The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is more than ever before under the searchlight of Nigerians.
The reason is simple- the 2023 general election is different in more ways than one. Many Nigerians believe that the country would be heading for doom if the election goes wrong.
The INEC must clearly convince Nigerians beyond verbal words that it is indeed committed to delivering credible, free and fair election in 2023.
Allegations are rife that the INEC is showing signs that are being interpreted to mean that the electoral umpire may not be truly independent in the conduct of the election.
Those who nurse the fear, point to the controversy that trailed the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), the collection of the Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs), and to what appears a wolf cry after several reassurances of being capable of delivering a credible free and fair election.
Many citizens of Nigeria both at home and in the diaspora are looking forward to a well-organised election that would take the country out of the deep mire it has sunken in the last few years.
The belief is that no matter who emerges the next president from the leading contenders (Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, Peter Obi, Rabiu Kwankwaso, among others) the country will not be as it is currently, in all areas; there must be improvement.
If that is the case, INEC must be seen to be alive to its promise to deliver an election that is transparently clear in the interest of the people and the country itself.
In the last seven years plus, Nigeria has been a laughing stock in the comity of nations.
Even countries that are far less developed than Nigeria have shown that elections can be transparent. Nigeria send envoys to monitor elections in other countries; the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu has participated in the monitoring of elections in many places. It is now time to deploy the good examples in those places in the conduct of the 2023 general election.
Despite having a whole four years to prepare for the election, Yakubu last Wednesday in Lagos said his Commission faced a lot of challenges ranging from increased voter population, number of polling units, election personnel, security considerations, logistics and several others.
Recall that when the INEC started beating its chest in self-praise over its success in the conduct of the Ekiti and Osun off-season gubernatorial elections, many Nigerians had advised the commission not to roll out the drums yet as those elections were not to be compared with the general election.
Yakubu came to the realisation when he spoke at a retreat in Lagos organised for election stakeholders to reflect on the lessons learnt from the Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections.
There is no arguing the fact that conducting a general election is tasking, but Nigerians are advising the INEC against flying a kite or promoting a problem that it hopes to hide under to compromise the process at certain points.
A political observer who spoke to BusinessDay on condition of anonymity said that the INEC might be preparing some ground to declare the election inconclusive or cancelled in some states in order to enable the security agencies flood such areas at rescheduled voting date to help whoever that they want to favour.
“This election is very important to us as Nigerians and we must not close our eyes and allow the INEC or security agencies to mess it up. So, we must start now to shout and scream so that they will know that we know. These complaints by INEC are not new; they have always been there. They may be preparing ground to declare the election inconclusive and we know what happens when they declare elections cancelled and rescheduled in some places. We must not buy into that scam this time around,” the concerned Nigerian said.
It also came as a surprise to many when the INEC chairman listed security concerns as one of the challenges.
But the military and the Nigeria Police had at various times and fora given the assurances that the general election would hold without disturbances; so, what is Yakubu saying?
Recently, the media was awash with the report that the INEC had decided to collate the 2023 general election results manually; but when the noise became deafening, the Commission denied it, saying it was still committed to the electronic transmission of results.
There have been allegations against the INEC over denial of registration of some Nigerians during the CVR exercise and now some people are also alleging that they are being tossed to and fro in their attempt to collect their PVCs. INEC must come clean on these, by addressing these issues and ensuring that bad eggs in Commission do not spoil its good work.
It has emerged that some politicians are doing everything within their powers to rig the 2023 general election with the connivance of some INEC officials.
The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) last Wednesday alleged that there were moves to use secret court action to stop the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machine in the 2023 general election.
Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, spokesperson of the group, while speaking to journalists in Abuja, said their vigilance team following credible intelligence discovered the suit at the Owerri Federal High Court where it was filed since August 24, 2022.
The CUPP also displayed extracts of the National Voters register which it claimed were part of the over 10 million fake registrations done by some chieftains of a political party aimed at rigging the election.
The group alleged that the names on those displayed registers were sourced from both within and outside Nigeria including some African countries such as Ghana, Cameroon, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Togo, Guinea, Gambia and countries outside the continent.
Ugochinyere also announced that some of the dates of birth of those whose names were upload on the INEC data were 1900; and other impossible dates; and that in some of the newly created polling units in a state, all the people whose names appeared on the data had same birth date. There were also mismatch of names and pictures, as according to him, male pictures were used against female names and vice versa.
He also said that the INEC chairman was under pressure to announce a change to the Commission’s stance on the compulsory use of BVAS machine for accreditation; adding that plot was afoot to sack Yakubu through the court.
