Redeployment in INEC fuels conspiracy theories over electoral integrity

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BY BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, ABUJA

Uba Group

The major shake-up in the Independent National Electoral Commission six months before the crucial general elections billed for February 2023, resulting in the redeployments of key staff of the Commission has attracted several comments and suggestions from politicians, political commentators, and the Civil Society Organizations as Nigerians express worries over the development.

The national electoral body on August 16 redeployed its key staff seen as very relevant to the conduct of elections by the body, especially at a time the Nigerian populace is angling to have very free, fair, transparent, and credible elections with the aid of technology.

The Commission in a statement recalled that on March 24, 2022, a redeployment of 385 staff took place nationwide and that the Commission announced that this will be a routine exercise that will continue from time to time.

It also noted that based on the extant policy, it redeployed two Resident Electoral Commissioners and eight directorate staff.

Among the directorate staff is Chidi Nwafor, an engineer who was heading the ICT department where the bulk of the Commission’s work is done.

This is because the latest Electoral Law empowered it to employ electronic devices in the conduct of the forthcoming elections and is leaning on the services of the directorate.

To further instill fears in the electorate and politicians, who are still not confident that their votes will count, the National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye was quoted as saying that the Commission has jettisoned the electronic transmission of results and reverted to the manual process.

But this has been refuted by the INEC which has not only described it as incorrect but also clearly stated that the procedure for result transmission remains the same as in recent Governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States. The electoral umpire insists that there will be no change in all future elections, including the 2023 general elections.

“It is clear that the only way the party can win the forthcoming elections is by rigging hence they are trying to manipulate by using INEC to change the positions of people they felt could not bulge to their demand”

Corroborating the INEC stance, a legal practitioner, Victor Giwa said, “On the issue of a manual transmission, I think it was a misunderstanding. What Festus was trying to address was that there is no electronic collation of results but there’s electronic transmission of results. There’s a difference between collation of results and transmission of results. But sometimes when you say it’s electronic collating all you mean is just to look at the server and look at what has been collated electronically. But in this case, what they are saying is that there will be manual, and people will have the opportunity to add up.

“I think there is a very slim line because if you can transmit you must be transmitting to a portal and the portal can give you the result of the election because INEC is saying because Electoral Act recognises the collation of results manually. So, you have to look at the ballot papers, add it up, look at the EC 8 form and all that. So that was what he was trying to explain the difference between collation and transmission. And the issue of rigging elections, I think what Nigerians must do is for all to be alert. We should also watch INEC, watch their activities. People should put their eyes on the process. The most important thing is that they should be steady and active during the process of the election so that, any incident of rigging the election will be stalled, that’s the best approach to me.”

The legal luminary also spoke on the recent redeployment of some Resident Electoral Commissioners and staff of the Commission six months to the crucial elections both Nigerians and non-Nigerians have tagged the decider of Nigeria’s unity and its implications.

According to him, “On the deployment of Chidi Nwafor the Director of ICT some months to the general elections, first of all, it was not only Chidi that was redeployed, but a lot of staff were also redeployed and I felt it was one of those redeployments that may affect the process.

Chidi has been a very active staff of INEC, he has played a very major role in all the ICT revolution or development in the ICT in INEC.”

But the Executive Director Adopt a Goal Initiative, Ariyo Dare Atoye has a divergent view of the redeployments that recently took place. He argues that paying attention to the INEC and the electoral process is very paramount.

“It is important that the political parties, election stakeholders, CSOs and the media pay attention to not just the Independent National Electoral Commission but the entire gamut of the electoral process. Eternal vigilance as the price of liberty even though the INEC has built confidence in Nigerians with previous elections, we cannot take it for granted that things are going to continue to be the same way. INEC needs vigilance, INEC needs also our criticisms. Why am I saying this? Ordinarily, six months to the election, there shouldn’t be any major shake-up in the Commission or any major movement because that confidence building is very important except where infractions or malpractices, or errors or mistakes have been noticed. INEC does not need to do a major shakeup. In a system, this is going to affect the confidence of Nigerians. God forbids, if there happen to be any shortcomings in the electoral processes regarding the use of Bimodal Voters Accreditation System, regarding the use of technology, INEC will be blamed for having directly created this problem. Because people will allege that you moved an experienced man and brought in somebody who has not handled such a position. I think at this point INEC must be very careful in handling the situation. And it’s also important for INEC to make more clarification on this matter. Dishing out a press statement is not enough because Nigerians may want to know more because like I said, it’s absurd six months to crucial elections there shouldn’t be any major shakeup or movement. There should be confidence building and Nigerians should be able to know what is going on.”

