By LEKE BAIYEWU
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) bore the burden of the recently-concluded 2015 general elections. LEKE BAIYEWU writes on the activities of the commission in the exercise
The Independent National Electoral Commission has concluded the 2015 general elections. It was the fifth of such in the current political dispensation — 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. Several events that characterised the exercise made some political analysts to adjudge it as the most controversial, dramatic and expensive in the history of Nigeria.
The West and some Nigerian revolutionaries had predicted the expiration of the 1914 amalgamation and the breakage of Nigeria as an entity after a century. Prior to the elections, some close watchers of the increasing heat and growing tension in the polity had said it was a make-or-break exercise for Nigeria.
All eyes were on the electoral umpire – INEC. There were high expectations from the political parties, the electorate, as the local and international observers. The spotlight was on the Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega.
After the elections, several political records had been broken by political parties and politicians. Most prominent among the feats is the loss of the presidential seat by Peoples Democratic Party – the party that has been in power since 1999 and dominated the most significant part of the country’s political space – to the All Progressives Congress, a mega opposition party formed by the merger of smaller opposition parties.
General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) of the APC defeated the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, the first time such would happen in the country’s elections.
In this National Assembly, APC has also taken over the majority status of the PDP – the first time the ruling party will stop being the majority in the legislature.
The implication of all these is that the 2015 elections have turned the ruling PDP into an opposition, while the opposition APC has become the ruling party.
INEC, under Jega, had crossed several hurdles to arrive at this point:
Preparations for the polls
The Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, had on May 31, 2011, one month after the general elections – said the commission had commenced preparations for the successful conduct of the 2015 elections.
Jega, while receiving the final report of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) on the 2011 elections in Abuja, said a four-year preparation was necessary to address all the lapses noticed during the 2011 elections and to meet the aspirations of Nigerians for credible elections.
So, it took INEC four years to prepare for the 2015 elections.
Earlier in January, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, hinted that the electoral body would deploy 750,000 ad hoc staff for the exercise, including members of the National Youth Service Corps and students of federal tertiary institutions.
Permanent Voter Card and electronic card reader
The Permanent Voter Card was the pass for any registered eligible voter to participate in the 2015 elections. Voters who were previously issued Temporary Voter Cards were asked to exchange it for PVC. The Continuous Voter Registration exercise conducted by INEC was able to accommodate voters who became eligible after the 2011 nationwide voter registration exercise or those who missed the opportunity.
However, the PVC distribution exercise was not without hiccups. It generated controversy and national debate.
The issue had generated war of words between the PDP and the APC. The ruling party said it was suspicious for the northern part of the country to record higher collection rate being Buhari’s stronghold and despite the spate of insecurity in the area. The opposition party, however, dismissed PDP’s claims.
Miffed by the irregularities, President Goodluck Jonathan on Januray 7 directed Jega to ensure that all registered Nigerians get their PVCs before the general elections.
The President said, “The chairman of INEC, all Nigerians must get voter cards; we cannot conduct an election where some people will not have the rights to vote. INEC must do everything possible to make sure that all Nigerians have their voter cards because we cannot afford a situation where some Nigerians will not vote that day.”
By the time the collection of PVCs by registered voters ended on March 22, INEC put the percentage of PVCs collected at 81.98 per cent.
While the electoral body put the total number of registered voters at 68,833,476, it said only 56,431,255 PVCs had been collected.
Just like the debate on PVC use, deployment of electronic card reader was another issue of controversy.
The PDP Governors Forum, for instance, had condemned the use of card readers and exclusive use of PVCs. The APC, on the other hand, believed that the device would check the PDP’s alleged intention to rig Buhari
INEC had also procured about 20,000 backup card readers and 35,000 backup batteries, in addition to 152,000 active card readers earlier procured, as part of measures to tackle possible challenges in the elections.
Idowu, who said the commission had learnt from the Ghana experience with the device, stated that the procurement of backup devices, among other precautionary measures, would limit the challenges that might arise during the election exercise.
Countries like Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Cote D’Ivoire, Uganda, Bolivia, Venezuela, Guatemala and Colombia, which made use of similar biometric technologies in their elections recently, were faced with challenges such as data manipulation, poor mobile networks, and breakdown of card readers.
During the presidential and National Assembly elections on March 28, many of the card readers failed to accredit voters successfully. As the tension grew, INEC ordered its electoral officers to manual accreditation in the affected polling units. The development led to continuation of the exercise in some places the next day, while voters in some areas voted into the night.
Despite the uproar over the hitches recorded in the presidential and National Assembly elections, INEC insisted that only its card reader would be used, again, for the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections on April 11.
Some observers of the subsequent elections said the performance of the device had improved.
INEC, on February 7, announced the rescheduling of the elections from February 14 and 21 to March 28 and April 11. Again, the development had led to another imbroglio, leading to a sharp division between the PDP and the APC.
Jega, while briefing the press, had said the decision was taken after several consultations with political parties, civil society organisations, members of the Council of State, INEC’s National Commissioners and the Resident Electoral Commissioners.
