• Thursday, February 29, 2024
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Controversies awaken fears on INEC’s 2015 preparedness

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Although the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it is ready for the 2015 general election, analysts express fears that the commission appears to be laying mines for itself owing to some of its actions.

The commission, which has since released the timetable for the elections, has lately been enmeshed in a welter of allegations over lopsided allocation of polling units across the country; the sequence of the election which places the presidential before the gubernatorial; heavy reliance on ad-hoc staff and other alleged missteps regarded in some quarters as a recipe for failure.

An analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noted that when “the military dictatorships want to transfer power to elected representatives, they always start from the base, but when civilian governments want to transmit from one another, they always start from the top, i.e. from federal elections. Where the latter has always witnessed electoral crises leading to the collapse of the ‘democratic’ system of government, the former has always ended without electoral crises.”

“The basic explanation for the ‘success’ of elections that begin from the base is that all participating parties are given an opportunity to have some share of political influence and control. There is therefore, a feeling of having something at stake to defend. But when an election starts from the top, it wears a ring of rigging- euphemistically described as bandwagon effect,” the pundit added.

The commission, had in a statement issued in Abuja sometime ago, signed by Augusta Ogakwu, its secretary, fixed the Presidential and National Assembly elections for February 14, 2015. State Assembly and governorship elections were slated for February 28 same year.

Dan Nwanyanwu, who was re-elected recently as the national chairman of the Labour Party (LP), had also expressed surprise at the sequence of the election. He was shocked over the plan to hold presidential before the gubernatorial election.

“But are you sure that the presidential election will hold before the governorship election? That is not good enough,” he said.

There were also allegations of possible disenfranchisement of many eligible voters owing to poor voter registration arrangement in many places. Although the commission extended the days of the exercise, many people were still shut out.

Proposed staggered elections decried

After the recent release to all political parties by INEC the notification for the 2015 general election, informing them of the commission’s readiness to conduct the February polls, there were observations that the polls’ results would be more credible, cheaper than the N120 billion budgeted for it if all the elections were conducted the same day to avoid the bandwagon effect.

Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and Ango Abdulahi-led Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF), two of the North’s most powerful socio-political groups, observed that staggered elections would encourage electoral fraud and other malpractices.

Following the finger-pointing, Aminu Tambuwal, speaker of the House of Representatives, has urged the INEC to ensure a hitch-free 2015 election.

Tambuwal warned against subverting the people’s will in the elections, saying: “My expectations from INEC are that there should be election in Nigeria and it must be credible, impartial and transparent. It must display patriotism by not favouring anyone of the parties and respecting the will of the people for democracy to grow and for us to remain united.”

INEC’s controversial polling units

One of the most controversial steps taken by INEC ahead of the 2015 elections was the creation of additional polling units (PUs). The commission announced its plans to add additional 30,027 polling units to the existing 119,973 ones scattered across the country. But the criteria for the distribution across the six geo-political zones allegedly failed transparency test. Critics say the distribution was lopsided, sharply favouring the North against the South.

INEC put the total number of existing registered voters at 70,383,427, stating that  the exponential growth in Nigeria’s population, as well as severe demographic shifts resulting from new settlements in major urban areas since 1996, has solely influenced the need for the additional polling units to be created.

The International Society of Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law is of the belief that with INEC’s reliance on the post 2011 Fingerprint Identification Software (AFIS) 70million figures, “the commission also messed up the continuous voters’ registration and revalidation exercise.”

The group was also quoted as saying that the continuous exercises “are meant to capture more registered voting population, including those that relocated from or fled the troubled zones,” in the North.

It argued that at the end of the exercises, INEC was expected to “announce the new total number of living registered voters, which includes the deleted number of dead and fictitious voters.”

Part of the commission’s expected announcement, therefore, is the fate of the voting population that are still in the troubled zones as well as areas affected by the on-going insurgency by the Boko Haram sect.

The Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly (SNPA), a group that comprises elder statesmen led by, Edwin Clark, a former minister of Information; Alex Ekwueme, a former vice-president; Femi Okurounmu, a senator, and Bolanle Gbonigi, a cleric, condemned the lopsidedness and called on President Goodluck Jonathan to sack Attahiru Jega.

