Sunday, December 13, 2015

Echoes from Kogi and Bayelsa inconclusive guber polls

It’s era of change and given that the two gov­ernorship elections conducted after the as­sumption of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu as the chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission were inconclusive, some cynics have renamed INEC as Inconclusive National Electoral Commission. That is very uncharita­ble. Is it INEC’s making that the governorship elections in Kogi on November 21 and Bayelsa on December 5, 2015 were inconclusive? What many commentators on election do not know or choose to ignore is that conduct of election is a highly regulated exercise. Failure to follow due process and rules of engagement will result in nullification of the poll by the election peti­tion tribunals.
At present, two major legislations guide the conduct of elections in Nigeria. They are the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2010. In ad­dition, section 153 of the Electoral Act empow­ers INEC to also issue regulations, guidelines and manuals for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of the Act. Thus, the Commission pe­riodically publishes Election Guidelines, Code of Conducts for Political Parties, Accredited Ob­servers, Journalists, etc.
In deference to the provision of section 53 of the Act, INEC declared both Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections inconclusive and what is the aftermath? For the avoidance of doubt, let me quote extensively what the Act says in that sec­tion 53 (2) “Where the votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceed the number of registered voters in that polling unit, the result of the elec­tion for that polling unit shall be declared void by the Commission and another election may be conducted at a date to be fixed by the Commis­sion where the result at that polling unit may af­fect the overall result in the Constituency.” Sec­tion 53 (3) says “Where an election is nullified in accordance with subsection (2) of this section, there shall be no return for the election until an­other poll has taken place in the affected area”.
INEC approved guidelines and the regula­tions of the 2015 general elections empowers the Returning Officer to act as follows: “Where the margin of win between the two leading can­didates is not in excess of the total number of reg­istered voters of the polling unit(s) where elec­tions was cancelled or not held, decline to make a return until another poll has taken place in the affected polling unit(s) and the result incorpo­rated into a new form, form EC 8D and subse­quently recorded into Form EC 8E for Declara­tion and Return”.
What then were the reasons for the inconclu­siveness of the Kogi and Bayelsa gubernatorial polls? Starting with Kogi, according to the Re­turning Officer, Professor Emmanuel J. Kucha, elections were cancelled in 91 Polling Units be­cause of “ballot box snatching, destruction of voting materials and harassment of INEC of­ficials as well as voting above accredited num­bers or over voting.” Meanwhile, he had earlier declared that in the election which was major­ly a two-horse race, the APC scored 240,867 while the PDP polled 199,514 votes, a difference of 41,353 votes which is lower than the 49,953 cancelled results spread across 91 polling units in 18 local governments, hence no winner could be declared.
In Bayelsa state, a similar scenario played out. INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Baritor Lenu-Kpagi was quoted as saying “Re­ports of the election conducted in Southern Ijaw on the 6th of December 2015 reveal that the elec­tion was substantially marred by violence, bal­lot box snatching, and hostage taking of elector­al officials.”
Before the cancellation of the polls in that LGA, results from seven of the eight local coun­cils announced showed that the Peoples Dem­ocratic Party candidate and incumbent gov­ernor, Henry Seriake Dickson polled 105,748 votes while his closest challenger, former gov­ernor Timipre Sylva, got 72,594 votes, a differ­ence of 33,154 votes. Meanwhile the total num­ber of registered voters in Southern Ijaw LGA stands at 120,827.
Given the above scenarios, was INEC right or wrong to declare the elections inconclusive? Who were the actors that perpetrated the vio­lence and fraud that led to the cancellations of the results in the affected Polling Units and LGAs? Who burnt down INEC office in Dekina LG of Kogi State and held election officials hostage in Southern Ijaw LG of Bayelsa? Was it INEC?
The commission made elaborate plans in­cluding carrying out extensive voter education, hands-on training of recruited poll workers, ac­tivating the Inter-Agency Consultative Commit­tee on Election Security, deployment of Election Risk Management Tool for mapping of flash­points, conducting Continuous Voters Regis­tration exercise, distributing Permanent Vot­ers Cards, printing of customised ballot papers with high security features, early deployment of poll workers and polling materials, setting up the Elections Operations Command Centre and making sure that the 22 candidates in Kogi and 20 in Bayelsa signed peace accord to play by the rule. All these grand plans were thwarted by the inordinate ambitions of the political elite, who instead decided to copy their act from the classic book of Niccolo Machaivelli “The Prince” which espoused that the ‘end justifies the means’.
The orgy of violence has made it imperative for the reform of our electoral process which is inclusive of establishment of Electoral Offenc­es Commission and Tribunal; disqualification of any political party and contestants found to have perpetrated electoral fraud and violence; expanding voting rights to include early voting for persons on election duties such as the poll workers, security agents, accredited journalists, party agents and observers, prisoners, Nigerians in Diaspora, etc.
There is also the need to evolve a political sys­tem that will spread the benefit of election rather than the current ‘winner-takes-all’ we practice. Our law needs to expressly capture the use of Smart Card Reader for accreditation purposes; INEC also has to revise its result collation forms to reflect Number of PVCs collected, as a basis for calculation of election results rather than the current Total Number of Registered Voters. This is because whoever fails to collect PVCs after reg­istration automatically loses his or her franchise to vote. The Commission also has to revise its current voting system to allow accreditation and voting to take place simultaneously.
On a last note, I crave the indulgence of the political class to stop interfering and under­mining the efforts of the Independent Nation­al Electoral Commission. They should call their foot-soldiers to order and allow INEC, Securi­ty Agencies, Journalists and Accredited Observ­ers to do their jobs professionally. If we destroy or weaken our electoral management body, the consequence will be disastrous and calamitous. A word is enough for the wise.
• Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Devel­opment Consult, Abuja. Follow me on twitter @jideojong