INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu
By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
The last time Mr Festus Okoye was on television, he looked constipated. Okoye, who used to be the face of INEC, was the man that did most of the gospelising. Gifted with the soul-winning voice and mannerisms of an evangelist, Okoye had bragged about INEC’s preparedness for D-day and boasted about BVAS and IREV. Okoye, the commissioner for voter education, was a compelling and knowledgeable salesman. But Okoye must have something in common with many of those peripatetic medicine dealers who use the bible to sell drugs on luxury buses, promising solutions to almost all incurable ailments. Okoye isn’t quack like them. He means well. But just like them, it does now appear as if Festus Okoye didn’t say the things he said with any moral conviction.
When INEC started faltering on Feb 25, I prayed for Okoye. He had spelt out the rules and processes. He had drummed them into the ears of the public. For once, the voting public knew the guidelines and recited them like a catechism. Festus Okoye could have been less exact. He could have been consciously ambiguous. But there was this excitement with which he did his job. He left nothing unexplained, in black and white. So, when the voting ended and INEC officials started contorting their faces and fiddling with the BVAS machines, I prayed again for Okoye. Because Festus Okoye had done his job.
Okoye’s duty was to teach the voters. And he had taught them well. Courtesy of his steadfastness found INECs failure to upload results unacceptable. So, When Okoye didn’t show up on the evening of the election day to give excuses why the public portal couldn’t be viewed and why INEC officials couldn’t upload results, I knew Okoye was in pain. So it wasn’t shocking to note that while the major opposition parties cried foul and called on the gods to intervene, Okoye, the commissioner for voter education was mute. What else could he possibly teach? He had done his work. Others should take over and save the commission. But the INEC officials at the local levels opted not to answer questions. They just carried on as if the pre-election commitments made by INEC were oaths taken by busybody ancestors to which their TikTok children couldn’t be bothered.
The cunning politicians that abound in Africa know this strategy. Once educated, the shackles are broken. So they leave the people illiterate and in ignorance. I was nervous when Okoye returned to the screens after the results of the presidential elections were announced. Poor man. He had left himself no wiggle room with his educative talkativeness. It was predictably a painful watch. Okoye squirmed and stuttered, hobbled around easy questions like a dancer with a broken hip. Okoye was the man that had sworn that all results would be uploaded at the polling units and that area collation officers must compare physically transmitted results with results uploaded from polling units before collation. Okoye’s knack for details and clarity in communication was his undoing. When he was asked if the public deserved an apology, he safely said he wasn’t the commission. Okoye was no longer the commission.
But Okoye is lucky. Because modernity birthed democratic institutions where the oaths administered to officials and umpires did not have the implacable forcefulness of Sango or Amadioha. Otherwise, wasn’t it Okoye who before the elections said if there were any discrepancies then the results on the portal would prevail for collation? Can Okoye deny he isn’t now aware that the collation officer in Obio Akpor in Rivers state refused to add up figures published on the INEC portal? Anyway, let’s allow okay, he has educated the voters well.
Mahmood Yakubu is perhaps luckier. He has the ability to keep a straight face. He evades questions and gets away with it because he possibly doesn’t think he owes the public much more. He had gone everywhere including wasting taxpayers’ money on a trip to Chatham House to blow the INECs trumpet and outline the processes. Funnily, before the elections, there was an uproar about IREV. Whistleblowers had revealed that INEC had no plans to upload results at the polling units. Mahmood Yakubu, with the indignant solemnity of a priest accused of infidelity, dismissed it as fake news. He made it seem as if it would be despicable to organise the elections without observing strictly the hard-won, paradigm-shifting, transparency initiative.
Who would have thought it would take Mahmood Yakubu and INEC almost a day and considerable non chalance to announce to a shocked electorate that the INEC system had malfunctioned? Mahmood Yakubu casually called it a technical glitch.
If Mahmood felt he was accountable to the electorate, whom he had made repose a lot of confidence in him and INEC, he would have responded earlier and less ambiguously. Mahmood’s technical glitch allowed the upload of some NASS results but refused the upload of all presidential election results until days after the election.
But Mahmood Yakubu is fortunate. He is an African election umpire. The winners will praise him even if he flopped his lines woefully. So when Mahmoud started evading simple questions about the elections and dragged the process to a hurried conclusion, many cheered him. The presumed losers asked many questions, but they were promptly reminded they could overheat the polity. When they walked out in protest, they were advised to proceed to court or hell.
Mahmood Yakubu had promised his listeners in Chatham House London that the law allowed him to review results to correct manifest clerical and procedural errors. So what did Mahmood do when he heard of the naked wuruwuru in Obio Akpor, Rivers State? Perhaps the system permits INEC to act clownishly since the courts exist to clear the mess. So, INEC can upload results it didn’t bother to add up. And the victimised candidate would have to hire lawyers and go through almost 10 months of expensive litigation to help INEC add up the results it uploaded in Obio Akpor.
So what can cure electoral mischief in high places in INEC? Without Sango and Amadioha, it has to be a special commission established to prosecute electoral offences in an electoral court. So besides vote buyers and thugs, that commission will arrest and prosecute INEC officers who allow themselves to metamorphose into Esaus and Judases. It will not spare the suit-clad potbellied folks who sign off on contested result sheets, who couldn’t b be bothered about reviewing wuruwuru collations. With that commission, many professors who lobby for ad hoc jobs in INEC might abstain. Were that commission in place, Mahmood Yakubu might have waited a few days for the upload of results and receipt and review of conspicuous clerical and procedural complaints.
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