Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu in October 2020, gleefully and confidently announced February 18, 2023 as the date for the next presidential election in Nigeria. He was speaking at the inauguration of the House of Representatives Special Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution held at the National
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu in October 2020, gleefully and confidently announced February 18, 2023 as the date for the next presidential election in Nigeria. He was speaking at the inauguration of the House of Representatives Special Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution held at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja.
The INEC boss may no longer be as enthusiastic or authoritative on the dates for the 2023 general elections because there is a wave of events which hitherto were unforeseen but have happened in quick succession since then to douse such enthusiasm. It is even doubtful, if the Commander- in- Chief of Nigeria’s Armed Forces could give such an undertaking. There are several issues in the polity, far beyond the purview and control of the INEC that may ultimately determine the dates for the 2023 elections in Nigeria.
Top on the list is that of seemingly unending security challenge confronting the country. It will be recalled that the 2015 presidential election had to be postponed on the premise of insecurity largely then in the North East. But the security problem is now a bigger monster and more country-wide. None of the six geo-political zones is spared one form of insecurity or another. The problem is fast assuming a national catastrophe and government houses are not immuned.
An emergency brainstorming session was summoned by the INEC boss where he took situation reports from across the country on threats to INEC facilities and deliberated on how best to protect them at a meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC) and national Commissioners.
While the disposition and management style of the current INEC inspire hope in the citizens that our election process may be looking up and growing especially with their bold reforms and innovations like the introduction of electronic announcement of results in the Edo State governorship election, there are other factors beyond the control of the election management body that could diminish the wishes and aspirations of INEC.
Speaking yesterday, Professor Mamood Yakubu alluded to some of these factors: “Unfortunately, some events in the recent past have challenged the commission and adversely affected our commitment to continue to improve the electoral process. The spate of arson and vandalisation targeting the Commission’s facilities and property has become profoundly worrisome. Unfortunately, this has been on the rise since the 2019 General Election but has now developed into a crisis.
“In the last three weeks or so, three of our Local Government offices in Essien Udim in Akwa Ibom State, Ohafia in Abia State and Udenu in Enugu State have been set ablaze by unidentified persons. Last Sunday, 16th May 2021, our State office in Enugu suffered yet another arson and vandalisation in which parts of the building were ransacked and several vehicles razed. And more of our facilities are being systematically targeted and attacked.
“Just last night, Tuesday 18th May 2021, two more offices in Ebonyi and Ezza North Local Government Areas of Ebonyi State were burnt down. Although there were no casualties, the damage to the physical infrastructure and electoral materials was total. Nothing has been salvaged from ballot boxes and voting cubicles to generating sets and office furniture and equipment.
“Surely, these attacks are no longer freak events but appear to be quite orchestrated and targeted at INEC. Clearly, these are acts of unjustifiable aggression, which may undermine the commission’s capacity to organise elections and dent the nation’s electoral process”
There are other worries for the INEC in carrying out its duty of conducting elections. Another is the attack of its officials as witnessed in the Ekiti East 1 constituency election, where three persons were killed including a policeman and a Youth Corp member.
In view of all the negative activities against INEC, its Chairman lamented that targeting INEC important national assets and repositories of electoral materials that took time and enormous resources to procure cannot be justified but replacing these facilities in the prevailing economic circumstances will indeed be a tall order, thereby adversely affecting electoral services in the same communities.
But perhaps the most important factor that could give succour and help mitigate the worries of INEC will be amendment to the Electoral Act (2010) as amended to give support to electronic voting and help remove other obstacles in the way of a smooth conduct of election. The timelines for party primaries and other judicial activities related to final settlement of election disputes are expected to be taken care of in the amended law.
It is also expected that the activities of INEC as presently constituted could be tinkered with to make it more effect in the discharge of its responsibilities. It is expected that there would be established an Electoral Offences Commission to take charge of electoral offenders. This has become more imperative now that there is a growing trend of “vote buying and selling” as well as incidents of ballot snatching and disruption of election by hoodlums and hired thugs.
The INEC boss called on all and sundry, particularly communities where these assets are located, to see themselves as owners and custodians of these facilities and assist the Commission in protecting them. I am glad that some of them are already doing so. I must put on record the fantastic partnership between the commission and the communities we serve. These communities share with the commission the commitment of improving electoral services to Nigerians. They have over the years supported the Commission during all electoral activities from CVR to the conduct of polls. Some of them actually donated the land on which some of our Local Government offices are built.
“Even in the recent events of arson and vandalisation, many of them have demonstrated exceptional willingness to support the Commission. For instance, following the vandalisation of our offices in Osun State during the #EndSARS protests in October last year, the Ikirun community in Ifelodun Local Government Area and two communities in Ede South Local Government Area have offered to contribute to the repairs of the offices and promised to work with the Commission to protect them in future.
“In the same vein, in Nnewi North in Anambra State, the community has also offered to repair our Local Government office destroyed during the #EndSARS protests. The Commission does not take such partnerships for granted. I wish to thank our host communities in all parts of the country and appeal to them to continue to see INEC property as both national and local assets to be protected”.
The worries notwithstanding things are still looking up for INEC in the way it fulfills its mandate, Prof Yakubu said the commission conducted 28 out of 32 bye-elections across the country since the 2019 General Election, in addition to four end-of tenure Governorship elections in Bayelsa, Edo, Kogi and Ondo States. The bye-elections were held in 20 States involving six Senatorial Districts, seven Federal Constituencies, 18 State Constituencies and one Councillorship Constituency in Abaji Ward of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Indeed, it is now clear that the Commission must reconcile itself with the fact that elections have become an all-year round undertaking in Nigeria.
In addition to the bye-elections, the commission successfully concluded stakeholder engagements on the expansion of voter access to Polling Units. “ I am glad to inform you that the option of converting existing Voting Points and Voting Point Settlements into full-fledged Polling Units and situating them in the most agreeable locations to support increased voter access was overwhelmingly accepted by Nigerians” Prof Yakubu said.
Consequently, the commission has, in the last three weeks concluded the actual exercise as well as the verification of the newly established Polling Units. In the next few days, the commission will meet to finalise the compilation and coding of Polling Units and thereafter make the information public. The commission wishes to thank all Nigerians for their support in addressing the 25-year-old problem, he further explained.