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INEC’s broken promise and the Presidential, NASS polls

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Most Nigerians were optimistic if not certain, that the conduct of the just concluded Presidential and National Assembly polls now enmeshed in avoidable controversy of legitimacy and credibility unfortunately, would go down in history as one of the nation’s freest ever, considering the preparation, enormous resources allocated, an innovation introduced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and an enabling law, all aimed at guaranteeing transparency in the process and making every vote count in line with international best practices.


But we, note with great concern that the reverse was the case as high expectations were completely dashed due largely to the blatant failure on the part of the Professor Mahmood Yakubu- led electoral umpire to keep to its earlier promise of complying fully with provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 which made the use of Bio-Modal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS and uploading of election results at each of the 176,000 polling units nationwide, to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IreV) real-time, mandatory.


It is also regrettable and disappointing, the do-or-die attitude of some politicians, who were desperate to win, the voter intimidation and suppression, political violence, including the killing of supporters of the New Nigerian People Party,  NNPP in Kano, snatching of ballot boxes, logistics hiccups that resulted in the late arrival of officials and electoral materials as well as the malfunctioning of some of the BVAS machines or deliberate jettisoning of the equipment by some INEC officials that characterize the voting process in parts of the country and the subsequent rejection of the Presidential poll results by the leading opposition parties, namely the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and the Labour Party, LP, out of the 18 that contested the polls.


Prior to February 25, the high hopes expressed by many citizens were firmly rooted in several factors including the successful use of the BVAS machines in previous off-season governorship elections in Edo, Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states, where every vote seemed to have counted, the electronic transmission of the results from every polling unit real-time and the winners emerging in the free, fair, credible and peaceful exercises to the satisfaction of most voters, the appropriation of N305billion by the National Assembly for the 2023 general election to end the perennial logistics nightmares and deployment of 530,538 security agents nationwide.


Similarly, the seeming relative successes recorded by the umpire in the off-season polls, we believe may have also given the INEC leadership the false notion that all was set for the BVAS machines to function and the uploading of results from each voting unit accomplished seamlessly such that in November 2022, its Chairman, Prof. Yakubu, conscious of growing public concerns about the body’s sincerity, transparency, commitment and readiness to conducting free, fair and credible elections in which every vote cast will be respected, repeatedly gave assurances and firm commitment that the umpire would upload results from the polling units and that citizens will have full access to view the results in real-time.


We recall specifically, that some concerned citizens had queried the rationale behind the sudden redeployment of the director, Information and Communication Technology, ICT at the INEC’s headquarters, in Abuja, Engr. Chidi Nwafor as Administrative Secretary for Enugu State alongside others in August last year, despite being the inventor of the BVAS machine, on the ground that his movement might adversely affect the capacity of the umpire to deliver a hitch-free general election, particularly against the backdrop that the machines were the star innovation in the contest.

To such patriots and critics, Yakubu insisted that there wasn’t any cause to worry and put up a strong defence vowing at various for a including Chatham House London that, “the commission will upload polling unit results and citizens will have access to those results in real-time as we upload the results. This innovation was introduced by the Commission. The Commission cannot turn around and undermine itself. This technology has come to stay. We will upload polling units’ results from the polling units. Citizens will have the right to view these results. After all, who are we serving? The citizens. How can we deprive citizens of access to the results of the process conducted by them at the polling unit? I want to assure you and reassure you that the 2023 general election will be our best-ever election and we are committed that votes cast by Nigerians will determine the outcome of the elections. Nothing more, nothing less.”


Such assurances in our view too seemed to have received the buy-in of President Muhammadu Buhari having been briefed about the integrity and reliability of BVAS machines to deliver successful polls, who on several occasions also, pledged to bequeath a legacy of free, fair, credible and peaceful elections to the incoming administration come May 29 when he will bow out of office after eight years in Aso Rock to further consolidate the nation’s democracy.


It is on record that despite strong opposition by some members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, regarding the preparedness and infrastructural capacity of the commission to transmit election results electronically in real-time, the President stood his ground and signed the Electoral Act 2022 into law following its passage by the National Assembly apparently out of his conviction that the new system would be the much-sought game changer in the elections, unlike the manual system that had been operated in past exercises which allowed the use of incident form, since Nigeria’s return to democratic government in May 1999.