The INEC Chairman, who said the decision to shift the elections was a difficult one, added that it had to be taken because of the security implications of holding the election without the support of security agencies.
Observers of the 2015 elections noted that military presence was less, compared with the Edo, Ondo, Anambra, Ekiti and Osun governorship by-elections.
The Court of Appeal in Abuja, which affirmed Governor Ayo Fayose of the PDP as the winner of the June 21, 2014 governorship election in Ekiti, had described the use of Armed Forces in the conduct of elections as a violation of Section 217(2) (c) of the Constitution and Section 1 of the Armed Forces Act.
It cited a judgement delivered by Justice R. M Aikawa of the Federal High Court in Sokoto on January 29, 2015, barring the use of the armed forces in the conduct of elections.
The appellate court, therefore, barred the use of the Armed Forces in the conduct of future elections in the country as such constituted a violation of both the constitution and the Electoral Act.
INEC, on its side, had insisted that soldiers would not be deployed at polling units during the elections.
The commission pointed out that the military would only provide peripheral security cordon such as manning entry points into towns to check the trafficking of arms that could be used to disrupt the elections.
Idowu said, “They are also positioned in covert readiness for rapid deployment if there is a security crisis beyond the capacity of the police to handle. The military are never near polling units.
“As a matter of fact, all security men at the polling units are never armed. It is because malevolent people could exploit this and harm voters, as well as polling officials that the armed agents are in readiness for rapid deployment.
“(It is) only if occasion warrants it. Luckily, occasion has not warranted it since this security design was put in place in 2011.”
Election in the North-East
Many Nigerians were sceptical on the success of holding elections in areas where terrorists’ activities are ongoing. Mostly affected were Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. Elections however took place there.
While Nigerians in other parts of the country were warming up for the exercise, the insurgency by Boko Haram had continued to ravage the north-eastern part of the country. The terrorist group had killed several thousands and rendered even more homeless and displaced.
A bill seeking the establishment of polling units where eligible voters who had been chased away from their ancestral homes by the dreaded insurgents would exercise their franchise was also sponsored in the Senate.
The APC had insisted on conducting elections in the war-torn zone, citing the example of Afghanistan, where the government and the people of war-ravaged country won international acclaim for a successful conduct of an election amid threats and intimidation by a recalcitrant terrorist group, the Taliban.
INEC, on several occasions, insisted that it would conduct elections in the region, in the face of the uncertainty.
True to its words, INEC conducted the 2015 elections in the troubled zone. Provisions were also made for IDPs to exercise their franchise in the process.
INEC has often blamed its failure to adopt electronic voting system on unavailability of enabling laws.
For instance, the Head of Publicity Division of INEC, Mr. Nick Dazang, in an interview with this paper in June 2014, expressed the eagerness of the commission to adopt electronic system.
He said, “By law, we are not supposed to use electronic voting machines. We also have canvassed for it but so far, the law does not permit the commission to use electronic voting machines. Until the law is amended, we cannot do so.”
Earlier in February of that year, Jega had hinted that it would be “practically impossible to adopt the electronic voting model in the 2015 general election, even if the National Assembly were to lift the prohibition on its usage.”
In 2014 alone, no fewer than three separate bills, which sought various amendments to the Electoral Act 2010, passed the second reading. The lawmakers were however divided on e-voting.
Nigerians in the Diasporas have always called for participation in elections in the country. However, just like the electronic voting system, INEC does not have enabling laws.
For instance, the Secretary of the United Kingdom chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. Olayemi Ayeni, had in an interview with THE PUNCH in November 2013, stated that those in the Diasporas would continue to make the call until their demands were met.
He said, “Over the years, Nigerians in the Diaspora have been disenfranchised due to the lack of a voting system that guarantees their participation in elections.”
At the moment, only citizens residing in Nigeria at the time of registration of voters can vote in any election, whereas Section 77 (2) of the Electoral Act says: “Every citizen of Nigeria, who has attained the age of 18 years at the time of the registration of voters for the purposes of election to a legislative house, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election.”
INEC Commissioner on Election Party Monitoring, Amina Zakari, while representing Jega at a three-day National Stakeholders Forum on Electoral Reform in Abuja on January 29, 2014, had stated that the much anticipated Diaspora voting was not feasible until the Electoral Act was amended.
The INEC boss, however, said it was proposing an amendment to the Act to enable Nigerians in the Diaspora, who were 18 years as of the time of registration, to vote. According to him, denying the Diaspora the right to vote will be an infringement on their rights.
Later on, the National Conference Committee on Foreign Policy and Diaspora also proposed that the 1999 Constitution be amended to allow Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote.
Issues with the electoral commission
INEC draws its powers from Section 15, Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) and Section 2 of the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended). The laws, among other functions, empower the commission to conduct elections into elective public offices. These include the office of the president, vice president, governors, and deputy governors. It is also to conduct elections into the Senate and House of Representatives.