He pointed out what is required in the forthcoming elections and insisted that the electoral umpire must improve on its records achieved in the last two governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States and not fall short of the standard already set.

“There are three key things to do ahead of this election as set out by INEC. Number one is to ensure there is super compliance of rules and regulations as set out by the INEC, number two is to ensure that the use of technology especially the accreditation with BVAS and at the same time the voting and transmission of results are complied with. Thirdly, all the political parties have the responsibility to field agents in every polling unit across the country to monitor elections and observe the process and do the work of party agents. It is the responsibility of the political parties. It’s important we all work to ensure this election is free, fair, transparent and credible.

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Atoye further pointed out activities that will be big challenges to INEC and the delivery of world-acclaimed credible elections in 2023.

“Another important thing is the issue of vote buying which has truly become a menace. The Police must work with the people because they (Police) actually have the human capacity to be able to address this. Perhaps EFCC is making an intervention into this but they do not have the manpower, the number to be able to do that. So, we need to ensure that the Police get involved in curbing the incidences of electoral malpractices such as vote buying.”

He maintained that there is a need for Nigerians to concern themselves with the need to comply with the rules and regulations as set out by INEC.

“I think at this point what we should concern ourselves about is the need to ensure that there is total compliance with rules and regulations that INEC have already rolled out. INEC has already allayed the fears about the manual transmission of results and I think at this point in time they cannot change the game or obstruct the rules, so hopefully, further clarifications would be made. What Nigerians should do at this point is to ensure how the numbers of accredited voters are also transmitted to a dedicated portal not just the results because accreditation should also tell the actual figures,” he said.

Speaking on the matter, the Chairman of IPAC, the umbrella body of all the political parties in Nigeria, Yabagi Sani, said there is no cause for alarm over the changes in INEC.

“There can’t be anything wrong with that. It is a normal managerial activity. The management of INEC has the right to move their staff from one office to another to improve their work in the commission.

“One cannot question that because it is not against their rules and the constitution. It is in order; they have the right to always reshuffle,” Sani said.

He added that nobody is indispensable while speaking on the issue raised concerning the change in the office of the Director of ICT, a department overseeing the electronic voting and transmission of election results.

According to him, “Is there anyone that cannot be changed? Nobody is indispensable. Even though everybody’s contribution is required, nobody is indispensable. INEC as an organisation is alive to its activities. As you know, anything can happen. Individuals can die, or resign from office. What will you do in that case? IPAC commends the effort of INEC which shows that it is alive to its responsibilities.”

But US based political and social commentator, Cecil Amaechi countered IPAC’s claim saying that what happened in 2019 between President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress and Atiku Abubakar of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party remains an eye opener and a pointer that INEC is far from being independent.

He expressed fears that the electoral umpire could easily be influenced by the ruling APC to sway the outcome of the election in its favour.

“The Independent National Electoral Commission in Nigeria has been in charge of elections, and so far they have done well too but in this administration of the APC, I think they are trying to shift the goal post while the game is still in play. INEC is supposed to be independent like the name indicated but it looks like the APC government wants to use the INEC as an agent of the party. Right now with the poor results of the APC coupled with the low rating of Nigerians, particularly the youths on the party’s candidate, it is clear that the only way the party can win the forthcoming elections is by rigging hence they are trying to manipulate by using INEC to change the positions of people they felt could not bulge to their demand.

“If this is not the reason, why did they also use Okoye to tell us that the y will jettison the electronic transmission of results only to come back to make excuses? I don’t know how those of you in Nigeria are seeing this action. They have succeeded in removing the engineer who knows much about the BVAS, during the election they will claim it’s faulty, it cannot work then you will see it will work in some parts of the country and will not work in some parts. This is APC’s game.

“However, the only way to stop any party from rigging is for the people to shun voter apathy and troop out in their numbers to cast their votes and defend it,” he said.

Similarly, a coalition of nine notable Civil Society Organisations and partners has advocated for a review of the 19 Independent National Electoral Commission Resident Electoral Commissioners’ nominees.

