The Independent National Electoral Commission is an independent body granted power by the Nigerian constitution to superintend over the electoral process in the country.
The commission, since its creation in 1998 by former head of state, General Abdulsalam Abubarkar, has without doubt contributed to the stability of democracy in Nigeria.
One of its glorious times could be traced back to the period when its affairs was supervised by its immediate past chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, who served between 2010 and 2015.
In the last general election, INEC received several commendations from both local and international observers for the elections it conducted without any fault.
But to the disappointment of majority of Nigerians, INEC’s glory seemed to have been shortlived and dimmed by the exit of its former chairman, Jega.
Since the emergence of the incumbent chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, who took over office in 2015, Nigerians have undoubtedly lost the trust they have long reposed in the electoral umpire, as a result of serial incompetencies demonstrated by its men, leading to inconclusive elections across the land.
Yakubu’s INEC, without mincing words, have not conducted any election conclusively, except the recent Edo State gubernatorial election.
Among the elections INEC conducted and from which Nigerians began to lose their trust in it were: Imo North Senatorial District INEC declared the result of the Imo North senatorial district rerun election inconclusive on July 6.
It also declared the results of Oru East and Isiala Mbano state constituencies inconclusive The commission gave reasons for the inconclusiveness of the election to include reported shootings at Okata and Amiri in Oru East, while skirmishes and snatching of ballot boxes characterised the election in some communities in Isiala Mbano area. Prof. Arinze Agbogu, INEC Returning Officer for Imo North senatorial district explained that results of several polling units in Isiala Mbano area were characterised by irregularities, leading to cancelation of the results.
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Kogi Governorship Election
More than confusion was created in the Kogi State gubernatorial election that was declared inconclusive by INEC. The announcement was followed by death of the leading candidate in the poll, former governor of the state and candidate of the All Progressives Congress, late Prince Abubakar Audu.
Following INEC’s decision to declare the election conclusive, despite that Audu was leading his major challenger, former governor of Kogi State, Ibrahim Wada with over 40,000 votes, critics argued that the APC gubernatorial candidate, Audu had won the election. Announcing the results of the election, INEC said it reached the decision to declare the election ‘inconclusive’ after collation of results that showed the number of cancelled votes was higher than the margin between the leading candidate and the runner-up.
Nasarawa/Toto federal Constituency
INEC also declared the Nasarawa/Toto federal constituency bye-election inconclusive. The constituency Returning Officer for the election, Dr. Wilfred Uji, cited Section 53 of the Electoral Act, which gives the commission the power to cancel election in polling units where there is over voting. “For Nasarawa/Toto federal constituency, we have a total number of 202,338 registered voters for the election out of which 76,475 were accredited and the total vote cast was 75,826 and we have 74,848 valid votes and the rejected votes stand at 978,” he said. Other states where inconclusive election cases have been reported were, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, among others.
Mixed Reactions Trail inconclusive ElectionS
Following the development, which have made many Nigerians to be apprehensive of the competency of the commission to conduct the 2019 general elections, political observers and analysts in the country have said that INEC leadership needs to brace up and do more than needful to regain its lost grandeur before the 2019 general elections. According to them, the situation of things with INEC does not show a commission that is competent to superintend over the 2019 general election Leader of Vanguard for Sustainable Democracy and Good Governance, Salisu Ibrahim, said the position of INEC on recently conducted elections in the country showed its incompetency at the highest level. He said, “We have observed with anxiety the rising and alarming incidences of inconclusive elections in Nigeria since November 2015. Since the advent of the current administration, INEC has conducted about 137 elections, 70 of which are end of tenure elections, whilst 11 were bye-elections. However, more than 13 of these elections were inconclusive and most Nigerians are cocksure that the forthcoming elections in the country would be declared inconclusive by INEC.
“Hitherto to November 2015, ‘inconclusive election’ is strange to our election history in Nigeria. However this demon gained prominence since the Kogi State gubernatorial election of November 21, 2015. Since then, almost every other election conducted by the Commission has been bedeviled with inconclusiveness, save the recent Edo poll.
“This has in no small way eroded the confidence of the electorate in the electioneering system in the country.
This leaves one to wonder what happened to electioneering process in Nigeria all of a sudden, especially that the 2015 general elections was declared nationally and internationally as a free, fair and credible election.
“The said elections entrenched the nation’s democracy and reinforced the international community’s faith in Nigeria and in her democracy. This rising profile of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is suddenly been devoured by the demon of inconclusive election.”
A chieftain of the People Democratic Party said, “The inconclusive election orchestrated by INEC is a trick they use to secure favourable result for the ruling party. I can categorically tell you that INEC is working with some cliques in APC and that is why all this is happening.”
He added that cases of inconclusive result came into limelight when APC gained ruling power at the federal level. “When PDP was in government, we never heard this case until APC came into power,” the chieftain, who doesn’t want his name mentioned, said. Meanwhile, aggrieved individuals are demanding the resignation of Yakubu, the INEC chairman.
Yakubu succeeded Jega, who was in charge of the commission during the 2011 and 2015 general elections.
The protesters accused Yakubu of being incapable of leading the electoral body. Describing the alleged plot as an invitation to anarchy, they said that Nigerians have lost faith in the INEC leadership.
Despite the calls for his resignation, the INEC chairman said that considering the challenges and malpractices that have marred elections, both in the past and in recent times in the country, the commission cannot guarantee that the general elections in 2019 will be conclusive.
He said any attempt to give such assurance at this time would be second-guessing the outcome of the election, noting that it had become inevitable for the commission to declare some elections inconclusive.
Yakubu said, “We can’t secondguess to say this is the outcome of an election before it happens, unless we are not conducting elections. We hope it won’t lead to that, but if it happens, the constitution has a way out of it.
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“In recent times, we have had series of inconclusive elections. The governorship election in Bauchi State was inconclusive, because of post-election violence and INEC concluded the election after two weeks. The same thing happened in Imo; the first election that brought in Rochas Okorocha was inconclusive, until two weeks after. In 2015, Taraba, Abia and Imo elections were inconclusive and there were other constituency elections where elections were inconclusive.
“The most difficult election for the commission to conduct are off-season elections, because the attention of everybody is focused on a particular constituency, and the political actors and gladiators and their antics have time to mobilise nationwide to descend on a particular constituency, which made the conclusion of such elections very difficult.
“What I want Nigerians to understand is that our democracy is maturing. If it matures, it cannot be the way we used to do things before. The mindset would have to change. Days were long gone when politicians do everything they can to be declared winners, knowing that the case would end up in court.
“So, let’s hope for the best, but it is everybody’s responsibility to make this democracy work. Citizens can protect their mandate. If we play by the rules and we are patient, I’m sure we will minimise all these issues leading to inconclusiveness.”
As it is, the major question on the lips of politicians and concerned Nigerians is: will INEC measure up to standard and conduct a conclusive election in 2019?
But whichever way one looks at it, the November 26 Ondo State gubernatorial election and the January 2017 Anambra gubernatorial poo will serve as the litmus test for the electoral umpire, as both elections will go a long way to determine the future and fate of INEC.