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INEC and a credible transition in 2023

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INEC

By Jubril Adamu

Classical believers in democracy hold that, its basic fundaments rest upon three ideal pillars: equality among all people, liberty and respect for law and justice. But even contemporary democratic theorists such as Schumpeter, Riker, Przeworski and Hardin who argue that such idealism is untenable still maintain that at a minimum, democracy offers a system in which rulers are selected by competitive elections.

For the sake of the latter utility, Karl Popper insisted that democracy is thus preferred over other forms of government because of its propensity as the only type in which governments can be changed without bloodshed.

Unfortunately, from 1999 to 2007 and again between 2015 and 2019, the experiences of Nigerians with democracy has defied such Popperian faith that it can bring about political transition and leadership turnover without violence to citizens and violence to the law.

What is however most disturbing is how elections, the minimal pillar of democracy has suffered more grievous decay since 2015 and how 2023 may usher in the end of democracy in Nigeria if there is no drastic change in the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

After the electoral fiascos of 2003 and 2007, a revival of faith in democracy was growing in Nigeria after the 2011 elections, when Professor Attahiru Jega, a member of the Uwais Electoral Reform Committee was appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan to head INEC.

Jega took up some of the key recommendations of the reform committee and set about introducing several remarkable changes.

Backed by a supportive Jonathan regime, which liberally promoted an ambience supportive of democratic practices, the Commission under Jega introduced innovations such as an electronic biometric Voter Register, a Smartcard enabled Permanent Voters Card, PVC,

generated from the biometric Voter Register, electronic Smart Card Readers for verifying voters as they present their PVC at polling units, customised ballot papers making each ballot paper unique to specified polling units and useless for electoral fraudsters  and ballot snatchers who will usually steal such ballot papers and use them in preferred locations.

Moreover, despite the support of the regime, Prof. Jega never held meetings with the executive arm on the eve of election like the 2016  Kogi election and denied same only for Shehu Garba to confirm that such a meeting took place but for just five minutes.

The electoral commission under him never accepted elections conducted under obvious voter suppression, particularly those recorded with viral videos circulated all over the world. INEC under his leadership though recorded some inchoate elections but  never made inconclusive election results an art.

The Commission under Jega stamped its regulatory authority on elections and ensured minimal deviations from international election  norms and standards, generating not only credibility for the electoral process but fidelity in the outcome on the part of many Nigerians and the image of the country improved significantly within the international community.

It was therefore not surprising that the outcome of the two general elections conducted under his leadership of the Commission in a single term were widely accepted as generally credible without seeking a second term that he deserved.

Unfortunately, since the exit of the Jega leadership, the fidelity of election outcome and the credibility of the electoral process have undergone continuous decline and decay.

First, the integrity of leadership of the Commission was tarnished from outset with the appointment of a relative of the leader of the executive branch, despite forceful denials of such relationship.

The mistrust it created, regarding the intentions of the executive arm to disrupt vertical and horizontal accountability in the Nigerian democracy was huge. It dented the credibility of the executive arm regarding the promotion of democracy and made it clear that under the Buhari regime, the promotion of democratic practices was going to suffer significant setbacks.

Vertical and horizontal accountability of elected political actors are significant indicators of a thriving democracy or stated in another form, they are barometers of good quality in democratic practices.

Vertical accountability refers to the direct control of elected governments through elections and referenda, where the voters express their sovereignty by hiring or firing elected officers with their aggregated votes or by accepting or rejecting proposed actions,

policies or issues through their aggregated votes in a referendum (unfortunately the Nigerian Constitution has no provision for referenda, making elections the only source of vertical accountability in Nigeria).

By appointing a relative to potentially arbiter elections between his political foes, the Buhari regime sent out the clear signal that it was unwilling to brook vertical accountability, a major bastion of democracy.

Under significant public outcry against this anomaly, and having seriously dented the credibility of INEC, while also foreseeing how such incongruous actions with international election norms and standards can harm any elections conducted by INEC under such famished credibility, the nominee was replaced by Professor Mahmoud Yakubu.

Upon his appointment, many Nigerians speculated that Prof. Yakubu was a cosmetic replacement to veneer the actions of frustrating any vertical accountability of the executive arm of governance under the Buhari regime that were intended to be accomplished using Mrs. Zakari, albeit indirectly.

The latter suspicion grew stronger as one election after the other revealed more evidence of democratic decay. First, in Kogi, the Commission declared the gubernatorial election of 2015 inconclusive and subsequently conducted a supplementary election by which time a new candidate was brought to replace the deceased candidate.

Then again in the gubernatorial election that followed in Edo State in 2016, INEC could not stamp its regulatory authority and control on the electoral process, besides the postponement of the election that was forced upon the Commission by political actors, the election result collation was brazenly taken out of INEC’s control, while  the leadership remained aloof.

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Again in Osun, against the overwhelming evidence of voter suppression and results manipulation, the Commission’s leadership watched idly as the credibility of the electoral process degenerated before the voting public.

Further, in 2019 despite long periods of preparation, the logistics of delivering election materials for the general elections was so shambolic that INEC had to concede a late postponement.

Nigerians have had the opportunity so far to assess different INEC electoral commissioners  who have served the Commission in different electoral cycles and by now can distinguish those who have credibility, exemplary character, competence in electoral management and can balance fairness to political actors with the need to maintain the accepted norms and standards for election management.

If President Buhari and those around him are mindful of their place in history and  leave a legacy of electoral integrity given the regression in the outcome of elections since 2015 under his leadership, the expected chairman and national commissioners into the commission will clearly show that to Nigerians and the lnternational Community.

He will have to appoint a credible leadership for INEC that will turn around the hopelessness and loss of confidence that the current leadership has brought upon the Nigerian electoral system.

