- Two elections under President Buhari have ended in a stalemate. This has left many stakeholders worried. Emma Alozie looks at how the two isolated elections have exposed the ill-preparedness of the current INEC to improve on what it met on ground
The major pillar of any thriving democracy is the organization of successful periodic elections either for governments to change or for governments to continue. No democracy can be said to worth its onions if elections are not seen to be free and fair.
Since after the 2007 general elections, adjudged as one of the worst elections in Nigeria’s history, efforts have been made to improve on elections. Electoral reforms were extensively carried out by the last administration, which culminated in radical overhaul of the electoral process.
For instance, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC introduced the Permanent Voters Card, the smart card reader and cleaned up the voter register. This to a large extent saw huge improvements and elevated the electoral fortunes of the main opposition party to an unprecedented level.
However, barely seven months after the landmark election in Nigeria, two isolated elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states have been marred by what observers describe as the ‘unseriousness’ of the electoral umpire.
First it was Kogi election where INEC under Prof Yakubu Mahmood is being accused of heeding the instruction of the Attorney General of the federation to substitute the late Abubakar Audu. Also INEC’s decision to go ahead with a supplementary election has come under serious bashing especially by those in the camp of the late Prince Audu.
The worry of many commentators and followers of unfolding events since the conduct of these two isolated elections is that the country may be heading back to electoral Egypt, when it had already crossed the Red Sea. As it was in Kogi, Bayelsa with just eight local government areas, though with a very difficult terrain could not be concluded within the time meant for the election. The Bayelsa election was reportedly marred by violence, vote rigging and over militarisation.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the ruling party in the state and the party in clear lead in the inconclusive election accused the military of aiding armed militants to manipulate the election in favour the All Progressives Congress, APC, the ruling party at the centre. Observers and monitors alike contend that what took place in Bayelsa was short of war, especially in Southern Ijaw local government area, the local government with the second highest registered voters outside of the state capital, Yenagoa.
The incumbent governor, Seriake Dickson was more direct in accusing the military of being complicit and brazen in manipulating the election in Southern Ijaw in favour of the APC. According to the governor, “Apart from intimidating and harassing eligible voters, members of the leading opposition party hide under the cover of darkness to perpetrate electoral fraud, which includes thumb printing of election materials and filling of the election result sheets”, he said.
The governor expressed concern over what he described as undemocratic act and a flagrant violation of the fundamental human rights of law-abiding people by the commission’s officials and security operatives. He called for timely intervention of the international community to prevail on the Buhari led-Federal Government to ensure fairness.
“What the Nigerian government is doing is a coup against democracy and subversion of my authority as governor and even of the peace and security of this state. If you asked, who is creating this mess, it is the APC led-Federal government deploying for the first time the military personnel to humiliate and attack people and forcing them to vote midnight. It has never happened anywhere in this country.
“The reason for this avoidable mess in Southern Ijaw is because by the calculation of the APC led government with tacit support of the military to forcefully hijack some election materials on that Sunday so that they can aid APC to write results without voting”, he said.
For three days, INEC could not conclude election in one local government of Southern Ijaw. The election was first postponed from the original December 5 to Sunday December 6 and still, due to reasons INEC described as volatile, the election was outrightly cancelled promising to fixing election in due date.
While cancelling the election in Southern Ijaw, INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC Baritor Kpagih citing violence. “You will recall that the Independent National Electoral Commission conducted governorship election in Bayelsa State on the December 5, 2015. The commission announced that the polls should be discontinued in some local government areas, including Southern Ijaw LGA of the state.
“As of today, December 7, 2015, the results of the election in all local government areas, except Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, have been collated. Reports on the election conducted in Southern Ijaw LGA on December 6, 2015, revealed that the election was substantially marred by violence, ballot snatching and hostage taking of electoral officers. These include reports from political parties, observers, both local and foreign, among others. These fall short of internationally acceptable standard for credible elections. Consequently, the commission has decided, in the interest of the integrity of the process, to cancel the governorship election in Southern Ijaw LGA. A new date for Southern Ijaw governorship election will be announced in due course,” the REC said.
However, faulting INEC’s line of argument, the candidate of APC and former Bayelsa governor, Timi Sylva said INEC erred in law in cancelling the election that according to him that had already been held. In a letter he wrote to INEC, Sylva argued “It is important to note that under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), there is no power either, express or implied that is vested on the Resident Electoral Commissioner, your commission or any staff whatsoever to cancel election that has commenced or concluded, in any manner as was done in Bayelsa state.
“The Commission’s power, in the above is limited only to the postponement of election that has not commenced. We consider the action of cancelling results of an election while collation is on-going as a dangerous precedent, usurping of the functions of the Tribunals established by the Constitution illegal and reminiscent of the annulment of June 12, 1993 Presidential Election and if allowed stand will not only expose your Commission to endless and avoidable litigations and would become a ready tool in the hands of officials of your Commission the power to truncate the will of the people.”
With two isolated elections ending in controversial inconclusiveness, Nigerians are wary of what will become a bigger general election just about three years away. No matter how the electoral reform history is written in Nigeria, the name of Goodluck Jonathan would feature prominently positively as the leader who strengthened the institutions of election and allowed peoples will prevail. This is why President Buhari should cease the opportunity and improve on where he met the electoral process, rein in the desperation of his party men to win at all cost and allow free and fail to polls to continue to be the order of the day.