Coming after the jolting shift in the date of the presidential election by one week, literally hitting the nation like a bolt from the blues, the verdict of inconclusiveness in the governorship version in a number of states has particularly brought the nation’s electoral umpire under divergent scrutiny, perspectives and judgments.
Those who believe that the Professor Mahmood Yakubu-led body is so far blameless in the quagmire around the elections, argue that INEC should be given the benefits of the doubt. INEC’s verdict of inconclusiveness that has generated plethora of disparaging remarks in some quarters, is explained as a position well within the confines of the Electoral Act even though others argued otherwise.
To counter the opinion held particularly by members and supporters of the opposition that, INEC had only declared inconclusive elections in states where the ruling APC appeared to be losing or, has lost the elections in most cases, to the main opposition PDP, namely, Adamawa, Sokoto, Benue, Kano, and until last Saturday, Bauchi, the argument of those disposed towards the INEC is that, if the INEC had “compromised” or “leaned towards the APC”, the election in Plateau state would not have been declared as inconclusive. This is because, the ruling APC flag bearer had garnered 583,255 votes against the 538,326 scored by his closest challenger on the platform of the PDP. The state Electoral Officer explained that the exercise was inconclusive because, while the margin between the two is 44,929, there are 49,377 cancelled votes.
However, going by details of the reported circumstances that informed declaration of inconclusive election and therefore, a rerun election, INEC’s reversal of its earlier decision on Bauchi State, is as unfortunate as its is bewildering and confounding. For instances, INEC had hinged its position of inconclusive election on its reports of violence and disruption of voting and collation in parts of Ningi Local Government Area where 25,330 votes had to be cancelled. It also gave instances of similar incidents of mayhem in seven out of eleven voting centres in the Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area where the electoral body said it had to cancel a total of 70,000 votes. Skeptics are yet to comprehend or accept as tenable, the reason so far given by INEC on what have significantly changed to lead to the turnabout on the earlier decision for a rerun election in the affected areas.
According to INEC’s Commissioner, Information and Education Committee, Festus Okoye, the reversal followed findings of a panel which showed that instead of the reported 25,330 votes cancelled in Ningi, the actual figure of contentious votes was 2,533. Also, INEC explained that, the results from the affected poling centres in Tafawa Balewa, had been retrieved because they were all along, “available and in safe custody”.
Apparently foreclosing the scheduled re-run election on the 23rd of March, Mr Okoye announced the replacement of the Electoral Officer in Tafawa Balewa, Mrs Domonion Anosike who he said, withdraw her services on the ground that “her life was under threat”.
There are several critical questions begging for answers that explanations by Mr Festus Okoye did not address. For one, if the INEC reversal of its decision on Bauchi emanated from findings of a committee, why is it that similar review exercises were not carried out on the situations that allegedly informed the declaration of inconclusive elections in Sokoto, Kano, Benue and Plateau states? Secondly, given the sensitivity and volatility of the issue at stake, why did the INEC committee conduct its investigation or verification in utmost secrecy, surreptitiously without involving agents of the affected political parties, observers or other stake holders? What impression is the INEC beaming out to the wider public and the world at large, on the credibility and competence of its officials? What are the parameters and template used in the entire exercise? For example, in declaring the election inconclusive, the Returning Officer, Professor Mohammed Kyari, a scholar of repute had assertively declared that “the margin between the winner and opponent is less than the total number of votes cancelled” and that, his decision was appropriately “in line with section 26 part 53 of the Electoral Act”.
If in Bauchi State, the Returning Officer along with the Electoral Officer are now being portrayed by INEC as having got it wrong in their judgments, does INEC expect the public to key into assessments and attendant verdicts given by their counterparts in other states, especially, in states where the election have been declared inconclusive due also to reports of violence and disruption? In other words, something just doesn’t appear to be adding up with the role of the INEC unfolding tragic drama in Bauchi State.
Be that as it may, there are opinions that INEC may have simply succumbed to either the intimidation, arm-twisting, inducement or the cacophony of propaganda by members of the opposition political parties and other stake holders and persons who had been very strident in their campaign to scuttle the second term bid of Governor Mohammad Abubakar.
In the same vein, there is also the view in enlightened circles that Professor Mahmood Yakubu may have simply decided to make a sacrificial lamb of the embattled Governor. This, it is reasoned, will be seen by him as a strategy of shoring up his image as one that has been playing to the dictates and tunes of the ruling APC.
On the whole therefore, it is pertinent that Professor Mahmood Yakubu and his colleagues at INEC should come up with more rationally convincing explanation on the emerging mix up and what looks like an outright double standard over the Bauchi election imbroglio.
Besides averting the looming legal battle that looks inevitable, INEC’s sudden change of its decision in Bauchi has all the tendencies of giving the electoral umpire uncomplimentary and unsavory image that can devastatingly affect the integrity of the entire 2019 general election.
– Ayuba writes from Toro, Bauchi State.
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