“We demand the immediate resignation of Jega as chairman of INEC,” said the SNPA in a signed communiqué.

The SNPA also urged President Jonathan “to without further delay reorganise the composition and structure of INEC, to provide Nigerians the platform for free and fair elections.”

For the group, Jega’s reason of trying to decongest the existing polling units is far from being credible, but a “script perfectly crafted for Jega to implement, in continuation of the well-known hegemonic agenda.”

Jega’s defence

Jega’s argument remains that the existing 119,973 polling units when rationed among the ‘questionable’ registered voters of 70,383,427 would assist in reducing voters at each polling unit to a minimum of 500 people. When the 119,973 polling units were created in 1996, Nigeria’s population was said to be estimated at 110 million people. Now with a population of about 175 million, Jega said the polling units were no longer enough.

According to the International Society of Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, the existing polling units, (as well the additional ones INEC created), and electoral wards “have also followed the age-long roguish pattern of population counting and distribution, criminally and abominably designed to de-populate some parts of the country and over-populate others.”

The group claims that with INEC’s intending additional polling units, the commission is organising “a phantom and pro-rigging exercise in the context of ethno-religious lop-sidedness. This includes bogus allocation of 5,291 polling units to the violence prone North-east zone, which populations are unsettled and scattered outside the zone.”

Any hope of election in North East?

Jega hopes that the on-going war being waged in the North-East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa would be won by the government in time for the surviving residents to return to their states and, along with the rest of Nigeria, participate in next year’s elections.

But Jega’s critics suspect that when that is achieved, the voting populations in these states and most certainly in the entire Northern region would have decreased. This is why those who are opposed to the proposed additional creation are reading political meanings to the idea and feel that his use of the post AFIS 70million registered voters figure is unjustifiable.

For instance, while Anambra, Bayelsa, Ekiti, Enugu, and Osun failed to get more polling units based on the 85 percent proportionality rule, the insurgency-ravaged states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa each got additional polling units of 1,215, 669 and 769 respectively, under that criteria.

Jega’s critics insist that the timing of the exercise, which INEC failed to inform Nigerians early enough is suspect. They are of the opinion that the electoral commission should make do with the existing polling units like in the past, and that at a proper time, most especially when the war on terror would have been won, the INEC can throw up the idea of creating additional polling units.

The ad-hoc staff challenge

Pundits say that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) does not have the permanent staff capacity to conduct the general election. This informs the reason the body often engages a number of ad-hoc staff, including the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members, to assist them during elections.

According to them, a key progress recorded by the current INEC regime in this area is the use of Federal Government employees as ad-hoc staff.

Before the 2011 elections, for instance, inexperienced fresh graduates, state and local government staff members, unemployed people and even political touts, and stooges worked during elections as supervisors and even collation officers.

Our findings showed that most of these staff members were deployed by their political godfathers to do their biddings or those of their candidates. This accounts for the crude rigging methodologies adopted by many of the elements during elections within the period.

Little wonder the 2007 elections were adjudged one of the worst in the history of Nigeria as electoral materials found their way at the homes of political godfathers in various states. It was gathered that in 2011, the joint Senate and House of Representatives elections held the same day (on the first day) threw up teachers and state civil servants in the pay-roll of state governments as supervisors and collation officers. This, according to observers, was why many of them were loyal to their states than the Federal Government.

Also observed in many states was the frequency with which election officers were changed. Some officials who worked in the first day did not work in the presidential election and the House of Assembly held on the second and the third days, owing to the disposition of some state INEC helmsmen that the two key positions (supervisors and collation officers) be handled by Federal Government employees. In a few cases, politicians brought their lists on the second and third days, trying to smuggle in their stooges, but were turned down.

“Well it is good to use federal employees that have something at stake. Just like the NYSC members who know their service year can be extended if they are found culpable of election malpractices, federal employees are conscious of some consequences if caught on the wrong side of the law. The point is that general elections are not local government elections conducted by the state; so, the use of state staff should not be encouraged,” said a former top ad-hoc officer in Enugu, South-East Nigeria, who does not want his name in print.

