by Tonnie Iredia
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has since 2011 established for itself; certain constant canons of behaviour which Nigerians need to appreciate whenever they seek to participate in an election in the country.
One of them is that no matter the election; be it nationwide or in only one state or indeed in just a single constituency, election personnel and materials must arrive late for the event. The present INEC opened its tenure with it in April 2011 when it postponed the National Assembly elections because of late arrival of materials. Since then, that principle of lateness “due logistics reasons” has become part and parcel of INEC just the same way, our airlines run permanently delayed flights “due operational reasons”.
In last Saturday’s governorship election in Anambra State, election materials were allegedly late to even a polling unit behind the INEC office-the operational base of the commission in Awka, the state capital. Reacting to this negative advertisement of INEC, the Executive Director, Civil Societies Legislative and Advocacy Centre, Auwual Musa-Rafsanjani regretted that ‘more than one decade after the present INEC began conducting elections, it was still grappling with problems of logistics such as late arrival or non-arrival of staff and voting materials’.
Governorship elections held earlier in Edo and Ondo did not fare better. In the case of the Edo election of July 2012, Governor Adams Oshiomhole had to publicly protest the development. The case of the Oguta election of June 2013 was more scandalous because although it was held in only 4 wards for just one seat in the Imo State House of Assembly, many voters became restive after waiting in vain for several hours for the election process to commence. They were however luckier than many others who were disenfranchised – an aspect that has also become a permanent feature in INEC’s conduct of elections.
The way the names of voters get in and out of the voters’ register now and again has turned the register into an in-house ‘gerrymandering’ facility for INEC officials to manipulate an election in favour or their preferred candidates. What can a disfavoured candidate do about the injection of unlawful names into a voters’ register which is used to conduct an election? The Ondo State governorship election tribunal dismissed a petition to that effect as a pre-election matter. In the Anambra polls of last Saturday, those disenfranchised included one of the candidates and his family.
It is also rather disappointing that the commission has now become an outfit which expects new results from the use of old strategies. Last Saturday, INEC was reportedly in Anambra State with a team made up of its Chairman and no less than16 Electoral Commissioners, ostensibly to supervise the governorship election in the state. That type of high-ranking team had been at similar exercises like the Delta State re-run Governorship election with little or no effect. How does applying it to Anambra produce a change in an election that is compromised down the line at polling booths and ward levels? Again INEC has since 2011 been asking university vice chancellors(VCs) to serve as returning officers in elections as if their presence can stop election malpractices by professional riggers. If so, we are forced to ask again: why have the VCs not stopped examination malpractices in their campuses? Our premise is that while there is no harm in using the VCs, it does not really matter who reads out a result collated from figures he can neither vouch for nor change. The innovation is thus puerile.
The latest weird trait of INEC is the comfort she derives in announcing that an election conducted by her was inconclusive. The latest being the controversial governorship election in Anambra State on November 16, 2013. To whom is an inconclusive election cheering? In the case of the Oguta election, it was the Imo State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Professor Celina Okoh who eloquently described how the election was violently disrupted in certain polling centres which made INEC to declare the event as inconclusive. Were security operatives not on ground? If so, what gives INEC so much faith in an election process that is secured by our security agencies? Of course no one expects the commission to establish its own police just as nothing compels her to rely on convoluted security framework. In other nations, securing an election is now premised on technology- not compromised human operatives.
It is because INEC is yet to embrace best practices in election management that security operatives always collaborate with some corrupt election officials to destabilize INEC plans. On the eve of last Saturday’s Anambra election, security agencies were battle ready and they read the riot act to would be miscreants. Consequently, they arrested 183 election observers from Osun State who were lodged at Desney Hotel, Owerri for illegal assembly. Then, they restricted certain politicians to their hotel rooms during voting and as one bizarre allegation stated, some staff of INEC were held-up at Onitsha Bridge for hours on Election Day. After voting, tear gas was used to disperse about 300 women who were protesting what they felt was a poorly organized election. Some of the women fainted but alas, 28,000 security operatives led by a Deputy Inspector-General of Police deployed to secure the election could not stop the snatching of ballot boxes.
INEC could not have been surprised because the snatching of ballot boxes has been part of our elections. It was an issue which characterized the by-election into the seat of Moba Constituency 1 of the Ekiti State House of Assembly. In the Delta governorship re-run, ballot snatching occurred prominently with 25,000 security operatives on ground. In the case of the Oguta election, security operatives armed to the teeth were everywhere. They reportedly rounded off a batch of thugs numbering about 20 at Agwa community yet; there was still ample snatching of ballot boxes. So what else?
We can only restate two issues. First, election management needs to be more competently managed. Second, technology which can render nugatory, the gains of malpractices would be more rewarding than reliance on ‘analogue securing’ of elections. INEC needs to act before she herself becomes inconclusive.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Tonnie Iredia/Daily Trust