The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is currently in the court of public opinion. The electoral body walked its way into this path of infamy by the alleged wishy-washy handling of last weekend’s gubernatorial election in Anambra State.
Before the exercise, there were allegations bordering on plans by some parties to rig the election. The dailies and electronic media were awash with stories calling on the commission to live above board. There were newspaper editorials reminding INEC that the Anambra gubernatorial election was going to serve as an acid test.
Shoddy preparation or deliberate bungling?
What happened in Anambra last weekend appeared to have vindicated those who had expressed fears that the exercise would be flawed. Across the state, there were allegations of missing names on the voter register. Eligible voters went to the polling centres but could not find their names. They complained that if they were qualified to vote in 2011, and did vote, why were their names missing? There were cases where registers meant for certain areas were sent to different areas. Some areas were denied voting materials, especially in places considered as opponents’ strongholds. There was also accusation of missing result sheets to ensure that whatever that happened at polling centres in certain places were not captured.
Pundits say that signs of the bungled election began to manifest during the review of voter registration across the state. It is believed that if INEC had successfully carried out the review of voter register, the complaint of missing names would not have been widespread. At a meeting in August with leaders of the registered political parties and other stakeholders in the Anambra election, Attahiru Jega, a professor, and INEC chairman had said: “Our preparation for the election includes doing continuous voters registration from August 19-25, 2013. This will give an opportunity to those who have become 18 years of age since the last registration in 2011 to register”.
According to him, “all those who have registered and we have their records in the manual register, but whose details are missing in the electronic register or incomplete will have their registration status updated.”
Jega had raised the hope that “the Anambra election would be the first test case of the practical affirmation of the code of conduct by all parties, candidate and their supporters”.
From the widespread irregularities during the exercise which the INEC boss has also acknowledged, it can only be concluded that the commission either compromised of failed to do the necessary things it ought to have done.
Speaking on the flawed election, particularly the involvement of the electoral officer in Idemili North, Jega said the young man “messed up” and promised that he, the officer, would be handed over to the police.
INEC blamed the inability of materials to get to some centres on time on logistics problems. But Chukwuemeka Onukogu, state resident electoral commissioner, had announced at a forum that logistics was not going to pose any problem. “Going by the timeline we have set for the election, the non-sensitive materials will be made available to the state office latest by October 30. Thus, by November 3, all the non-sensitive materials would be moved to the local government offices and shared according to the Registration Areas Centres (RAC),” he said. But what went wrong, after all?
The noticeable shenanigans in the Anambra election may have further dragged into the mud the good name which Jega had tried to build for the commission since 2011 when he conducted a general election adjudged free and fair. After the 2011 polls, the electoral umpire had also acquitted itself creditably in the conduct of Kogi, Bayelsa, Edo and Ondo gubernatorial elections. The inability of INEC to deal with black legs in its fold has added to its burden. Before the exercise, some groups and individuals had raised the alarm that there were plans by some parties to rig the election.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) had warned that, “If INEC indeed has any hope of organising a free, fair and transparent election in Anambra on November 16, it must immediately shelve the plan to send these highly-partisan and heavily-compromised officials to supervise the election. Any action short of that will open INEC to accusations of bias – which is not what any umpire wants.”
Before the exercise, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), executive director, Clement Nwankwo, had also warned INEC to build on its past achievements by ensuring that all holes were plugged and necessary steps taken to avoid ridicules. But it appears the commission did not take to the advice.
Dangerous signal for 2015
The development may have sent a wrong signal to Nigerians on what to expect in 2015. Pundits have expressed fear that if the commission could not conduct a successful election in one state, the likelihood of it delivering in 30 states in a single day was doubtful. Many people have wondered why INEC could not mobilise men and materials to do a credible job in Anambra.
The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a civil society organisation, has said the flaws recorded in the Anambra State gubernatorial election would undermine public confidence in the nation’s electoral process, if not addressed.
According to Ibrahim Zikirullahi, TMG chairman, for 2015 elections to be credible, INEC must work in partnership with political parties, civic organisations and government bodies to find practical solutions to the problems.
Abubakar Tsav, a former Lagos State Police commissioner, said the avalanche of complaints that trailed the conduct of the governorship election further dimed the hope of credible elections in the country.
He described INEC as a shame to the nation for its inability to conduct free and fair election in a state and wondered what Nigerians would pass through in 2015 with the type of people in the commission.
