Being the first Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission to be given clearance to serve for a second term by the National Assembly, Professor Mahmood Yakubu may consider himself lucky. But his seeming good luck is entwined in a mesh of responsibility and great expectations by Nigerians regarding the performance of the umpire in the next elections. It is said that to whom much is given, much will be expected. Nigerians deserve no less than a free, fair and credible election, and this is what the INEC chairman should deliver.
Prof. Yakubu should consider this an opportunity to improve the results from his first term, which was fraught with logistic issues that resulted in the postponement of the 2019 general elections just five hours before they were scheduled to hold. This was in spite of the ample time the commission had to plan and the enormous resources expended, estimated to be well over N242 billion. The cost itself constitutes serious concern for the sustenance of democracy in the country as the economy cannot sustain it. The commission under Yakubu must begin to seek proactive ways to reduce cost of elections without compromising their credibility.
Sadly, most of the elections in Yakubu’s first term featured a number of irregularities such as missing ballot materials, cancellation of poll results, while others were declared inconclusive. Some of the results announced were later to be challenged and upturned by the courts. The general perception was that the elections were not substantially credible, and that the courts, rather than the ballots, were the major determinants of winners and losers of elections.
After 21 years of uninterrupted democracy, the nation can hardly afford what seems to be endless experimentations on the conduct of elections. Therefore, Yakubu and his team must prepare well for future elections and ensure that the Commission adopts measures that would spare Nigerians the troubles and anguish encountered during the last general elections and some of the subsequent staggered state elections.
Although the Commission witnessed some improvements in the recent governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states, particularly with the upload of completed form EC8A to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV), the feats should be sustained in the next general elections, and the Commission should adopt modern information technology to ease the transfer of results from the polling units to the collation centres.
For this to materialise, the National Assembly should expedite action in treating the bill for the amendment of the Electoral Act pending before it. When passed into law, it is expected to strengthen the electoral process and allow for electronic voting, amongst other innovations in public interest. The decision by the Commission to resume its Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) in the first quarter of 2021, is positive, but the process needs be simplified and made more efficient to encourage voters’ participation in the entire gamut of election process.
Yakubu’s INEC should be worried that Nigeria is considered the worst country in terms of voter’s apathy in the continent due to the abysmal turnout of voters during elections. During the 2019 general elections, while INEC had a record of 84 million registered voters, only 28.6 million persons actually cast their votes during the presidential elections. This represents 35% of the registered voters and less than 15% of the country’s over 200 million population. The more recent election in Edo State was no different as only 25% of registered voters actually turned up to cast their votes. While the State had a record of 2.2 million registered voters, 483,000 had failed to collect their voters’ card, thus reducing the number of eligible voters to 1.7 million.
The reason for this scenario is not farfetched, as the general perception that votes don’t count still remains. Citizens have little confidence in the electoral process due to the malfeasance of some electoral officials who in connivance with political aspirants engage in manipulation of electoral results. These issues are compounded by cases of electoral violence perpetrated by thugs sponsored by some politicians. Nigerians still nurse great concerns over their safety during elections; INEC should do more to bring perpetrators of violence during elections to book, in order to win the confidence of Nigerians particularly the youths, which constitute a major proportion of the voting public.
Strengthening the country’s electoral system and democracy is a duty of all Nigerians but INEC needs to lead by ensuring that elections are free, fair and credible. The commission should engage persons of integrity as its returning officers and work more closely with security agencies to protect officials and voters alike, besides ensuring that votes count.
Democracy may not be the best system of government, but it remains the most plausible provided that its operation is transparent; it is carefully managed in accordance with the resources of the country, and it allows the active participation of the people. This is the minimum standard that Yakubu is expected to bestow on the nation, as chairman, for the second term, of the Independent National Electoral Commission.