“The intelligence CUPP intercepted which has led to the discovery of the suit filed seeking to nullify the BVAS and exposure of the massive compromise in the voter register cannot now be wrong that the third leg of the plot is to sack the National Chairman through a suspension as the plotters know they cannot get the required numbers from the National Assembly for an outright sack,” he said
Last week also the INEC, through a statement by Festus Okoye, the national commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, said that it had found 1,126,359 records out of the 2,523,458 fresh registrants that registered between June 28, 2021 and January 14, 2022 to be invalid and consequently delisted them. Nigerians are keenly watching the body language of the commission and the Federal Government.
Some pundits have expressed pessimism over the likelihood of the INEC delivering a credible and fair election, pointing at the manner of appointment of the INEC chairman and the controversy trailing the nomination of Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs). Some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) recently kicked against the nomination of the RECs, some of whom were alleged to be card carrying members of a political party and have corruption issues.
Despite the dust raised by the nomination, Lai Mohammed, minister of Information and Culture, told Nigerians that there was no going back on the matter.
It has over the years been noted that part the major problem with the Nigerian electoral process is the method of appointment of the INEC chairman and the RECs. Since all these people are appointed by the President, the allegory of “he who pays the piper calls the tune” must always be the case in Nigeria.
Pundits have called on the INEC chairman to do Nigeria this singular favour by conducting credible, free and fair 2023 general election no matter the pressure, as that would etch his name in the sand of history rather than going the other way and be remember as a villain.
“My appeal to the INEC boss is for him to do the right thing. I know it is not easy to go against the establishment; he can decide to serve his fatherland and not just to satisfy a few individuals. He should emulate what happened in Kenya recently where the electoral umpire did not rig the election for Raila Odinga, the preferred candidate of the then president Uhuru Kenyatta. They insisted on doing the right thing, that was why William Ruto emerged victorious. INEC can choose to be non-partisan. The chairman can choose to be a gentleman by putting his country first above primordial considerations. We are seeing some state governors already claiming victory for their parties even before the election; it means there must be something giving them that confidence. INEC must ensure that the right things are done to redeem Nigeria,” a Sociology lecturer with a state university told BusinessDay Sunday. He also urged INEC to probe how those fake registrations got uploaded into its data base; who deployed the BVAS machine, among other things that look like fraud going on in the Commission.
INEC must be seen to be committed to its oft profession of delivering a good result to Nigerians.
While delivering a keynote address at a conference of stakeholders on election result management organised by YIAGA Africa to launch the Election Result Analysis Dashboard report agenda, Yakubu had said that days of manipulation of results were over as it had fortified its result-viewing portal.
He announced the introduction procedures and technological innovations to improve election conduct in 2023, adding that the INEC was convinced that the application of technology to both accreditation and result management would improve transparency and trust in the electoral process.
Calling on the Commission to play to the rules, the Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar last Thursday tasked the INEC and other agencies of government playing roles in the electoral process to ensure that the outcome of the 2023 general election is a true reflection of the desires of the people.
Atiku said that the celebration of democracy is, indeed, a celebration of the people’s power.
He noted that although there have been significant improvements in the processes that elections are conducted in Nigeria, “the 2023 episode is an opportunity for INEC to show that the commission has grown beyond partisanship.”
According to him, “In 2023, Nigerians will be voting for the leadership that they truly believe will lead this country out of the current dire situation and it is important to use the opportunity of the celebration, this day, to tell not just the INEC but other agencies and non-governmental organisations involved in the conduct of election that the next election should be the freest and fairest ever in the history of Nigeria.”
Reacting to the expose by the CUPP, a group of intelligentsia, Cultural Credibility Development Initiative (CCDI), in a statement jointly signed by Goddy Uwazurike and Steve Nwabuko, chairman and secretary respectively, expressed shock at the alleged heist, calling for urgent investigation into the matter.
“We, the members of Credibility Group, have noted with alarm the revelations that have been appearing in the past 24 hours concerning the 2023 elections,” the group said.
According to the group, “The respected CUPP, a political association of parties have exposed a humongous plan afoot to manipulate the 2023 elections in the country. Part of the plan is the secretive and esoteric court case seeking many hideous reliefs.
“While we are still distilling the INEC voters register where men and women genders are no longer properly reflected, the legal mumbo jumbo filed by Abazie Esq has stated, without equivocation, that he did not file any such suit. The errant lawyer was even named as Blessing.”
The statement describing the situation as becoming very curious as to who knew what and who is innocent, called for an open investigation “involving the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigeria Bar Association, the DSS, the Police and the NGOs.”
It also stated that “this evil facing us must not be swept under the carpet. The fear is that the rigging of the 2023 election has been set in motion.”