The electoral umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is at a crossroads following allegation by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that the Commission is out to rig the 2019 general elections in favour of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The PDP raised the allegation before the European Union (EU), United States (US) and other international agencies.
This development has no doubt set her on war path with the APC
But the allegations and counter-allegations have thrown a big credibility challenge at the INEC.
The Commission is founded and guided by the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to perform some functions in Section 15, Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution and Section 2 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.
The electoral umpire is to organise, carry out and oversee every election in Nigeria aside local governments.
The commission is to also register political parties, monitor all the operations and organisation of all political parties, arrange for the cross-examination and auditing of the accounts and funds of all political parties every year, carry out the registration of everyone eligible to vote, monitor political campaigns and provide the rules and regulations that shall guide all the activities of all political parties in Nigeria.
The commission is responsible for the conduction of civic and voters’ education, promote knowledge of good and sound democratic electoral processes in Nigeria, conduct any referendum that is required to be conducted in accordance with the provision of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or any other Act or Law of the National Assembly of Nigeria.
The effectiveness and non-partisanship in carrying out these tasks contribute immensely in ensuring decent democratic process. In its electoral circle, the commission has successfully registered new political parties, carry out Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) and is currently issuing Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) after the release of the 2019 election time table and schedule of activities.
INEC monitored political parties conventions and primaries. The commission carried out a clean-up on the voter register and displayed it for Nigerians to scrutinise.
While carrying out its function of collation of list of candidates from various political parties and entertained issues that bothered on substitution of candidates as the case may be, INEC is at the last stages of its electoral circle which is to monitor political campaigns, its funding, auditing and ensure a hitch free general elections.
LEADERSHIP reports that these activities are coming not without fears from stakeholders, political parties and their candidates.
The fireworks started from stakeholders and some political parties about rigging allegations which left INEC hanging on a sad palance while struggling for credibility.
National chairman of PDP, Prince Uche Secondus had alleged that INEC had perfected a rigging arrangement through manipulated card readers and special election result sheets doctored to favour the APC.
The PDP boss had accused the electoral commission of conniving with the APC to rig the election in 2019 and warned the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, that he risked being on the wrong side of history if he fails to conduct free and fair elections in 2019.
The party had earlier held a protest, asking for the INEC chairman’s resignation.
Some political pundits also alleged that the APC-led government introduced some measures in some states including Kaduna, by allegedly asking parents with pupils in some public schools to fill forms requiring PVC numbers.
They also alleged that the social intervention programme embarked upon by the federal government is aimed at vote buying which also required applicants to expose their PVC number.
But the APC has berated the PDP, accusing it of churning out fake news, misinformation and using hate speech as its focal campaign strategy for the 2019 elections.
“The consequences of fake news are often dire as it inflames perceived divisions in our communities, fuels hate speech, leads to violence and distorts democratic processes, among others.”
“Disturbingly, the country’s main opposition – Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and its discredited agents have continued to deploy the loathesome strategy of fake news, misinformation and distortion of facts as focal campaign strategies for the 2019 elections,” APC national publicity secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu said, referring to the PDP’s rigging allegations.
The electoral umpire also called on Nigerians to ignore PDP’s allegations to the effect that it had perfected plans to rig the 2019 general elections in favour of the ruling party.
INEC’s director of Information and Voter Education, Barr Oluwole Osaze Uzzi, told LEADERSHIP that the party might be lacking the knowledge of how the Smart Card Readers (SCR) works.
“We don’t like joining issues with political parties but their allegations are baseless and false,” Uzzi said referring to the PDP.
“Complaints about the Smart Card Readers were not part of their petitions in the Osun and the Ekiti states’ gubernatorial elections,” Uzzi said, referring to PDP’s allegation that those elections were rigged through the use of the Smart Card Readers.
“Did the PDP explain how possible it is to preload the card readers and how the election result sheets were doctored?” Uzzi asked, adding that such things are not possible.
Uzzi assured Nigerians that the 2019 general elections would be credible and that all political parties would have equal treatment in the election.
“It is natural for the opposition to have a sense of unfairness against INEC given the way Osun State Governorship election was conducted and the observations of international observers alleging massive rigging, voter’s suppression and hooliganism,” a political analyst, Boladale Adekoya said.
Adekoya who faulted the constitutional power of the president to nominate INEC chairman, added that the section needs to be looked at because it naturally instil fears to the opposition parties during an election.
“The constitution of the country that places the power to nominate the Chairman on the President does not help matters also,” Adekoya said stressing, “It is known in this part of the world that political appointees are loyal to the power that appoints them.”
“So largely, I think the fear of PDP is tangible and should serve as a form of caution to the present INEC Chairman to ensure he doesn’t become partisan while putting to check the elements that played out in Osun State.”
