INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu is expected to resume office next week after his clearance by the Senate. Assistant editor, Mike Odiakose, writes that as he assumes office, it is not going to be a tea party as Nigerians expect him to fix several loose ends and half-done jobs left behind by the former INEC chairman.

 

INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu is expected to resume office next week after his clearance by the Senate. Assistant editor, Mike Odiakose, writes that as he assumes office, it is not going to be a tea party as Nigerians expect him to fix several loose ends and half-done jobs left behind by the former INEC chairman.
The Senate, on Thursday, screened and confirmed the appointment of the new chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, barely one week after the National Council of States gave its nod to his nomination by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Also confirmed, along with Prof Yakubu, were five national commissioners. They are Amina Zakari, representing northwest zone; Anthonia Okoosi-Simbine, north central; and Baba Shettima Arfo, northeast.
Others are Soyebi Adedeji Solomon, southwest and Mohammed Mustafa Lecky, south-south.
Contrary to the believe in certain quarters that Mahmood Yakubu, a professor of history and international studies, from Bauchi State, would not be stepping into the big shoe left behind by Prof Attahiru Jega, who concluded his five year tenure on June 30, he would be saddled with the responsibility of clearing the mess left behind by his predecessor.
With benefit of hindsight and the outcome of the judgments emanating from the Election Tribunals nationwide, it is now apparent that the accolades given to Prof Jega was premature and misplaced. The 2015 general election was badly managed by Prof Jega on many fronts and these are critical areas that the new INEC chairman must confront as he takes charge of the electoral body.
Result of the presidential election shows that out of about 70 million eligible voters in the country, less than 26 million participated in the election with President Buhari getting the support of less than 14 million Nigerians in a country with about 170 million people.
The low voters turnabout is largely due to the fact that majority of Nigerians were systematically disenfranchised by INEC on the watch of Jega from participating in the electoral process. The process of disenfranchisement of voters began with the decision of INEC to introduce the Permanent Voters Cards, PVCs, some months to the crucial election. Though Jega had four good years to prepare for the 2015 election, the electoral body slept for better part of this period and only woke up when it was late to engage in fire brigade approach in the conduct of the elections. Millions of Nigerians believe that the last minute preparation for the 2015 election was part of a well articulated ploy to pre-determine the outcome of the polls.
Millions of eligible voters that had the Temporary Voters Cards, TVCs, could not get their PVCs till date and they were denied voting during the election. Several problems arose in the production and distribution of the PVCs as some PVCs were sent to the wrong locations by INEC. This problem was not resolved till the elections took place. There were reports of INEC staff deliberately refusing to release PVCs to some voters in some states like Lagos where those that were perceived to likely vote for a particular political party were denied the cards. Though INEC made a show of dealing with the officials that denied these Nigerians their PVCs, nothing has come out of it till date.
When it became apparent that millions of Nigerians will be disenfranchised if only holders of the PVCs are allowed to vote, Prof Jega stuck to his gun and refused to shift ground.
The problem of the PVCs were compounded with the use of the card readers as INEC staff and the election ad-hoc INEC staff were not given adequate training on how use the card readers. Thousands of the card readers were also faulty and did not function prior to and during the crucial election. During the election, the card readers failed to capture the fingerprint of millions of voters, including former President Goodluck Jonathan.
With reports across the nation that the card readers are malfunctioning, INEC sent out a belated press statement in the evening of the presidential Election Day directing its workers to revert to manual accreditation when millions of frustrated voters had gone home and denied the right to vote.
Since the use of the PVCs and card readers has come to stay in the country, it is imperative for the new chairman of INEC to take proactive steps to resolve all the issues arising from the use of the PVCs and card readers. Since INEC is engaged in continuous voters’ registration all year round, Prof Yakubu must also ensure the PVCs are produced as soon as the voters register so that there will not be any issue of INEC embarking on massive production of millions of PVCs few months to the general election.
Prof Yakubu should also look into the possibility of INEC procuring the machines that produce the PVCs instead of depending on contractors to handle the production of PVCs. This will not only safe the cost of production, it will also give INEC total control of the entire process. If the drivers’ licences are produced directly by the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, and national identity cards are produced directly by the National Identity Card Commission without recourse to contractors, there is no reason why INEC should not handle production of PVCs directly since it is the same technology that is involved.
On the problems associated with the card readers, the INEC boss must ensure that the commission workers are retrained again on the handling of the machine. The INEC staff must have the competence to be able to train the ad-hoc staff that will be recruited for subsequent elections. To perfect the use of the card readers, Prof Yakubu should look into the possibility of collaborating with the 36 State Independent Electoral Commissions, SIECs, so that the machines will be used for the conduct of all local government elections in the country. Unimpeded and habitual use of the card readers from the local government level before the next general election will entrench it as part of our electoral process and same time produce a large number of experts in the use card reading machines.
Another issue that came out of the election tribunals is the haphazard manner INEC screened and cleared candidates presented by political parties, during the last general election without doing thorough investigations. INEC even threw out some petitions against some of the candidates of the party under the pretence of having its hands tied by some laws. For instance, the House of Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Jos, Plateau State, nullified the election of Vincent Venman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, representing Langtang South Constituency and banned him for life from future elections on the grounds that he was not qualified to contest in the election as an ex-convict having been convicted of fraud by a court.
Delivering judgment, Chairman of the tribunal, Justice O. O Akeredolu, said the respondent was not qualified to contest the election having been convicted of an offence in line with Section 107(1)(d) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Justice Akeredolu said: “The respondent, having been convicted of an offence involving fraud and dishonesty by a court of law, was not qualified to contest the election into the Plateau State House of Assembly to represent Langtang South constituency.
Also, the Yobe Legislative Elections Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja nullified the election of a member representing Nangere/Potiskum Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Sabo Garba, of the PDP for lack of educational qualification.
The three-member tribunal, presided by Frances Ikponmwen, gave the nullification order while delivering judgment in a petition filed by Ali Yakubu of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
The petitioners had alleged that the lawmaker did not attend the schools he claimed to have attended in the INEC forms he filled, namely Central Primary School Potiskum; Teachers College, Bama, Borno State and National Teachers Institute.
The Tribunal had also subpoenaed officials of the three schools who had testified to the effect that the lawmaker did not attend the schools and subsequently nullified his election.
Nigerians view these nullifications as a damning indictment on INEC that gave them clean bill of health to contest the elections after they were presented by their political party. To avoid such embarrassing indictment, Prof Yakubu should overhaul the department in charge of the screening of candidates presented for future elections. If there are any legal encumbrances that impede INEC from doing a thorough job in the screening process, the new INEC chairman should initiate executive bill to the National Assembly to remove such impediments.
On a good note, Prof Yakubu has given indication that he will pursue the issue of electronic voting during his tenure. This is a welcome development and as he hit the ground running, he must commence in earnest the process to achieve this objective. Prof Yakubu should likewise revisit all other issues arising from the 2015 election to endure the electoral body is ready for next general election at least 12 months in advance. President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly should give him all necessary support, including early release of funds, to consolidate on the gains achieved since the country began electoral reform in 2011. The new chairman of INEC gave a very good account of himself in all the previous national assignments he was saddled with and Nigerians expect him to not only beat his own previous record, but also raise the bar in the management of the country’s electoral process. And the time for him to start is now.


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