Six months after Nigeria’s contentious general elections, the electoral body, INEC, is yet to publish a breakdown of votes and how it arrived at the total figures awarded to all candidates, with incumbent Muhammadu Buhari getting the largest share and announced winner.
This has rightly caused an uproar in the country’s civil society and further diminishes INEC which, historically, has always had a poor reputation amongst Nigerians for displaying bias in its operations and fiddling with electoral figures.
This poor reputation isn’t without consequences. In large parts of the country, many abstain from the electoral process because of an enduring belief that their votes do not count and the outcomes are already predetermined. For instance, in the 2019 general elections, of the over 80 million Nigerians duly registered to vote, less than 30 million showed up on Election Day.
The apathy is even worse amongst the youths who make up the country’s largest demography. Those who show up at all to register and obtain voters card do so with the intention of using the cards as a valid means of identification useful for formal and bureaucratic processes including obtaining drivers’ licenses, operating bank accounts, etc.
In sharp contrast to INEC’s pointless foot-dragging on publishing the details of votes it expectedly collated across states and cities six months after the conclusion of the election and declaration of a winner, neighboring South Africa which held its own general elections in May, months after that of Nigeria, already has a detailed breakdown of votes down to provinces and municipalities uploaded on the website of its electoral commission.
Clear display of incompetence such as this, especially from a body charged with a responsibility crucial to the sustenance and legitimacy of democracy helps to fuel the spread of conspiracy theories. Already, many are suggesting that this delay is driven by INEC’s desire to hide its inefficiencies during the elections and deliberate manipulation of votes to favor the incumbent who is being challenged in court by his closest rival, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP.
Atiku who was awarded eleven million votes against President Buhari’s fifteen million, rejected the outcome of the election, citing many irregularities. The violence that characterized the election in a number of states, as well as an admission of INEC’s own staff to declaring figures under threat to life (although in the National Assembly elections) corroborates Atiku’s claims and INEC’s shameful hesitation to offer insight that only it possesses further complicates the matter.
From the onset, INEC has shown itself ill-prepared for the exercise. Less than 24 hours to the commencement of the election at a scheduled date, and after many Nigerians already traveled internally and from different parts of the world to participate in the election, INEC announced a sudden postponement due to poor logistics. On Election Day itself, voting in some areas failed to hold as election materials either failed to arrive or arrived too late.
Ushering in an administration on the back of shoddy elections like this denies it widespread legitimacy required to implement certain policies. The rejection of the proposed RUGA policy which would see the Federal Government gazette lands across the state for grazing by the southern leaders, and the bitter dissension that trailed its introduction, is an example of this.
Nigeria cannot solve its myriad of problems if the people are unable to freely and peacefully elect their leaders, or view the process to be so. INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, in his dithering and incompetence, has done damage which may take years to fix. He must be relieved of his duties and Nigeria must immediately embark on the journey of reforming its electoral process, beginning with making the body organizing elections truly independent.