2019: Victims of INEC’s strictness and the blame game

EMEKA NZE writes on major issues that made the 2019 general elections unique and the way forward.

Unequivocally, 2019 elections will remain a subject of national discourse having entered the anals of the country as the election where the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) showed strictness in the enforcement of its rules.

Prior to the elections, it is worthy to mention is that in 2019, the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commission (ECONEC) conferred the title of “Honorary President” on the INEC Chairman in August.

This, ECONEC said, was in recognition of his contributions to the conduct of credible elections in member countries.  He was ECONEC’s President from two years (2017 – 2019).

Before the elections, INEC in collaboration with the European Union (EU) and the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) successfully carried out the Campus Outreach campaign in six federal universities across the country’s six geo-political zones to encourage Nigerians, especially university students to register, vote and participate in the electoral process.

The Universities include UNIABUJA, UNILAG, Moddibo Adama University of Technology, Yola, UNN and UNIPORT and after the elections, the Commission unveiled its Revised Communication Policy.

The Republic of Chad’s Election Management Body visited INEC in August to understudy the commission’s processes in order to learn.

Back to the 2019 elections proper. Remarkably, while some victories were obtained directly through the polls as the electoral umpire announced results, others got theirs at the courts, yet others were said to have obtained theirs using other means- consequently the lexicon of ‘under-duress.”

The major victims of the strict enforcement of the rules were the APC in Zamfara and River states who could not field candidates due to their inability to meet the deadline in the conduct of their state primaries. Although both states blamed INEC for their failures, the commission had maintained their stance. APC had gone to court to challenge INEC decision but the courts validated the decision to reject the list of APC candidates saying it was within the powers vested in the commission by the constitution, thus APC could not field candidates in the two states.

Before the elections, INEC has constantly drummed it in the ears of the political actors that vote buying was outlawed and were to deploy measures to discourage it, including positioning security agencies at the polling units to arrest would-be offenders.

Moreso, the commission had also banned the use phones at the polling booth. This was aimed at stopping the voter from using the device to snap

his/her ballot paper with a view of showing it later to the politician who would in turn pay him for voting for his favoured candidate.

While these were put in place, Nigerians had expected that the law enforcement agencies who manned security at the polling units were going to make many arrests of such offenders, not much was heard even when the buying of votes was said to be the order of the day in some places during the conduct of the 2019 elections.

While some Nigerians are wont to put this on INEC, the questions that easily come to mind was whether the security agencies that manned the polling units rather than do INEC’s bidding connived or colluded with the voters in sabourtaging the laws.

It is not therefore surprising that Prof Yakubu at a recent meeting of the Inter Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), announced a seeming re-arrangement of the security for future elections.

Another sore point of the 2019 general elections was the announcement of results under duress. This was said to have happened in Imo West Senatorial District where the then governor Rochas Okorocha alleged obtained his victory under duress. There were other examples in state constituencies in Niger and Akwa Ibom.

Piqued by this development, chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu announced that such individuals who got their victories under duress would not be issued with their certificate of returns.

Surprisingly, Okorocha went to court and obtained a favourable judgement forcing INEC to issue him  the certificates. Even though a livid INEC chairman had announced the intention of the commission to pursue the matter to Supreme Court, not much is being heard on the issue as well as those other state constituencies where victories were obtained under duress.

The blame game was such that some politicians that lost expectedly accused the electoral umpire of bias, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) also said their weakness was the electoral law which could not be accented to by the president.

The security agents, especially the Police which are the lead agency in election conduct, also blamed politicians and their supporters for the violence recorded.

The lawmakers saddled with the responsibility of repealing or amending the electoral laws, said the inability of the president to signed the electoral act amendment bill before the 2019 general elections, gave room for people to fault the process.

The Muhammadu Buhari presidency also said it  it could not sign the electoral act amendment bill into law due to limited time saying that the law would be signed for future elections

Minority leader of the Nigerian Senate, Eyinnaya Abaribe, disagreed and added that an amendment into the electoral act was signed few days to a general election in the past.

The lawmakers, under the leadership of Ahmad Lawan, who is the Senate president and the chairman of the National Assembly, have started a fresh process of amending the electoral act.

Several bills have been introduced but the much-talk- about is coming from the deputy Senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege, which is seeking for electronic voting and electronic transmission of results.

The e-transmition of result was the much contested issue at the tribunal when former Vice president Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) approached the court, challenging the victory of incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress (APC).

Atiku told the court that from the ‘inner server’ of INEC, he defeated Buhari with 1, 615,302 votes.

But the court affirmed the earlier declaration by INEC that Buhari polled 15,191,847 to emerge winner while Atiku polled 11,262,978 to emerge second.

On the electoral law, the lawmakers are said to working hard to purge themselves of any blame ahead of the 2023 general election.

According to the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, the process of amending the electoral act will start early and end ontime so that president Muhammadu Buhari can sign it ahead of the next general election.

The blame game of the 2019 general election cut accros political parties and regions.

The 2019 general elections, according to the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, was the most accrimonious in Nigeria’s recent history.

It started from the preelection period when political parties conducted their primary elections in 2018 that left the electoral umpire to battle with 809 pre-election court cases.

It did not stop there. After the conduct of the 2019 general elections, over 557 court cases emerged apart from the preelection cases.

INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, blamed the incidents to what he described as the overzealousness of politicians.

Yakubu categorically said that politicains who failed to conduct a decent internal elections, lost the credibility of blaming the conduct of the general elections.

While politicians and voters concluded their plans for the Presidential elections on February 16, INEC postponed it few hours to the commencement of the polls and cited logistic challenge.

It was another round of blame and counter blame as most of the ‘big’ political parties,’ including the ruling party blamed INEC’s postponement to poor arraignment despite adequate release of funds. The suspicious parties accused INEC of doing the bidding of one party or another.

The one week postponement paved way for briefings by the commission during which vital questions were asked by the press and the civil society organisations as well as political parties.

The presidential and National Assembly polls were held on 23 February while the Governorship, the State Assembly and the FCT council polls held on the 9 March, 2019.

In an overall assessment, INEC is happy that a total of 412.7 million ballot papers and 13 million result sheets were printed for the Presidential Election alone with 91 political parties fielding 23,316 candidates.

The Elections took place in 119,973 polling units in over 50,000 voting points.

On 7th January, the Commission unveiled a new National Register of Voters. Total number of registered voters  were put at– 84,004,084. The CVR was conducted between April 2017 and August 2018 and more than 14 million new voters were added to the register. As at the time of the 2019 general elections, total uncollected PVCs were put at  11,228,582 while ollected PVCs were put at 72,775,502.