Parties also to blame
The political parties in Anambra cannot be said to be innocent in the sham that was the gubernatorial election. The general feeling of disenfranchisement must be said to be the inability of parties to mobilise their members to go for the verification exercise during the review of voter register in the state in August. They also failed to tell the voters to report on time if they did not find their names on the displayed registers. It was also said that those whose names were missing must have been people who engaged in double registration that warranted the INEC to delist their names. It has also been said that all the parties in the election participated in one form of rigging or the other, the difference is that “some outsmarted others” in the method applied.
Triumph of corruption and weak laws
The inability of government to punish those who willfully go contrary to the laws of the land may have emboldened many people to toe the corruption route. People are quick to point to many examples and instances of those who though broke the law, never got convicted but allowed to go back to their corrupt lifestyles. It was against this backdrop that Okeke Chukwujekwu, the electoral officer in charge of Idemili North local government area of Anambra State, currently in police detention over his role in the electoral fraud, is likely to walk home a free man at the end of his temporary travail. As he continues to drop names of those behind him, the powers that be are likely to kill the case. Pundits believe that nothing ever will come out of INEC’s investigation over the widespread fraud during the Anambra poll. The question many people have been asking is, how many of the election riggers have been sent to jail?
The burden of ad-hoc staff
Pundits say the use of ad-hoc staff by the commission in conducting elections in the country has created a huge burden on the electoral body and would continue unless drastic steps are taken to halt the ugly trend. It is alleged that the ad-hoc workers usually have at the back of their mind one purpose when they set out for the exercise, and that goal is how to use the opportunity to make money for themselves. It has been alleged that they usually leave their stations for the states where elections are taking place, fantasising how much money they are going to make. Service, it is said is secondary consideration. With that mindset they are ready to compromise and jeopardise the process. Pundits say the commission must apply stringent measures in selecting such ad-hoc staff, and properly educate them on what is expected of them; any one of them found wanting in the course of the exercise should be punished.
The level of desperation exhibited by the contending parties and their candidates did not help matters in Anambra last weekend. There were allegations of monetary inducements of voters. Anambra is a peculiar state where money plays a huge role in politics. The electorates in the state, like many typical voters in other parts of the country, were ready to accept money from the parties. The argument is that since the politicians do not remember the people after election, the voters therefore insist on getting money for their votes. Desperate politicians manipulate the electoral process. There is also the allegation that some politicians even go to the extent of killing those they consider as stumbling block.
Wasted efforts/back to the trenches
After several months of campaign by individual candidates and their parties, they are going to continue with a fresh round of electioneering owing to the inconclusive election. The INEC is going to spend more of the tax payers’ money deploying men and materials for the extended exercise. It is also a huge burden on the people of Anambra State, who were not prepared for such an extension.
Announcing the results of the inconclusive poll, James Epoke, the returning officer, a professor and vice-chancellor, University of Calabar (UNICAL), said none of the parties met the requirements to emerge winner.
Listing the criteria to qualify a candidate to win, Epoke, who led about 347 ad-hoc staff from his institution who served as ward collation officers at the election, said such a candidate must have scored not only the highest number of votes cast, but should also garner 25 percent in two-third of the local government areas in the state.
Moreover, the returning officer said there was no way a candidate could have met the required percentage where about 113,113 votes were cancelled.
He announced that following the deluge of complaints bordering on missing names on the voters’ register in many polling centres, the commission would properly investigate the veracity of such claims.
Anambra State, like Oyo State, illustrates the dangerous dimensions of the activities of political contractors and godfathers. The people of the state were apprehensive few days to the election, owing to the volatile nature of politics in the South East state. Since the return of the country to civil rule in 1999, the state has been known for harbouring individuals whose definition of politics is “war” and “anything goes”.
Before Saturday, November 16, 2013, the atmosphere in Awka, capital city of Anambra State, was charged. Journalists and other observers were pre-warned to be very careful in the state. To ensure a hitch-free exercise, detachments of soldiers, mobile and regular policemen, including members of the Civil Defence Corps were deployed to all nooks and crannies of the state. In short, the state was militarised. The state INEC headquarters located on the House of Assembly road Awka, was being manned by all categories of stern-looking, gun-toting security men and women. It was like a war situation. But contrary to permutations, Awka and indeed all parts of the state were largely peaceful except pockets of disturbances here and there.
Before the exercise, the highest echelon of police in the country had clamped an unprecedented 48-hour curfew on Anambra. But Awka was alive till midnight last Friday as motorists and commercial Okada operators continued their businesses without hindrance.
By: Zebulon Agomuo