Nigeria: As INEC Faces Fresh Trial in Osun, Many Puzzles Remain

Voting taking place in Oshogbo - Osun State
27 September 2018

Prior to the September 22 inconclusive gubernatorial election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been assuring Nigerians that it has rejigged its system and personnel for a credible, free and fair general election next year.

It is not easy to fathom which should be the best attitude or public disposition, between empathy and disdain, towards the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu.

He had stated on several fora that he stands out as the only chairman of the electoral body who has conducted the greatest number of elections by virtue of court pronouncements and death of elected representatives.

Giving himself credit, Yakubu stated that out of 200 elections, including rerun and by-election, he succeeded in returning 180 without legal interrogation or judiciary objection.

However, the negative perception that INEC, under the former executive secretary of the TETFUND, garnered for itself from the ill-fated Kogi State gubernatorial election has continued to hover around the commission.

The impression created by the commission's delay in announcing the election inconclusive and ruling that All Progressives Congress (APC), which candidate died at the point of collation should be substituted, was that the commission under Yakubu does not inspire confidence to deliver on its assurances of impartiality and quick resolution of knotty electoral issues.

Nonetheless, the INEC has been making some salient innovations ever since he mounted the saddle as the chairman of the commission.

For instance, after the Bayelsa State gubernatorial election saga in December 2015, Yakubu and his team of national commissioners adopted the simultaneous accreditation and voting style, which has significantly reduced the time spent on the twin processes.

The INEC chairman has also tried to make election dates predictable as well as facilitating the ease of political parties for nominating their candidates. Yakubu disclosed that in the commission's determination to improve the electoral system and enhance the credibility of the country's election the Optimised Card Reader (OCR) has been acquired.

He said the optimised card reader would serve the special need of automatic transmission of election results from polling units direct to the collation centres.

But despite the exceptional innovations, the dynamism of electoral malfeasance by politicians put a lie to the commission's promises.

In Ekiti gubernatorial poll, a new approach to rigging was introduced.

Styled as 'see and buy,' the practice of inducing voters to cast their ballots for a consideration assumed an alarming dimension after its subdued experimentation in previous exercises in Edo and Ondo States.

Although Yakubu had warned that it would enlist the assistance of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to check political parties and politicians that might resort to vote buying, the Ekiti election rendered the boast an empty threat.

As a result of the dark clouds that surrounded the Ekiti poll, both the victorious and first runner up in the exercise have gone to the Election Petition Tribunal in an attempt to sieving out what went wrong and who had the majority of lawful votes.

Complacency or conspiracy in Osun AGAINST the background of the Ekiti outing, most observers looked up to an improved process in Osun.

But despite the peaceful conduct of stakeholders and elegant comportment of voters, the outcome was mired in controversy following the decision of the returning officer, Prof. Joseph Adeola Fuwape, to declare the election inconclusive.

He hinged his decision on the fact that the 3, 498 registered voters in five polling units where the exercised was cancelled exceeded the margin by victory by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Senator Adeleke and the runner-up, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola of All Progressives Congress (APC), which stands at 353 votes.

In the light of section 153 of the Electoral Act, Fuwape disclosed that a rerun poll would be held to not only ensure that no voter was disenfranchised in the units where elections were canceled, but also that a clear winner emerges.

However, from INEC's rendition, the purport of the rerun is that 3, 498 registered voters, some of who did not obtain their permanent voter cards, held about 600, 000 others that voted to ransom.

That apart, does the act of cancellation for over-voting and card reader malfunction not impair the credibility of the entire exercise?

Why was there over-voting if the PVC and voter registered guided the accreditation and voting?

Other critical posers

PERHAPS after today's run-off poll, the INEC should explain to Nigerians what use the Optimised Card Reader is meant to serve and why it failed to perform that function.

After all, the commission gave the impression that the OCR would be used to transmit results from polling units to collation centres.

Next to that, the commission should also reconsider the use of appointees of government as Resident Electoral Commissioners because the practice tends to negate the neutrality and independence of INEC.

Directors in the commission and human rights activists and civil society campaigners could serve in that capacity and be held accountable.

Similarly, the use of adhoc staff for sensitive duties, such as local government collation officers coveys the idea of advance rigging because if permanent staff are deployed to perform that function, that would automatically check the reckless conducts of hirelings as was seen in Ayedaade.

In all, most observers were nonplussed that Prince Solomon Soyebi, who has been in INEC for nearly a decade, was in active duty in Osun.

Although he hails from Ogun State, the cause of impartiality would have been better served if an INEC official from any of the northern or eastern states were drafted to perform Soyebi's duty.

During the November 2017 gubernatorial poll in Anambra State, INEC explained that no national commissioner should be at the podium or very close to a state's returning officer.

If that is the procedure the question remains, what was an official of Yoruba extraction (Soyebi) doing in Osun, a Yoruba state, during election and why were the collation officers for Osun election trained in Lagos?

The most mindboggling of all was that electoral officials in Osogbo waited for results from polling units to be physically conveyed by Electoral Officers when it could have been transmitted with the aid of technology electronically.

This raises the issue anew of the real place of optimisation of card reader, which INEC has been parroting. What is the need and use of Card Reader?

Why would the commission spend taxpayers money to purchase an electronic device for electoral fidelity only to deliberately betray its function?

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