The decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to reappoint Professor Mahmood Yakubu as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission for another five years seem to have come with ease after slight anxiety. Being the first Chairman of the (INEC) to be appointed for the second time not only comes with trust but with massive responsibility to prove competency beyond a reasonable doubt.
Professor Yakubu was first appointed in November 2015 with the first litmus test of conducting the Kogi and Bayelsa Governorship elections fresh from the general elections in 2015 which was adjudged to be one of the best in recent history. No doubt Prof Yakubu started on a shaky note with both elections declared as inconclusive. The Commission went on to conduct another 9 off-circle elections within its five-year tenure. Political analysts and indeed Nigerians will have their contrasting views about how Mahmood fared in the last five years.
Nigeria’s electoral management body is probably the only government agency that is probably the most maligned institution in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the commission always has its work cut out by mainly complicity of other stakeholders, especially political actors and Nigerian security. However, accusing fingers of any electoral malfeasance always goes to the electoral management body. In fact, people go a long way to even blame INEC for low voter turnout notwithstanding a lot of extraneous reasons behind the consistent decline in voter turnout.
Over time, Nigerians have continued to blame INEC for inconclusive elections especially as witnessed in Bayelsa in 2015, Osun in 2018, and Kano during the 2019 general elections. These are mainly as a result of electoral violence or electoral malpractice perpetrated by political actors in violation of the electoral law. This usually leads to the cancellation of elections in certain polling units or Local Government especially when the process doesn’t satisfy the margin of lead principle.
While some of these challenges may not be directly in the purview of INEC, there is no doubt that Nigeria’s election has experienced other issues that the commission should have either prevented or managed better. The commission in the last 5 years has been faulted for declaring results despite electoral violence especially in Kogi, Bayelsa; 2019 and the reruns in Kano; 2019 and in Osun Governorship elections in 2018. While the commission may not be directly responsible for curbing electoral violence, it has a responsibility to ensure elections are only conducted in a peaceful atmosphere. Thus where the atmosphere is not peaceful enough, the commission should not be conducting elections in a volatile atmosphere.
Also, the current INEC administration has been found culpable for its deployment of logistics in most elections it has conducted. The infamous postponement of the 2019 Presidential election by the commission was down to logistics reasons despite the incessant assurance that the commission is ready.
No matter the direction of criticism against the Mahmood-led administration, one cannot fault his body language and effort to improve the quality of elections in Nigeria. This has been through innovations and determination for electoral reform. While the commission remains within the confines of the electoral law and constitution, there have been efforts to make the process more seamless and transparent. The creation of Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security by the Mahmood-led INEC provided a platform for regular and periodic consultation and engagement with stakeholders, including political parties, CSOs, media, and security personnel.
One important innovation that seems to have made at least stable figures of accreditation and total votes cast is the introduction of simultaneous accreditation and voting process introduced after the 2015 election. Initially, citizens undergo accreditation after which they queue up again for the voting process. This is indeed strenuous and discouraging that sometimes citizens get accredited and never return to vote.
Similarly, Nigerians have continued to push for electronic transmission of election results to curtail manipulation. This can only happen through the amendment of the current electoral framework. However, the commission introduced the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IREV) which enables polling units to be transmitted to a portal for citizens to view. This has gone a long way in increasing the transparency of the process. As a matter of fact, both Edo and Ondo elections have shown that citizens’ access to polling units results increases the integrity of the electoral process. It behooves on the National Assembly to expedite action towards passing the electoral amendment to give way for more electoral reform.
In a nutshell, the stakes are high and the bar even raised higher for INEC especially for the next five years as Nigerians expect more. Similarly, responsibility of free, fair, peaceful, and credible elections does not lie with INEC alone. Security, political parties, and of course citizens must play their role to consolidate the commission’s effort in ensuring a credible process. Thus as Continuous Voters Registration is set to commence in the first quarter of 2021, this is another opportunity for citizens to participate in the process by registering as voters ahead of the general elections in 2023.