• Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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How INEC’s moral burden is affecting elections after 2023As Commission prepares for Edo

Off-season polls: INEC warns stakeholders against fake reports

After the controversy that trailed the conduct of the 2023 general election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), observers say a surgical reforms in the commission to regain the confidence of Nigerians ahead of future elections was imperative.

Although, in a recently released official review of the 2023 general election, barely one year after the election, the commission insisted that the outcome tallied with the wishes of voters.

But many Nigerians believed that INEC’s conduct of the 2023 general election was not different from the past, in which the process was not free, fair and transparent. Observers believed that while there was little progress, it was not significant.

Across the four major political parties in the country, there was contention about the commission’s handling of the elections, especially the presidential poll by candidates and stakeholders.

In the elections, there were 431 cases from 10 out of the 18 political parties that contested. Governorship petitions from many states were determined by the Supreme Court. This means that ultimately, the court decides election winners in Nigeria.

Many say the conduct of the 2023 election was a repeat of the 2011 and 2007, in which then elected President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua openly admitted that the election that brought him to power was fraudulent.

However, this is despite assurances, in the run-up to the 2023 poll, where the commission promised to deliver to Nigerians “the best election ever.”

The promise stemmed from the much-expected implementation of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), and INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IRev) technologies, two revolution tool that the commission said would address problems of over-voting and delay in result transmission which had characterised previous polls.

The poor conduct of elections has led to poor voter turnout, and there are fears it could get worse if nothing is done. Presently, the already existing trust gap between the people and the commission has worsened.

“The explanation on technical glitch given by Festus Okoye did not fly. Don’t forget, we are in a society where there is so much trust deficit between the people and the government and her agencies.

“Nobody trusts anybody here, we don’t even trust the machine, that is why when you collect money from the ATM you still count the money, if we don’t trust machines how do we trust people?

“The nature of trust is such that it must be earned; you don’t just trust people or a system except such people earn your trust,” Tope Musowo, public affairs analyst, said.

Even the last November off-cycle gubernatorial elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa didn’t produce anything cheering, as desperate politicians allegedly colluded with INEC’s officials to manipulate the elections in their favour.

The inability of the Nigerians’ votes to count in the 2023 election worsened voter apathy in the off-cycle gubernatorial election last November, and there are fears it could get worse if nothing is done urgently.

President Bola Tinubu was elected with a turnout of 27 percent. This is the lowest since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999, and a 44-year downturn compared with the 34.6 per cent recorded in 1979.

Ahead of future polls, many experts have said that Nigeria needed holistic reforms to regain public confidence in the electoral process and part of it should be the resignation of the INEC Chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu, saying if he had any shame at all he should leave the stage.

But the man is still there and expected to complete his second tenure of five years.

“INEC’s morality has become a burden for Nigerians. How do they expect people’s reliability on their functions going forward with what we saw last year, recent elections do not give hope either, Babatunde Olarewaju, politician and political analyst said.

Many Nigerians say the commission will continue to battle serious trust issues post 2023 and in the coming off-cycle elections, until it comes out clean on what happened to the IRev and the transmission of the presidential election results from the polling unit in the 2023 general election.

Jideofor Adibe, professor of Political Science, said INEC chairman should have resigned in the wake of the 2023 election.

Adibe said INEC chairman has lost credibility and Nigerians don’t trust him.

According to him, “I think I will have said this several times even in 2019. INEC cannot deliver anything now because it has a legitimacy crisis.

“The first thing that should have been done is for Professor Mahmood to go. In climes where honour means anything, even if you feel you have done your best, to the extent that international and local observers have condemned and heavily criticised the conduct of the election, the best thing you should do is to step aside.

“His life does not need to depend on it. You step aside for the sake of the integrity of that institution. And for as long as it remains, I don’t think anybody will think they can get anything from INEC.”

Many Nigerians say the commission would have to work hard to close the trust gap in subsequent elections, and part of that involves cleaning its house and removing corrupt officials.

“If we are INEC is serious, how many officials involved in the Imo and Kogi gubernatorial elections fraud have been tried and sacked? Since these guys can get away with these things, others would do more”, Festus Otu, political analyst, said.

As the off-cycle governorship election in Edo and Ondo States come up later in the year, stakeholders say INEC must go beyond recognising the pitfalls to taking actionable steps to improve election in the country.

“We need serious reforms; I think Nigerians are tired of coming out to vote and in the end it would not count. People don’t trust INEC at the moment.

“The way INEC handled the 2023 presidential election will continue to cast a shadow of doubt on the credibility of both the commission and the man that superintended over that election,” Onu Samuel, political analyst, said.

A political analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Nigeria must go and borrow a leaf from the seamless election in Senegal.

He said that the Federal Government understudy the election that produced Bassirou Diomaye Faye.

“Before the election, members of the opposition were targeted for intimidation and persecution. Those who raised a voice against the oppressive government of Macky Sall were branded enemies to be crushed. Faye was arrested and incarcerated. The leader of the opposition party (Pastef), Ousmane Sonko, was detained and charged with insurrection last July.

“Upon his release, the government barred him from participating in the election. It was under his shadows that Faye emerged.

“It was obvious that Senegalese citizens had lost faith in Macky Sall, who moved from hero to villain. They went to the streets to protest. Even some religious leaders joined the protests. Although some citizens lost their lives in the protests, the people remained undaunted.

“They badly needed an alternative which they saw in Sonko. But when Sonko was barred, he gave his blessing to Faye and the people decided to queue behind him.

“The people spoke through the ballot. They showed that democracy was indeed, government of the people, by the people and for the people. And nobody rigged the election. Our INEC officials must cover their faces in shame. Smaller African countries are showing us the way. A great lesson indeed!”

He recalled that “Sally’s attempt to extend his tenure was resisted by the country’s judiciary.”

According to him, “A responsible arm of government, or even agency, must always put the interest of the nation and of the people above that of an individual, no matter how highly placed.

“This spirit is lacking in Nigeria. Little wonder elections in Nigeria have been described by many as shambolic, and may remain so for many decades to come. Very, very worrisome.”

Jide Ojo, popular current affair analyst said the country needs political reforms, not just electoral reforms, stressing that there was the need for the Electoral Offences Commission that will be well resourced and have the powers to make arrests, investigate, and prosecute electoral offenders.

Speaking, he said, “There is a need for the provision for early voting that will ensure that millions of potential voters (accredited observers, journalists, security agents and poll officials) who are not able to exercise their franchise due to their election day duties can vote ahead of the general election.

“Why can’t INEC hold presidential, governorship, senatorial, House of Representatives and state Houses of Assembly polls in one day? It will save a lot of resources. I should also say that the lockdown of the country during polls is needless and does not in any way safeguard the security of the poll.

“It should be discarded. INEC should think of extending voting hours to a minimum of eight hours from the current six.”