Incompetent National Electoral Commission

For most of its existence, INEC, the electoral body, has shown itself to be neither credible nor independent. And after the elections on February 25, the “I” in INEC stands for an anomaly: incompetent.

INEC’s incompetence goes beyond election day and results aggregation; it is logistics based and starts with the pre-election day process. Its major logistical problem begins with the registration and distribution of Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs). At the registration and distribution stations, there were unreasonably long lines, which caused chaos and delays.

Inconclusive voting, no voting in various locations, disenfranchisement of voters, untrained and few INEC staff, late arrival of INEC staff and voting materials, insufficient voting materials, delayed opening of polls, collation errors, etc. are only a few of INEC’s anomalies.

The difficulties facing INEC have remained the same from its first election as INEC in 1999 to its most recent election on February 25 and its delay of the March 11 elections. They proclaim that they are prepared for the election months in advance, and this time they even said that they were ready for a rerun if required. Unfortunately, they don’t follow through with their promises because there are numerous anomalies in every election they hold.

On election day, logistics snags caused delays; in some areas, election materials arrived five hours after voting was set to start . The issue of the poor welfare of the ad-hoc employees is another one. In every election, the ad-hoc personnel, who are mostly members of the youth corps, voice complaints about their poor pay and late payments.

In 2019, we saw on social media images of corps members sleeping inside vehicles, under trees, in classrooms, and in open fields under unsavoury conditions. Service is not servitude, so young people should not be subjected to such indignity because they are participating in the mandatory youth service programme.

The unexpected postponement of the March 11 election is another illustration of INEC’s incompetence. INEC’s argument that it needed additional time to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) is unreasonable. Did they not take into account the possibility of candidates requesting court orders to examine INEC materials when they were planning? If that’s the case, how did they plan to manage it while also setting up for the governorship elections in a week? Would they have configured BVAS before a rerun and how did they intend to execute it if it reached that point?

INEC failed to walk the walk, so can’t talk the talk

It wouldn’t be wrong to state that INEC did not learn from his past elections. “INEC’s performance and controversies over these results mean that the electoral reforms and lessons declared to have been learned were not fully applied and, as an electoral body, it was significantly less prepared than it claimed,” Dr. Leena Hoffmann of Chatham House said.

Nearly all international and local observers, as well as voters, have come to this conclusion. It is therefore surprising that INEC stubbornly believes it has conducted a free and fair election.

In the run-up to the 2023 elections, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman, and Festus Okoye, the chairman of the INEC information and voter education committee, bombarded us with press releases, tweets, and interviews reassuring us of their readiness for the polls, and their confidence in the BVAS and INEC’s Results Viewing Portal (IReV) as “guarantors of enhanced transparency and accessibility of election results and an end to electoral fraud”.

On election day, they abandoned their technology on the pretext of “technical glitches” and turned to manual collation of results, which has always been the foundation of manipulated elections in the country. It’s like FIFA changing the rules of the World Cup final midway through the match.

It appears we underestimated INEC’s incompetence. Lest we forget, on the eve of the 2019 elections, there were rumours of a postponement of the election, which Festus Okoye dismissed as fake news. However, in the early hours of election day, at around 2:30am, the same Festus Okoye and his chairman announced that the election had been postponed due to “logistics and operational plans,” which invariably boils down to lack of preparation. They simply stated it and indirectly told us to live with it. There was no apology to Nigerians who had travelled and changed plans in order to vote, and there was no acknowledgement of inefficiency or responsibility.

None of those who oversaw the 2019 elections resigned, nor were they asked to. Hence, INEC’s mediocrity and incompetence have grown bolder since they can get away with anything. It is not surprising that they are still following the same strategy.

A civilised society would not have allowed Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and his 2019 team to oversee the 2023 elections. Kenya and several other countries have seen electoral officials resign from the Electoral Commission due to several reasons, ranging from allegations of bias, corruption, and incompetence.

Until we start holding people responsible in Nigeria for their actions, we will keep sinking in the pit of mediocrity and incompetence.

