By Tonnie Iredia

The failure of the African continent to make considerable developmental progress is easily traceable to the mischief of the political class in each of her countries. Nigeria has not been an exception. The consensus in the continent’s giant nation is that the absence of visionary leaders among the ruling class is attributable to the refusal of her politicians to allow for free and fair elections.

Although gullible people have always been misled into believing that the problem is essentially due to the disposition of certain state actors inrelevant public organizations, a keen observer of the game of politics and elections in the country should know that politicians are always behind every electoral hitch or fraud in Nigeria irrespective of the source of the malpractice. For example, it is politicians who procure compromised electoral, security and judicial officials to manipulate anelection process with a view to upturning the real choices of the electorate.

The trend which has assumed a greater dimension in recent times, is however not new. During what can be called the first national election held on December 12, 1959, to form a government of an independent Nigeria, politicians took advantage of the provision of a separate ballot box for each candidate/party to burn the votes of their opponents by pouring acid into their boxes.

In 1961, the regional elections in the North and the East were “won” by the ruling parties through political intimidation including imprisonment of opposition leaders. Again, candidates of the ruling party “won” most of the seats during the elections into the Federal House of Representatives in 1964. 

This was achieved through the kidnapping of Returning Officers after the nomination papers of the candidates of the ruling party had been received thereby declaring such official candidates as returned unopposed at the close of nominations.  In 1965, the ruling party in the West used the official broadcast station to announce losers as the winners of that year’s regional election. The trend is yet to end with Nigeria’s elections remaining a cat and rat game between politicians and the electoral process.

Each time a strategy is overwhelmed, another that is designed to cure it is also attacked from another angle making it practically impossible to attain free and fair election. When indefatigable Humphrey Nwosu headed the electoral body, he virtually returned to the stone age to resurrect ‘Open Ballot’ which threw up genuine winners. But because the system could not be rigged, the politicians designed and publicised a slogan that itsopenness lacked the sanctity of the voter’s choice.

This was then modified into the Option A4 system which helped the June 12, 1993 presidential election to attract international credence as Nigeria’s freest and fairest election. But shockingly, it was annulled. Whereas military-politicians have taken all the blame of the annulment, some election operatives of the time including this writer know and have documented the politicians who made it happen.

It is against this background that the current efforts to invalidate the latest set of electoral innovations by many experts in election rigging, some domiciled in our federal legislature can best be interrogated. With the emergence of Professor Attahiru Jega as chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) in 2010,the nation witnessed the introduction of technology into the conduct of elections.

Through Jega, a database voter registration system was for the first time designed for the country. It consisted of the recording and storage of the biometric data of all voters through a Direct Data Capturing (DDC) machineand a voter authentication device – the ‘Card Reader’ to improve the integrity of the voting process.

This innovation dealt a huge blow to our professional politicians but they managed to tactfully mitigate it through a concoction which they organized using INEC insiders to produce inconclusive elections. Unfortunately, their joy may not endure because of the posture of Professor Mahmood Yakubu who succeeded Jega.

Yakubu’s INEC has since introduced other innovations. One of them took the form of a Poster pasted at each Polling Unit at the end of counting, recording and announcement of votes at that level, thereby making such figures public in each centre. This had to be discontinued when people began to photograph it and add to others obtained elsewhere to arrive at winners.

Such attempt at election collation was quite dangerous because it could contradict figures officially released after appropriate moderation at collation centres unknown to the self-appointed collators. In August 2020, the Commission went for a more solid device known as a dedicated Public Portal to enable Nigerians to view Polling Unit results as soon as voting ends in each centre.

In other words, in addition to the only legal INEC result sheet, known as Form EC8A, the commission created room for a People’s Form EC8A to enable citizens to view a replica of the official result. It was reportedly tested during the Nasarawa Central State Constituency bye-election of August 8, 2020, as well as the Edo and Ondo Governorship elections which held shortly after.

INEC was generally applauded after these elections with many people beginning to believe in the electoral body and demanding more innovations to put a final end to tortuous and incredible elections. While the general public including our political parties looked forward with hope to such progressive trend, our National Assembly struck byattempting to take away from INEC her constitutional power to be solely in charge of elections without amending the relevant enabling provisions of the constitution.

In a new electoral bill, yet to be assented to by the President, our federal legislators went ahead to create two supervisors for INEC contrary to the law which provided that the electoral body shall not be supervised by any other authority. The two supervisors were named as the National Assembly itself and the National Communication Commission NCC.

There is doubt if the debate by the public on the new bill is necessary because the bill has a taint of illegality. This is premised on the reasoning by some analysts that the constitutional mandate of the legislature to make laws for good governance cannot be extended to areas from which the power to make any such laws had been ousted by the same constitution.

It is not that the legislators are unaware that they have no such powers, it is just that it is in the character of politicians to imagine that there is nothing lawmakers cannot do. One would have thought that the failure of the 8thHouse of Representatives in January 2018 to foist election dates on INEC should have taught a lesson that no authority can tele guide INEC.

It is however important to restate that in matters of elections, it is only the electoral body that can determine where and when she requires the support of any agency. But now, INEC ought to be cautious about the NCC whose testimony on the floor of the legislature she has found to have contradicted earlier reports on the same subject by the same NCC. 

We can only hope that INEC will be firm in her arrangements for future elections in our country because the current officials of the commission, especially chairman Mahmood Yakubu have a date with history. But can they break the age-long jinx of failed elections in Nigeria? That is a question whose answer is not far away.

Professor Yakubu is certainly not unaware of persons whose integrity in other endeavours got destroyed when assigned to conduct elections. If theblackmail of INEC by the ruling party over illegal party primaries for the 2019 general elections in Zamfara state is anything to follow,breaking the age-long jinxis not an impossibility. Nigerians should however stand by INEC. 

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