Nigeria: INEC’s Off-Cycle Elections and the Usual Toxic Markers

This voyage of rediscovery must begin with President Bola Tinubu, who barefacedly recently appointed proven partisans as Resident Electoral Commissioners.

Eight months after it conducted the highly-disputed February/March general elections in Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is being buffeted by criticisms yet again, for the way it handled three off-cycle governorship polls in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states on 11 November. The reports of media and electoral observers strongly indicate the noxious similitude of these previous polls to the elections.

There is, as such, a huge public distrust of INEC’s ability to deliver credible polls in the country, going forward. But not a few felt that with massive mobilisation of security personnel – 40,000 police officers in Kogi, 27,000 in Bayelsa and 84 police commissioners/deputies/assistants in Imo, alongside INEC’s pooling of all of its resources in men and material to these states, the drivel of electoral malfeasance would be minimal. That was not to be. Sadly, the torrents of broadside from a wide spectrum of vested interests, suggest that INEC’s redemption and getting it right in our elections are still light years away.

In the recent elections, Governors Hope Uzodinma and Douye Diri of Imo and Bayelsa states, respectively, were returned for another four-year term, while Usman Ododo in Kogi State, will succeed the outgoing Governor Yahaya Bello, whose eight-year tenure expires in January 2024. The winners and their political parties have been gambolling and attributing the victories to their hard work, providence, and as testaments to their stewardships.

However, their opponents are screaming blue murder, citing a litany of subversions of the electoral process. The Situation Room of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) corroborates gross acts of electoral malfeasance in no unmistakable terms. Its report states that the elections were a missed opportunity for both INEC and the political parties to win back people’s confidence in the electoral process, and the polls “fell far below the threshold of credible elections.” No verdict could be more scathing and embarrassing.

Popular will of the people is the soul of any democracy. As it has become evident, the seemingly determined effort to eviscerate or subvert it in Nigeria does not augur well for the country. If the Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC is yet to hold a mirror to behold its reflection, the just concluded off-cycle elections offer it an opportune chance for this. Indeed, the image that we see is plainly hideous and monstrous. It should not be forgotten that the phenomenon of off-cycle elections is a product of INEC’s mangling of the 2007 general elections that produced the worst electoral brigandage in Nigeria, for which seven governorship results were overturned.

An electoral contest in which the result sheets are filled and votes allocated in favour of a particular candidate before the actual polling commences is a charade. Yet it happened in Ogori/Magongo Local Government Area of Kogi State. Other areas witnessed spells of irregularities that forced INEC to admit its mistakes. A total of 59 polling units in nine wards were reportedly cancelled and billed for a fresh election on 18 November.

The country’s elections cannot continue to be steeped in vote-buying (of between N1,000 and N30,000 per vote), snatching of ballot materials, violence, intimidation, killings, falsification/mutilation of results sheets, bypassing of the Bimodal Verification System (BVAS), uploading of results from polling units where no voter turned out, logistical nightmares, delays in the commencement of voting, and voter-apathy, while the country keeps regaling in the spurious claims of democratic consolidation. Those declared as winners in such a sham process should stop offending the sensibilities of Nigerians with their unjust triumphalism.

Impartial or neutral observers among the CSOs – Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and Yiaga Africa, among others – may have observed a lot of incongruities to warrant the advocacy for INEC to, “fully review the elections in Kogi and Imo states to identify the incidents of malpractices that took place and reflect the genuine votes of the people.” They are also worried that INEC did not address the incidents of over-voting, just as they have strongly demanded an independent audit of election administration in Nigeria. They must be listened to.

It is puzzling in a democracy that the total votes cast in an election will outweigh the number of accredited voters, and such a result is upheld by an electoral umpire. It happened in 2019 in Imo State, and worse, it was affirmed by the judiciary. In the 8 November election in the state, a member of the House of Representatives, Ikenga Ugochinyere, alleged that this incubus was very much alive. At a post-election press conference, he copiously referenced and flaunted copies of a document showing the polling units, with their codes, where these malfeasances occurred in Obowo, Okigwe, Omuma and Ideato. For instance, in a polling unit with code 0015, he alleged that only 10 voters were accredited, but 927 voters appeared on the result sheet declared by INEC. In a polling unit in central Omuma, 47 voters were accredited, however, 642 results were recorded. It is time that INEC and desperate politicians ended shamanism as a dubious and integral part of our elections.

The recurrence of sundry abuses in the off-cycle polls underlines the fact that INEC and the political class are unwilling to alter course from the mode of the country’s previous electoral misadventures, which sparked trenchant reviews, recommendations for improvements and demands for reform. The Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate in the election in Kogi State, Dino Melaye, has shouted his voice hoarse with the allegation that a serving member of the National Youth Service Corps, who was an electoral official, was caught with N1 million cash. Tight lips from official quarters since then seem to give credence to the claim.

Elections in five local government areas of Adavi, Ajaokuta, Ogori/Magongo, Okehi and Okene were allegedly compromised, which compelled the electoral body to promise their review. Under the Electoral Act 2022, INEC has seven days to ensure that only valid or lawful votes are ultimately declared. This never happened, with the announcements of those results shortly after polling. In Bayelsa, 84,000 votes of the APC’s Timipre Sylva were cancelled by INEC, from Nembe and Southern Ijaw LGAs, suggestive of disorder. Seven parties that took part in the polls have spurned the results, giving the inkling of an imminent raft of litigation.

The cocktail of abuses that define elections in Nigeria fester because of the lack of consequences for misdeeds and the judicial connivance to boot, in some instances. The desired remedy is not necessarily mere electoral reforms but a total national resolve to end the rot, in addition to contriving ingenious ramparts. The beneficiaries of this subversion cannot lead the charge. The Chair of CDD Election Analysis Centre, Professor Adele Jinadu, in his invective against the poor electoral outing, was quick to stress that the country needs to be wary, as “every time reform is made, they (politicians) come back to subvert it…”

This voyage of rediscovery must begin with President Bola Tinubu, who barefacedly recently appointed proven partisans as Resident Electoral Commissioners, some of whom are his allies, and others who are in bed with senior members of the ruling APC, in flagrant violation of clear provisions of the 1999 Constitution. He must reverse that subversive and undemocratic misstep. Our statutes are rich with penal provisions for dealing with electoral subversive elements. These laws should be fully enforced and INEC held to account. Otherwise, this democracy, sooner than later, will crumble under the weight of its contradictions.


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