Though he set out to tackle the allegation of complicity in reported underage voting in recent Kano polls, INEC boss, Mahmood Yakubu, has inadvertently reopened the extant debate on the forces undermining the integrity of the electoral process in Nigeria. Back in February, tongues naturally began to wag across the land after the social media was awash with footages of kids purportedly voting in the council polls in which the ruling party recorded almost 100 percent victory. With the opposition Peoples Democratic Party at the receiving end, fingers were expectedly pointed at the electoral umpire as culpable by enabling such underage registrants to collude with the All Progressives Congress to steal victory.
The report presented by INEC last weekend however put a lie to that. If anything at all, argued Yakubu, the local electoral commission in Kano should be held responsible.
INEC’s defence could be winnowed to three broad conclusions: the same voters register being discredited was in use in 2011 and 2015; the copy availed KANSIEC was not widely deployed during the exercise under review and the images of underage voters on the social media were not only contrived but also recycled as they were not fresh.
Well, the case presented by Yakubu is water-tight enough. Only those unfamiliar with the workings and relations of both the national umpire and the coordinates in the 36 states would have been tempted to aim any arrow at the former in the first case on perceived irregularities in state elections.
At this writing, KANSIEC was yet to muster a counter to Yakubu’s weighty charges. I doubt if there is any solid grounds left for it to articulate a sensible response.
If the voters register was scarcely displayed that day, it was probably because the state authorities felt they needed to save cost since the results were already pre-determined.
Truth be told, KANSIEC, like others in the 35 states, is filled with cronies of the ruling party.
So, what would then appear perplexing is the expectation in any quarters that a different outcome could have resulted from the exercise held in Kano in February.
To illustrate further, let us recall the rather comical drama that had played out in Edo State at the inauguration of a new board for the state electoral umpire during the PDP administration of Lucky Igbinedion.
After the customary rite of subscribing to the oath of office before the governor that day, it was time for the elderly man to make an acceptance speech to a packed audience including media correspondents. Unable to conceal his excitement at the offer, what first came out of his lips with a clenched fist thrust skyward was: “Up P-D-P!!!”
Needless to add that the microphone was instantly wrestled from his hand to save further embarrassment.
In the circumstance, the only option before such a lackey is to help his employer work from the answer to the question.
It explains why the ruling party in any state across the country always wins 100 percent in local elections. Of course, the question then: how healthy is this situation? What’s to be done?
These are questions for another day.
Now, one feels the national apprehension ought to be centred more on 2019 and how INEC is bracing for the challenge ahead. Of course, what ails the nation’s electoral process has long been diagnosed; what has been lacking is the will to execute the recommended therapeutic surgery. The roadmap is clearly laid out in the Uwais Report.
With the executive and legislative arms of government presently caught in a cold war over partisan interests, it definitely would amount to carrying optimism too far to expect that any of the prayers in the Uwais Report can still be realized before the next polls.
Yet, these recommendations don’t appear too difficult or prohibitive if truly patriotism runs in the veins of present actors and if indeed our politicians were thinking of the future generations rather than the next elections. Otherwise, they would not need further prompting to accept Uwais’ counsel that the first step to making the electoral umpire truly independent requires that it be given financial autonomy.
The second prayer yet unanswered is the unbundling of INEC. For efficiency, three units are supposed to be carved out of the present behemoth. One should cater for registration and regulation of parties, another for electoral offences and the other for constituency delimitation commission.
The second one is, of course, intended to create incentives against electoral crimes.
Another key reform Uwais report canvasses is to ensure that disputes arising from elections are dispensed with before the inauguration of the new dispensation. This is to ensure litigations don’t last forever or give custodian of a disputed mandate the unfair advantage of using public funds to fight their legal battle.
However, it is pleasing to hear that Yakubu, in his own modest way, is pushing ahead with few innovations within reach with a view to deepening the electioneering process. For instance, insisting that presidential candidates submit themselves to a public debate ahead of the D-Day will not only help clarify the choices before the voters but also ultimately enrich the democratic culture.
Two, ushering in electronic collation and results transmission will rule out manual collation, thus helping to minimize the possibility of manipulation. Experience has shown that rigging of seismic scale often transpires between polling booth and the collation centre.
The actual theft is barely feasible at the former with the vigilance of glaze-eyed party agents and just anyone around participating in the process of counting ballot papers and recording of scores.
The innovation of electronic collation and transmission would appear the logical follow-up to the revolutionary card-reader technology deployed in the 2015 polls. The good news is that the senate has now furnished the card-reader a legal basis to become part of our electioneering process. This followed the lacuna laid bare by the Supreme Court rulings on Delta, Rivers and Akwa Ibom state governorship polls where it was pointed out that no section of the existing Electoral Law granted it legal status.
While these may sound reassuring, however, the real red flags are surely fluttering just ahead already. With barely nine months to the eagerly awaited next general elections, INEC is yet to be provided funds to work with, even though it submitted a budget of N300bn.
Without cashing the funds timely, the timelines set to achieve certain targets will definitely be affected.
Needless to add that situations like this are what ultimately predispose the electoral process to compromise. The testimony provided by Donald Duke, should suffice here. Speaking from experience, the one-time Cross Rivers State governor revealed that the capture of the resident electoral commissioner is usually enabled when they arrived their station of assignment empty-handed. With little or no provisions made by the employer for their operations, least of their personal welfare.
In the circumstance, such operatives resort to self-help. Once they start occupying swanky hotel suites and drinking wine supplied by the host governor, it is only natural they would soon begin to pander to the benefactor’s machinations.
So far, nothing on the horizon suggests that the story is about to change.
Is APC now Modu-Sheriff’s leprosarium?
A rare opportunity for APC to reclaim some moral mileage seems squandered with its new flirtation with political leper, Ali Modu-Sheriff. We had thought the cold shoulders shown the hireling from Borno a fortnight ago following reports that the national secretariat more or less locked him out in Abuja was conclusive.
Invoking all the diplomatese possible that day, the APC leadership in Abuja had told Modu-Sheriff (aka SAS) and his hangers-on that the Federal Capital is the station of last resort. He was counseled to return to his ward in his native Borno to rejoin the party if indeed he was serious.
Of course, no proposition could be more humiliating, given his frosty relationship with Governor Kashim Shettima, ironically his political godson of yesterday.
Like a rain-beaten chicken, Modu-Sheriff eventually crawled back home last weekend. In exchange for accommodation, he shamelessly declared acceptance of Shettima’s leadership, terming his return a homecoming of sorts.
But whoever opened the back-door for Modu-Sheriff in Borno has only succeeded in de-marketing APC. Branding him “a Prodigal Son back home” would amount to lending some dignity to a political reprobate who, time and again, has proved to be incorrigible. He cheapens whatever he touches and leaves a trail of infamy wherever he goes.
As two-term governor of Borno, he has the dark distinction of incubating the evil virus that later transformed to Boko Haram. As ANPP Governor, he was known to be informant to OBJ’s PDP government.
When he couldn’t find a foothold in then emergent APC in 2014, this political snake slithered to PDP where the leading denizens were naive enough to quickly entrust him with the party’s leadership. By the time they realized their folly, SAS had begun to literally auction off all the family silver.
Rivers Governor, Nyesom Wike, once shared a rather hilarious testimony in an interview. He recalled being called by Modu-Sheriff while the legal battle to save PDP from then factional chairman was still raging at the Supreme Court: “He was quick to tell me he was in the holy land in Mecca. And I told him there is no way God can answer your prayer with the kind of political evil you are committing in Nigeria.”
Could this be the same character being welcomed back to APC?