Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tasks before the new INEC board

After all the hue and cry from the populace, President Muhammadu Buhari, last Thursday, October 22, 2015, announced Professor Mahmood Yakubu as the new Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission. His nomination alongside five new national commissioners has been ratified by the National Council of State remaining Senate confirmation. The national commissioners so approved by the NCS along with the new INEC Chairman are the current acting chairman, Hajiya Amina Bala Zakari; Dr. Antonia Taiye Okoosi-Simbine; Alhaji Baba Shettima Arfo; Dr Muhammed Mustapha Lekki and Prince Adedeji Solomon Soyebi. Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku still has about two years to the end of his tenure.
These new appointments are coming about four months after the former chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, and 11 national commissioners had served out their terms in July 2015. Yakubu is the second northerner to be appointed INEC chairman in Nigeria’s political history; the first being his immediate predecessor. The new INEC chairman is the 12. Before him were Eyo Esua (1960-1966); Michael Ani (1976-1979); Justice Victor Ovie-Whiskey (1983); Prof. Eme Awa (1987-1989); Prof. Humphrey Nwosu (1989-1993); Prof. Okon Uya (1993-1994); Chief Sumner Karibi Dagogo-Jack (1994-1998); Justice Ephraim Akpata (1998-1999); Dr. Abel Guobadia (2000-2005); Prof. Maurice Iwu (2005-2010) and Prof. Attahiru Jega (2010-2015).
It is very disheartening that some people have already gone to town to input ethnic jingoism into Buhari’s appointment of Yakubu as Jega’s successor. They say it is a prelude to rigging the 2019 elections for a northerner. From the foregoing enumeration of former INEC chairmen, southerners have occupied the position a record 10 times with all of them coming from the South-South and South-East geopolitical zones. They also forget that in 1999 when President Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae were the two presidential candidates, a southerner, Justice Akpata, was the one whose board supervised the presidential poll. There is therefore nothing wrong if another northerner chairs the election management board in as much as he is a Nigerian with impeccable integrity.
On a personal note, I had hoped that President Buhari would appoint from members of the Presidential Committee on Electoral Reform chaired by Justice Muhammadu Uwais so that the person can further implement the all-important report. However, my consolation is that the emerging board of INEC is not without experienced hands on election administration. Nwuruku, Mrs. Zakari and Soyebi are all knowledgeable persons on elections having served previously as national commissioners in the election management body. In fact, Soyebi was a Resident Electoral Commissioner before his appointment as national commissioner and was the acting INEC chairman who handed over to Jega in 2010.

I do not envy the new INEC board considering the enormity of the challenges it’s inheriting. Besides, Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections are at hand on November 21 and December 5, 2015 respectively and Nigerians are watching if the new INEC board will outperform Jega’s. It’s worth mentioning that the National Council of State or should I say President Buhari had decided to stagger the appointments into the INEC board. This may not totally be in tandem with constitutional provision though it stands reason to avoid a situation where all the members of the board will have their tenure expiring at the same time. Even at that, the President needs to fill the 17 positions of the Resident Electoral Commissioners that had been vacant hitherto.
I do hope that the Senate will expeditiously confirm the six nominees to enable them commence their duties in earnest. While the nominees await their formal legislative confirmation, they need to avail themselves of reports on the 2015 elections. Incidentally, the commission’s official report on the last elections held in March and April 2015 was released last Wednesday, October 21 in Abuja. A few days earlier, the European Union Election Observation Mission had also publicly presented its report on the elections. I have both reports and have perused them. I dare say they contain the gospel truths about the elections.
The EU EOM report is very critical of the polls and had proposed 30 recommendations which need to be clinically examined by the new INEC board with a view to seeing the possibility of their implementation. According to the EU, the elections were historic and highly competitive but they were marred by incidents of violence, abuse of incumbency at state and federal levels, and attempts at manipulation.
It goes on to say that INEC made commendable attempts to strengthen electoral arrangements, however systemic weaknesses leave the process vulnerable to abuse by political contenders. Furthermore, it states that Nigeria lost about 160 persons to election-related violence since January 2015. The EU EOM report also castigates the separation of accreditation from voting saying that on March 28, over 2.3 million people who were accredited in the morning (7.3 per cent) did not stay on to subsequently cast their ballot in the afternoon.
Among several other recommendations, the EU report wants INEC’s independence to be further developed through direct power to appoint and remove Resident Electoral Commissioners; improvement of the biometric functionality of the voter register, removal of the deceased and continuous voter registration; merger of accreditation and voting on election day while maintaining mandatory biometric voter verification and authentication through the use of card readers; as well as time limits for filing, hearing and determination of pre-election suits, etc.
On its part, INEC in its official report owned up to some challenges such as insecurity especially in the North-East zone; hate speeches and inflammatory comments by some members of the political class; tortuous procurement process; National Assembly’s inability to finalise the amendment of the electoral legal framework both in the constitution and the Electoral Act; inability of the commission to finalise the review of electoral constituencies and creation of new polling units; incapacity of the commission to prosecute electoral offenders; difficulties in the production and distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards as well as conduct of the CVR exercise; delay in the finalisation of the guidelines for the elections which concomitantly affected the production of the training manual as well as challenges of maximising the impact of voter education.
INEC says it needs to consolidate in the following areas: The use of the PVCs and Smart Card Readers; the Elections Project Plan; Elections Operations Support Centre; Citizens Contact Centre and the implementation of stage two platform of the Election Management Systems. The commission also called for the consolidation of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security.
As a way forward, INEC wants to go back to completing the constituency delimitation and creation of additional polling units; introduce electronic voting as well as push for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal. There is also a bouquet of constitutional and electoral act amendments proposals that INEC sent to the National Assembly since October 2012 which the commission needs to lobby the lawmakers to pass in good time for the 2019 elections. The same is applicable to the unfinished plan to put the commission’s staff on a special salary scale.
It is thus clear that Yakubu’s INEC has its job cut out for it and as such needs to brace itself for the daunting task ahead!
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