OPINION: Is INEC chairman still in office?

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ELECTION is a serious matter for countries that are serious. In this regard, we are still struggling to place our country in one of the two categories- serious or unserious. In some jurisdictions, election is a charade, a make belief and a joke. Will Nigeria join this dubious league? Before its civil war in 2011, periodic elections were held in Syria where the outcomes were predictable. The Assad family was sure to win any and all presidential elections with wide margins. State power usually moved from father to son. Malawi under Dr. Hasting Kamuzu Banda also conducted periodic elections and the then President, the late Banda won all presidential contests by landslides. Banda was no ‘bushman’. He was an Europetrained medical doctor. In Nicaragua where Jose Daniel Ortega Saavedra is the country’s leader and president since 1979, and his wife, Rosario Maria Murillo Zambrana is the country’s vice-president since 2017, periodic elections are also held. They win without breaking any sweat. Ortega was once a highly regarded revolutionary. He became the leader of Nicaragua when the late Shehu Shagari was elected as the first executive president of Nigeria. Imagine in your mind’s eye a situation where Shagari had remained President till today by conducting ‘elections’ to renew his mandate. That’s Nicaragua. In Nigeria which emerged from a prolonged military rule in 1999, the classification of the country as a genuine democracy on the strength of the credibility of its elections is still a subject of intense debate. So, in 24 years since the restoration of rule by civilians, we are yet unsure as to where we belong as a country which set store on the conduct of credible, free, fair and transparent periodic elections to choose those to be entrusted with political power.

Years before the 2023 general elections, INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, was about town and country talking up the elections and how the process and the conduct and the results of the elections would be the next best thing that would happen to our country since the invention of sliced bread. He was not alone. The Commission’s National Commissioner in charge of Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, a lawyer, competed for the limelight about how Nigerians would witness an election like no other. Even the former President, Maj.- Gen. Muhammadu Buhari boasted repeatedly about how he would bequeath Nigeria with innovative electoral system. We believed Buhari, Yakubu, Okoye and INEC because we thought we were on the same page with them. To be fair, many Nigerians were skeptical of the promises because the chorus/choir/cheer/band leader, Buhari, was notorious and a master and a specialist of failed promises. In October 2022, four clear months before the February 2023 presidential and national assembly elections, Yakubu spoke at a forum provided by online publishers. He said his Commission would deploy appropriate technology “to protect the sanctity of the choice made by Nigerians at the polls”. The theme of the event was ‘2023 Elections: Managing the Process for Credible Outcome’. Yakubu had said that technology would be deployed from voter registration to voter accreditation and result management and that Bimodal Voter Accreditation System [BVAS] “has curtailed the incidence of multiple voting and other sharp practices associated with voter accreditation during elections… BVAS has come to stay and will be the only means by which voters will be accredited in the 2023 General Election”. These promises were repeated a thousand and one times. It’s a crying shame that the ‘process’ was mismanaged and the ‘outcome’ was shambolic, shameful, disgraceful and potentially tragic for Nigeria. Previous chairmen of INEC kept up their engagements after conducting elections whether the polls were controversial and under litigation or not. But not this time. It is curious and instructive that Yakubu, after the dead of the night declaration of a winner of the presidential election on March 1, ostensibly from inchoate election results, has gone MIA [Missing in Action]. The once loquacious and garrulous lover of the limelight who went about forum and platform- shopping before the general election has lost his voice and his face.

Why? Yakubu’s supporters will readily claim that the professor is being careful to avoid accusations of litigating his flawed elections outside of the presidential dispute tribunal. That would amount to his trying to hide behind one finger as the late Moshood Abiola would say. INEC is a party to the case in the Tribunal. Its performance has been bewildering. So far it has behaved like a contestant in the election it was supposed to have conducted. Whenever the counsel representing INEC speaks or acts at the Tribunal, it’s the INEC and its chairman that are speaking and acting. They show their hands whenever they align with the ruling All Progressives Congress [APC], its presidential and vice presidential candidates whom they declared winners, against the other major political parties’ candidates- the Labour Party [LP’s] Mr. Peter Gregory Obi and the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP’s] Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. The truth is that there is no hiding place for Yakubu. He will forever have to contend with the scorn of many Nigerians for overpromising and delivering nothing. The perfidy of what Yakubu did will be in bold relief for Nigerians from July 3 when he and his INEC formally teams up with the APC to defend the sham of the 2023 elections and their results in the Tribunal.

If Yakubu was proud of the elections he conducted in February and March, he would have been prancing about making more promises about the wonders he and INEC would perform during the imminent off-season governorship and state houses of assembly polls in Imo, Kogi and Balyesa states later this year and early in 2024. Yakubu cannot though he has no shame. What would he tell prospective voters? That votes would count when they substantially did not count in the last round of elections? Or that his technology including BVAS will ensure a fair and credible process and then deliver acceptable results after ballots had been cast when they appear to have been compromised in the last elections? Or that INEC’s IRev portal will work and interested voters will be able to view the real time online upload of polling units results when that was not the case in the critical presidential election on February 25? Or that the Commission’s backend servers will not suffer a strange glitch at a critical time though experts who work for the installers of the servers have said categorically and with evidence that there was no such glitch anywhere on their network globally that day? What will Yakubu say? What will Yakubu tell prospective voters in the off-season elections in Imo, Kogi and Bayelsa who are substantially the same set of voters he had deceived in the lead up to the February/March elections? If he has the face and the courage to say anything, why would voters trust and believe him? Yakubu is damaged. And INEC under him is damaged. The damage is severe. The credibility of the elections he is expected to conduct in the three aforementioned states is already tainted. The least that can be done now to redeem future elections in Nigeria is to sack Prof. Mahmood Yakubu. He is a danger to Nigeria’s electoral democracy. If Yakubu has a modicum of shame he would have since resigned from that position. Since he has failed to do so, he should be removed without further delay. And INEC cleaned up. The potential argument that his office is tenured is a non-issue. The office of the governor of the central bank is statutory but its occupant, Mr. Godwin Emefiele is right now cooling off in prison awaiting charges from his accusers. The same fate should befall Mahmood Yakubu.

But the tragedy of the situation is that those who should remove and arrest and arraign Yakubu in court are the greatest beneficiaries of the electoral heist he [Yakubu] superintended. And will commit again if left in office. But not removing and arresting the INEC chairman now means that the imminent elections in the three states have failed even before they are conducted. Allowing Yakubu to serve out his second term as INEC chairman will inflict further irreparable damage to elections in Nigeria. The death of democracy will tantamount to the death of Nigeria as we know it. The danger is real. But we can head it off.

AUTHOR: UGO ONUOHA


Articles published in our Graffiti section are strictly the opinion of the writers and do not represent the views of Ripples Nigeria or its editorial stand.

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