February 20, 2023

Need for INEC to shuffle the RECs

THE Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, appears to have secured the confidence of majority of Nigerians in its capacity and commitment to ensure the conduct of free, fair and acceptable general elections this year. The manner in which it pursued the development of relevant technology and supported the process of obtaining President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent to the relevant law – the Electoral Act Amendment Bill—was confidence-building.

Also, INEC has conducted several off-cycle state elections (Anambra, Ekiti, and Osun governorship elections and some bye-elections) with the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, electronic transfer of results from polling units, and instant viewing of incoming results on the INEC Result Viewing, IReV, platform. With only four days until the February 25 presidential and national assembly elections, the Commission appears set to take on the very challenging task of conducting a nationwide general election.

One area that perturbs us is the fact that the Federal Government and the Commission itself have not been above board in handling some of the preparations for the election. President Buhari ignored the objections of concerned Nigerians when he sent the names of some questionable individuals who had allegedly been indicted for colluding with politicians in the handling of elections when they were occupying lower positions. It would seem that rather than being sanctioned, their elevation to the positions of Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, was a reward for their alleged collusions with politicians to undermine the integrity of elections. Some of the 19 new RECs sworn in on November 3, 2022, by the president included known members of the APC.

The most scandalous of all is the continued stay in office of Olusegun Agbaje, the Lagos State REC, despite his alleged unguarded utterances on Channels Television that PVC distribution was withheld in some areas of Lagos because a particular ethnic group that predominated in those areas were “immigrants”. That statement has been condemned by some Christian interest groups, the Labour Party and Intersociety, a human rights watchdog.

The ethnic profiling and justification of the poor distribution of PVCs in some areas portray Agbaje as someone unfit to conduct a free and fair election. It generates loss of confidence in his ability to do his job without bias. Unfortunately, his employers—INEC—have already foreclosed his transfer to another state on the grounds that he registered the highest number of eligible voters in the just-concluded exercise.

Lagos being arguably the most populous urban state, should it be a surprise that it registers the highest number of eligible PVC seekers? INEC’s cavalier attitude toward this issue makes Lagos a state to watch for any act that could derail our democracy in the impending elections. If such a thing happens, the Commission must bear full responsibility for failing to avert the disaster it foresaw. It is not too late for INEC to shuffle the RECs.