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    Buhari/INEC: An Endangered Polity And Failure Foretold

    •Rivers election crisis and the complicity of the electoral umpire

    •Card reader: How APC and PDP politicians fooled Nigerians

    That President Muhammadu Buhari has admitted failure in the three elections conducted under his watch only confirms Sunday Vanguard’s insistence that the era of free, fair and credible elections may have gone for good. And whereas the drumbeats of war, which came from both the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, were enough to elicit the type of outcome witnessed in the Rivers State re-run elections, the less than efficient activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, introduced a dangerous dimension, to further inflame an already combustible situation.  

    This report will show that the President’s condescending disposition towards INEC, is partly responsible for the shambles being witnessed, just as it would point out why, if these inconclusive elections are anything to go by, the APC Federal Government may be suggesting to Nigerians that it is not interested in free, fair and credible elections.     Read the facts as they speak for themselves.

    By Jide Ajani

    HISTORY OF RIVERS ELECTIONS, RESULT SHEETS AND INEVITABLE VIOLENCE

    For those who do not know,  the current political crisis in Rivers State is a carry-over of the PDP leadership crisis in that state.

    It would be recalled  that the crisis over who controls the PDP in Rivers  was actually lost by the former Gov. Rotimi Amaechi group on account of the fact that, during the election to choose the party’s  state executive, a group had the original copy of the election  result whereas  the outcome of the proper election was recorded on a photocopy or duplicate.

    In the court  case that ensued, the original result sheet was tendered with the name of the  current Chairman, Mr.  Felix Obuah, as the winner of the election, hence,  the court declared him as the duly elected Chairman.

    This was one of the underlying reasons that led to  Amaechi’s exit from the  PDP to the APC,  since his  former Chief of Staff and  then Federal  Minister, Nyesom Wike, had  taken over the control of the PDP machinery in the state.

    President Muhammadu Buhari
    President Muhammadu Buhari

    Since then, the quest for control of election result sheet  became a significant  strategy known by politicians.

    For that reason, in the 2015  general  elections, the entire hoopla in Rivers was about  the  alleged absence of original  “result sheets”  at the polling units. In fact, it was the non-availability of the original result sheets that frustrated Amaechi – who had been cheated once – such that he walked away from the polling station when his insistence on seeing the original result sheets met a brick wall.

    Once again, this was the main  issue in  the  recently partly conducted and partly suspended elections in Rivers –   in the LGAs where elections were suspended, there were allegations that both ballot papers and result sheets  were snatched by politicians.

    Compounding the issue even more, key political stakeholders in the state were shocked to hear that, in  very adversarial elections, INEC sent some flawed but unchecked sensitive election documents with no water-mark into  the field.

    Naturally, this  further heightened  distrust and confusion; and it also left a lot of questions about the organizational abilities  of the current INEC leadership.

    SUPREME COURT DECISION ON CARD READER; HOW POLITICAL PARTIES CONSPIRE TO  EMBOLDEN ELECTION RIGGING AND VIOLENCE

    Another factor, which has not helped the seeming disarray in INEC, is the legal status of the card reader, an election tool for authenticating or validating the identity of voters in the voter register.

    The  unintended consequence of the refusal or failure of the highest court in the land to accord legal effects to the use of the card  reader (even  though the court curiously commended it  as a  good  innovation that  would sanitize the electoral process in Nigeria)  has emboldened  politicians to  regress  to  the old  ways of using violent  means to snatch ballot papers,  and, more importantly, original election result sheets. In commandeering these election materials, they  allocate votes to themselves,  particularly in areas that have been used to election rigging.

    These  loopholes created by legal uncertainty,  is what played  out in Rivers; hence  politicians went  all out  to get the result sheets,  regardless of the stage-by-stage procedures  that should  determine what  would be inputted into the result sheets.

    Where card readers are used diligently and the authenticated voters recorded, election results must corroborate the records of validated voters,  giving election riggers very little room for result manipulation, as these varying pieces of evidence must add up in court if scrutinized.

    Unfortunately, the prevaricating and hesitant leadership of INEC; after Jega’s exit, has been unable to make the case forcefully  in the various tribunals  for strengthening this pivotal role which the card reader is meant to play,  in limiting the illegal conduct of political parties by empowering voters.

    CARD READER: HOW APC AND PDP POLITICIANS FOOLED NIGERIANS

    Prior to the 2015 elections, the impression  in the public domain was that it was the ruling party (PDP) that was afraid of the use of the card reader.