In addition, such guarantees and several other factors, we discovered must have immensely built the confidence of most eligible voters, especially the younger ones to troop out to register and collect their Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs in readiness for the general election. Besides, this perhaps motivated many voters, who despite the excruciating challenges of access to cash in the commercial banks, and the high cost of transportation due to lingering fuel scarcity had to leave their comfort zones and traveled long distances to polling units even outside their States of residence to cast their ballots for the candidates of their choice on February 25.


Above all, it is glaring that the promised smooth conduct of the polls had the legal backing of Section 38 of the Electoral Act 2022 which stipulates that: “On completion of the polling unit voting and results procedures, the presiding officer shall electronically transmit or transfer the result of the polling unit, direct to the collation system as prescribed by the Commission; use the BVAS to upload a scanned copy of the form EC8A to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV), as prescribed by the Commission and take the BVAS and the original copy of each of the forms in a tamper-evident envelope to the registration area/ward collation officer, in the company of security agents while polling agents may accompany the presiding officer to the registration area/ward collation centre.


This innovation, without doubt, was expected to have guaranteed independent verification of results of the vote cast at any of the 176,000 polling units in the country directly from the IreV for the integrity and credibility of the electoral system, completely eliminating hitherto manipulation of results by unscrupulous officials as well as minimize post elections controversies and reduce the high volume of litigations that usually characterized past exercises in the country.


In our view therefore, it is unfortunate, provocative and totally unacceptable the inability of INEC to stick to the most important part of its own rules which is to upload the results to its view portal in real-time and at the most critical moment thereby giving room for avoidable suspicion by the stakeholders as to the real motives of the commission even though Yakubu, 24 hours after voting had ended apologized and blamed the hiccup on the failure of technology.


The delay in the electronic transmission of results had ignited several protests and allegations that the umpire had deliberately set out to undermine the elections having failed to immediately communicate the glitch to the political parties and their candidates. But rather than heed the cries of malpractices that resulted from the Commission’s inability to upload the results by the contestants, Yakubu, who is also the chief returning officer of the elections proceeded to declare the candidate of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu the winner at about 4.10 am on Wednesday.


Tinubu polled 8,794,726 votes to defeat fellow contenders – Atiku Abubakar of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who scored  6,984,520 votes, Labour Party’s Peter Obi had 6,101,533 votes to come third and candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), Rabiu Kwankwaso, who polled 1,496,687 votes placed a distant fourth.


In other words, the INEC chairman should take full responsibility for the controversies and mixed reactions that continue to trail the elections with most foreign and local observers insisting that the polls fell short of international best practices, lacking in integrity and credibility and charging the umpire to quickly address the technical pitfalls before proceeding to conduct the March 11 governorship and the house of assembly exercises.


We, totally agree with the views of such observers and eminent Nigerians that the technical hitches reportedly associated with the use of BVAS be addressed forthwith before the forthcoming elections given the frustration encountered by many citizens and most of the parties over the manner in which the process was conducted as well as the shortcomings of technical elements that were used for the first time in a presidential election cycle as doing so will restore confidence in the electoral system and ensure that the eventual winners are the genuine choice of the voters.


However, it is heart warming that two of the presidential candidates, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, who felt aggrieved had already moved a step further to seek redress at the Court of Appeal rather than resort to violence or self-help in line with well-established mechanisms and believing that the judiciary described as the ‘last hope of the common man’ would ultimately dispense justice without fear or favour in addressing their complaints. This legal move is healthy for Nigeria’s democratic journey as there is no alternative to the rule of law.


Similarly, we challenge all the parties, candidates, and their supporters to refrain from violence or inflammatory rhetoric at this critical time, ahead of, during and after the gubernatorial elections in the greater interest, unity and continued stability of the fatherland while the observers, security agents and media are enjoined to discharge their duties with utmost responsibility and without fear or favour.


Like the heroine of Saturday’s polls, Mrs. Bina Jennifer Efidi, the woman who was wounded with a bottle by suspected thugs loyal to the ruling APC at her polling unit in Ikate area of Surulere Local Government in Lagos, but returned with a plastered face and dripping blood to cast her vote after first aid treatment was administered on her, the over 82.7million voters who had collected their PVCs should emulate her courage, resilience and brave all odds to troop out and exercise their franchise to elect the candidates of their choice come March 11 since democratic governance which the people can hold accountable remains as the best system of government.


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