INEC and credibility of the 2023 polls
Mahmood Yakubu

Before the parties’ presidential primaries, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had maintained a respectable and confidence-inspiring image and reputation, which gave many Nigerians hope of a credible polls in 2023 in view of its crucial nature. INEC under the leadership of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu had created mixed perceptions of its identity as an independent electoral institution.

Elections in Kogi, Osun and Kano states left INEC image in tatters, leaving serious questions about its neutrality and capacity to conduct free and fair elections as a result of what seemed like deliberate manipulations to favour the ruling party in severally contrived inconclusive polls which the government party eventually won. However, its sagging image was salvaged by two unrelated events that rekindled hope in the body to produce a meaningful poll.

First, was INEC’s insistence on a new electoral law, which it worked seriously and assiduously to initiate and promote as a veritable basis for credible elections, including the use of technology, an action that must have discomfitured the government that appointed it going by the body language of the government that refused signing previous bills three times in the past. INEC had pitched its success in conducting the 2023 polls on the passage of the new Act.

The second event, perhaps, fortuitously, was the appointment of Mr. Festus Okoye into INEC as national commissioner, and his being put in charge of voter education and publicity. He has been conscientious and industrious in a square hole, and adroitly brought his activism and advocacy background into forcefully repositioning the agency into the consciousness of Nigerians.

But everything apparently changed with the primaries as INEC literally shot itself in the foot and clearly undermined all the good work done to restore public confidence in it. INEC had insisted on the June 3, 2022 deadline for the submission of list of candidates by political parties, even after the Conference of all political parties had made a collective request for extension. INEC Chairman, Prof. Yakubu had told the parties that the date was sacrosanct because any change would affect its programme of activities.

But when it seemed that the ruling party, APC, would fail the deadline, INEC suddenly extended it by one week, after the main opposition PDP had conducted its primaries, thus raising doubt about the motive and its’ sincerity of purpose.

In the view of this newspaper, we fail to understand the rationale or overarching national objective behind its volte face. It was a move that gave APC an advantage through a windqow it did not deserve. When rules are made, they are expected to be obeyed.

Everyone in this country attests to the fact that the main bane of our development is the arbitrariness and impunity in the application of rules. It was an action that muddied the water toward a fair election in 2023 and an unnecessary baggage for the electoral body.

Unless rules have consequence for breaches they have no moral or legal force, because people abi initio would assume a possibility of some waiver along the way for all kinds of situations. It creates uncertainty in the system and allow for disruptive behaviours. That single action almost completely damaged INEC’s hard earned reputation through its recent campaign for credible polls.

However, we believe there is enough time and opportunity to remedy the situation and deliver to Nigeria an election that commands both local and international approval. Elections should not just be about producing a winner, but more importantly, the process of such victory. Sadly, our elections have always be progressively worse than the previous ones, which has led to public lose of confidence in the outcome. This election is crucial because it is a replay of 2015 and a referendum on the past eight years of APC.

We are gladdened that INEC has extended the period for voter registration beyond the June deadline to allow as many Nigerians who are willing to register opportunity to do so. This is important because the challenge of previous elections had been the increasing voter apathy recorded, which seemed to delegitimise the outcome. Our population is youth-based and the youth should be given all the opportunity to make their impact felt because it is about their future.

But we must sound a note of caution. It is not enough to register people; INEC must ensure that the Permanent Voter Card, PVCs are delivered to their owners. In the two previous elections allegations of PVC manipulations were rife especially in areas where the state government feared opposition vote against it. Such was the case in Lagos where people of non indigenous stock were deliberately frustrated from voting by denying them access to the PVCs.

So, at present there are over 20 million uncollected PVCs in the country. INEC must ensure that anyone who registered must get his/her card, even if it means contacting them directly. We must get it right this time by improving on previous polls. Fortunately, the new Electoral Act provides some good possibility of a fair outcome but the process should also be guided, because any outcome from a manipulated process cannot stand moral scrutiny..

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