    However, Sunday Vanguard investigation into why it was only in the 2015 elections – since 1999 – that the nation was not given a new Electoral Act,  despite the repeated altruistic claim by INEC, that it had made submission to the 7th  Assembly, of some sections of the Act that needed to be amended to accommodate its innovation, revealed – and, shockingly so – how Nigerians were fooled through  a  grand  conspiracy  by politicians of both the APC and PDP,  who concealed from the public new amendments  titled, “Electoral (Amendment) Act, 2015)  signed by the Clerk of the National Assembly, on  March 26, 2015, two days to the March 28 presidential election and the  governorship/state Houses of Assembly elections that took place in April, 2015.

    These amendments would have guided the  conduct of the  2015  elections and the election tribunals.

    These amendments of the principal Act, obtained by Sunday Vanguard from the National Assembly,  contains a provision that not only  empowers INEC but also  secures and accommodates the use of the card reader.

    They categorically state in the amendment of Section 52 with  a new Subsection “2”: “Voting at an election under this Act shall be in accordance with  the procedure determined by the  Independent National Electoral Commission”  . This provision expressly and explicitly  leaves the method of “authentication of voters” to be determined by INEC.

    The questions now are: Why were these amendments hidden from the INEC and the general public all through the period that election petitions were on-going  in various tribunals up till the Supreme Court?  How could it be explained that even members of the APC in the National Assembly could  have been ignorant of this and, therefore, by  commission, be part of this conspiracy if it was actually true that it was PDP members that had hesitation over the use of the card reader?  Have these findings not confirmed what Nigerians have been saying that both the APC and PDP politicians are the same and could work together to undermine whatever they consider may affect their political fortune even though it will empower the Nigerian people such as   the card reader  benefits?

    WHY ELECTIONS WILL  REMAIN CHAOTIC  AND INCONCLUSIVE

    No organization can perform beyond the capacity and knowledge of its key decision makers and management.  Prior to the Prof. Attahiru Jega transition,  INEC was carrying out series of innovations – like the PVC and the card reader.

    Now, by  doing  away completely with  credible actors  who brought the innovations into INEC, and instituting this “half Board” –    where, mind you, only  Hajia Amina Zakari  remains the  principal link to institutional  management  memory –  most of  the  new people have no clue about  such innovations  and may not be on the same page with her as revealed by an insider privy to a recent meeting where majority supported a position contrary to Madam Zakari’s view.

    INEC boss, Mahmood Yakubu
    INEC boss, Mahmood Yakubu

    For the record,  Sunday Vanguard’s position, regarding the  brouhaha over Madam Zakari’s appointment, in acting capacity, was based  purely on legality and constitutionality and never about her competence. At the meeting in question, Madam Zakari’s point of view was actually what ought to be the right thing to be done, regarding a decision to shift dates fixed for the conduct of election requiring engaging affected stakeholders.

    There was no proper hand-over process and detailed briefing to the  new INEC leadership by the Jega regime  that initiated  these innovations.  This chasm has obviously  affected  the performance of the current  Commission as exemplified by  a  series of inconclusive and controversial elections that  have  been  witnessed so far.

    Besides, some of those recently appointed  as  representing  some  zones came  as a shock  to some Nigerians because of the alleged cobwebs in past  public records,  some of which elicit disdain from internal and external stakeholders. For instance, some  insiders  in INEC revealed that a National Commissioner, who was supposed to be in his zone to supervise election two weeks ago,  as well as  the Rivers’ election,  was in Kenya and in Italy, when these elections were conducted,  leaving a very pressing INEC assignment unattended to, for foreign trips.

    HOW IT BEGAN WITH THE EXIT OF JEGA

    The loss of independence of INEC, the electoral chaos and erosion of credibility currently besetting the election management body is easily foreseeable by any political analyst.  It follows  the first interference with  the  internal administration of INEC,  occasioned by President Muhammadu Buhari’s  reversal of the   internal administrative procedure  of the Commission, which occurred when the President  appointed Madam Zakari, a National Commissioner, as “Acting Chairperson” of INEC, a title and position unknown to the Constitution as a power exercisable by the President;  moreover,this was also done   without recourse to the  Council of State and  the Senate as required by the Constitution.  Many observers believe that Buhari made a mistake, with his  knee-jerk action thereby creating, rightly or wrongly, the impression that INEC is at his beck and call.  It is a  well-established  principle  by administrative  gurus that  “structure follows strategy”.

    Having signaled this as its intended strategy, political stakeholders began to watch the nature of the institutional structures the Presidency will erect at INEC to ensure  “command and control”  instead of  “autonomy,  distance and deference”  as  envisioned by the Constitution.

