By OBINNA EZUGWU
The 2019 general election has come, and officially gone. But it has left behind a trail of controversies. From the Kaduna State governorship election miracle where the total of 1.8 million votes scored by the two leading parties and candidates, the All Progressives Congress’s (APC) Governor Nasir El-Rufai and the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP), Isa Ashiru are by far in excess of the 1.4 million total number of accredited voters, to similar absurd outcomes in Nasarawa and Yobe presidential election where, figures scored by President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, were in excess of accredited voters figures, it was obvious that the Professor Mahmood Yakubu led electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) possess such capability to defy common sense mathematics that would have been a comic joke if not for the seriousness of the subject.
Another outcome is also attention grabbing. Days before the election, the convoy of Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima was ambushed by Boko Haram. Over a hundred people were killed, many other injured and even much more abducted. Borno has been under intense Boko Haram attacks. In the neighbouring state of Yobe, Governor Ibrahim Gaidam nearly could not travel to his home town to vote on account of insecurity.
Strangely, both states had higher voter turnout in percentage terms than any other state during the presidential election, with almost 100 percent of the votes going to the APC. Instructively too, by 10am, they were almost done with the election. It was a feat replicated during the governorship polls.
“When you look at results from Magadali, Bama and other volatile areas of Borno State, then you know that there was no election. It was a matter of allocation of votes,” notes Chief Goddy Uwazurike, Lagos based lawyer and political analyst.
“Part of the state is under Boko Haram, the other parts are under attack. Even on the morning of the presidential election, there was an attack in Yobe and Borno. But unbelievably, it is those areas where people are running away, according to many foreign media that returned massive votes in support of one party. So, when did they vote?”
Away from the wonder of Borno and Yobe, the 2019 polls will perhaps go down, as not just the most violent in recent history, with nearly 50 people killed, but also one election in which magic votes appeared and disappeared. Nigerians joke that when night meets results of certain political parties, they swell up so rapidly. Indeed it lived up to the assertion by the late Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin that “those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.”
Rights activist and lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), concludes that the polls were an ‘expensive joke’. According to him, the country “spent over N250 billion from public purse on this useless enterprise.”
“This country spent over N250 billion from public purse on this useless enterprise apart from what each of the governors and political party spent, which is more than 250 billion,” Falana said on Channel’s Sunrise Daily.
“If we want to get out of the crisis of monumental dimension, we need to go back to the drawing table, beyond the two major political parties. Nigerians must organize because this expensive joke cannot continue.”
But INEC perhaps achieved more infamy for declaring elections in five states inconclusive. Professor Mahmood had indeed earned a reputation for organising inconclusive elections long before the general election, and it may not have been unexpected that a number of states will end up with inconclusive results. However, the circumstances under which some of the elections were declared inconclusive raises a red flag.
It’s necessary to state ab-intio that declaring elections inconclusive in the right circumstances is in tandem with the provisions of the law. The 2010 Electoral Act in Section 26 and 53 provided for specific circumstances under which elections can be declared inconclusive, or postponed.
Section 26 of the Act provides that: “Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election, and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the Commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable. “(2) Where an election is postponed under this Act, on or after the last date for the delivery of nomination papers, and a poll has to be taken between the candidates nominated, the Electoral Officer shall, on a new date being appointed for the election, proceed as if the date appointed were the date for the taking of the poll between the candidates. “(3) Where the Commission appoints a substitute date in accordance with subsections (I) and (2) of this section, there shall be no return for the election until polling has taken place in the area or areas affected. “(4) Notwithstanding the provision of subsection (3) of this section, the Commission may, if satisfied that the result of the election will not be affected by voting in the area or areas in respect of which substituted dates have been appointed, direct that a return of the election be made. “(5) The decision of the Commission under subsection (4) may be challenged by any of the contestants at a court or tribunal of competent jurisdiction and on such challenge, the decision shall be suspended until the matter is determined.”
