Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The INEC dialogue on inconclusive elections

On Tuesday, August 16, 2016, The Electoral Institute, the think-tank of the Independent National Electoral Commission, with funding support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation rallied all election stakeholders to discuss the lingering issue of inconclusive elections in Nigeria. The roundtable which was held at the organisation’s auditorium in Abuja had in attendance academics, top INEC staff and a robust representation from the political parties, security agencies, legislature, media and non-governmental organisations. The theme of the forum was, “Trends of inconclusive elections and the challenge of strengthening the electoral process in Nigeria”.  The lead speakers were Prof. William Alade Fawole; Prof Joy Ngozi Ezeilo and Prof. Habu Mohammed. There were also 11 lead discussants. I was one of the distinguished participants.
Setting the ball rolling, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of the Board of the Electoral Institute, Hajia Amina Bala Zakari, argued that contrary to popular perception held by the general public that inconclusive elections were as a result of weak electoral processes, they are as a result of a strengthened electoral process which is robust and has progressed steadily.  She explained that the emergence of strong parties, fielding strong candidates in keenly contested elections with narrow margins, evidence-based elections with the use of technology especially the use of the Smart Card Reader and the e-Track leading to a more transparent process are some of the of the indicators of a stronger electoral process.
The immediate past acting chairman of INEC noted that on the flip side, politicians and their followers having discovered that the electoral body is several steps ahead of them are also changing tactics and therefore resorting to “Direct intimidation of voters and INEC staff not to use the Smart Card Reader to force over voting; perpetrate violence through the use of weapons including guns to scare away voters in an attempt to influence outcome of elections; disruption/obstruction of elections in an opponent’s stronghold by whatsoever means possible and infiltrating the system through attempts at bribing election officials.”
In a paper entitled, “Inconclusive Elections in Nigeria: Engendering or Endangering Electoral Process”, Prof. Habu Muhammed, observed that there are two types of inconclusive elections in Nigeria. They include: INEC-declared inconclusive elections and Tribunal or Court-ordered inconclusive elections.  According to the eminent scholar, over-voting, electoral misconduct and violence, non-usage of Smart Card Readers lead to cancellation of results and eventual declaration of inconclusive elections. So also is the upturning of elections by an election petitions tribunal or court. According to him, inconclusive elections create political apathy and despondency on the part of the electorate as they usually give up their mandate and are reluctant to turn out for elections. In addition to the contraction of the democratic space for the electorate, the costs of running a re-run election arising from the declaration of inconclusive elections is very high. In terms of lives and property, the social and economic costs of violence that precipitated the declaration of the re-run elections held in Kogi, Taraba, Imo, Bayelsa, Rivers and Kano are unimaginable.
Ezeilo in a paper entitled, “Paralysis of Inconclusive Elections: Legal and Political Subterfuge”, identified five causes of inconclusive elections. They are:  Margin of lead (in Kogi, Bayelsa, Osun, FCT, Imo and Nasarawa elections were in the main declared inconclusive because of margin of lead); security threat leading to failure to conduct elections in all areas, including malfunctioning of Smart Card Readers; cancellation of election on recognised grounds; electoral violence affecting completion of election or collation and announcement of results; and when Returning Officers abscond and fail to announce election results. According to her, inconclusive elections engender  paralysis of the electoral/political system;  impact on election credibility as they increase perception that people’s votes don’t count in elections;  results in voter apathy in re-run elections; high rate of election petitions and endless litigation; and  overwhelms INEC, the court and security system.
Fawole in a paper entitled, “Politics as War, Elections as Combat: Interrogating the Fundamentals of Inconclusive Elections in Nigeria”, believes that the desperation of the political elite to capture power  which sometimes leads to inconclusive polls was as a result of the winner-takes-all, zero-sum game nature of Nigerian politics. In his opinion, “In most of Africa, opposition parties and politicians hardly survive for long as ruling parties deliberately enfeeble them or employ the executive, legislative and judicial powers of the state to frustrate or coerce them to jump ship and anyone outside the hegemonic faction of the ruling class is usually at risk, a factor that accounts for what is generally known as carpet-crossing in Nigerian politics”. The erudite scholar further observed that the most current spate of inconclusive elections, about 13 since November 2015, is the fallout of politicians’ inability to rig, manipulate elections and have the outcomes they desire the way they were accustomed to. He submitted that what was being witnessed was deliberately contrived to frustrate INEC, sow doubts in its credibility as an efficient election management body, so that politicians and their respective political parties could get the outcomes they desired, by hook or crook.
The three scholars recommended, among other things, attitudinal change on the part of all election stakeholders especially the politicians, reform of the electoral laws, establishment of Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal, and insulation of INEC from external political interference as well as the need for the commission to genuinely address its internal operational, administrative and logistical lapses in order to guarantee efficient electoral conduct.
INEC rightly has decided to tell its own story on the issue of inconclusive elections. Its chairman has been on tour of media establishments where he is using the opportunity to put the issue of inconclusive elections in a proper context. Last Friday, August 19, he was at the headquarters of The PUNCH. There, while fielding questions from the newspaper, he debunked the claim that since his ascension of office a majority of the polls conducted were inconclusive. He explained that most of the 137 elections conducted by the commission in the past eight months were conclusive. He said more than any commission in the history of this country, his Board has conducted more elections outside the context of general elections. He equally said that inconclusive elections did not start with him.
Yakubu opined that inconclusive elections started in 1979 when there was controversy over the presidential election resulting in  litigation on what constituted two-thirds of 19 states. Other states where there have been inconclusive elections before his appointment include Ekiti, Imo, Bauchi, Taraba and Abia. Yakubu stated that if everyone, including the staff of the commission, the voters, politicians and other stakeholders, played by the rules, there would be no inconclusive election. The INEC chairman also lent his voice to the clamour for the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal that will arrest, investigate and prosecute electoral offenders.
In my own estimation, more of the sensitisation programmes embarked on by INEC on this issue of inconclusive elections are needed to disabuse the mind of the public who have started to cynically refer to it as Inconclusive National Electoral Commission.
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