by Levi Obijiofor
The chairperson of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega, addressed a press conference last Friday (22 November 2013) to ward off mounting criticisms of the unsatisfactory way his commission conducted the governorship election in Anambra State on Saturday, 16 November 2013.
At the press conference, Jega excused the inexcusable. He defended the indefensible. And he justified the unjustifiable.
It was a weird press conference in which Jega, a man who was appointed to oversee the conduct of credible and fair elections nationwide, argued sheepishly that the malpractices that tarnished the governorship election in Anambra State were not substantial enough to warrant outright cancellation of the election. By his proclamation, Jega confirmed public suspicion that he is not as impartial as he projects himself.
Jega argued during the press conference that there were no major problems in that election in which many voters were deprived an opportunity to vote, an election in which INEC officials deliberately arrived late at voting centres, clutching insufficient election materials.
In his response to suggestions that the governorship election should be cancelled outright and another election organised to erase the malpractices that tarnished the credibility of that election, Jega made a baffling argument that exposed his bias. He said: “We recognise that the election we conducted in Anambra State was not perfect but we are satisfied that the evidence that has been adduced is not sufficient to warrant a total cancellation of the election…
“No evidence has been adduced to warrant the cancellation of the election; the Electoral Act is very clear and our guidelines are very clear that if on presentation of your voter’s card and your name is not on the register, you will not be allowed to vote.”
This is baffling logic. On one hand, Jega acknowledged that INEC did not conduct the election in a credible manner. Almost immediately, he argued that the blunders committed by INEC were not sufficient enough to warrant cancellation of the entire results.
Pray, what level of malpractices would Jega see before he would see reason to cancel the election? Jega said most of the problems experienced during the election should be deposited at the doorsteps of recalcitrant voters, who did not bother to update their details in the electronic voters’ register. It is irritating that Jega has continued to evade responsibility for the disasters that occurred during the election.
Despite criminal negligence by INEC officials, it must have come as a shock to many people when Jega downplayed the serious lapses that damaged the integrity of the election. While many voters and some of the governorship candidates experienced glaring injustices perpetrated by INEC officials during the election, Jega insisted that INEC officials were largely not blameworthy for the deficiencies that undermined the validity of the election. Most of the arguments Jega presented at the press conference to defend INEC’s sloppy performance were too simplistic, objectionable, insensitive, arrogant, insulting, hare-brained, illogical and pretentious.
During the press conference, Jega said that, regardless of all the flaws that tarnished the governorship election, INEC had decided to conduct a supplementary election to be held on 30 November 2013 in selected voting centres located in some local government areas. I am not persuaded that a supplementary election will fix the gross misconduct that INEC officials committed on the election day. To conduct a credible governorship election, all political parties and governorship candidates must be given a level playing field. In his role as the official election supervisor, Jega must conduct himself like the chair of a truly independent electoral commission.
Jega said at the press conference that he had listened to all representations in the disputed election and considered all complaints relating to the conduct of the election. He didn’t. If he did, he would have refrained from blaming political candidates and voters for engineering the disappearance of their names from the official voters’ registers. Jega should have blamed INEC officials for the logistical problems and also for the discrepancies in the election results. Rather than reprimand incompetent INEC officials, Jega pointed at scapegoats whom he said must be held accountable for the substandard way the election was conducted.
Let us consider some of the absurdities in Jega’s defence of INEC. First, INEC compiled the voters’ registers and took custody of the registers. How could voters who were deprived the chance to vote during the governorship election be held responsible for the disappearance of their names from the register? This is one major mystery that Jega alone must solve. Jega’s logic is hard to understand.
A flawed election is like a broken piece of chinaware. Broken chinaware, like pieces of a broken bottle, cannot be mended by applying glue to hold the shards together. Essentially, a supplementary election cannot fix all the logistical problems and the deliberate fraud committed by INEC officials that sullied the governorship election. Would a supplementary election, for example, find and fix the problem of voters who could not locate their names in the voters’ registers?
The essence of the supplementary election is to rectify anomalies that compromised the integrity of the governorship election conducted on 16 November 2013. If the supplementary election cannot resolve the problems, it is worthless to conduct another election in some voting centres.
There is something of an irony in INEC’s decision to organise a supplementary election. How could Jega who acknowledged publicly that the governorship election in Anambra State was flawed partially because of logistical problems caused by shoddy planning and deliberate acts of slackness by INEC officials, now argue mindlessly that the faults were not serious enough to warrant total cancellation of the election? A flawed election, no matter how Jega tries to dress it up, is a blemished election. An election that is riddled with malpractices by electoral officials has no credibility and no legitimacy.
Examined on a wider magnitude, there is nowhere in the world where election flaws are calibrated on a scale that is used to determine when it is appropriate to cancel an election and when it is proper to conduct a supplementary election. The rule is that once an election is adjudged to be far from free, fair and credible, the election is cancelled. There is something bizarre in the way Jega has handled the controversies originating from the governorship election in Anambra State. INEC declared the election inconclusive but is unwilling to cancel the results.
Jega seems to dwell on logistical problems caused by INEC to the exclusion of other malpractices committed by INEC officials that also affected the election across the state. Jega and his senior officials have simply ignored the validity of complaints by voters who were dealt a bad deal by corrupt INEC officials. By insisting on a supplementary election, it is reasonable to suggest that Jega is scared of the likelihood that if the governorship election was cancelled, he could not guarantee that a rescheduled election would produce fewer malpractices than those generated by the previous election.
In his defence of the authenticity of the voters’ register used during the election, Jega said: “…we challenge the parties to come out with evidence that the register that was used was different from the one that was given to the parties 30 days before the election.” This is absurd challenge. The obligation should not be on voters or political parties to prove anything about the validity of the voters’ register. Voters who were disenfranchised complained because they did not find their names in the registers and because they were not allowed to vote. The voters made sound allegations that the registers used by INEC on the election day were falsified to ensure they were not allowed to vote.
INEC organised the voters’ registers and validated them to be correct and accurate. Prior to the election, no individual or organisation had the capacity to tamper with the voters’ registers that were in INEC’s custody without the connivance or complicity of corrupt INEC officials. If the registers were falsified, INEC must account to the public how that criminal activity took place. The challenge that Jega issued to political parties and voters to prove that the registers used during the election were false could only be regarded as mere bravado.
Jega insulted the intelligence of voters when he said at the press conference that voters who did not find their names in the registers must have engaged in multiple registration (a criminal act for that matter) or that they did not update their details in the electronic voters’ registers. That allegation was thoughtless, unconscionable, unnecessarily defensive, and unbefitting of the chair of an election commission whose officials messed up the governorship election in Anambra State.
As evidence that Jega is obstinate and unwilling to accept responsibility for the conduct of the flawed governorship election in Anambra State, he told journalists last Friday: “We are determined to keep on improving. We are still investigating what happened… There are other people who should take the blame for what happened in Anambra by enticing our staff to compromise the process.” What a pathetic, evasive and reckless commentary!
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Levi Obijiofor/The Sun