On the other hand, section 53 provides as follows: “( l) No voter shall vote for more than one candidate or record more than one vote in favour of any candidate at any one election. “( 2) Where the votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceed the number of registered voters in that polling unit, the result of the election for that polling unit shall be declared void by the Commission and another election may be conducted at a date to be fixed by the Commission where the result at that polling unit may affect the overall l result in the Constituency
“(3) Where an election is nullified in accordance with subsection (2) of this section, there shall be no return for the election until another poll has taken place in the affected area. “( 4) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections (2) and (3) of this section the Commission may, if satisfied that the result of the election will not substantially be affected by voting in the area where the election is cancelled, direct that a return of the election be made.”
Apparently, the drafters of the above provisions had intended them for good purposes; to ensure fair play in the electoral process. But it certainly, many would agree, opened a loophole for manipulations as evidenced in the last elections. To secure an inconclusive verdict, a losing politician only needs to instigate a crisis in certain areas he or she is not popular, and get the INEC to cancel results so as to declare the outcome inconclusive.
“If you look at the grounds on which INEC declared elections inconclusive in some states, they are things that happened in the presidential election and they declared Buhari winner,” says Aremo Oladotun Hassan, lawyer and president, Yoruba Council of Youths.
“It is as if INEC simply picked out some states where maybe the election was not going in the interest of the power that be and decided to declare the results inconclusive. This was the scenario that played out in Osun State and we know how it ended.”
It is already a time tested strategy. In Osun State governorship election last year it worked to perfection. The APC and its candidate, Gboyega Oyetola were poised for defeat in the hands of Senator Ademola Adeleke of the PDP. But pockets of crisis here and there, plus the disappearance of votes in some local governments meant that the PDP candidate snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Election was cancelled in a number of wards, the number of which was greater than the margin of victory. On the day of the rerun, hell was let lose. Thugs and security agencies ensured that the APC had the advantage.
In the governorship and state assembly elections last Saturday, the Osun template played out in some states. Perhaps not surprising given the pedigree of the Prof Mahmood INEC leadership but still shocking for its blatant contradictions.
The electoral body declared elections in Kano, Bauchi, Adamawa, Plateau and Benue inconclusive. March 23 has been fixed as date for the rerun. In all the states, apart from Plateau where the incumbent governor, Simon Lalong of the APC led his PDP challenger, Jeremiah Useni with 44,929 votes, whilst cancelled votes stands at 49,377, the opposition party scored more votes than the ruling party in all the other states, with votes difference ranging from few thousands to tens of thousands.
In Adamawa, PDP candidate, Ahmadu Fintri polled 367,471 votes ahead of the incumbent governor, Muhammad Bindow, candidate of the APC who got 334,995. The Returning Officer Professor Andrew Haruna, said the 32,476 margin of lead was less than 40,988 representing number of cancelled votes.
The Kano scenario is particularly instructive. It would be the first time in a long time, if indeed ever, that elections would be cancelled in the state. The PDP candidate, Engr. Abba Kabir Yusuf, backed by a former governor of the state, Musa Kwankwaso, had sprung a surprise, beating the incumbent governor of the APC, Abdullahi Ganduje. But just as INEC was about to announce the result of the final local government, Nasarawa, which may have confirmed the opposition party’s victory, the state Deputy governor, Nasiru Gawuna tore the result sheets.
It took another whole day for the results to be re-collated, the PDP had won the local government with 54,349 votes to APC’s 34,297. However, the Returning Officer, Prof. B.B Shehu eventually declared the poll inconclusive. He explained that the 26,655 margin of victory for the PDP is less than the number of cancelled votes.
“The total number of registered voters is 5,426,989, out of this number, the ruling APC scored 987,819, while the main opposition PDP scored 1.014,474,” the returning officer had announced.
His was, some would agree, a plausible explanation. But the circumstances that led to the verdict had called the sanctity of the process to question. The atmosphere in the state remain tense. On Wednesday, youths staged protest to the palace of the Emir of Kano, Mohammed Sanusi II, where they insisted that the electoral body must not thwart the people’s will.
But while the inconclusive verdict in Kano, and even Sokoto and Plateau can be explained given the margin of victory for the winning candidates and the circumstances, the one of Benue is perhaps not as understandable.
