Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Much ado about INEC's inconclusive elections


On Saturday, April 9, 2016, the Independent National Electoral Commission pursuant to the powers conferred on it by the Electoral Act 2010 as amended in Part VI, to conduct periodic elections into the six Area Councils of the Federal Capital Territory held the polls into Gwagwalada, Kuje, Abaji, Bwari, Kwali and the Abuja Municipal Area Council. The elections were largely peaceful but witnessed low voter turnout as well as glitches with the Smart Card Readers, particularly for the voter authentication.   The elections were initially scheduled to hold on March 19, same day as the rerun elections in Rivers State, but had to be shifted by three weeks by INEC due to shortage of ad-hoc staff.

The most unfortunate thing about the April 9 polls was that five out of the six Area Council’s chairmanship positions, with the exception of that of Bwari, were declared inconclusive by the electoral umpire. The reasons advanced for that include violence, over voting and non-use of Smart Card Readers for voter accreditation. According to the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner for the Federal Capital Territory, Professor Jacob Jatau, supplementary elections will hold in the affected 39 polling units in 20 registration areas of the capital city today, April 13, 2016. Since the inauguration of the Professor Mahmood Yakubu’s electoral management board in November 2015, the Commission has been battling raft of inconclusive elections. The off-cycle governorship elections held in Kogi and Bayelsa states on  November  21 and December 5,  2015 respectively  were inconclusive and now this FCT Area Council polls.

I must state that Yakubu is not the harbinger of inconclusive elections, it precedes his appointment. There were inconclusive governorship elections in Ekiti State in 2009, Anambra in 2010, Imo in 2011, Abia, Taraba and Imo again in 2015. A number of other elections had been declared inconclusive and supplementary elections held to conclude them later basically because the minimum threshold to declare a clear winner had not been met.

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 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended as well as the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. 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. It also developed Political Party Finance Manual and Handbook.

Let us do a little excursion into how winners emerge into executive positions in Nigeria.  By this I mean how a president, governor and Local Government or Area Council chairman emerges in an electoral contest. For the president, he or she has to fulfill the provisions stipulated in section 134 of the Constitution. For a governor, he or she   has to meet the criteria set in section 179 of the supreme law while  the Area Council chairperson has to be elected in accordance with the provisions of section 111 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. What these provisions emphasised across board is that for a winner to emerge, he or she must win majority of the valid votes cast as well as one quarter of votes cast in at least each of the  two thirds of all the states, local government areas or wards  in the case of the president, governor and LG Chairman respectively. 

However, in meeting the above twofold criteria, the electoral framework wants the winner to win fairly and that is why there are additional provisions to be met. The electoral law frowns and indeed criminalises rigging and electoral manipulations. For instance, different sections of the law classified incidences such as vote buying, electoral violence and over voting as electoral offences. In fact a whole chapter of the Electoral Act, Part VIII, contained a laundry list of all electoral offences.  Section 53 of the Act specifically condemns over voting and prescribed what should be done in the event of occurrence. The Act says in section 53 (2) that: “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.”  Subsection (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 in pages 22 – 23, and paragraph 4, Section N, 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”.  These are what gave legal backing to INEC to declare elections inconclusive. It is important that people know the rationale behind this phenomenon and stop being cynical by rebranding INEC as Inconclusive National Electoral Commission. Would Nigerians have preferred INEC closing its eyes to electoral heist in order to please them? Would that have served the course of democratic consolidation?  

Let us put the blame where it rightly belongs. We have in this clime a band of incorrigible political elites whose stock in trade is electoral malfeasance. I recall that the Transition Monitoring Group’s official report on the 2003 General Elections was “Do the votes count? Votes have started to count now since 2011 as the electoral commission embarks on the use of sophisticated technology to frustrate merchants of electoral fraud. Among other innovations, INEC has perfected the use of customisation of sensitive electoral materials such as ballot papers and result sheets, colour coding of the ballot papers which renders it useless in other constituencies when pilfered or snatched, biometric voters registration, issuance of chip-embedded and machine readable Permanent Voters Card as well as the introduction of the Smart Card Reader.   

INEC itself will be the first to admit that it is yet to perfect its act as there are saboteurs within the system who collaborates with politicians to undermine many of its noble innovations. The Commission is still grappling with the challenge of Election Day logistics hence perennial late commencement of polls. Politicians are Nigeria’s worst nightmare in our bid at democratic consolidation. It behooves on INEC and security agencies to rein in this elite group who are hell-bent on truncating our democratic journey.