NewsReel-2 10/3/2014 - INEC: Shame on the opposition

[ Masterweb Reports: SKC Ogbonia reports ] – One of the earliest lessons I learned from my father, Ilogebe Ogbonnia, the Ikeoha, is that a habit of excuses is an existential catalyst for failure. Nowhere is this adage more evident than the attitude of Nigerian opposition parties toward the Independent National Election Commission (INEC). Perhaps it is no longer news that the INEC has been the common excuse for failures in the different elections in the Fourth Republic. But with the 2015 general elections around the corner, and even in midst of efforts in the National Assembly to amend electoral laws, recent events show that the opposition is already positioning a fore excuse for another failure.


 This problem is rooted on the long-standing scape-goating of the different chairmen of the Nigerian electoral body and its officials. Even though such excuse is genuine, it masks an inner foolishness for the opposition not to have recognized that expecting a commission fully controlled by a partisan executive arm of the government to produce free and fair elections is no different from perceiving a stench as an aroma.


 The case of Maurice Iwu, the chairman of Independent National Election Commission (INEC) in the controversial elections of 2007 is still fresh in our memory. In the eyes of the opposition, Professor Maurice Iwu was the problem and the problem was Professor Iwu. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan obliged and swiftly replaced Iwu with Attahiru Jega, another radical professor, then generally hailed as the Election Messiah. Yet, after 2011 elections, we are back to square one. According to Muhammadu Buhari of CPC, the main opponent of President Jonathan in the 2011 elections. 

What happened in this year’s elections eclipsed all the other elections in the depth and scope of forgery and rigging. Initially there were high hopes that after 2003 and 2007 a semblance of electoral propriety would be witnessed. The new chairman of INEC, Professor Jega, was touted as competent and a man of integrity. He has proved neither. (As quoted in Vanguard Newspaper, December 28, 2011)

For the national chairman of the then frontline opposition party, Action Congress of Nigeria, Bisi Akande:

The intention of the INEC was to have it right, but what you see is total manipulation particularly by the security agencies and the lower level of INEC staff because the PDP induced people with plenty of money. They managed to use money to manipulate the INEC officials at the lower level of the commission and they used them to intimidate and to falsify the results of the election. (As quoted in Daily Sun, April 15, 2011)

To cap it all, after the 2014 Anambra governorship election, widely seen as the pretest of Nigeria’s general elections of 2015, the opposition (including PDP in this case) also accused the INEC of colluding with security agents to rig the elections in favor of the state ruling APGA. The PDP candidate, Tony Nwonye, had this to say: 

Since the history of elections, I have always known of a conspiracy by incumbents, but this one by Peter Obi is monumental. I have never seen an election where the security agent and the INEC collude to subdue other political parties. (As quoted in Daily Post, November 17, 2013)

This sweeping rebuke of INEC by the political elites is a rude awakening. The inmost gist is that the problem has gone nowhere despite the replacement of a distinguished professor with another. It apparently explains why a broad spectrum of observers has continued to ridicule the degree of the mass ignorance. A maverick senator, Arthur Nzeribe, jumpstarted the debate by arguing that the serial attempts to focus solely on the perceived individual abilities of the chairman rather than the nucleus of the problem was height of hypocrisy (This Day, January 26, 2009). An unbiased umpire, the Rev. Fr. Mathew Kukah followed by cautioning that the mere replacement of Maurice Iwu, the individual, would not always guarantee free and fair elections in the future—noting that, "the very fact that we say we are looking for a person of integrity does not mean that anybody that gets there would not become a crook" (As quoted in Sunday Guardian, March 29, 2009). And Professor Okon Uya, a former chairman of National Electoral Commission, would later place the matter exactly how and where it belongs: There is no gainsaying that a leader with deep sense of independence and fairness is desirable for the headship of the electoral commission, but the success of any election is far beyond the ability of a single individual (Daily Sun, February 28, 2011).


 Unless it is enmeshed in sheer amnesia, these incisive viewpoints were sufficient to have provoked the opposition to think otherwise. After all, virtually all heads of Nigeria’s electoral commission in history have been men with outstanding pedigrees before appointment. That is, even if the president is to appoint a given chairman that is most credible, who checkmates him or her to ensure that the real goals and objectives of the electoral commission are being fulfilled? Other than the national chairman, who are the other electoral officers at the national and zonal levels, in the states, local governments, wards, and in the polling booths?  How credible, how efficient, and how independent are these electoral officers? Who are the contractors and other personnel vested with the responsibility of providing the logistics for the elections? How independent and neutral are the security agents and Judiciary in the process of these Nigerian elections?  A review of the last Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) suggests that some of these questions might have been hovering in the minds of its members when they recommended among other things the following: a) the National Judicial Council should appoint the chairman b) the commission should include members of independent organizations, such as the Labor Union or the News-Media. While those considerations have their merits, the question remains: who are these individuals that would work hand in hand with the chairman—agents of the ruling party or the opposition? How will the so-called National Judicial Council be different from judges or other electoral agents who are always manipulated by the party in power? How many truly independent members of the Labor Union or the News-Media are there to recruit? How many independent NLC or pressmen are available and can abandon their jobs to man the over 120,000 polling booths? It is true that INEC eventually recruited members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) as Ad-hoc staff in the 2011 elections, but how can such susceptible inexperienced staff (usually in their mid-twenties) not be easily intimidated and influenced by powerful party agents and money bags at the polling booths as were alleged in the pilot exercise of 2011? Another scheme used in the 2011 elections was the deployment of highly placed university professors as Resident Electoral Commissioners. But does the opposition expect these university dons to be so different from most failed politicians, who had also distinguished themselves in previous careers before turning to politics? How do they expect that the university recruits would not be wholly subservient to the ruling parties at the states where their universities are located? 


 Any honest answer to any of these endless questions will reveal that while the INEC and its various personnel might have role to play in the different electoral malpractices, it smacks of crass ignorance on part of the opposition to act as if one needs to be told that the outcomes of most national elections (particularly 2003, 2007, and 2011 polls) were fait accompli—far determined even before the electoral officials began their job. A former Chief Justice of Nigeria and the chairman of the 2008 Electoral Reform Committee (ERC), Mohammed Uwais had alluded to this irony when he remarked that the hoopla about free and fair elections without creating the enabling conditions was pure baloney (Nigerian Guardian, December 1, 2010). Common sense dictates that the emphasis ought to have been on creating a truly independent electoral commission before discussing elections. Yet, the opposition did nothing and still doing nothing serious toward producing a reliable electoral body.


 To improve the system, particularly with the current debate on electoral reform in the legislature, the opposition parties should without further delay compel President Goodluck Jonathan to truly support changes to the electoral commission in two important ways:


 First is to create a commission composed representatives from the ruling party and the opposition. A structure with members drawn from the ruling parties and representatives of truly qualified opposition parties at the different levels of government will strengthen the needed checks and balances within the commission itself. It has the potential to facilitate the enabling environment for effective leadership of the commission, ensure and sustain true independence throughout the width and breadth of the commission, and guarantee fairness to the parties involved.  To abridge the inherent partisanship, the proposed structure can be augmented with a select few drawn from the civil society: the Nigerian Labor Congress, NYSC, Judiciary; and the security agents. In simple terms, the qualified political parties themselves should submit members with clear party affiliations to the new council. The central idea is that the different p

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