In Benue, the incumbent governor, Samuel Ortom of the PDP scored 410,576 votes to better his APC challenger, Emmanuel Jime who got 329,022 votes. The total number of accredited voters for the polls, according to media reports, stood at 816,969, while 804,662 represented total cast votes, out of which 790, 102 were valid.
By the accredited voters figure of 816,969, the shortfall of figures from summation of votes scored by only the two leading candidates stands at 77,371, while the governor already has 81,554 votes margin lead over the APC candidate. Yet, if the 790,102 valid votes is subtracted from the 816,969 accredited voters, what is left is only 26,867 votes.
These facts, notwithstanding, INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner for the state, Dr. Nentawe Yilwatda declared the election inconclusive, as according to him, there were cancellations in some polling units totalling 121,019 votes.
Yet, in another election organised by the same INEC, former Abia governor, Orji Uzo Kalu of the APC was declared winner of Abia North Senatorial election, having polled 31, 203 votes, roughly 10,000 more than his PDP challenger, Mao Ohuabunwa who had 20,801 votes when over 32, 000 votes, more than Dr. Kalu’s total was cancelled.
“The election fell short of credibility, obviously,” asserts Hassan. “The outcome in most instances did not reflect the wishes of the people. And I should say it was not unexpected because INEC never conducted itself as an unbiased umpire. The election is a stain on our democracy. It’s a shame that witnessed such connivance of the police and the army in the electoral process.”
The electoral body insists it did all right and that it acted in accordance with the law regarding the declaration of outcomes in some states inconclusive. The Chief Pres Secretary to the Commission’s boss, Lawrence Oyekanmi, maintained that the decision was grounded in law and logic.
He said INEC relied on the Electoral Act 2010, as amended to conduct the 2019 general elections, stressing that inconclusive election in some states was due to the position of the law, since according to him, the commission remains committed to a transparent electoral process.
But not everyone agrees. “INEC got it very wrong in many cases. The simple thing to do is to declare the man who won, let the others go to the tribunal,” says Chief Uwazurike who served as president of Aka Ikenga, Igbo think tank group.
“But then if you set a standard, you must maintain it. In some instances, they just gave ridiculous figures and excuses. And it can’t be a coincidence that in most of the states affected the PDP was in the lead. Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done.”
But INEC are not the only culprits, and perhaps there are grounds on which one can argue that the electoral body was also victims of machinations by desperate political actors. Interference by security agencies in the election was more than ever seen before. Thugs were allowed to have a field day in many areas. And in some instances, INEC officials were caught in the crossfire. One official paid with his life in Rivers. The electoral body said some of its female staff were raped in the same state.
Indeed, in Rivers, violence reached unimaginable proportions. Men of the Nigerian armed forces took, allegedly, to snatching ballot boxes. Not done, they were said to have taken over collation centres, chasing away INEC staff and party agents. Commendably, the electoral umpire put proceeding in the state on hold. But some say even now, soldiers have not allowed for a smooth process.
“Rivers is a sad case,” Uwazurike notes. “Soldiers were the ones writing the results. At a point, the police were even shoved out of the way. And the real shame is that the army spokesman said they were fake soldiers. Now, the GOC in charge of that place is justifying the intervention of the army. So, who do we believe? The spokesman who said they were fake soldiers or the GOC who explained why the army intervened.
“It is unheard of for soldiers to come out and brazenly take over elections. The election of 2019 left a lot to be desired. First sign was the threat to the international observers. That’s when they told us which direction they wanted to go.”
However, the election witnessed “pleasant” outcomes in some states; outcomes that apparently reflected the wishes of the people. In Kwara, the jubilation that followed the defeat of senate president, Bukola Saraki and the PDP in the governorship election was testimony to the fact that the people of Kwara got the outcome they craved.
In Akwa Ibom, Senator Goodwill Akpabio met his Waterloo, much to the joy of the people of the state. And in Imo, the emergence of Emeka Ihedioha as governor-elect signalled the end of Rochas Okorocha “dynasty”.
“In some places, the people resisted interference, like in Imo State,” notes Uwazurike. “The instantaneous jubilation that followed the announcement of Emeka Ihedioha showed that the people actually voted for real change from the calamitous regime of Okorocha. Where there is real result that reflected the will of the people, it would be obvious.”