EMEKA NZE examines INEC’s preparations towards 2019 elections in sharp contrast with previous elections’ management bodies and their modus operandi.
Between Iwu, Jega and Yakubu
If the actions of the current Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are indices of a free and fair election, then, Prof Mahmood Yakubu may be coasting to etching his name in the book of history as the first INEC chairman to get it right.
These actions were not recorded by his immediate past predecessors, Professors Maurice Iwu and Attahiru Jega.
Iwu was a disaster by popular estimation. Even though similar encomiums were poured on the INEC chairman before him, the professor of political science, Jega, after the 2015 general elections, but most Nigerians later realised that they had judged him “too early, and incorrectly too.”
Soon after Jega left office, his popularity drastically receded and he was later discovered allegedly to be a biased umpire.
The reason for the premature commendation of Jega was that “many Nigerians were beclouded and carried away by the then misrule of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and they yearned for a new administration.” To those who are of this view, Jega was undeserving of the feat of free and fair election in 2015 accorded to him.
Some people said their quick judgement of Jega was precipitated by the action of the man, now known as the icon of Nigeria’s democracy, the former President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, who quickly conceded defeat and congratulated President Mohammadu Buhari.
Jega’s glaring flaws
“It was Jonathan’s action of conceding early defeat that gave the entire process the credibility that it did not deserve,” a respondent, who did not want to be named in print, claimed.
“By the time the excitement of the 2015 election results had simmered down, the false assessment of Jega as a man of honour began to wane.
“It dawned on many Nigerians that apart from the inflation of the figures of the permanent voters’ cards from the Northeast, an insurgency riddled area, the sincerity of the former INEC chair on the figures ceded to Kano APC in the presidential election also came to question.”
In a recent interview with a former Minister of Health, Prof ABC Nwosu, he said: “In 2015, I was the one who was shouting that Jega was a fraud.
“How could he? Yobe had less than1.01million registered voters. They collected 800 and something thousand pvcs and there was Boko Haram there. Enugu had 1.5 million registered voters, 700 and something PVCs were collected there and there was no Boko Haram in Enugu.
“I kept saying he is a professor like me and professors are known for logic. How could a place with less number of registered voters in an insurgency area collect more pvcs than a place with more registered voters and no insurgency?
“I needed a rational explanation. I didn’t get it. So It looked to me like you knew certain catchment areas where you didn’t want people to vote.”
According to this group of Nigerians, what happened to the Kano REC who alongside his family perished in a mysterious inferno was a pointer to electoral malfeasance of the time.
Also the prosecution of electoral offenders during tenures of previous INEC chairmen was observed in breaches especially of security agencies who connived with politicians to rig elections. Today, the EFCC is working well with INEC to rid the country of compromisers of the electoral process.
Prior to the dispensation of Yakubu, consultations with stakeholders of the electoral process were shabby. Those merely consulted were front line segment of the electoral stakeholders- the press, the political parties, the security agencies and the civil society organisations.
The rest of the stakeholders were more often than not kept in the dark and could only rely on the press for information, thus most of the commission’s decisions were arbitrary and very unpopular and occasionally drew the ire of the citizens.
Today, Prof Yakubu has expanded the frontiers of consultations. Apart from the media, the politicians, the security agencies and the CSOs’ religious leaders’quarterly meetings, the traditional rulers have become the bulwarks of electoral process courtesy of consultations by Yakubu.
People living With Disabilities (PWDs) are not left behind. Prof Yakubu in some of the off season elections has already introduced magnifying glasses for albinos and voters with sight problems and going by the promises of the Professor of history, the blind may be participating in the forthcoming elections due to the introduction of brails.
The present commission, worried by the spate of vote buying, which did not begin in this regime, has contacted other agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to assist curb the menace. Far reaching measures, such as the ban on the use of phones at the polling booth, have also been introduced.