The coalition CSOs are: Yiaga Africa, International Press Center (IPC), Center for Media and Society (CMS), The Albino Foundation (TAF), Elect Her, Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), Partners for Electoral Reform (PER), Inclusive Friends Association (IFA) and The Kukah Centre.

Lanre Arogundade of IPC at a news conference on Friday in Abuja said the call was necessary to address some issues.

According to Arogundade, the Nigerian Senate on July 26, announced President Buhari’s appointment of 19 RECs following the expiration of the tenure of the outgone RECs in 19 states.

He said that out of the 19 nominated RECs, 14 were new appointments, while five were reappointed.

He listed the new nominees to include: Pauline Onyeka Ugochi, Imo, Muhammad Bashir, Sokoto, Prof. Ayobami Salami, Oyo Zango Abdu ,Katsina, Queen Elizabeth Agwu ,Ebonyi , Agundu Tersoo Benue and Yomere Oritsemlebi from Delta.

Others are: Prof. Yahaya Ibrahim, Kaduna, Dr. Nura Ali, Kano, Agu Sylvia, Enugu, Ahmed Garki, FCT, Hudu Yunusa, Bauchi, Prof. Uzochukwu Chijioke, Anambra, and Mohammed Nura, Yobe.

The reappointed nominees include Ibrahim Abdullahi (Adamawa); Obo Effanga (Cross River); Umar Ibrahim (Taraba); Agboke Olaleke (Ogun); and Prof. Samuel Egwu,(Kogi).

“Appointments into INEC have grave implications for the credibility, independence and capacity of the Commission to deliver credible, transparent, inclusive and conclusive elections.

“It is for this reason that the Constitution prescribes the criteria and procedure for appointments into INEC to protect the Commission’s neutrality, objectivity and non-partisanship.

“Section 156(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria clearly prohibits the appointment of any person who is a member of a political party as a member of INEC.

“To further ensure the neutrality of the members of INEC, the Constitution clearly mandates in the Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1) that Commissioners shall be non-partisan and persons of unquestionable integrity.

“Our investigation and analysis prove that some of the nominees fail the constitutional test of non-partisanship and unquestionable integrity.”

“We contend that the appointment of these individuals as RECs will significantly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission, and it will increase mistrust in INEC and Nigeria’s electoral process”

Arogundade said that evidence abounded that some of the nominees were partisan, politically aligned, or previously indicted for corruption.

“We contend that the appointment of these individuals as RECs will significantly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission, and it will increase mistrust in INEC and Nigeria’s electoral process.

“By the combined effect of Section 156 (1)(a) and Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1), these individuals are constitutionally prohibited from any appointment as members of INEC.

“It will be against the sacred spirit of the Constitution to accept their nomination, given their antecedent and close affinity with political parties, it is improbable that they will remain neutral and objective if successfully screened as INEC RECs,” he said.

Also, Jake Epelle, Founder of Albino Foundation, said the coalition was constrained to observe that the appointments did not reflect the principles of non-discrimination and inclusivity.

Epelle said it was critical that the coalition strove to make the electoral process more inclusive, representative, and qualitative.
He said the appointment of PWDS would provide the pulse required to give effect to the provisions of the Discrimination Against Persons Living with Disabilities Act, 2018, and other legislations and guiding principles in that regard.

Epelle added that the group called for a thorough examination and background checks of the credentials of the nominees.

He said that the coalition believed that the electoral commissioners should be individuals with impeccable character, unquestionable neutral inclinations, dispositions, and competence.

Ezenwa Nwagwu, Board Member, Yiaga Africa, said that it was critical for the legitimacy and success of the 2023 general election that the appointment of the RECs is concluded expeditiously in a transparent, non-partisan, and professional manner.

Nwagwu said that this was especially because the 2023 election was in 183 days.

He said the undersigned CSOs called for withdrawal of the nomination in the public interest.

“In making nominations into INEC should be guided by the judgment of the Federal High Court on affirmative action wherein the court directed that all appointments must comply with the 35 per cent affirmative action for women.

“In the same vein, the President should ensure the representation of Persons with disability (PWDs) and young people in the appointments.

“The Senate should accelerate the process of screening nominees without compromising due diligence and comprehensive scrutiny of nominations forwarded by the President,” he said.