
As if that was not enough, a party agent alleged that she signed the election result sheet under duress. If this is true, it then means that the security of that place was either compromised or inadequate on the day of the election. Otherwise, where were the security operatives deployed to that area when the woman in question was being put under duress? Again, this is a serious issue, capable of compromising the integrity of any election. Isn’t this enough reason our politicians are not being faithful to their election promises? After all, they know how to capture INEC, and how to capture votes; ultimately, get back to power. And nothing will happen! The sadder side of our story is that, often, our clime is allegedly a haven for judgments, not justice.
Well, it needs to be noted that the dynamics of politics in Nigeria is a sacred issue. Also, institution building is like a cultural thing. Basically, people don’t have respect for an institution that is weak and unrepresentational of the intent of its founding fathers; that does not support the raison d’eter of its establishment. If INEC will not give Nigerians the unbiased results of elections, why do we have the Commission at all? If it cannot meet the aspirations of the Nigerian people, why did we go into it in the first place?
To make our democracy work, the people that will work in INEC must be those who buy into the vision of the leadership; and, like Chairman Mao, believe in the manifestos of the country; which makes it difficult for their consciences to be mortgaged. Sadly, however, our government has not learnt from the mistakes of yesteryears. Needless to repeat that our public institutions reflect our level of civilization and development! In other climes, institutional renewal is a constant thing, used by governments to check institutions to see whether they are still relevant, and serving the purposes for which they were created, ab initio. After all, it is nothing but sheer folly if a public institution established in 1940 is left in use, but remains unaltered, or modified to reflect the dynamics of today. For example, the journey from the Electoral Commission of Nigeria (ECN) in 1958, to the Federal Electoral Commission, FEC (1960); through the Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO (1978), to the National Electoral Commission, NEC (1991); and, from the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, NECON (1995), to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC (1998): how has it fared? This is the issue with Nigeria! Unfortunately, those who are supposed to midwife the needed change are the ones now popping champagne, clinking glasses and dancing kpanlogo, simply because Rotimi Akeredolu has won.
May the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace in Nigeria.
By Abiodun KOMOLAFE