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BY TIMOTHY AGBOR, BENEDICT NWACHUKWU AND BRIGHT JACOB
The Independent National Electoral Commission has said there is nowhere in the world where elections are conducted without flaws, noting that all the key stakeholders in the election process of Nigeria should be blamed for irregularities at successive polls.
According to the Commission, all its activities are currently in line with the guidelines of the electoral law but there must also be a change in attitude on the part of Nigerians, especially the frontliners in election matters.
These were made known at the weekend by the Resident Electoral Commissioner of INEC in Osun State, Mutiu Agboke, during an interview in Osogbo.
Agboke was reacting to the call made by the immediate past chairman of the commission, Attahiru Jega, for the unbundling of the Commission and a comprehensive review of the processes and procedures for the appointment of the INEC chairman and Resident Electoral Commissioners.
Jega had, at a town hall meeting in Abuja last week, organised by the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Electoral Matters, stated, “I will recommend the unbundling of INEC because the commission has a lot on its plate to deal with, a situation which has made it struggle to meet its core mandate. Some functions that INEC is currently performing should be given to another body entirely to handle if we want to make progress on our electoral journey.”
However, Agboke noted that the Commission had been operating with what the electoral law stipulated and that if anything was going to change in its mandates, the National Assembly would have to bring such up and include it in the law, stressing that the Commission was ready to act out anything outlined in the electoral law.
“Year in, year out, there have been calls for the efficiency of INEC. So, any call that is geared towards having a better output is welcome.
Whatever the law imposes on the commission must be carried out. Whatever we are doing now as a commission is based on what is contained in the electoral law. It is a question of what the law places before the commission,” he said.
Asked why INEC has been conducting controversial elections, the REC opined that the commission should not only be blamed for any error discovered at polls, saying the results of the contests were reflections of “who we are as a country.”
He said the nation should be more concerned about stakeholders in the electoral process, adding that as efficient laws were made, stakeholders, including some INEC officials, security agents, and the political class, among others, were also scheming to circumvent the laws.
While maintaining that it was nearly impossible to have a flawless election, Agboke said, “Nigerians should be made to understand that there is nowhere in the world where a flawless election has been conducted, there is nowhere in the world you will see a flawless electoral law. It has never happened anywhere. So, the responsibility of a reasonable nation is for you to learn from one particular election, take the lesson away with a view to going back to the law for proper amendment and adjustment based on the reality you have seen in the election you have just conducted.
“From the North to the South, even West and East, insecurity is still rampant, or how do you explain a situation where innocent, young Nigerians on election duty are kidnapped, assaulted or even killed”
That is the reality of the electioneering process.
“Yes, we have a good law but you will discover that the more you are coming with a particular law, the more our stakeholders who are going to work with the law are circumventing the process and that is why Nigerians today must be talking more about the stakeholders.”
While stressing the need for attitudinal change, Agboke said, “What we need to do is for us to change our attitude and orientation according to the law we are evolving. All the suggestions that have been laid down, let us be ready to say we are going to be democratic. Politicians should be democratic.
“Look at Liberia, a run-off was carried out and somebody saw that he was already losing. At the tail end of the conclusion of the process, he congratulated the winner and there is peace. Because they saw where they were coming from and they can’t afford to go into that again. That is what I think we should do.”
Agboke said the 2023 elections showed the strengths and weaknesses of political parties and called for the principle of reconciliation among aggrieved political class and candidates in order to reduce election litigation in the country.
“Even the CJN is saying let us embrace the principle of reconciliation, I think we should do this for the reduction of the litigious environment that we have found ourselves. As a REC, I can’t find a solution to a bad mind. We can only appeal to people with bad agenda to refrain from it. Of course, the INEC will be blamed whenever any irregularities happen but the truth is that we all should change our attitude,” he stressed.
On the call for electronic voting, Agboke, who is a lawyer, said, “If the law empowers INEC, INEC can do it.”
Meanwhile, political parties have called on INEC to desist from playing into the hands of desperate politicians, noting that the commission as umpire should live above board.