“I must tell you that INEC has made considerable progress in this area. It is now more difficult to rig elections with supervisors, collation officers or even resident electoral officers. This is because no matter what you do as a supervisor, the collation officer calculates the aggregate number to ensure there is synchronisation,” he added.

“After then you submit it to a committee that will recalculate what you have done to ascertain its correctness. If it is not correct, an official will immediately draw your attention and make you re-do your work,” the experienced former officer, who has worked with electoral bodies for more than two decades, explained.

Voter apathy still a huge factor

One key challenge INEC and other stakeholders must resolve in the forthcoming general election is the high rate of voter apathy. For instance, in the Ekiti State governorship election held in June, the total number of registered voters was 733,766. But the number of voters who eventually turned out for accreditation on the election day was 369,257, representing 50.32 percent. The INEC further endorsed 350,366 as the total number of valid votes, while 10, 089 votes were rejected. Incidentally, 360,455 votes were cast, representing 49.12 percent. Ayo Fayose, the newly sworn-in Ekiti governor, who contested on the PDP platform, won the election with the total votes of 203,090 votes, representing 27.7 percent of the registered voters.

This is not limited to Ekiti but to other states that recently conducted gubernatorial elections such as Osun, Edo and Anambra, among others.

Some stakeholders attribute this to political apathy arising from total loss of interest in the state of affairs due to long years of mis-governance and maladministration. Others say the high level of political apathy can be ascribed to the inability of politicians to deliver election promises.

Samuel Oyigbo, lawyer and general overseer of Ambassadors Advocates Assembly, believes that it is a combination of many factors, among which are loss of interest due to poor governance and continuing culture of unfulfilled electoral and political promises as well as inability to properly educate the people on the need to have a proper stake in the affairs of things.

“It is called loss of interest. Those in power should live up to their promises. Registered voters often shy away from voting because most times, those they elected in the past failed to deliver on their promises,” he said.

“This is why the Independent National Electoral Commission, government and the media should educate the people on why they should come out to vote. Government and INEC can sponsor such enlightenment programmes aimed at mass education,” Oyigbo added.   

All hope not lost

Justin Onwujekwe, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist, said INEC has the capacity to pull off the 2015 election if only politicians will give the commission some breeding space. Onwujekwe said Jega has rightly demonstrated capacity to work under pressure, adding that he can handle the 2015 creditably if the ruling party and the opposition party will avoid pre-empting the body or giving the body a bad name to hang it. He cited the cases of Anambra, Edo and other states where gubernatorial candidates who eventually won the election initially lampooned the commission only to discover that they were the winners.

“INEC is able to do it, despite feelings in some quarters. Not many vice-chancellors who are used as electoral officers can afford to drag their image and good names in the mud. But my fear is that politicians themselves are the problem. The N120 billion given to INEC in my estimation is good. But there should be room for more if the body calls for such. We should not always believe that money call is an avenue for embezzlement,” he said.

“May I advise INEC to train their ad-hoc staff early enough. In fact, ad-hoc staff need to be people of proven integrity. Lawyers, doctors, lecturers, journalists and other professionals should be used as ad-hoc staff,” he added.

On the fears being expressed in some quarters that INEC may be stampeded by the ruling party to compromise its integrity, Rueben Nwako, a retired colonel and president of non-indigenes in Lagos, said it was an unfounded alarm.

“Interestingly, before Jega was appointed, it was a very top politician from the opposition that nominated him to the President. So, how can you now turn around to start shouting blew murder after telling the President Jega was a credible and a no-nonsense man? Now, he has started working and you are shouting that you don’t trust him anymore. It does not make sense. You know, there’s no politician that agrees that the other person won an election without manipulation.”

“My expectation is that INEC should be above board and impartial. They should do their job without caring whose ox is gored,” Nwako added.

Charles Ike-Okoh, Zebulon Agomuo and Odinaka Anudu