Can INEC Conduct A Free Presidential Election?


Sonnie Ekwowusi argues the many ‘ifs’ to a credible election

Last week the INEC Chairman Prof Mammod Yakubu publicly promised that notwithstanding the challenges facing the commission, it would conduct free and fair elections or would deliver electoral justice in 2023.  “Only the votes cast by Nigerians will determine who wins and this is our commitment to the nation,” said Prof Yakubu.

Beyond mere verbal undertaking, Prof. Yakubu led-INEC must truly and really conduct an impartial, free, fair and credible 2023 elections, especially the Presidential election. Of all the elections the Presidential election is the most crucial which outcome will make or mar Nigeria.  In fact guaranteeing peace, unity and stability in Nigeria in 2023 depends so much on the outcome of the 2023 Presidential election. The truth of the matter is that the people want a breakaway from the pre-existing ruinous legal order. They want total breakaway from the two political parties – APC and PDP-which are hanging on the same leprous hand. There is a time for everything under the sun. This is the time for severance from the yolk of slavery and oppression. That is why the teeming young people that constitutes the bulk of the population of Nigeria has trodden the streets and alleyways across Nigeria, reminiscent of the storming of the Bastille, to demand for a new political order where commutative justice, equity, character, competence shall flourish.  Armed with their respective Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) most young people across the geo-political zones of the country are poised to cast their votes for the Presidential candidate of their choice in the forth-coming election.

 In the past, the country’s youths had displayed a somewhat nonchalant attitude towards elections and electoral processes. But today this has changed for good. In fact, as we speak, the Nigerian youths are out in the streets, expressways and alleyways dancing, singing and demanding for electoral justice in the 2023 Presidential election. Apart from the Nigerian youths, other Nigerian voters from variegated bloodstream of society are casting so much hope in the 2023 Presidential election. They perceive the election as the election which will bring positive change in Nigeria. Therefore INEC has no option but to conduct a free and fair Presidential election in February 2023. INEC must ensure that the will of the Nigerian people is reflected in the 2023 Presidential election. A very credible American election monitoring team which is based in Washington D.C that came to monitor the 2019 Presidential election in Nigeria stated that candidate Atiku Abubakar clearly won that election. Therefore INEC must not rig the forth-coming Presidential election in favour of the APC. The other day an APC chieftain was boasting that the APC would rule Nigeria for the next three decades. And President Buhari has said that he is eagerly looking forward to handing over power to another APC man in 2023.

If President Buhari was/is the nominator and appointer/re-appointer of INEC chair Prof. Yakubu coupled with the fact Yakubu is not financially independent of the Presidency, it is not illogical to believe that Prof Yakubu would dance to Buhari’s tune. He who pays the piper calls the tune. Isn’t it? Think carefully about what I am saying.  This is the first time the chair of our electoral body is coming from the same ethnic group as the President of Nigeria. For example, in 1979 Chief Michael Ani who was the chair of the then Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) did not come from the same ethnic group as the late President Shehu Shagari. Other successive electoral body bosses such as Prof. Eme Awa, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, Abel Guobadia, Maurice Iwu, Attahiru Jega did not come from the same ethnic group as the heads of government who appointed them.  But today we have the chairman of INEC who does not only come from the same ethnic enclave as President Buhari but who was singularly handpicked and appointed the INEC Chairman by the same President Buhari. This is why the people are entertaining fear about Prof Yakubu with regard to the Presidential election. I tell people that Presidential Buhari would not want to commit a political suicide: he would not want to hand over power to a Peter Obi who, wittingly or unwittingly, would dismantle the Fulani oligarchical and corrupt structures which he (Buhari) has been labouring to put in place in the last seven and half years. 

Granted, by virtue of the Electoral Act 2022, votes are now electronically transmitted. The new electoral act has given legal backing to INEC to deploy technology to enhance the credibility of the electoral process. This has given birth to the deployment of INEC Voter Enrollment Device (IVED), Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal. But the aforesaid are not bulwark against election gerrymandering or manipulation. A technology operated by a fraudster can become a fraudster. So, notwithstanding the deployment of technology in the electoral process, INEC staffers can still rig the election in favour of any political party if they want.

 Of all the INEC officials, the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) are the most powerful and influential. The RECs are the representatives of INEC at the state level. The role of RECs is critical for the success of any election. The duties of the RECs include monitoring the activities of all INEC ad-hoc staff/RECs as well as providing for proper verification of election results. In fact, the INEC relies heavily on RECs verifications in authenticating the election results on the presupposition that RECs are people of unquestionable integrity.

The pertinent question is: Who are the current RECs officiating in the 2023 elections? The coalition of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) complains that some of the 19 RECs newly appointed for INEC by President Muhammadu Buhari are either card-carrying members of the ruling party or people who have been previously indicted for corruption. On their own part, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) also complained that the current national voters’ register has been adulterated with fake and foreign names.  In response to the allegation, INEC says it is presently conducting a comprehensive Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) clean-up of the registration data by scrutinizing every record after which it would, in line with section 19(1) of the Electoral Act 2022, appoint a period of seven days during which the register will be published for scrutiny by the public for objections and complaints”. While awaiting the publication of the register, INEC should also publish the names and designations of all the INEC’s RECs, INEC returning officers and staffers officiating in the 2023 elections to enable the public ascertain their background and antecedents. The allegation that some INEC’s RECs officiating in the 2023 elections are card-carrying members of the ruling party is a serious allegation which INEC should not just dismiss with a wave of the hand. Rather than dismiss the allegation, the onus is on INEC to rebut or counter the allegation with credible evidence, if any. INEC could even vouch for the character of the current RECs.

It is not enough for INEC to say that it is capable of organizing free, fair and credible elections in 2023”: INEC must be seen from the outside by fair-minded and informed members by the public to be manifestly organizing, through its actions, utterances and behaviour, free, fair and credible elections. The rule against bias or likelihood of bias is predicated on the perception of the fair-minded and informed members of the public. The basis for the rule is to maintain public confidence in a public institution such as INEC.

Ekwowusi writes from Lagos

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