For the chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, the cliché, between the devil and the deep blue sea, is no longer a metaphor. That is the reality of the circumstances surrounding his office as ‘prime minister’ of Nigeria’s electoral umpire. While political parties accuse Yakubu of pandering to the whims of a presidency said to be desperate to return itself to power, the chairman and his team are up in arms with the same presidency to ensure that the right things are done to deliver free, fair, credible, and transparent general election.
Some opposition political parties under the auspices of Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) recently served notice that they would not accept electoral guidelines that the commission unilaterally put together. CUPP contended that the document serves as license to the ruling party to perpetrate the same electoral maladies that the Electoral Act amendment bill, which President Muhammadu Buhari spurned, sought to cure.
Nigerians were taken aback late last year when statistics from INEC revealed that Buhari’s winning votes in the 2015 election were products of transit ballots and under-aged voters. As the nation prepares to go to poll in less than four weeks’ time, many existential threats that defy possible safeguards still abound.
A superficial examination of the steps leading to this year’s poll shows that the challenges facing INEC are technical, structural, and legal. On the plane of enabling legislations, the electoral umpire recently disclosed its plans to transmit election results manually against its earlier promise of using technology to achieve instantaneous transmission of outcomes. The implication of that position is the possibility that all the nice-sounding propositions about how electronic transmission of results would avert intrusion and interference of corrupt and desperate politicians would be left at the mercy of the same electoral offenders.
As witnessed in the Osun governorship election, the unique qualities of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and its twin technology, card reader, could easily be defrayed by the infringing human element. While the ruling party seems to be working on insider collaboration to ensure a favourable outwork unrelated to the real votes cast, some influential and well to do gladiators try to purchase or clone the PVC in a bid to swell their vote tally during balloting.
Yakubu has described such recourse to cloned or purchased PVCs as exercise in futility. At a stakeholders’ meeting recently in Abuja, INEC chairman said politicians who buy off PVCs from ignorant citizens with the intention of deploying them for electoral advantage would be disappointed, stressing that INEC has devised effective strategies that neutralise such nefarious plans.
While regretting the lack of enabling laws to reinforce the commission’s plan to transmit results by electronic means, Yakubu maintained that politicians buying off PVCs from their bonafide owners in the hope of hacking into the commission’s website would fail.He declared: “It is very sad to say that some politicians are working hard to subvert our system, but they will not succeed. I want to assure them that we are aware of what they are doing and to let them know that we are far ahead of them.”
It should be noted that prior to the hullabaloo that attended the inclusion of Amina Zakari in the collation centre committee, Yakubu had shortly after the contentious Osun governorship poll moved the commissioner, who is one of the oldest serving members from operations to the welfare department.
Perhaps to strengthen INEC’s structure, the chairman had also ensured that competent and knowledgeable members of the commission like Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanube moved to strategic positions in a bid to guarantee the credibility of the processes leading to the 2019 general election.
But while Yakubu was taking necessary actions to maintain the neutrality of the electoral umpire, the ruling party, especially the presidency, continued to bring about deleterious involvement in the planning and positioning of the commission for a transparent poll. However, like the electoral guidelines, which some opposition political parties have kicked against, INEC’s failure to hint stakeholders of its plans to set up a collation centre committee helped to aggravate public outcry that trailed the announcement of Zakari’s inclusion in the committee.
Yakubu may not have the strong, uncompromising demeanour of Prof. Attahiru Jega, but prevailing circumstances show that Jega operated under a more democratic and ennobling environment than what has become Yakub’us lot. During Jega’s era, the common refrain among Nigerians, especially those from the northern part of the country, was about the breach of power sharing arrangement and perceived hijack of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration by some fat cats.
Contemporaneously, Yakubu is faced with an obdurate presidency cabal that points to the 2007 election as a template to be replicated in 2019 election to sustain its hold on power. It is against this tough background that Yakubu’s efforts to deliver credible election through a transparent process seem to be going awry. It could explain why even the simultaneous accreditation and voting initiative, which was hailed in December 2015, when it was first introduced in Bayelsa State gubernatorial election, is being visited with suspicion.
Already, more than 60 political parties have finalised arrangements to sue INEC for introducing certain stipulations in the electoral guidelines. The parties are also seeking a return to the arrangement put in place during the 2015 election, which placed the conclusion of accreditation before voting to ensure transparency. But aside the issue of scheme of balloting, there are a myriad of challenges that INEC would have to contend with during the forthcoming poll. Prominent among these challenges pertain to intimidation and voting by under-aged persons.
Under-aged voters with PVCs
THERE is nothing as perplexing as the sight of under-aged children clutching biometric-laden PVC to cast their ballots. Only INEC is in a position to explain how the children got registered in the first place. And having been registered they were also allowed to collect the prized election ‘certificate’.
Perhaps out of the sensitivity of the topic or in a bid to avoid whipping ethnic sensibilities, none of the registered political parties has taken INEC to task over the breach. Based on the possession of PVCs, the child voters would be accredited to vote and they would end up casting their votes to elect representatives.
Yakubu has, on a number of occasions, explained that diaspora voting is not feasible as yet for Nigerian citizens, who have the Green backed Nigerian passport and obtained visas to their countries of residence. It sounds contradictory that children, most of who can neither read nor write, are equipped with an essential facility to perform a serious civic exercise.
Some notable electoral commissioners had revealed in the past that INEC officials are usually threatened with violence and intimidated to register the children bellow the stipulated 18 years of age.
Part of the distressing aspects of this perfidy is the fact that these children seemed to have been schooled into telling barefaced lies about their ages and occupation. One ready example is a copy of PVC, which bears the picture of a small boy making the rounds on social media. The boy’s age was put at 28, ostensibly to regularize the illicit registration to make him eligible for the election.
Collusion versus security challenges
WHEREVER under-aged voters take part in selecting representatives, it underscores the possible collusion of electoral officers, security personnel and politicians. From the look of things and given the fact that the two prominent presidential candidates are from the north, where the incidence of child voters is rife, the stress would be on party agents and security officials to sieve the legitimate and illegitimate voters.
Part of the complaints against the security agencies is the likelihood that they would side with the ruling party as it happened during the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections. Also during the 2015 election, it was reported that security agencies looked the other way and allowed political thugs to have a field day, thereby unwittingly condoning the intimidation of electoral staff.
It is perhaps based on the crucial roles expected of the security agencies, especially the police that INEC chairman recently held a meeting with security chiefs in Abuja “to get a first hand report on their plans, strategies and state of preparedness” for the election that opens next month.
Read full report at The Guardian.