Abuja — After the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and the failure of the then military government to gain the confidence of majority of the Nigerian population and, indeed, the international community, there was the urgent need to do all that was possible to once again unite the nation politically, hence the creation of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in 1998.
The then Head of State, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar, who took over the mantle of leadership after the sudden death of Gen. Sani Abacha, established the electoral body under Decree 17 of August 5, 1998. The INEC is also listed in Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution as one of the 14 Federal Executive bodies. Specifically, Sections 154, 155, 156 and 157 of the same Constitution provide for the appointment of the chairman and members as well as secretary of the commission. They also provide for the tenure, qualification and removal from office of the designated officials were spelt out clearly.
In addition the functions of the Commission were spelt out and they include: to organize, undertake and supervise all elections to the offices of the President and Vice President, the Governors and Deputy Governors of the states as well as members of the National and State Assemblies of the Federation. INEC is equally saddled with the responsibility of registering political parties, monitor the organization and operation of the political parties, including their finances.
The electoral body has the mandate to arrange and conduct the registration of persons qualified to vote, to prepare, maintain and revise the register of voters for the purpose of the election under the Constitution. It is also the duty of the INEC to delimit and delineate electoral constituencies and to monitor political parties' conventions and campaigns and to provide rules and regulations governing the parties. All the Electoral Commissioners, Electoral and Returning Officers are to take their oath of office as prescribed by law and administered by the Commission even as the body is mandated to carry out such other function as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly.
Interestingly, before the emergence of the INEC, other electoral bodies had existed and it is instructive that in as much as they all did their best within the prevailing circumstances, it is not in doubt that none of them was able to achieve what the present INEC has achieved including the unassailable record of conducting an election that for the very first time saw the hand over of power from one democratically elected government to another.
It would be recalled that when Gen. Abubakar replaced the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) with the present INEC, he gave the Commission only two weeks to formulate a time table for transitional elections and to present an electoral process which would lead to the hand over of power to a democratically elected government on May 29, 1999. It is on record that INEC was able to match that responsibility.
The first chairman of the INEC, Justice Ephraim Akpata, now late, had to battle with 26 political associations that were in existence then and thereafter only nine were given provisional registration as political parties.
It is worthy of note that by this time, the international community that was hitherto ignoring Nigeria in the scheme of things due to the long period of military rule began to show interest once again in the affairs of the nation.
The climax of the whole transitional programme was the conduct by the INEC the general elections in February, 1999 . The excercise threw up Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who defeated Chief Olu Falae of the All Peoples Party (APP) to clinch the presidency.
The conduct of the 2003 general elections was under the stewardship of Dr. Abel Guobadia. Under him, the INEC was able to conduct the 2003 elections where three prominent Nigerians, Obasanjo and Gen Muhamadu Buhari and Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu contested.
However, it is worthy of note here that the 2003 elections attracted a lot of criticisms from both the local and international observers.
That long litigation perhaps gave birth to the drafting of the Electoral Bill in 2004 and in 2006 .It was passed into law as Electoral Act 2006. The Electoral Act 2006 provided the guideline for the conduct of the 2007 general elections.
Prof. Maurice Iwu was appointed as the chairman of the INEC in 2005 on the expiration of the tenure of Dr Guobadiia. Under Iwu, the electoral body recorded a lot of strides, including the Electoral Voting System (EVS) and the Electoral Voter's Registration (EVR) and the Electronic Transmission of Results (ETR) which were to be used for the conduct of the 2007 elections.
However, these innovations did not go without some criticisms because of the poor implementation due largely to the low level of awareness of the electorate in many SSSSSS parts of the country. This was also occasioned by the halting of the Commission from using the Electronic Voting Machine by the National Assembly.
The INEC had also used the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machine to register voters for the 2007 elections where bio data of all voters were captured.
In addition, the INEC under Prof. Iwu has simplified the registration of voters to the extent that throughout the 774 local government areas one can just walk in and get registered as against the old style of queuing under the sun and rain just to register as a voter.
As an erudite academic, Prof. Iwu established the Electoral Institute of Nigeria to enrich the nation's electoral system. As the first of its kind in Africa, the Institute is meant to train professional election administrators. And to further give bite to the Institute, it is now partnering with thee Nigerian universities namely; Ibadan, Nsukka and Zaria.
Prof. Iwu has also introduced the Election Stakeholders Forum so as to have a wide range of consultations before taking any far reaching decision concerning the electoral process.
The INEC chairman in his mien wanted to give Nigerians a credible election that would have gone without blemish but that effort was somehow thwarted by some factors, including politicians bent on dereailing the electoral system.
Before Alhaji Umaru Yar'Adua became President Obasanjo had declared the 2007 elections as "a do- or- die affair". His deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar sought the presidency on the ticket of the Action Congress (AC) after the two had literarily danced naked in the open.
Atiku had secured a last minute Supreme Court judgment which ruled that his photograph be embossed on the ballot paper barely five days to the presidential election. The other factor has been the use of thugs to prosecute elections in Nigeria. It has been a common scene to see gun-totting thugs armed by politicians cart away ballot boxes at will and in the presence of everybody.
But Prof. Maurice Iwu has sounded it times without number that thugs must not be used to prosecute elections. He has also warned the political parties to ensure that they have internal democracy in their fold as that is a sure way of having elected officials hat truly represent the wish of the people.
Analyst argue that it is wrong to blame Iwu for all perceived problems with the country's electoral system.
This simply means that politicians play according to the rules of the game, the nation will be the better for it and by so doing the much desired credible election will be achieved.