Importantly, political actors who have greater stake in ensuring a level playing field beyond Buhari must bring their influence to bear on the president to appoint credible people who can command public confidence to ensure that future elections will not defy Karl Popper’s hope that democracy offers the best chance of leadership transitions without bloodshed.

In addition to the aforestated irregularities, the Electronic Smart Card Readers which the Prof.Jega regime had procured and used extensively to improve the fidelity of the election process, by deploying the device to prevent fake and bogus results were not used in many places across the country.

Yet, INEC leadership allowed results to be returned from such places. The use of card reader to verify the fingers of a holder of a PVC (if he or she is the same person) that recorded impressive performance of 54% in the 2015 election surprisingly dropped to less than 20% in the 2019 elections and has further dipped in recent elections.

Statistics after the Edo election are not yet out but what is shocking is that polling results are accepted where card reader finger authentication were not carried out   contrary to provisions in the guidelines published for the election.

Moreover, the same INEC leadership distanced itself from the electronic transmission of results which it had promoted prior to the elections. Beyond promoting the use of electronic transmission of result, the Commission had not only procured resources to implement the plan,  but  also accepted installation of central Server equipment and the training of its staff to accomplish  real-time electronic monitoring to record election activities, electoral incidents and election outcomes.

As evidence of this fact, there are ad-hoc staff and election assisting institutions which have evidence trails of INEC’s monitoring activities using such electronic devices with transmissions from z-Pads, pictures of staff in Monitoring centres,

printouts of tracked activities from field officers, as well as other significant evidence trails in the public domain  that  will forever blemish the current INEC’s leadership as lacking in courage and as collaborators in Electoral malpractices and fraud rather than neutral election umpires.

The Commission’s leadership which had instituted several new guidelines and implemented them in places such as Ekiti State prior to the General election  as the Constitution and extant Electoral Act had empowered it to do, rather found shelter in the excuse that, the Executive arm had not signed an amendment to enable electronic transmission.

In other words, it cherry-picked what it wanted to implement as it suits its electoral collaborators.

Fortunately, these inglorious almost five years of recession and regression in electoral credibility at INEC under Prof. Yakubu is expected to end in next month November this year.

Given the background set out above, where the current leadership of INEC is seen as a collaborator in disabling vertical accountability of the Executive arm, political actors, voters and other stakeholders, who truly believe in both the classical and contemporary notions of democracy,

that it is able to deliver normative values such as equality among all people, liberty and respect for law and justice, or at a minimum, the ability to sustain and maintain a system in which rulers are selected by competitive elections, can see the danger of  continuing the current trend of democratic decay retaining this uninspired set of people in office.

The decay has been enabled as a result of the focus of the current leadership for a second term like politicians and this quest has emasculated the instruments of vertical accountability that the current a pliant INEC leadership has foistered.

Further decay includes the degrading of the institutions of horizontal accountability by orchestrating the appointment of a subservient. To prolong and sustain such decay in democratic practices by another re-appointment or extension of a failed INEC leadership as the main weak link will pose a grave danger to the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria,

a remedy must be found  and the earlier a more credible leadership for INEC is sought, the better for Nigeria. Credible lovers of Democracy must insist that the right thing be done to restore the credibility of INEC.

Thus, what kind of individuals if appointed to the leadership of INEC can command the public confidence and will restore hope and trust in the Electoral process in Nigerian once more?

Given the loss of public confidence of the current INEC, the nation needs an  individual that Nigerians can easily approve  of possessing the competence, integrity, courage  and the kind of profile that will inspire public confidence of the people.

The next INEC Chairman in particular and National Commissioners in general should possess certain qualities that will inspire interest of the Nigerian people. The Chairman could be appointed from among the serving National Commissioners,

if any given the poor record of them lacking in integrity and extremely corrupt  or  State Resident Electoral Commissioners with cognate experience and integrity  or  appointed from outside the Commission.

Given the time left between the expected transition of the current INEC National leadership and the time that will be left to prepare for the 2023 General election, it may be wiser to choose from among experienced hands within the Commission that have distinguished themselves with credibility for reason of cognate experience and knowledge of the task,

which may be an advantage given the small window for transition occasioned by the late appointment of  the outgoing leadership for INEC because of the reluctance of the Executive arm to bring in a neutral INEC chairman early in 2015 who was not related to the President.

How does the president wants to be remembered on matters of credible election ? If president Jonathan could appoint a northerner as the Chair of INEC from the north west that opposed him from being an Acting president,

who also knew he would seek a second term and conducted a credible election that  brought the president into office, why even entertain the idea of yet another northerner and worst still re-appointing a non performer that has brougt down the electoral image of this country to all time low thereby reinforcing the prevailing vexed issues that we northerners are treating other Nigerians as if they don’t matter in the running of affairs of Nigeria ?

Nigerians have had the opportunity so far to assess different INEC electoral Commissioners  who have served the Commission in different electoral cycles and by now can distinguish those who have credibility, exemplary character,

competence in electoral management and can balance fairness to political actors with the need to maintain the accepted norms and standards for Election management.

If President Buhari and those around him are mindful of their place in history and  leave a legacy of electoral integrity given the regression in the outcome of elections since 2015 under his leadership,

the expected chairman and national commissioners into the commission will clearly show that to Nigerians and the lnternational Community. He will have to appoint a credible leadership for INEC that will turn around the hopelessness and loss of confidence that the current leadership has brought upon the Nigerian electoral system.

Importantly, political actors who have greater stake in ensuring a level playing field beyond Buhari must bring their influence to bear on the president to appoint credible people who can command public confidence to ensure that future elections will not defy Karl Popper’s hope that democracy offers the best chance of leadership transitions without bloodshed.

VANGUARD

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