2019 election: Roundtable thumb up INEC on credibility




In this piece, BODE OLAGOKE writes on the vote- of- confidence passed on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman Prof Mahmood Yakubu by 75 political parties, weeks after the general elections.

The issue

Though the 2019 general elections have come and gone but the issue of its credibility is still a major discussion within and outside Nigeria. Interestingly, both the international and local observers had rated the processes leading to the elections by the electoral empire as broadly credible. They equally applauded the majority of results declared by the INEC but many, especially the opposition elements, were not convinced.

Like in other climes especially in developing nations, there were cases of obvious vote-buying even as personnel in military attire engaged in sporadic shooting and killings, voter and observer intimidation and theft of electoral materials, not many commentators were in the know that the INEC had little or no control of the security agencies.

Therefore, until the Center for Transparency Advocacy (CTA), one of the organisations that deployed election observers across the country, took it upon itself and release its findings during the said general elections there were lot of misconceptions, display of ignorance and deliberate falsehood against the leadership of the commission and its entire exercise.

CTA’s report

The reports of the Center for Transparency Advocacy, an organisation that deployed about one thousand observers nationwide during the poll, came barely six weeks after the general elections with worries and commendations.

For example, the organisation is deeply worried that despite the sensitisations carried out by all the stakeholders including the political parties, the 2019 elections generally witnessed a low-turnout.

It also worried about the brazen nature of the misconduct and security sector interferences witnessed mostly during the governorship elections in some states.

In her speech at the event which had several other civil society organizations, senior media executive and some of the election observers in attendance, Acting Executive Director of CTA, Ms Faith Nwadishi, said the electoral empire “committed itself totally to the rule of law and went about the business of organising free and fair general elections methodically.”

Notwithstanding its shortfalls, the CTA praised security services for helping with the maintenance of law and order during the elections, it specifically commended the INEC boss for his “open door policy and constantly engaging with all stakeholders before and during the exercise.

According to Nwadishi, one of the most remarkable themes of the past four years of INEC under Professor Yakubu has been how it has tried to show its independence in the way and manner it goes about exercising its mandate, despite the intense pressure from the political class.

“For the first time, the ruling party was prevented from presenting candidates for elections in Zamfara and Rivers states because INEC insisted on following the rules. Indeed, its actions were upheld by the courts, even at the highest judicial level by the Supreme Court.

“The Independent National Electoral Commission under the leadership of Professor Mahmod Yakubu took the task of conducting elections seriously and, along with his team, he showed quite early that INEC was determined to answer only to Nigerians and no one else.

“INEC committed itself totally to the rule of law and went about the business of organising free and fair general elections methodically. All the off-season elections organised in the states concerned proved remarkably better than those contested before then, which gave the people great hope that the 2019 general elections was going to be free and fair. Professor Yakubu repeated his determination to ensure such an outcome at every opportunity.

“To this end, the INEC released the timetable for the 2019 general elections one full year to the election. The idea was to give political parties, citizens and all stakeholders time to prepare for the election, including enough time for all contentious issues to be addressed.

“Also, one outstanding thing those of us who are observers witnessed with the new INEC was its relentless attempt to reach out by keeping an open-door policy and by constantly engaging with all stakeholders from the very beginning and through every stage of the preparations for the 2019 election.

“The commission established well-developed and well-supervised standard protocols, business processes and rules for regularly cleaning up and updating registers of voters nationwide. It implemented the continuous voter registration (CVR) exercise as stipulated in the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) to ensure that everyone who truly wants to vote gets to register. There was an extensive campaign nationwide to ensure that citizens took advantage of this programme to register for the election and collect the PVCs on time.”

Ignorance and mischief

In the same vein, the chairman, Partners for Electoral Reform (PER), Ezenwa Nwagwu, blamed ignorance and mischief on the part of some citizens and political actors for the misgiving against the INEC. Nwagwu said elections are guided by electoral act, guidelines and constitution and not the social media, as some disgruntled politicians would want people to believe.

“If you look at the results of these elections, I tell people who are saying the vote did not count to go to Akwa Ibom and tell the people who voted out Senator Godswill Akpabio after he joined the APC that their votes did not count. Go to Oyo state and tell the people who voted out the governorship candidate of the ruling party and voted in Seyi Makinde of PDP that their vote did not count or you go to Imo state where people voted for Emeka Ihedioha of the PDP that their vote did not count.”

Case of voter apathy

While presenting copies of the report to the public, director inter-campus activities, Osun state University, Prof Anthony Kola-Olusanya, said the just concluded elections were remarkable because “it’s a one that celebrates 20 years of unbroken democratic process in the country.

“Before the election, apart from time table released a year before the elections, there were also several stakeholders’ meetings to ensure that a large number of citizens participate in the process.

“About 84m Nigerians collected their PVCs which is the largest and the best in the history of Nigeria, although there can be improvement. Out of the 84m voters, who collected the PVC, only 25 percent voted. It is a voters’ apathy.”

The Roundtable

It was a first of its kind where political parties, who are major stakeholders in the election process and participated in the just concluded general elections, came together the platform of Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) to discuss successes, failures recorded and way forward in the future elections.

The Roundtable had 75 out of 91 political parties physically present with their national chairmen and secretaries.

Although the number would have been far more than 75 but because some others like PDP and APC were already in court, they were conspicuously absent.

Of the 91 parties, 73 fielded presidential candidates, while the majority of the parties also fielded candidates in the other categories of the elections.

Apart from these political parties, major election observer bodies and other major stakeholders were also represented at the national roundtable with the theme: “The role and performances of stakeholders in the 2019 general elections, issues, challenges and prospects.”