In addition to this, never before has an INEC taken the preachments and sensitisation of the electoral system to the university community preparatory to general elections.
For Yakubu, the campus outreach is an integral part of the stakeholders and should not be left behind, especially, during the review of the voters’ register during which he enjoined the staff and students to avail themselves the opportunity to determine who leads them.
Relationship with media
In previous general elections, the commission merely saw the media as a vehicle for passing information to the electorate and did not go beyond consulting with the media which as a key organ to the functioning of democratic system, the present commission is concerned about not only communicating its activities to the people via the media but also equipping the media to be able to properly perform its constitutional role.
Hence, the commission, in collaboration with some international bodies, has organised various workshops for media personnel, sensitizing them on the workings of the various departments of the commission as well as of the electoral system preparatory to the 2019 elections.
Only few weeks ago, the commission in collaboration with European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES), packaged one of the best capacity building workshops for the INEC press corps in Abuja.
While welcoming the participants to the three-day workshop, the INEC chair harped on why the commission had to organise such workshops.
“It has been repeatedly shown across the world that the media are powerful tool for protecting the rights of citizens to information, giving voice to the people, providing platforms for diverse opinions and creating conditions for tolerance and understanding.
“However, we have also had a glimpse of the flip side of the coin where lack of professionalism, objectivity and impartiality have, in a number of unfortunate cases, plunged nations into turmoil as the experiences of Rwanda (1994) and Kenya (2007) have shown”.
The aforesaid was predicated on the commission’s view that a well informed media will not have much problems informing the larger spectrum of the Nigerian electorate who would be depending on the media to know the day to day activities of the political actors and the electoral umpire, INEC.
Few days ago, the commission, through its gender department and supported by United Nations Women, organised another one-day seminar on Media and Gender Sensitive Reporting of Elections.
This latest workshop, according to INEC’s Deputy Director on Gender, Mrs Blessing Obidegwu, was “to sensitize the media on the need to take conscious and deliberate steps in mainstreaming gender in their reportage of electoral activities in 2019 general elections and beyond.”
She underscored that fact that “the male politicians tend to receive move media coverage at the detriment of their female counterparts who sometimes get displaced for want of adequate exposure.”
Apart from the ones organised by INEC itself, such instances abound where this current commission went an extra mile to link some members of its press corps with some of these international bodies that organise workshops on the electoral process.
This is to ensure that the reportorial skills of reporters on electoral process are sharpened via such workshops. The three-day International Press Centre (IPC) workshop in Enugu, which dwelt on “the best practices and professional reporting of the electoral process”, was one example of such seminars.
The star-studded workshop featured Prof Chinyere Okunna of the Mass Communication Department, Nnamdi Azikwe University Awka, Mrs Funke-Treasure Durodola, Assistant Director Programmes, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, (Lagos Operations) and Jide Ojo, a public analyst and Executive Director, OJA Development Consult.
Some of the topics were: “According ethics and professionalism deserved priority in reporting elections in Nigeria”; “Mainstreaming reports of gender and people living with disabilities in the electoral process”, “Reckoning with accountability and transparency issues in election reporting”, amongst others.
INEC must watch political class
As well meaning as some of these efforts are, observers have urged INEC to be wary of the political class. It is obvious that the culture of win-at-all-costs and do or die politics still pervades the entire camps of Nigerian politicians and only a determined Commission can circumvent and counter the ploys of these politicians to scuttle a decent process.
While so many have called for the random sampling of a sizeable number of the Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) in circulation to determine their authenticity, it behoves on the INEC to conduct the exercise to ensure that names of the bearers tally with faces who hold them.
By so doing, holders of this view believe that the INEC would have solved the confidence crisis by almost half.
Presidential Candidate of the KOWA party, Sina Adegbenro-Byron, does not understand why the voter instrument (PVCs) should be found in the hands of certain under-aged voters and noted that such is “if allowed to continue will erode the credibility of the system.