    For months,  civil society groups and opposition parties raised the red flag but nothing changed.  Sunday Vanguard was consistent in maintaining that the non-challant attitude of the Buhari regime to electoral institutions in Nigeria was not just shocking, but also unbecoming for a government that is the beneficiary of the process of free, fair and credible elections that  were  conducted by some individuals with integrity and honour, and which  made it possible for the opposition to win the 2015 presidential election.

    It was clear from the outset that the Buhari regime intended to  “kick-the-ladder”  with which it climbed to power  after three attempts,  by  making  it inaccessible to others as noted above with the controversial appointment of a relation as Acting-Chairperson of the Commission.  The  latter issue  impacted negatively and terribly  eroded  the credibility and autonomy of INEC,  as political stakeholders pummeled the portents of such a move.

    Not done with this controversial issue,  the  President  ignored the statutory requirement to constitute a full 13-member Board of INEC, a constitutional matter that Sunday Vanguard severally reported, until a legal authority in Nigeria, Mr. Femi Falana,  SAN, reiterated the contents and letters of one of the publications and reminded the Federal Government of an extant court judgment, in which Mr Falana himself was a counsel, pointing out that Buhari was dealing a dirty slap on the 1999 Constitution.  In the aforesaid suit, a court  affirmed  that  the  minimum constitutional 1/3 (5) quorum  of  members,  determined only  from a  full 13-member  Board of INEC,  shall  take decisions needed to make the conduct of elections legal. In response  to this legal advisory, the  President only made half-hearted attempts to meet this  judicial order/interpretation and the  constitutional requirement  in Section  159 of the Constitution,  by  appointing  six new people,  making a total of seven members,  instead of constituting  the full Board of INEC – and to this day, nothing has been done and the constitution of the Board of INEC remains inconclusive.

    At the state level, the situation is worse,  to the extent that, as of the time of this report,  more than 22 states,  if not  more,  have  no Resident Electoral Commissioners and these sensitive offices are in the hands of civil servants  called Administrative Secretaries, in breach of the constitutional provision under Paragragph 14(3)  of the 3rd  Schedule to the Constitution which  states unequivocally:There shall be for each state of the federation and the federal capital territory,  Abuja, a Resident Electoral Commissioner…”

    It appears from the observation of  some  stakeholders that, the President believes he is saving money by failing to properly constitute  such statutory  institutions;  a few political observers have scoffed at this notion, pointing out that the aim of government is public benefit and public welfare, not profit or  stupendous savings of funds while  public institutions degenerate.

    Furthermore,  in global body management literature, the election body is an important national institution that is not toyed with because of its implications for political stability and national development.   This school of thought pointed  out that Buhari failed to realize that, if elections had failed in 2015, the citizens and politicians, by now, will be busy hiding in the bush from bullets and machetes,  rather than expressing concerns about the economy.  This is why electoral scholars are  insisting that the process of election begins with the erection of constitutional structures and institutions which enable elections; whereas, conversely,  election fraud could begin with  interference or inaction,  to do what is required  to position  the  election management body to properly discharge its responsibilities.

    GROWING LOSS OF  PUBLIC CONFIDENCE  IN INEC AND ITS PROCEDURES

    Beyond the deficiency of the Commission’s institutional structures that  have  been  engendered  by the current government,  there  is a grim  realization  of  a  growing lack of confidence  on the part  of the public in the procedures of INEC that appears to have gone to the dogs under unsure, hesitant and apparently non-autonomous leadership. This is  unlike the  Jega regime  that was so trusted by the Nigerian people (though not without human frailties), that elections could be postponed  on  the eve of polls,  yet Nigerians would accept without distrust because the people believed in the sanctity of the process and, therefore, had credible expectations in the outcome.

    This emerging procedural  uncertainty, or even decay, was first noticed in the Kogi election, when INEC declared an election inconclusive  based on improbable statistics. It purported that the number of voters in the areas where election was canceled were  significant enough to impact the extant result at that time.

    Whereas,  the  actual  number of possible voters, when determined by the number of voters with PVC, was not enough to make a difference in the declared result. As of the time the APC governorship candidate, Abubakar Audu, died, the declared result showed that the difference between him and the next candidate, Idris Wada, of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, far exceeded the number of voters with PVC in the areas with canceled election. It is common and accepted fact that,  no voter without a PVC can vote by extant electoral laws in Nigeria. Worse still, it is even questionable if INEC, as constituted before the Kogi election, had powers to conduct elections. How INEC came to the decision which declared the election inconclusive at that point is now a matter of legal contest.