On the credibility of the 2019 polls, Adekoya said the signs are not looking too comforting, adding that there is a general distrust.
“Most importantly, there is that feeling that those within the presidency will do everything to hold on to power most especially with the help of security agencies,” Adekoya said, in contrast to the promise of President Muhammadu Buhari who said he will conduct a credible election.
“The INEC chairman should understand the importance of the position he is holding and the need to protect the independence of that commission irrespective of the threats and enticement of political power players. The first step of redeploying Amina Zakari is a good one especially with several allegations against her of being tactically in support of the ruling APC. However, the chairman must do more to show that the commission will be neutral. He should also consider greatly the issue of under age voting which many opposition parties have alleged against INEC,” Adekoya added.
While advising political parties and their candidates participating in the 2019 general elections, Adekoya said they must understand that election is not a do-or-die affair.
“While they strive to win positions, they should first be patriots before anything else,” Adekoya said of his wish to the political parties, advising that they must be ready to accept defeat where the election is free and fair.
“Where it is not, they should do the right thing by following the stipulation of the law in getting back their mandates. Nigeria is bigger than the aspiration of any body or party and that must be their driving goal,” Adekoya said further.
A Kaduna based lawyer, Barr Gloria Ballason said the altercation between APC and PDP over an alleged plot by INEC to rig the polls in favour of APC is not unusual given that the struggle for votes by both parties is now at fever pitch as february 2019 comes close.
“Yet, the allegations should not be swept under the carpet for at least two of these reasons: one, since 1998 when Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar dissolved NECON and set up INEC this will be the first time an INEC chairman will come from the same zone as the President.”
“Gen. Abdulsalam appointed Justice Ephraim Akpata. Obasanjo appointed Abel Guobadia and then Prof. Maurice Iwu. Goodluck Jonathan appointed Prof Attahiru Muhammad Jega. And what has Buhari done? He has a Prof. Mahmood Yakubu. Even if Prof. Yakubu is rated as objective, the cardinal rule of justice and fair play says it is not enough for justice to be done but it must be seen to be done,” the lawyer said.
While speaking further, Gloria said: “you will recall that a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja issued a bench warrant against Prof Mahmood Yakubu for his disobedience to a valid court order which required him to court three times. Anyone would shudder if an INEC chair refuses to honour court summons. To that end, the optics are bad.”
Counsel to the INEC chairman, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) had during a resume hearing told the court that it was the right of a respondent to decide if he wanted to be heard during vacation.
Awomolo said that he had not consented to his case been heard during the court’s vacation. “There is also no affidavit of urgency stating that the case needs to be urgently heard. I also want to notify the court that I have filed an appeal against the ruling. I have also filed an application praying further hearing to be stopped until the appeal is heard and determined by the Court of Appeal,” Awomolo was quoted as saying.
On whether the 2019 general elections will be fair, Gloria, in her view, expressed doubt.
“I doubt if happenstance would make that happen,” Gloria said about the 2019 general elections adding that there is already too much desperation in the air.
“If we are going to have free and fair elections, it will take the people insisting that their votes should count,” she said while proffering a solution to the process.
“Therefore INEC’s earlier hint that phones will be barred during voting must be done away with completely. Nigerians must see in real time how their votes will go,” she said adding that INEC must decide where their real allegiance lie – whether to a candidate or to the country.
“Now, I know that the sense of patriotism is waning but the people are looking to INEC to instill faith that the right thing can be done. We also hope that we can have INEC commissioners who will keep the chairman and the entire system in check,” she said.
Gloria called on the political parties to remember there will still be a country after february 2019 elections, ..advising that desperation needs to be done away with for the country to have a valid process and a valid outcome.
“Parties should also keep in mind the fact that our country is already a puddle of blood with insurgents killing, soldiers and security agents being killed and so many avoidable deaths. One life more on the stable of election is one life too many,” she added.
The gubernatorial candidate of United Democratic Party (UDP) in Kaduna State, Awwal Abdullahi Aliyu sees the altercation between the two political parties as normal.
“In a built up to election period like this, naturally there will be agitation and allegations of mischief plans to undo each other,” Awwal said adding that issues of distrust and power tussle will come to play because each of the political parties will want to have the day.
“The major opposition party will naturally feel that the ruling party will use its machinery and power of incumbency to muzzle power. Knowing the Nigerian factor, anything can happen since it has happened in the past where government use same INEC to remain in power,” Awwal said, but added that the electorates will be the determining factor whether the elections will be free and fair or not.
“If they allow manipulation then that is it. But if they stand by their votes no one can change it,” Awwal said of the power of the electorates.
“INEC should be professional and patriotic in their conduct. Nigeria should come first before any other interest,” Awwal said while advising political parties to abide by the rules of engagement and be upright in considering national interest above other things.
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