As the November 11, 2023, governorship elections in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi states draw close, widespread and justifiable concerns continue to mount about the capacity and willingness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organize free, credible and transparent polls to gratify the deep yearnings of the people to be allowed to exercise their constitutional right to choose their own governor.
Given the very demoralizing performance posted by INEC in the last general elections earlier in the year, whose glaring evidences are showing their egregious faces at the various Election Petitions Tribunals across the country, the people have every reason to be very apprehensive and distrustful of INEC under the leadership of Prof Mahmood Yakubu.
Many consider the last elections as the worst and most wasteful in Nigeria’s history. The commission was provided with all the legal and material resources it required to succeed and change the country’s unedifying history of marred elections, but it, sadly, chose to fail woefully and shatter the cherished expectations of the people.
Before the elections, INEC had gone all out to convince Nigerians that election results would be electronically transmitted to the IREV (the INEC online viewing portal) from the polling stations. It even went to the National Assembly to secure amendments in the Electoral Law to make electronic transmission of results mandatory. And despite stiff oppositions from remorseless rigging enablers, the commission was able to get what it wanted and there were wild jubilations among patriotic Nigerians at home and abroad.
When doubts began to be entertained by many people about the sincerity and capacity of INEC to do what is right for which it has secured the requisite legal empowerment, the commission came out severally to reassure Nigerians that the elections results must be electronically transmitted. It continued to stress the fact that it was bound by law to do so.
The advantages of electronic transmission were heartwarming. The instances of ballot-snatching and alteration of results which usually occurred between the polling units and the collation centres would be eliminated as the elections would electronically arrive at the INEC’s IREV even before everybody had left the voting centres. The process appeared so transparent that many Nigerians were convinced that even before the whole election results had been uploaded, Nigerians can stay in the comfort of their homes and treat themselves to the exciting game of predicting the winners.
There would not have been any more opportunity for some unpatriotic fellows with primeval mindsets to hide at what they call “collation centres” to concoct figures and announce the highest payers as “winners.” Indeed, no hoodlum would have been able again to attack INEC staff as they conveyed the result sheets to the “collation centres” to hijack and alter the records. The whole process would have been so transparent that losers would easily accept defeat and all the costs invested in the execution of election tribunals which have only ended up inflicting irreparable damage on the judiciary would have been avoided. Who really is afraid of transparency?
With this assurance drummed into the minds of Nigerians, the optimism that Nigeria was at last joining civilized countries to jettison the old, primitive style of conducting elections in favour of a more modern and reliable system overwhelmed the polity. The excitement was such that several Nigerians abroad deployed their hard earned money to return home to participate in what they considered the first elections in their country that would truly reflect the wishes of the people. These Nigerians were excitedly posting on the social media pictures of themselves in several countries boarding aircraft and heading home to have a taste of the unfolding wholesome and edifying democratic process that would liberate Nigeria from the grip of mostly imposed, medieval sole administrators.
But, sadly, Prof Yakubu and his INEC had other plans for these Nigerians and all of us. It would seem that while INEC was busy raising the hopes of Nigerians, it was also quietly devising the most primitive and painful way to dash them. We were soon fed with the absurd, preposterous tale that in two elections held the same day and with the same equipment, it was possible for the national assembly results to be uploaded on the INEC viewing portal (IREV) while that of the presidential election could not be put up due to what INEC called “glitches.” And this lame excuse helped the callous and retrogressive characters at INEC to muster the audacity to execute this shattering volte-face and resurrect the long discredited manual collation of results which gives room for all kinds of crude manipulations. By this singular action, the commission brutally disabled the capacity of Nigerians to monitor the elections and flagrantly destroyed the credibility of the whole process. I wonder if anyone would be able to trust INEC again even after its current chairman had left office with a badly tainted record!
In a decent country, Prof Yakubu and his INEC should have been probed to explain how with the humongous sum of N105 billion allocated for the execution of the electronic transmission of results, they simply ended up taking Nigerians back to the stone-age kind of elections. But Yakubu understands the game very well. He knows that the beneficiaries of the manipulated process, once they are in power, will never be able to muster the effrontery to call him to account. He also knows that the Nigerian judiciary has long largely lost its esteem, courage and ability to deliver quality judgments and so would easily lend its stamp of approval to the flagrant abuse of process and brazen disobedience of the extant laws governing the conduct of elections which INEC had already decided to adopt as a guiding principle during the elections.
By now, instead of encumbering the public space with his unwelcome presence labouring to assure Nigerians who no longer believe him that the governorship elections results in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi states will be electronically transmitted and that there won’t be any “glitches”, he should have been telling a court (which court, by the way?) how he spent over N300 billion to conduct this kind of outrageously sham elections.
By the way, so, Prof Yakubu is able to know when there will be “glitches” in an election and when they would not occur? Does it mean then that these glitches (so-called) occur at the discretion and behest of the INEC chairman and that he has decided that they won’t occur in the coming off-season elections? And why should we believe a man who once lied outrageously to us?
I am particularly interested in the governorship election in Imo State this Saturday and I think that if Yakubu wants Imo people to accept his reassurances, he should reshuffle his staff and bring in credible people that are capable of securing the people’s trust. It would be recalled that of all the governorship elections conducted across Nigeria in March, it was only in Abia State that spontaneous celebrations erupted and enveloped the whole state after the governor-elect was announced.
The Returning Officer in that election, Professor Nnenna Oti, who is also the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, told the world that she had to resist tremendous pressures from Abuja in order to announce the correct results in Abia State. Instead of wasting his breath reassuring Imo people who no longer believe him, he should bring Prof Oti to repeat the transparent process she executed in Abia. This will even help Yakubu and his badly discredited INEC to infuse some bit of credibility into their work which they need badly now.
I always find it insulting to imagine that a bunch of atavistic “king makers” would stay in one air-conditioned room somewhere and impose unacceptable leaders on long-suffering people just because they occupy some public offices. Those who have continued to do this with relish should realize that they have already overtasked the patience of the people. It could burst soon. Decency demands that people are allowed to choose whom they want to be their leader.
Now, come to think about it, even the much touted BVAS which eventually failed Nigerians is, in my opinion, an unduly costly process. With fewer funds, INEC can even conduct a totally paperless election. All it would take is simply a programmed machine (which could be a laptop) with its screen displaying the names and images of candidates. And once somebody touches his thumb on his preferred candidate’s image, it will automatically register in the machine and reflect 0n the IREV where it will be recorded as vote for the person. As simple as that! But will the bankrupt entities at INEC and the election-rigging enthusiasts among the political class allow this very simple but transparent process to happen?
I am not going to vote in Saturday’s election because I was not registered in Imo State. But what is clear is that Imo people are tired of leaders imposed on them from outside to execute external interests that are mostly detrimental to Imo people’s welfare. All I am concerned about is for the people to be allowed to get a leader they want and would vote for on Saturday.
Prof Yakubu should, therefore, bring Prof Nnenna Oti to repeat what she did in Abia. Fortunately, she can even remain in her FUTO base and report for work at the INEC state office. So, her deployment would not attract any undue cost to INEC.
Unless, like in the previous elections, Prof Yakubu and his INEC have some other motives.
*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye's book, "Nigeria: Why Looting May Not Stop" is avalaible on AMAZON.COM