    But given that even the current INEC Board is not properly legally constituted and only a legally constituted Board of INEC comprising not less than five members determined from 13 and not five or six out of  seven, the legality of the decision to conduct the Kogi election is likely to have been questionable. It is left to the tribunal  to examine the Board resolutions, the attendance list and the quorum where such a decision was taken, because it may be difficult to find anywhere in the electoral law where  “half a Board”of INEC, instead of the constitutionally envisioned 13 members,  is empowered to conduct elections.

    Further decay of INEC processes was on display again in Bayelsa State,  as the Commission floundered to explain its limitations in not providing electoral materials as and when due, to some constituencies,  despite a very long notice given for the election. This led to  another  inconclusive election carried over from 2015 to 2016,  when the exercise was concluded,  after so many lives had been lost.

    Although  failure  of  election  security  arrangements  has been given as the principal cause,  the prevailing atmosphere   before the election was  perceived, rightly or wrongly  by key stakeholders,  suggested  that INEC may skew the process to favor  a party.

    Take, for instance,  the issue of quality control and how documents were printed without INEC officers ensuring sanity  at the printing level? How were the documents packed and sealed without INEC officials?  When the materials  were received  in  Rivers  State, INEC officials, party agents, the state Police Commissioner and the DPOs at LGAs were supposed to scrutinize the electoral materials. So, how did they  get to  the field without these controls? These procedural shortcomings exemplify the litany of shortcomings now bedeviling the Commission as its credibility continues to erode. Dependable sources  in INEC offices  in Rivers  hinted  that the  Commission lost every claim to neutrality,  when both the REC and Administrative Secretary, who worked together in Delta State in the 2015 elections, where  the issue of tampering with result sheets days before elections was an issue, were both brought to Rivers State to conduct the re-run.

    Sunday Vanguard discovered, during investigations, that, in a petition sent to Chairman Jega before the  election in Delta dated March 31, 2015, disclosures were made of how  “…in the course of collecting  the materials to be used for the presidential and National Assembly elections, it was discovered that a parcel containing materials, particularly the original result sheets to be used for the governorship election fixed for April 11, 2015 in Delta State, had been opened and several of the result sheets littered the floor of the vault”,

    This same REC, now moved to Rivers, was alleged to have sidetracked the operations  department  by becoming solely responsible for the shortlisting of election ad-hoc staff, while the Administrative Secretary, on the other hand, was alleged to be under the influence of a National Commissioner from the East and both of them were pursuing the agenda of a political party.

    Therefore, with what appeared to be a fragmented leadership at the state level of INEC, and with its management at such counter-poised influences, violence was bound to occur  because stakeholders  already knew the direction of the sympathy of officials  of the Commission in the state.

    More significantly,  if the Commission is unable to organize elections in states at a time, can it be trusted to organize  general elections? Why is it that the Chairman, who declared, on the day he assumed offices that  “INEC work is the easiest job to do” and, who wondered why people have been unable to rise up to the occasion, is now floundering? It shows that, indeed, those who consider  Jega and his team’s  monumental accomplishments as an easy  task  must be finding out that, as far as elections are concerned, “talk is cheaper than action”.

    IS INEC UNDER BUHARI BECOMING A SHADOW OF ITSELF?

    Any lingering doubt that INEC is becoming a distant shadow  of the  organization under Jega faded as INEC again conducted another inconclusive elections in Rivers State.

    These make the third inconclusive elections conducted by the Commission under the Buhari regime. This trend,   since  the  exit of the  Jonathan  administration era  of  peaceful  conduct of credible elections – exceptional in its own way, since the return of democracy in 1999 –  has created doubts in the minds of Nigerians on the commitment of the Buhari regime to free, fair and credible elections.

    Many Nigerians and members of the international election observer-groups are  intensely  concerned that free, fair and credible elections that were  witnessed  in  2011 and more so in  2015  – and,  that was almost being taken for granted – are gradually regressing  under the Buhari government,  with all that the situation portends for the future of Nigeria’s democracy.

    In  particular,  fears are  being expressed  – while  significant doubt is being created in the minds of Nigerians as the 2019 general  elections approach – that  the APC government is not committed to democracy and the rule of law,  given  the shoddy and condescending way the current regime has related with INEC.

    This is why the Buhari regime must sit up and  make  amends to the degeneration of  INEC or face  possible  infamy in 2019.


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    Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.