The Labour Party Chairman in Osun State, Bello Adebayo, in an interview, said, “INEC is the electoral umpire which is supposed to be trusted but due to what we can call the Nigerian factor, we can’t trust INEC with that assignment again because they don’t perform their expected functions.
Maybe their intention is to conduct a credible election, but they play into the hands of politicians, especially the moneybag politicians. They cannot rule out the influence of money on elections.”
Adebayo urged political parties and aspirants to check themselves and turn a new leaf. He also called for electoral reform and a referendum that would birth new regulations for elections in the country.
“Within political parties, so many factors contribute to the non-credible performance of INEC because we are supposed to put our houses in order.
Some politicians believe in using thugs to achieve their aims, some believe in using money. No political party can boast of 100 per cent principles in winning elections and that is the problem. We need a total electoral reform which will include INEC, political parties, and our electoral law and process. We also need re-orientation of our members because some people don’t follow principles.
“It is achievable to have acceptable polls if all these things I have mentioned are done. As politicians, we need to always do the right thing, especially during elections. We can call a referendum on how to have our electoral system. We need to discuss how we are going to be conducting elections moving forward,” he said.
In his view, the Osun State chairman of Accord Party, Victor Akande, blamed the electoral umpire for the lack of working system and integrity, urging INEC to resist the temptation of politicians who lure them with money to rig polls.
He said, “Talking of our electoral challenges, I will blame INEC for the lack of a good system. If there are systems that will prevent people from rigging or committing any form of atrocities during elections, then we can have good elections. Election crisis in Nigeria is due to the lack of a working system. If INEC says everybody is involved, they should realise that in all the people that are involved, there are some people who are part of the umpire and are not supposed to be involved because there is no way you can rig an election without the support of INEC.
“Another key stakeholder that should not be part of those that should be held responsible for electoral failure is security operatives. When these two people, INEC and security agencies, live up to their names as Independent National Electoral Commission and security agencies, and are truly neutral and impartial, then there can be an improvement in our democracy.”
BLAME POLITICIANS FOR ELECTION PROBLEMS – EXPERTS
However, the recent call for electronic voting by the National Assembly members in their last town hall meeting has been described as hallucination by some political analysts who accused the same lawmakers as the stumbling blocks to the country’s effort to get it done.
A commentator on politics and governance, Bethel Obinaya, said he had followed religiously, efforts by the present INEC to evolve into the use of electronic voting but that the move was vehemently resisted by the lawmakers who claimed that their people were illiterates and therefore could not participate in electronic voting.
“It is clear that since the emergence of the current INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, the Commission has made spirited efforts to introduce electronic voting but each time this got to the National Assembly, they kill it with laughable but baseless excuses that their people are backward and cannot vote electronically.
“This is not funny. In 2022, we thought we, I mean Nigeria, was already there, that it was done and dusted but to our greatest shock, some senators insisted it could not work. Actually, it is not because of those lame duck excuses they were giving, the reason remains that most of them still believe the only way they can win elections is by fraudulent activities which will automatically be checked by electronic voting.
“The same people who are making these claims travel to their constituencies, see them in this condition and abandon them the same way even when they collect huge sums for constituency projects. It is a terrible situation that people want to impoverish others for their selfish benefits.
When you hear cabal, it is not only a group of people who steal governance from the President, those who block every move to develop the country’s infrastructure are the worst and they are ably assisted by our lawmakers.
“So, I don’t take their call seriously because to them, it is another descriptive drama for Nigerians to see them as serious people. Even with the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System which was an improvement on the card reading machine, our elections are messed up by these politicians. This year, they introduced the ‘go to court’ slogan and when people went to court, the situation got messier. Anybody claiming that lack of telecommunication network and electricity are the major reasons we cannot do electronic voting is only being economical with the truth. If we had upgraded to that, the mess we had in the last general election would have been avoided.
