THE salvage of the Adamawa State governorship re-run elections by the Independent Electoral Commission proves that elections in Nigeria remain stormy; sullied by desperate politicians, violence, administrative and security lapses, and compromise by electoral and security personnel. It took a decisive intervention by INEC headquarters to stop a brazen electoral theft by its resident electoral commissioner and conclude the collation of results that eventually saw the re-election of Governor Adamu Finitiri. The culprits must be swiftly arrested and prosecuted, while there should be a massive shake-out in INEC and the police as first steps towards cleaning up elections.
Nigeria’s elections often fail to meet best global standards. Depressingly, the ugly features that cropped up in some parts of the country during the Presidential/National Assembly, and governorship/state assembly elections in February and March respectively, resurfaced during last week’s re-runs held across 24 states.
Violence, ballot box and BVAS machine-snatching, vote-buying, and lawlessness by politicians and their hired thugs were reported in a few places. Disappointingly, despite the smaller areas of coverage compared to the nationwide challenge of February and March, police were still blindsided by criminals, some of whom were able to operate before security agents could react.
Voter suppression and intimidation also rebounded, raising fears that politicians and their hired hooligans are about to entrench an odious new tactic.
The governorship re-run in Adamawa almost became a debacle. The first polling in March was declared inconclusive by INEC following the cancellation of election in 69 polling units in Fufore Local Government Area. Voters reportedly witnessed late arrival of election materials, the arrest of cyberhackers in Bolki LGA, and the barring of journalists from the state collation centre in Yola. Then, INEC’s REC, Yunusa Ari, powered his way to infamy, usurping the powers of the returning officer to declare results and a winner. He broke the law by announcing Aishatu Dahiru of the All Progressives Congress as winner. Bizarrely, collation of results was still ongoing when Ari launched his electoral coup! He was thwarted by INEC HQs.
In this, he was allegedly aided by the Commissioner of Police on election duty in the state, Mohammed Barde, who provided him with extra protection. This led to a physical attack on INEC’s national commissioners and a potential breakdown of law and order was barely averted.
Although INEC swiftly suspended the collation, and declared Ari’s action “null, void and of no effect,” and directed that he reports to INEC HQs, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, should arrest Ari for electoral offences. Also, Baba’s redeployment of the CP is not enough; he should be suspended and investigated.
Clearly,INEC is overwhelmed, unable to overcome the challenges and flaws in the off-cycle, and general elections and serially giving excuses after poor outings. Earlier, the INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, had assured Nigerians of credible supplementary elections, noting the deployment of national commissioners to Kebbi, Adamawa, Sokoto and Rivers states, and other officials to the 24 states. Police similarly boasted of massive preparations.
Nevertheless, vote-buying, ballot and BVAS-snatching, late arrival of electoral materials, disruption of electoral process by hoodlums, voter suppression, and arson, reoccurred in some of the states where two governorship, and 93 legislative re-runs were held.
In fairness, apart from its prompt and firm resolution of the Adamawa crisis, INEC recorded some improvements in logistics. Its failure to identify and neutralise compromised or unruly officials like Ari however sullies its image and the credibility of elections. Those working desperately to de-legitimise the entire 2023 elections for diverse reasons seize on such lapses as ammunition for their deadly propaganda.
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The security agencies also faltered. Although ballot-box snatching was foiled in Kebbi and some other places by the security agents, hoodlums were able to operate in some states despite the known and anticipated desperation of politicians.
INEC, under the chairmanship of Mahmoud Yakubu has upgraded ICT use, trained, and partnered with critical stakeholders at home and abroad, and scored some successes. Alas, its best is simply not enough. It is unable to withstand the powerful subverting political forces.
Yakubu’s INEC comes short of the iron resolve of the Attahiru Jega-led INEC, despite being empowered by the stronger 2022 Electoral Act, over N300 billion budget expenditure, and prompt approval of its programmes. It failed to resolve the repeated logistic interruptions, hitches in the operations of the BVAS, and the urgent calls to neutralise compromised RECs and other officials and exclude them from subsequent elections.
Instructively, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), is disinterested and therefore unavailable to provide the leadership and direction for the security agencies that are under his sole authority. Buhari’s aloofness betrays his lack of commitment to free, fair, credible, and transparent elections; his nomination of partisan characters as RECs confirms this.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, in September 2022, urged Buhari to withdraw his nomination of party members as RECs, and replace them with persons of unquestionable character, who can carry out their duties as independent and impartial arbiters.
A constitutional reform is needed to reduce the powers of the President in the appointment of the INEC Chairman and RECs. Statutory institutions should be strengthened, and nomination of electoral officials subjected to rigorous public and parliamentary scrutiny.
Crucially, the Adamawa saga was driven by the desperation of ruthless political parties and politicians, who would go to any length to gain power. They are the primary authors of electoral misdeeds. Until the police neutralise such operators, elections in Nigeria would remain turbulent.
The security agencies are lax in intelligence gathering, identifying risk hotspots, and strategic deployment of manpower to prevent electoral crimes. Although the police, military, and anti-graft agencies made some swift interventions during the supplementary and general elections, the reported cases of electoral malfeasance marred the exercise.
Nigeria’s security architecture needs to be unbundled for state policing. The Nigerian Police is overstretched and incapable of securing the entire country. INEC must be overhauled; politicians, security personnel and compromised electoral officials should be prosecuted. Nigeria’s elections must be cleaned up. ,
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