After what many people, including international observers, have described as a shambolic 2023 general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be organising off-cycle gubernatorial elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states in November this year.
In recent weeks, the Commission has commenced full preparation for the gubernatorial elections in the three states.
Last week, the Commission advertised vacancies for ad-hoc staff for the gubernatorial elections.
Equally, political parties and candidates have commenced full electioneering in what is expected to be a keenly contested gubernatorial election in the three states.
However, the question on the lips of many is, will the electoral umpire redeem its plummeting integrity?
Many Nigerians are still unhappy with the manner the Commission handled the conduct the 2023 polls and perhaps, do not really care about anything INEC does now.
The Commission had promised that the 2023 general election would be Nigeria’s best election in recent memory, but the reverse appeared to be the case.
There were widespread claims that the polls instead did not meet the minimum standards of being a credible exercise.
The preliminary report of many domestic and international observer groups noted that the 2023 election failed to meet the expectations of Nigerians.
Many were disappointed because INEC had the ample time, resources and experience to adequately prepare for and deliver on the election.
From the Electoral Act, to the use of election technologies such as the Bimodal Voters Accreditation (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV), the electoral Commission appeared to have all it needed for the assignment.
Yet, the election witnessed challenges, especially logistics issues which the commission had acknowledged were always a problem and promised to address.
Two major opposition candidates, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) are challenging the outcome of the Presidential poll at the election petition tribunal in Abuja with judgment due in the coming weeks this September.
They have rejected the victory of the All Progressive Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, as the President of Nigeria.
So for observers, the ball is in the court of the INEC to work assiduously and redeem it damaged image in the November 11 gubernatorial election in the three states.
“I particularly think the commission has a lot of work to do to get the mind of Nigerians back, in supporting their work.
“I mean a lot of people are really not interested in what INEC is doing now, because they felt totally disappointed with the way the 2023 presidential poll turned out despite so much sacrifice they made. But it is left for INEC to do the needful,” Okechukwu Sam, a policy analyst, said.
Observers have suggested that the Commission should remove officials who worked to sabotage the smooth conduct of the 2023 general election.
Some stakeholders have also said this may be the last time the INEC Chairman, Yakubu Mahmoud has to show that truly there has been some forms of changes in the Commission since he took over from his predecessor, Attahiru Jega.
Meanwhile, as political gladiators intensify campaigns to win the hearts of the electorate for the November 11 gubernatorial in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa, Nigerians are hoping that the Commission would allow the will of the people to prevail and restore credibility to the electoral process in the country.
They noted that one key problem that affected the smooth conduct of the 2023 general election across Nigerian was the late arrival of materials.
Officials and electoral materials did not arrive voting points at the agreed time of 8am in most states.
For instance in Lagos State, in several voting points, especially those in opposition strongholds, election materials were said to have arrived several hours behind.
In some local government areas, voting did not start until about 2pm and this contributed in disenfranchising a lot of eligible voters.
Many Nigerians are hoping that the Commission can improve on the deployment of materials on time in all the polling units in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa.
Some stakeholders have also suggested that there is need for the Commission to work with various security agencies in the country to improve security presence on Election Day.
The gubernatorial election in the three states is expected to be keenly contested among candidates of the major parties, especially in Kogi State. It is alleged that with the desperation of candidates to win at all cost there is a possibility of violence.
Kogi State has a history of electoral violence and intimidation during elections; observers have predicted that the November 11 would not be different.
In the last few weeks, since the campaign began, there are reports of clashes between candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Governor Yahaya Bello.
The events have increased tension in the polity and set politicians and political parties going for broke in the election in Kogi on November 11.
Although INEC has promised that the result of the gubernatorial election would be declared from the polling unit, stakeholders said it was important that the Commission fulfill the promise to transmit election result from the polling unit.
Speaking recently, a civil rights group, the Imo Youths for a New Nigeria, urged INEC to correct the mistakes of the February and March 2023 general election by conducting credible governorship election in Imo, Kogi and Bayelsa States on November 11.
The leader of the group, Chidiebube Okeoma, said that the electoral umpire must utilise the window of the November 11 governorship elections to right their wrongs.
He also said that with the way and manner the just concluded elections were held, many Nigerians had lost interest in the country’s democracy.
Okeoma further stated that with the flawed process, INEC now had the opportunity of working to ensure that the three governorship elections in November were conducted in strict adherence to Electoral Act 2022 as amended.
He maintained that if November 11 elections are not perfectly conducted millions of Nigerians would not be participating in future elections.
Okeoma said, “The 2023 general election didn’t meet up the expectations of millions of Nigerians. From vote buying to partisanship on the part of the INEC staff and security agents, to hijacking of electoral materials, to mutilation of election results, to going against the 2022 Electoral Act as amended, to voter intimidation and suppression, to electoral violence, the whole process was below standard.
“Politicians openly rigged the elections in their favour and they saw INEC officers and security agents who were willing tools to aid them in compromising the processes. They openly bragged and mocked the judiciary by asking those who opposed their rigging tactics to go to court.”
Similarly, the European Union (EU) also recently warned that the November 11 Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi State governorship polls must be conducted in a way that instils public confidence in Nigeria’s electoral process.
EU Programme Manager for Democracy and Rule of Law, Laolu Olawumi, said there were some positives in the just concluded general election, but added there were also issues that needed to be addressed in the November election by INEC.
Speaking recently on the gubernatorial election in the three states in November 11, INEC chairman, Yakubu promised that the commission had learned lesson from the conduct of the 2023 polls, noting that there would be improvement in the conduct of gubernatorial elections in the three states on November 11.
“We promised Nigerians that we were going to hold the election review meeting and conclude it within one month.
“We started on the 4th of July and today (yesterday) is the 4th of August, the response was been overwhelming. Remember we started with the state level consultation with the Resident Electoral Commissioner (RECs).
“We had an engagement with the transport unions, we then met with the state collation of the presidential election in Abuja, then we had engagement with political parties, civil organisations, among others.
“So overall, we are encouraged by the response of stakeholders across the board and the quality of the contributions they made,” the INEC chairman said.
Similarly, the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) has asked the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure free, fair, transparent and peaceful governorship polls in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states.
National Publicity Secretary of NNPP, Agbo Major, said INEC should provide a level playing field to all political parties and their candidates participating in the polls and ensure the people’s mandates are respected.
Major said: “NNPP demands free, fair, credible, transparent, inclusive and peaceful governorship elections in Imo, Kogi and Bayelsa states.”
“The electoral umpire should adequately test-run its Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) to avoid the awkward story of glitches, hitches and manipulations that characterised the last general election leading to numerous petitions at various Election Petition Tribunals across the country challenging the outcome of the polls.”
Speaking to BusinessDay on the conduct of the gubernatorial polls in the three states, Tope Musowo, public affairs analyst said INEC owed Nigerians a duty to conduct a free and fair gubernatorial elections, noting that it was unfortunate that the commission often allow politicians to influence its officials.
Read also: INEC, Police promise credible election
Musowo stated that he had lost confident in INEC’s ability to conduct a free and fair poll, stating the commission needed urgent restructuring.
“Nigerians are not happy with INEC despite the support given to them, look what we got in the last general election. It is unfortunate that INEC often allow politicians to controlled them and that is the reason for all that you are seeing.
“Nigerian are tired, but personally I don’t think, INEC as presently constituted can conduct a free and fair poll in November. Maybe, they can, if they don’t allow politicians to influence the decision of their officials.
“There is the need for urgent reforms in INEC, especially in appointments of national commissioners, if we don’t do that we are jut going round,” Musowo said.