What the chairmen say

Some of the chairmen of the parties, who spoke at the 2-day roundtable on the evaluation of the last polls, asked President Muhammadu Bubari to sign into law the amended electoral bill.

They blamed operatives of security agencies, particularly the military and the police for whatever shortcomings that might have been witnessed in the last elections.

One after the other, the political leaders exonerated the leadership of the INEC, especially its chairman Prof Yakubu from whatever failures were recorded during the just concluded exercise.

For the Labour Party national chairman, Alhaji Abdulkadir Abdusalam, the country still has a long way to go because some politicians still see elections as a do or die. “INEC from the top tried but some of the staff distorted the process,” he stated.

The vote of confidence on INEC boss

After the speeches came the resolution and the whole 75 parties passed a vote of confidence on the INEC chairman, Prof Yakubu, for his transparency, credibility and open door policy before, during and after the elections.

The forum also asked President Muhammadu Buhari to extend Yakubu’s tenure beyond the first four-year tenure, so as to instill full culture of openness in the process.

In a communique issued at the end of the well attended conference, which was signed by the chairman of the organising committee, Hon Geff Ojinaka and the co-organiser of the event, Faith Nwadishi, the chairmen explained that the decision to commend the INEC chairman was anchored on his commitment to ensure that things were done in a transparent manner.

“The Roundtable after a comprehensive review of the conduct of the 2019 general elections passes a vote of confidence on the national chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof Mahmood Yakubu for the successful conduct of the election, and notes with satisfaction the transparency in communication and regular engagement of stakeholders at the national, state and local government levels which ensured that everybody was carried along in the process.”

Why INEC deserve it

The Acting Executive Director, Centre for Transparent Advocacy (CTA) and the co-organisers of the event, Faith Nwadishi, said INEC as the umpire of the general elections proved quite independent in the way and manner it responded to the unexpected challenges thrown its way by the stakeholders in the process and other unforeseen circumstances during the last general elections.

“Of note is how it bravely prevented the ruling party from fielding candidates in Zamfara state in its determination to follow the rules no matter whose ox is gored. More crucially, on the ground, during election and voting day, it refused to be intimidated by threats and violence unleashed on its officials and ad-hoc staff leading to some certificates of return being withheld by INEC though this is now subject to litigations.”

The recommendations

The forum did not also fail to make some recommendations that will be of help to better future elections in the country. They are as follow:

According to them, President Buhari should as a matter of urgency, when represented by the National Assembly, sign the new electoral bill into law.

“The Roundtable calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill into law when re-presented to him by the National Assembly to save the country from the problems associated with the extent law”, it quoted.

The participants recommended that presidential, national assembly, governorship as well as state house of assembly elections be held the same day, to address the challenge of voter apathy after first election.

“In order to address dwindling turnout of voters after the first election and increase the zeal to elect credible leaders The roundtable recommends the conduct of the three principal elections, viz; presidential/national assembly election, governorship/state assembly elections and chairmanship/councillorship elections on the same day. This will save cost, ensure emergence of quality leadership, the integrity of the ballot, large voter turnout and guarantee improved security on Election Day.”

“The roundtable called for the scrapping of ad-hoc arrangement by the electoral body in the conduct of elections, just as it recommended that dates for possible run-off, re-run or inconclusive poll should be made known while scheduling election time table.

“INEC should strengthen the capacity of its polling staff through training and retraining particularly on the handling of the card readers, assisting voters as well as other electoral procedures to ensure transparency and credibility during future elections.

“INEC should consider, recruiting permanent staff whose schedule should be collation of results, train them thoroughly for the assignment to save the nation the embarrassment of adhoc collation officers.

“Efforts must be intensified to ensure proper coordination of Inter Agency Committee on Election Security (ICES) and the non-partisan deployment of security personnel to all the polling units to ensure peaceful conduct of polls.

“The roundtable calls on the National Assembly should immediately re-present to President Muhammadu Buhari the amended electoral and calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to do the needful to ensure that the amended Electoral Bill is signed into law.

“The roundtable demands the establishment of electoral offenses tribunal to try electoral offenders, which should be structured to take off less than a month after election petition tribunal hearings have concluded”, they said.

Ex-Sierra Leone VP sues for peace

The immediate past Vice President of Sierra Leone, Alhaji Sam Sumana, who was a special guest at the event, said Nigeria remained the biggest democratic country in the African continent, stressing that other Africans were looking up to her to show good example.

Sumana, however urged all the political leaders and stakeholders to put the diversity and differences aside to ensure the greatness of Nigeria.

The ex-Sierra Leone VP said: “I am so fulfilled to be in this great country of ours. I want to thank God for Nigeria for being there for us, Sierra Leone. Nigeria supported us during those trial periods. The African continent has begun to do something in the right direction.

“Before now, Africa was known as continent ruled by kings, chiefs and warriors. But today, we have transformed into a big democracy.  Yes, it is still a learning process but we can say we must all plan for ourselves. It is good that Nigeria embrace democracy as the biggest democratic country in Africa.

“There is a common saying in the West Coast that when Nigeria sneezes others catch cold. So, we learn from Nigeria as the biggest democracy in Africa. We look up to you to emulate those good examples that will help us to ensure that Africa is no longer seen in the eyes of the camera for the wrong reason but as a continent of reforms,” he said.

Conclusion

As commendable as the intervention by the forum is, it was observed that the stakes of getting election accountability right are high. Observers are of the opinions that if all the recommendations put forward by the political parties are implemented, the body might be crowned gold after the 2023 general elections.

The cracks exposed and experienced during the just concluded general elections must, however be addressed so as to restore faith in the process.

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