The country’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), declared the November 25 governorship election in Kogi state inconclusive when over 49,000 voters, for various reasons, were unable to vote on that election day.
Following INEC’s declaration, yet again of another governorship election, as inconclusive, this time around, the December 5 and 6 one in Bayelsa state, a great fuss has been made of these by political analysts and some politically aware citizens.
I have heard some snide remarks being made of ‘’this era of inconclusive elections’’, insinuating that INEC is either incompetent or is collaborating with some external forces to cheat one party or another. In other words, INEC’s supposed impartiality is being called to question. Some have gone as far as to wonder if we are not about to witness, under the new INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, a throw- back to the Iwururu era of the election body.
As a patriot, one is profoundly disturbed by these dangerous accusations and insinuations which, to me, are baseless as we all are witnesses to the circumstances that have compelled INEC, much against its will and expectation, to declare the two elections inconclusive. Much as all of us want the election to produce a winner and a loser, INEC cannot proceed against the laws guiding elections. If it does so, the same people who are now accusing it will raise a storm of a hell charging the body of violating electoral rules.
In the Kogi election, although the APC was coasting home to victory, over 49,000 voters, due to no fault of INEC’s, were unable to vote. If INEC had made the mistake of being presumptuous by declaring the late Audu the winner, presuming that whatever happens with the 49,000 voters who were yet to express their choice APC was bound to win, the human rights community and other guardians of democracy would have been up in arms against INEC, accusing it of denying nearly 50,000 voters the opportunity to exercise their franchise.
One would expect that if INEC under Yakubu would want to be partial, it would do so in favour of the ruling party which appointed him. In that case, it should have gone ahead to declare Audu the winner in the Kogi election to spare APC the not-too-easy task of having to choose a candidate to replace its dead governorship candidate. But INEC did not do so. It stayed on the side of the law. Let us not forget that the situation in Kogi, for instance, was unprecedented. Everyone was in a quandary; INEC, as well as most of us. Those who now say that INEC should have approached the judiciary especially the Supreme Court, for a pronouncement on the way forward, are acting wiser after the event.
And in Bayelsa, the election in Southern Ijaw LGA could not be conducted to conclude the whole governorship contest because of insecurity. Yet both the PDP and APC are making a fuss over the failure of the election to hold in that LGA. One party is pulling INEC one way and the other is pulling the same body another way. The fact that both the two leading parties are making contradictory demands favourable to their own party is indicative of the fact that INEC is just doing its job in a neutral or impartial manner.
It took our country a long time to arrive at this happy point where we now have, beginning with the Jega era, an electoral umpire composed of men and women of integrity who command the confidence of a majority in the polity that they will be neutral. This is why one is pained about the unjustified negative remarks made about INEC’s role in the two elections whose final outcomes were not attained at the first ballot. We must try and rein in our national tendency towards negativity. We must be positive or sound positive if we want to see positive things happen to us and our country. Yakubu and some members of his team are barely one month old in office. They need the confidence and sympathy of Nigerians to enable them to succeed.
Why do I sound so supportive and defensive of INEC? One, there is nothing concrete on ground so far, save the usual wolf cry of politicians, to suggest that Yakubu’s INEC is either incompetent or partial or biased or that it is poised to take us back to the pre-Jega times of that body. Two, since we have come a long way in crafting a body that now enjoys the confidence of stakeholders, we must not create any doubts about it because it will be an invitation to election as warfare. Three, we Nigerians must learn to have faith in our institutions, especially in one like INEC, which have shown themselves as being above board. Since we cannot have any institutions made up of perfect men and women, we should learn to sympathise with some of their failings if such failings are not malicious or contrived.
It is apparent that it is a constellation of hostile fortuitous forces, beyond the reach of INEC that united to ensure that the Kogi and Bayelsa elections did not go as smoothly as most of us would wished had happened. There is, therefore, no cause now to sound pessimistic about, not to talk of being dismissive of, INEC. INEC is on course.
It does appear as if we Nigerians wait anxiously to see our leaders and institutions fail so we can say ‘’we said so. They are no good. They are always incompetent, partial and unfair’’. As far as I, or any other reasonable and impartial person, can see, there is nothing so far on ground to arrive at the conclusion that INEC under Prof Mahmood is incompetent.
I am however happy that these insinuations and accusations, unjustified as they are, have taken place in the life of the new INEC under Yakubu. It shows that Nigerians are very vigilant about INEC and do not want a throw-back to the evil past. After getting right our election management body Nigerians are most anxious that we do not lose it again. This is quite heartening. It will help to keep Prof Yakubu and his team in check and on their toes.
What is in great evidence in the Kogi and Bayelsa elections is the desperation of the political class in all the parties to win at all cost and if they fail, to blame someone else, including INEC, for their failure. What we Nigerians need to do is to wage a campaign asking our politicians to learn not to see elections as warfare. There must be a mental shift among them to be gracious in defeat, to accept that they can indeed lose an election and when that happens, it is not the fault of someone else or some organisation out there but the verdict of the electorate. And that losing an election is a call for harder work for the acceptance of the voters the next time.