EMEKA NZE writes that the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu has widened the scope of his itenerance and visits in the search for a peaceful atmosphere conducive to conduct elections.
Ordinary, the job of an umpire, any umpire, whether of football game or any other contest stops at supervising the game at the field of play to ensure that players adhere to the rules. It does not include what happens outside the pitch. So what the players do outside the field is not the umpires kettle of fish.
But in Nigeria, there is more to the work of an electoral umpire within and outside the field of the game. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria mandates the electoral umpire to midwife elections from preparations, such as nominations through primaries, campaigns to elections and the announcement of results.
One would have expected that the matter will terminate at end of results’ declaration. No. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the body reposed with the responsibility to conduct elections in the country also appears in court to defend its actions and inactions where a party or parties to the election have opted for litigation in expression of discontent.
As herculean as the job appears to be, the complexity of conducting elections in Nigeria demands more and thus, the current INEC boss seems to have not only squarely braced the responsibility but has also expanded the frontiers of the schedule.
Aware of the historical and habitual recalcitrance of the political actors, Yakubu has increased his itenerances, seeking peace amongst the contestants, stakeholders and their supporters with a view to curbing electoral violence.
He has also taken it a step further to embark on the tour of areas where elections are due to enable him have first hand information on the level of preparedness for elections. Apart from using his visit to Edo state two weeks ago to address the staff on the essence of neutrality during the elections holding this Saturday, his visit to the three INEC offices in local governments afforded him the rare opportunity to further interact with the staff.
The offices in Egor, Ikpoba and Oredo LGAs were agog seeing the INEC boss in their offices which was described as unprecedented by some of the staffers. He was conducted round the facilities and in his usual amiable mien, charged the staff in all local governments he visited to be neutral and dispassionate in discharging their election duties. “We are not against any political party or the candidate either, our concern is the integrity and transparency of the process,” he said.
Past INEC chairmen were used to comfortably straddle on armchairs where they dished out commands, delegated authorities and dictated for their members of staff who worked under pressure at the heat of elections.
But Yakubu, perhaps for his deep sense of history of Nigeria as a country replete with ugly past electorally, is changing the tide, giving the work of an umpire an itenerance hue. For Yakubu, every election, bye-elections inclusive, is not just important but deserves to be conducted in an atmosphere devoid of rancour and violence.
Aside the constitutional responsibilities of meeting with stakeholders as a major election approaches, and his preachments of peace to the stakeholders, the current INEC chairman has added to his schedule the task of meeting with traditional rulers in furtherance of the search for peace.
The imperative of paying courtesy a call on major traditional rulers as each election nears is premised on the fact that they bear the insignia of peace in their domains as highly respected custodians of tradiditions.
Thus the INEC chairman has not missed an opportunity of meeting them, especially in potentially volatile communities or states where elections are seen as a do or die affair.
Yakubu was in the palace of the Emir of Nasarawa, His Royal Highness Jubril Usman, prior to the Nasarawa Central State constituency election. Preparatory to the Edo governorship election, he visited the Royal Majesty, the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare the second.
The Yakubu visit to the Oba was remarkable as the monarch proceeded within week to summon the primary stakeholders who pledged to maintain peace in the conduct of their campaigns. The visit apparently not only reduced the tension and acrimony amongst the political players, it also instilled the hope that relative peace will meaningfully prevail for the rest of the period of electioneering and the election day proper.
The INEC boss had since returned to Benin where he presided over the stakeholders meeting and will probably remain there till the declaration of results for the Edo governorship elections.
In all the visits, the messages were the same- peace as a cardinal principle of every free, fair, credible and transparent elections. The INEC chairman has not missed any opportunity of calling stakeholders in different camps to sheathe their swords and allow elections to be conducted in a conducive atmosphere. While adopting the language of diplomacy to appeal to the stakeholders, he has not failed to remind them that the law will not spare anybody who goes contrary to it.
Most times, the INEC boss moved to douse public cynicism and perceived credibility gap between the electoral body and the stakeholders. There is usually the suspicion by the stakeholders that INEC is favouring or will favour one candidate against the other and Yakubu has quelled this cynicism with continued assurances that the electoral body will be impartial.
At the Edo stakeholders meeting last Monday, Yakubu said, “Our ultimate objective is to ensure that the choice of who becomes the next Governor of Edo State is entirely in the hands of the voters.
“I wish to reassure you that votes will count and only the choice made by the people of Edo State will determine the outcome of the election. “The Commission shall not take any action to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate. Our focus is on our processes and procedures. Nothing more.
“The Commission is determined that no one will benefit from impunity or rewarded for bad behaviour such as vote-buying, ballot box snatching and stuffing, multiple voting, hijacking and diversion of election materials, disruption of collation, falsification of results, attack on INEC officials or compelling them to declare unofficial results.
“The people of Edo State must be allowed to freely vote for their preferred candidate without inducement or harassment.
“We have been assured by the security agencies that thugs and their sponsors will not have the freedom to move around freely to disrupt the election or collation of results”, he said”, he said.
History, however, as they say, is the greatest judge, will determine whether the current INEC boss is succeeding in his mission to better Nigeria’s electoral system through his itenerance.