By Boluwaji Obahopo
As the countdown to the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo State begins, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu has read the riot to act to politicians planning to undermine or disrupt the process.
Prof. Yakubu handed down the stern warning on Tuesday while speaking at a virtual event on Democracy and Elections in West Africa, organised by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington DC in collaboration with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).
At the event, which sought to put the limelight on the future of democracy in the West African region, the INEC Chair assured of the Commission’s commitment to free, fair, and credible elections. Nigeria has governorship elections scheduled to take place in Edo State on September 19 and in Ondo State on October 20, 2020.
Mahmood warned that where an election is disrupted, the commission will not make a declaration on the outcome due to lack of adherence to guiding rules of the election, “Where the election is disrupted and the commission cannot vouch for the integrity of the process, we will not go ahead to make any declaration.
“You (political parties, politicians, and voters) either behave for the elections to be concluded in a free and fair manner or we do what the law says.”
Mahmood said making a declaration in such a situation amount to endorsing fraud, “While elections are disrupted, we should look far beyond the electoral commission. I think you put your fingers on the problem, on the political class, and the security challenges. And that is why we have been engaging with them.
“Yesterday, I had a meeting with the National Security Adviser, we are meeting with all the security agencies. But what pro-active measure is the commission going to take to ensure that if there is a replay of what happened in Bayelsa and Kogi, we will protect the integrity of the process,” he added.
Addressing challenges the Commission might face in conducting an election in a Coronavirus pandemic period, Yakubu, said Nigeria with 10 bye-elections and over 6.2 million voters is determined to ensure democracy is not truncated, “Our electoral and democratic process can’t be suspended on account of the COVID19 pandemic.”
He said proper measures have been put in place to contain the possible spread of COVID-19 among voters and officials. Listing some of the measures, the INEC Chairman said, machines used for voter authentication will be disinfected, the use of face masks and a two-meter (6 feet) physical distance between voters will be enforced while infrared thermometers will be provided in voting and collation areas.
He said adequate security during the process will be put in place while officials participating in the conduct of the election will be properly trained in line with advisories and guidelines listed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
“INEC is one of the most litigated against public institutions in the country. In the last one and the half years over the conduct of the general elections and party primaries, we have been dragged to court over 2000 times and it is counting, ”
Also, on gender representation in politics, the INEC chairman said there is a zero turnout of female candidates for the scheduled elections in Edo and Ondo States, “I was looking at the number and names of candidates for the election and I didn’t see a single female.”
“We will continue to push for reforms even though political parties are hard to deal with in emerging democracy.” – Professor Yakubu added.
In her address, the Director of CDD, Idayat Hassan, called for sanctions against political parties and individuals who make efforts to jeopardize electoral systems in African countries.
Hassan said unruly behaviour by politicians and their supporters should not be condoned.
She suggested that support for INEC can be given in the areas of crisis management, combating misinformation and dissuading bad behaviour, “The international community must support INEC in the procurement process to reduce cost, civic education must be delivered on adherence to the guidelines by voters and political party members.
“Punishing bad behaviour will be very key, not just a visa ban for them (politicians) and their children but making strong statements to prevent any form of violence during these elections.”
In his contribution, Henry Prempeh, the Executive Director of CDD Ghana said the COVID-19 pandemic has compressed election in the country. Prempeh said the disease pandemic has created legitimacy issues for Ghana as electoral problems are rushed through the adjudication process.
“We were faced with the controversy over whether or not to have a new voter register even before COVID-19 came to play in Ghana.”
Prempeh added that the new proposed rule for Ghana voter registration will only accept a valid Ghanaian passport, a national identity card – which is still a work in progress, “And in the absence of any of that you will have to get someone who is already a registered voter to guarantee for you,” he said.