“So, there is no way Nigerians can experience a poll without allegations of rigging and the truth is that they are not mere allegations, they are genuine. I’m waiting for a time that a politician will instruct his or her followers and supporters not to be involved in any form of rigging for him or her and go to the polls, contest and accept whatever they got at the polls. Imagine the kind of results we would have had in the last general election if the Diaspora had voted. It’s still a mirage in this country, we must be realistic,” he said.
Another social critic, Remi Lombert, exonerated the electoral body from the inability to introduce electronic voting in the country, saying that it could not happen when those who appointed them were against it.
He said, “Nobody should blame INEC on this. Those INEC officials, from the chairman to the lowest on the rungs of the ladder, are political appointees who must have been briefed on what their mission in the commission is at the federal and state levels. With this kind of appointment which the politicians make to gain advantage over others, how do you think the use of electronic voting will be born in Nigeria? It’s impossible and impracticable.
“Another thing is very clear. With hunger, poverty, unemployment ravaging the country, it will be very difficult to have elections conducted without allegations of rigging and, of course, the allegations are germane. Go to the streets of big cities and see how people are suffering. When such an individual is appointed to serve as INEC ad-hoc staff and these heartless politicians dangle money to them to compromise the process, it will be a breakthrough for such a staff. In this case, even if the INEC chairman refuses to be compromised, what of those on the field? It’s mission impossible for now.”
“It seems our leaders have one policy which has held us down to the ground and that policy is ‘make the people poor, they will do our bidding’ and this policy is effectively working for them,” Lombert added.
A political affairs analyst, Muyiwa Bello, listed corruption and insecurity as reasons for INEC’s inability to conduct credible polls.
He said some of those in authority turned a blind eye to corruption because they knew that the “chaos” which usually ensued because of it would be in their favour.
Bello said insecurity was still rampant throughout the country and that Nigerians should not see elections as a do-or-die affair.
“A lot of factors are responsible for INEC’s inability to deliver credible elections Nigerians yearn for. Unfortunately, we have not really shown any seriousness in addressing these factors.
“Look at Liberia, a run-off was carried out and somebody saw that he was already losing. At the tail end of the conclusion of the process, he congratulated the winner and there is peace. Because they saw where they were coming from and they can’t afford to go into that again”
“To start with, corruption is the biggest single reason our perennial cycle of failure on election matters is continuing unabated, and most governments usually turn a blind eye to this because they know that any ensuing chaos because of corruption will always be in their favour.
“It would also interest you to know that some of the people at the top in government and even INEC, know that if things are done correctly, channels through which they make their illicit money would be shut. So, the problem persists.
“I mean, look at Ghana and Liberia, our next door neighbours. They are shining brighter than us when it comes to conducting elections. But our own leaders who know the right things to do and how to deliver credible elections are pretending everything is okay.
“Another reason INEC has not been able to deliver credible elections is because of the avalanche of insecurity problems confronting us. From the North to the South, even West and East, insecurity is still rampant, or how do you explain a situation where innocent, young Nigerians on election duty are kidnapped, assaulted or even killed?
“Until our people have a change of orientation concerning elections, that it is not a do-or-die affair, we will continue to beat about the bush as we experiment with how to conduct credible elections,” he said.
Concerning Nigeria embracing electronic voting, Bello said even though there were obstacles to it, it was better than what obtains in the country.
He said corrupt politicians would not allow electronic voting to see the light of the day because the manual process was their “ticket” to winning elections.
“I understand that there are several obstacles to electronic voting. Problems such as a lack or even non-availability of electricity in some rural areas and even some so-called cities. Yes, these problems are there but it is better than what is in place today, and some corrupt politicians know that the current system is their only ticket to winning elections. Simply put, they know they would be soundly beaten if they ever allowed electronic voting.
“They know that the electronic voting process will be their waterloo, so they allow us to continue to dance around the current process. And as far as I am concerned, nothing should scare Nigerians about electronic voting. But we just need to start with it, and when we do, though there will be teething problems here and there, we will overcome them very quickly,” he said.