The powers to conduct local government area chairmanship elections, which were vested in States Independent Electoral Commission, may be moved to INEC in the ongoing constitution amendment at the National Assembly.
The Assembly had on October 21 deleted the State Independent Electoral Commission from the Constitution, vesting the powers to conduct council elections on only INEC.
The lawmakers also made provisions for independent candidacy in future elections by amending Sections 65 and 106 of the Constitution. By so doing, analysts have said the electoral umpire may begin to cater for not only political parties but also politicians as independent candidates. In addition, ballot papers will carry more names, which translate to more cost on the side of INEC.
There are reports that efforts are ongoing at the National Assembly to empower INEC to issue duplicate voter card before election, determine voting procedures, hold elections on a single day, and to conduct debate for all candidates who are contesting election into the office of President.
One issue some analysts believe hinders the independence of INEC is the appointment of the Chairman of INEC by the President. The President nominates the candidate for the office, after consultation with the Council of State. Thereafter, whoever is nominated will be approved by the (two-third) majority of members of the Senate in accordance with Sections 153 and 154 of Nigerian constitution.
To sack the Chairman of INEC, the President will need the approval of at least two-third members of the Senate in accordance with Section 157 (1) of the 1999 Constitution “for inability to discharge the functions of the office (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause) or for misconduct.”
While a President cannot unilaterally sack an INEC chairman or ask him to proceed on terminal leave under the Constitution, the President could apply Part D Section 171 of the Public Service Rules of the Federation to ‘punish’ him as a civil servant.
However, some lawyers have argued that the INEC Chairman is an appointed public servant and not a civil servant; therefore, civil service rules are not applicable to occupants of the office.
The European Union Election Observation Mission had called for the amendment of the Nigerian constitution ahead of the 2015 general elections to address all the identified loopholes in the exercise to improve the electoral process in the country.
According to the Chief Observer of the EU EOM, Mr. Alojz Peterle, the constitution should be amended to introduce transparent, inclusive and accountable system so that the INEC’s chairperson, INEC’s national commissioners and resident electoral commissioners would be nominated and appointed through an independent process.
These, Peterle said, would go a long way to address the current arrangement where the appointments were being done by the President. He suggested that the National Judicial Council, National Assembly or any ad hoc committee could be saddled with the responsibility.
There were calls by several individuals and groups, especially from within the PDP, for the sacking of Jega prior to the elections. The INEC Chairman, whose tenure ends in June, had also refuted claims that he would be embarking on forced terminal leave.
The Federal Government had also stated that Jega’s exit as the Chairman of INEC would take a natural course.
The then Supervising Minister of Information and Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Edem Duke, on February 27, said, “On the issue of the INEC chairman, I align myself with what the president said that he has no plan to sack the INEC chairman. That is not to say that if it is time for the INEC chairman to naturally exit his office, then the natural course of things will not take place.”
Jonathan had appointed Jega, a Professor of Political Science, as INEC Chairman in 2010. Reports have quoted him as saying he will not accept renewal of his tenure if he is offered.
He was quoted as saying on the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation in April that another person should be given the opportunity to contribute his quota after he had successfully accomplished the task assigned to him.
He said, “Whatever assignment one will do for five years — just like this difficult one — to me if one is able to successfully accomplish the task, someone else should be given the opportunity. Because for me, I am not interested and if I am requested to serve again, I will not do it, by God’s grace.”
The PDP, in its assessment of INEC on the 2015 elections, scored the electoral body high, while it had reservation for the use of card reader.
The National Publicity Secretary of the Party, Olisa Metuh, said, “Our feeling about INEC is that there was a determination by INEC to improve but that determination has not been matched with that we saw on the field, especially with the application of the card reader, and the enthusiasm and commitment of INEC staff especially between the presidential election and the governorship election.
“We hope that the independence of INEC will be maintained under the incoming administration (of Buhari). Our government has been able to give Nigerians free, fair and credible elections. We hope that INEC will be able to stand the test of time in terms of conducting elections.
“By and large, INEC has improved – overall – in the way they are conducting elections in Nigeria. Nobody can deny that fact; nobody can say they have not improved. They are not yet there but they are better than how they have been doing before.”
Also speaking, Jega’s Chief Press Secretary hinted that the commission had begun a review of the 2015 elections. Idowu said Jega had met with National Commissioners of INEC, while he had scheduled meetings with the commission’s directors, Resident Electoral Commissioners and electoral officers from across the country. The electoral body will make official pronouncements on the exercise afterwards, he said.
Speaking on the use of PVC and card reader, Idowu said, “Clearly, the use of card reader and PVC is the future of election in this country. Another lesson is that there has to be greater conversant by handlers with the card readers. You will observe that there were few issues on April 11 (compared to March 28) with the card reader and there were much fewer on April 25 during the isolated elections, which showed that the more people get conversant with the device, the better it will work for the process.”
Idowu re-echoed the call for the amendment of electoral laws to allow Diaspora and electronic voting system. He said INEC, under Jega’s leadership, had made efforts to get the laws amended, stating that the commission was ready to accommodate the new systems.