Sunday, February 7, 2016

Despite annulments, Nigeria's 2015 polls most credible

The chairman of the Independent Na­tional Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu recently met with different actors and stakeholders in the elec­toral process where he tried to pick their brains on how the electoral commission can improve on its performance in delivering credible elec­tions thereby consolidating Nigeria’s democra­cy. I was privileged to be at the Commission’s meeting with civil society organisations held on January 21, 2016. It was a frank interactive ses­sions where the Commission highlighted some of the areas it wants input. Indeed it got a full dose of ideas and recommendations.
INEC chairman espoused nine areas name­ly; Judicial annulment of 82 and upturning of 15 out of the elections held in 2015; Man­agement of voting process (i.e. should sepa­ration of accreditation and voting subsist or the two should hold simultaneously as was the case until 2011 General Elections?); soar­ing incidences of electoral violence in spite of the peace accords and increase in the deploy­ment of security agencies to secure election environment; and inconclusiveness of elec­tions as was the case during the November 21 Kogi guber election and December 5, 2015 Bayelsa governorship election. Others are in­fusion of technology into the electoral pro­cess i.e. introduction of chip embedded Per­manent Voters Card and Smart Card Reader for voter accreditation; Election logistics as regards deployment and retrieval of election materials; Poll workers recruitment, training and deployment; public communication vis-√†-vis voter education; and Continuous Voters Registration exercise.
When the floor was thrown open for com­ments, many of us were unsparing in telling the Commission the gospel truth about what it has done well and areas in need of improve­ment. The INEC chairman’s laundry list was even expanded to include issues such as the imperative of electoral constituency bound­ary delimitation which was last done under the military junta in 1996 but which constitu­tionally ought to be done every ten years; the need for creation of additional Polling Units; impunity of political parties over breaches of campaign finance regulations; inability or lack of political will on the part of INEC to pun­ish electoral offenders and the urgency of elec­toral reforms.
On January 22, 2016, Chief Dafe Akped­eye, SAN and I were guests on Focus Nigeria, a popular magazine programme on African Independent Television anchored by Gbenga Aruleba. One of the questions thrown at me by the moderator was whether it is right for us to claim that 2015 General Elections was credible and indeed the best election Nigeria ever had. He asked against the backdrop of the informa­tion volunteered by INEC chairman that in comparism with 2007 and 2011 General Elec­tions, 2015 polls recorded far greater num­ber of election annulments. According to the Chief Electoral Officer, INEC records shows that in 2007, a total of 20 elections were an­nulled by the court, in 2011, about 34 elections were cancelled by the election tribunals while in 2015, the courts have ordered re-run elections in 82 cases (as at then) and have upturned 15 elections (that is, the courts have awarded vic­tories to the petitioners and have asked INEC to withdraw Certificate of Return from the de­fendants and give it to the challengers).
It is noteworthy that INEC has on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 fixed dates for the court or­dered re-runs. Notice of the rerun election was contained in a statement issued and signed by the Secretary of the Commission, Mrs. Augus­ta Ogakwu. According to her, rerun elections into federal and state constituencies and sena­torial districts across the country followed the nullification of about 80 elections in 16 states of the federation by the Court of Appeal. All the affected elections, according to the com­mission, are to hold between February 13 and March 19, 2016. The states where the rerun polls will hold are Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Gombe, Imo, Ka­duna, Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Rivers and Taraba.. The commission however said there would be no fresh primaries in constit­uencies where the court disqualified a candi­date based on improper conduct of the party primary. The commission added that while elections in 69 constituencies of the affected states would be with the same political par­ties and their respective candidates who par­ticipated in the annulled elections, some po­litical parties in 11 constituencies, cut across seven states, would not be participating in the rerun polls.
Now, considering the fact that more elec­tions were annulled and upturned in 2015 than in the two previous general elections; giving the high number of inconclusive elec­tions as witnessed in states like Bayelsa, Kogi, Bauchi, Taraba and Imo; considering the hu­mongous resources expended on the 2015 elec­tions especially by political parties and con­testants which makes the polls the costliest in Nigeria’s electoral history; giving the challenge of late distribution of Permanent Voters Card, delayed commencement of polls in many plac­es, malfunctioning of Smart Card Readers and high incidences of violence experienced during the last general elections, can we in good con­science applaud the polls as the best organised and most credible in Nigeria’s political history? The answer is YES!
Election, I must aver, is a process and not an event. 2015 General Elections was not perfect like every human conduct but the polls large­ly reflected the wishes of the electorates. Peo­ple’s votes counted in the choice of their lead­ers and that is the most important thing in an election. The unprecedented happened in 2015 when a party in power lost to the opposition for the first time in this Fourth Republic. The loss of power by the Peoples Democratic Par­ty to the All Progressives Congress was total. It happened at all the electoral strata both at the federal (presidency, Senate and House of Rep­resentatives) and state (governorship and State Houses of Assembly) levels.
Available records from INEC shows that compared to the last two general elections, 2015 polls had the least number of election petitions filed at the tribunal. In 2007, a total of 1,291 cas­es were filed at the EPTs, in 2011 it came down to 724 while in 2015; only 663 petitions were filed at the tribunals. Though about 100 lives were lost to election related violence in 2015, over a thousand persons were murdered in the pre and post 2011 General Elections. Further­more, there is a need to examine the rationale for the nullifications of the over 80 elections. My preliminary findings show that many of the annulled elections were pre-election mat­ters bothering on faulty candidate nomination process which is an intra-party issue for which INEC cannot be held responsible. Other ration­ale includes the lack of adequate understanding of the role of Smart Card Reader in the last gen­eral elections by the judges. In summary, 2015 General Elections, having been conducted in substantial compliance with the provisions of Electoral Act 2010, as amended and indeed the Nigerian Constitution can be adjudged credi­ble even as concerted efforts must be made to improve on future polls.