Why INEC is never prepared is a true mystery. Large-scale elections are INEC’s primary responsibility; however, they are unable to carry it out. Every year, it maintains staff and offices for the sole purpose of holding elections, and they’re terrible at it.

This can’t be a volume problem because they consistently perform horribly and experience a wide range of logistical and operational issues even when they are simply required to organise elections in a single state, like in Osun, Anambra, and Ekiti. Elections in these states witnessed similar logistical issues and faulty BVAS machines.

In order to save our democracy, we must address INEC’s shortcomings going forward as a nation. We must not allow INEC’s propensity for electoral malpractice, lack of transparency, and selective adherence to its laws and guidelines, to push people down the drain of voter apathy and frustration.

What is a democracy if voters are unsure of their votes? The situation in which the people who count the votes decide everything while the people who cast the votes decide nothing is not democracy. As it is, Nigeria’s brand of democracy is dependent on how well INEC does its job, and we need them to do an excellent job.
One way to guarantee INEC does a good job is to review how its chairman is chosen.

INEC’s chairmen, all professionals in their fields, have failed to organise a free and fair election for the country. Apart from having their integrity questioned, they have not managed to handle the same logistical inadequacies. They have been accused of being induced to alter the electoral process one way or another.

More recently, the current chairman’s failure to explain the technical glitches on the 25th of February and why it only affected the transmission of results for the presidential election has put his integrity on the line.

INEC has had lots of professors as its chairman . It frequently uses professors and academics as returning officers, but these professionals have not truly given a good image to the academia, several are being prosecuted for electoral fraud.

INEC’s chairperson should be one of unquestionable character and integrity, like Tirunellai Narayana Iyer Seshan of India.

Read also: INEC frustrating democracy, popular will, in Nigeria – Ayu

As we’ve seen, apart from integrity, elections essentially come down to logistics, event planning, and technology adaptation. How can professors, who may not have managed a university or poorly managed one, organise an election in over 30 states? Indeed, what skills does a professor of literature or political history bring to a job profile best suited to a logistics/supply chain professional or party planner?

Going forward, companies that specialise in event planning and implementation, such as logistics companies, should have a significant role in the operation of INEC at both the Federal and State levels, even if they don’t lead the commission.

While acknowledging the excellence of professors, as a nation we must understand that the cowl does not make the monk and avoid falling for the fallacy that just because someone is a professor or a retired judge, they are endowed with administrative skills. This is false, especially if they have no prior experience.

The unfortunate conduct of INEC chairmen makes it understandable why Dr. Reuben Abati claimed that serving as an INEC chairman has “become a graveyard of reputation.” The search for chairpersons who can provide leadership and expertise should be our next focus.

From PVC registration through voting, our electoral process shouldn’t be tense or challenging. Everything in Nigeria can’t be that difficult. India, the world’s largest democracy, has a more organised and less fraudulent election.

In the future, INEC must expand the number of polling units and evenly divide voters among them. Three polling units near mine had fewer than 100 registered voters on February 25, whereas mine had almost 900. This discrepancy is why we voted till late at night.

INEC should also extend the voting period because 8:30am–2:30pm is impractical, especially when there are many voters. Kenya, for example, which has a smaller voting population, has a 12-hour voting time.

Moving forward, it is important to clarify the role of PVCs in our elections. Nigerians should be allowed to cast their votes using the various forms of identification, particularly the NIN, which the government is working to mainstream. Lack of PVC should not be a ground for disenfranchisement.

Lastly, INEC needs to explain the alleged discovery of thousands of PVCs at various locations, including Ago Palace Road Okota, Olodi-Apapa, and a forest in Nnewi North. There needs to be a root and branch audit of the entire 2023 process, and its best if INEC invites credible CSOs as third parties in the audit.

For INEC to shed the misnomer of incompetence, they must conduct credible elections by following the Electoral Act 2022 and its 2022 guidelines. That’s the least Nigerians expect.

Nwachukwu is a legal practitioner and writer (