Presidential Election: INEC Chairman in the eye of the storm

THE just concluded 2023 Presidential Election, which has produced the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Bola Tinubu, as the winner, is one of Nigeria’s most contested elections.

The election was not a two-horse race between the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as earlier anticipated. Instead the entrance of the former Anambra governor and Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate, Peter Obi, and his former Kano counterpart, Rabiu Kwankwaso, the candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), threw up surprises.

The conduct of the election was marred by controversies, including the failure of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), violence, and voter suppression in various parts of the country.

The three main opposition parties – PDP, LP and NNPP – have continued to make allegations of rigging.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), led by Mahmood Yakubu, a professor of political science, had assured Nigerians and the international community of the Commission’s readiness to conduct free, fair and credible elections.

The former Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) assured that the INEC, which has been under his leadership since 2015, will leverage the 2022 Electoral Act to deliver the best poll Nigeria has ever had.

While speaking at a two-day capacity-building workshop in Lagos in November 2022, Yakubu assured INEC would not jettison the BVAS and electronic transmission of results for the general elections.

Yakubu’s assurance had come after the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) alleged that some politicians had hatched plans to stop the use of BVAS and electronic transmission of results for the elections.

CUPP also alleged that a lawsuit has been instituted before the Federal High Court in Owerri, Imo State, to that effect.

Reacting to the allegation, the INEC boss noted that the goal of the Commission was electoral justice where every Nigerian would experience electoral fulfilment.

According to him, the Commission would continue to use technology to improve and enhance the credibility of elections in Nigeria.

Also, during his speech at the Chatham House in London, Yakubu had promised that INEC would deploy several technological tools to predict and mitigate election violence, verify political party spending and monitor electoral materials from procurement through storage to delivery.

Apart from the BVAS and INEC Results Viewing (IReV) portal to be used in voter accreditation and result viewing during the election, he said other technological innovations would be deployed by the Commission to ensure credible and transparent elections.

Yakubu’s promises and assurances gave a lot of confidence to voters, especially young Nigerians, who hoped their votes would count as they seek to install leaders they believe would provide solutions to the country’s problems.

However, INEC’s promises to leverage technology for the elections came under test during last Saturday’s polls.

Apart from the allegations of over-voting in Ekiti State, there were alleged riggings in Lagos, Rivers, Delta, Akwa-Ibom, Edo, Imo, etc. The rigging allegations were further fueled by the failure of INEC to open its IReV portal for the timely uploading of presidential results as promised. The BVAS failed to work effectively and electronic transmission, which was seen as the game changer before the election, was largely not possible.

A mild drama ensued at the National Collation Centre on Monday when some political parties and other stakeholders called for the suspension of the collation and declaration of results of the presidential election.

Led by the PDP collation agent, Dino Melaye, the parties, including the LP, staged a walkout from the Collation Centre in protest against INEC’s refusal to acknowledge and act on their complaints.

The walkout was due to INEC’s failure to upload the election results on its portal for public view and concerns about electoral manipulation and compromise. The political parties also demanded the resignation of the INEC chairman.

Melaye alleged that the entire electoral process had been compromised by INEC and sought the cancellation of the entire presidential election results. He accused INEC of rigging the 2023 elections and claimed that the electoral process had been politicized and commercialised.

“We as party agents having observed that the national chairman of INEC is determined to rig the election by making sure that results are not uploaded by vehemently making a presentation that makes it look as if we are all here to rubber stamp the fraud that has been cooked between INEC and APC,” Melaye had said.

“We are saying that we are not here to rubber-stamp the electoral fraud that has been prepared by INEC and APC. We are Nigerians and we all know that there is nowhere on the server that results have been uploaded and the INEC chairman is now saying we should wait for the process to be completed before he will review knowing full well that once a declaration is done, there can’t be any review but by the courts.

“So we completely disassociate ourselves and that’s why we staged a walkout. All the political parties here have staged a walkout to express the unfortunate politicisation and commercialisation of our electoral process.”

Reacting, Yakubu described the calls for his resignation as misplaced.

Yakubu, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Rotimi Oyekanmi, also refuted the allegations made by the PDP that INEC allocated votes to parties, stating that the allegations were unfounded and irresponsible.

According to him, the results from the states indicate a free, fair, and credible electoral process.

He emphasized that there are established procedures for aggrieved parties or candidates to follow when they are dissatisfied with the outcome of an election, and such procedures do not involve calling on the INEC Chairman to resign or for the election to be cancelled.

The aggrieved parties were advised to approach the courts with their evidence to pursue their cases.

Appraising the outcome of the election, foreign observers, including the European Union Election Observer Mission (EU EOM) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI)/International Republican Institute (IRI), said that the polls lacked transparency.

EU EOM Chief Observer, Barry Andrews, noted that although INEC held the elections on schedule, the process lacked transparency.

Andrews said INEC lacked efficient planning and transparency during critical stages of the electoral process, while on Election Day, trust in the Commission was seen to further reduce due to delayed polling processes and information gaps related to much-anticipated access to the IReV.

The report also highlighted that polling procedures were not always followed. Also, election staff in the observed polling units struggled to complete result forms, which were later not posted online.

Despite introducing the BVAS and the IReV to ensure the credibility of the polls, Andrews said uploading the results using the BVAS did not work as expected, raising concerns.

The report also noted that INEC’s operational capacity was hampered by the recent cash crunch and the fuel crisis.

The observers commended the patience of voters and the commitment of youth, who have contributed hugely to the democratic process.

The aggrieved parties are yet to accept the results declared by INEC. It is likely that the credibility of the results will be challenged in court.

You can reach out to me on Twitter via: vincent_ufuoma

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