Despite having nearly four years to prepare for the Anambra governorship election which held last weekend, the outing of the Independent National Electoral Commission was nothing but a huge disappointment, writes Ojo M. Maduekwe
If there is any other word aside disappointment that is more depictive but equally temperate to describe the conduct of the Anambra State governorship election by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), it is allowed. For many reasons, the Anambra governorship election was crucial, at least, to each of the major parties fielding candidates in the exercise.
For a state with peculiar political evolution, the anatomy of which has never been very pleasant, the Saturday election presented yet another opportunity for a political rebirth in the South-eastern state with as many intellectuals. Importantly, Nigerians the world over itched to see an exercise that could give some kind of clue on the 2015 elections. And thus, the Anambra election was beyond the state itself and was in no way, a child’s play even unto INEC.
To say that INEC had hinted of certain security measures supposedly designed to strengthen both the ballot boxes and the results sheets as some kind of safeguards against electoral fraud and the police under the leadership of the Inspector-General, Muhammed Abubakar, spoke of how they had deployed their men in the state with a 36-hour curfew slammed for effective policing, gave some soothing relief that all would be well.
What more, ahead of the election, several stakeholders’ meetings were convened to sensitise the political parties, their candidates and the electorate on the need to conduct themselves properly by refraining from actions that could place them in opposite tide with the law or jeopardise the relative progress recorded ahead of the election.
So, given the efforts from all the stakeholders and institutions concerned with the election, it was the belief of many that the election would sail smooth, albeit not without some skirmishes; certainly not in the region of what the state is now contending with. However, that INEC also admitted to failure was a summary of the brigandage that defined a four-year preparation as a total waste of everything- human and material resources.
Immediately the signs were crystal clear that something had gone wrong with the election, three hitherto top contenders for the state’s number one seat- the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP)- held a joint press conference where they condemned the exercise.
The PDP and LP on the one side and the APC on the other side; whatever that could make these arch rivals sit together to challenge a common foe, of course, calls for concern. Reason is that, from the federal level where the PDP rules supreme and in Ondo state where the LP is headquartered, the APC has always viewed both as foes and the occupancies of their governments to be dislodged.
Therefore, for the candidates of these three political parties in the persons of Dr. Chris Ngige (APC), Tony Nwoye (PDP) and Dr. Patrick Ubah (LP) to put their differences aside and jointly accuse INEC and the security agencies of conniving with the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to rig the election in favour of the latter’s candidate, Chief Willie Obiano, leaves a lot to worry.
While it is trite to dismiss such sudden united front as common in such an instance, the brazen nature of the irregularities that characterised the Anambra election, gave credibility to their case.
Ngige alleged that in addition to the late distribution of electoral materials to areas known to be his strongholds, result sheets were found missing in those areas. Also, that where result sheets were supplied in some polling units, they were discovered to be meant for other polling units. They also accused security agents especially soldiers and policemen of ‘intimidating’ and ‘harassing their supporters and polling agents,’ during the election. The masses and major stakeholders weren’t left out. This being a prelude to the 2015 general election, the poor conduct by INEC aside being widely condemned, has been described not just as disappointing but a ‘bad advertisement for 2015.’
The Executive Director, Civil Societies Legislative and Advocacy Centre, Auwual Musa-Rafsanjani, said “This election shows clearly that 2015 is not going to be any different from previous elections. In fact, the gains recorded in the 2011 elections have been eroded because the ruling party practically had its way in circumventing the process in connivance with some INEC officials.”
Another group, the Nigeria Civil Society Election Situation Room, which observed the election, while expressing concern that INEC remained unable to deal with the perennial challenges of late distribution of election materials and commencement of accreditation and voting, said the performance of INEC showed incompetence. “INEC’s conduct of the governorship election in Anambra State poses serious concerns ahead of the 2015 general elections and the Situation Room calls on INEC to change its strategy with a view to improving on its preparations for the 2015 elections.”
Corroborating this position, a preliminary report by the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of over 400 civic organisations, maintained that INEC was yet to overcome problems plaguing elections in the country.
Chairman of the group, Ibrahim Zikirullahi, cited the late arrival of election materials at polling units as some of the shortcomings witnessed during the election. According to the group, “Observers reported that only 39 per cent of polling units across the state had their election material, and by 9am only 43 per cent of polling units were able to open.”
INECs outing have been questioned by political analysts, the masses and stakeholders, being that the Anambra election was supposed to serve as a litmus test to ascertain the level of the commission’s preparedness for the 2015 general election. They expressed doubt that if INEC could fail woefully with one state, what would happen when 2015 comes, when INEC would have to conduct elections in many parts of the country, simultaneously.
While some analysts put the blame squarely on INEC, many others said the commission may not be entirely to blame. According to the latter group, INEC having got its planning right, part of what went wrong was the logistics. A scenario whereby some persons in connivance with some security agencies, which derives its power from the federal government, steals the ballot boxes or voting materials, should not be blamed on INEC, they said.
It is also said that the art of conducting an election is not something that can be perfected with a few elections here and there, neither is it something that can be achieved under a single tenure. There is also the argument that the complexities that make up Nigeria’s politics make it even more difficult, aside the various political parties fighting to outsmart each other in rigging the election, INEC and her staff also have the security agencies and party thugs to contend with.
In an interview, soon after the Edo State governorship election of 2012, Jega, while speaking on the strategy used for distribution of election materials, said the commission had deployed a strategy to distribute materials to the farthest and most difficult terrains and local governments first, followed by the nearest. “That was why Oredo and the other local government that are within Benin City were the last where the materials were distributed,” he said.
According to Jega, by 3 a.m. on the day of the election, the materials had been distributed to the Supervisory Presiding Officers whose duties it is to go to the wards and distribute to Presiding Officers who go to the polling units. “But there was no security coverage and we cannot move election materials unless there is security coverage. Some analysts said that although the leadership of INEC might be doing its best to present an independent INEC to the masses, the officers of the commission in the lower cadre may not be working in tandem with the vision of the leadership. Remember that the Executive Director of the Civil Societies Legislative and Advocacy Centre, Musa-Rafsanjani accused the Anambra State government of circumventing the electoral process, “in connivance with some INEC officials.”
In the same interview above, Jega had said INEC’s vision for 2015 was to be the best election management body in Africa. “And we want to achieve this if possible by 2015.” Acknowledging this to be a very ambitious vision given a history of failed elections in the past, Jega said in order to actualise that vision, the commission would have to bring in substantial reforms in terms of making INEC more efficient and more effective in the delivery of services that are associated with elections.
“Obviously, we have to do a lot reorganisation and restructuring. We have to do what we call ‘placing square pegs in square holes’ in order to ensure that we have well-trained professionals who can efficiently and effectively deliver on the electoral process. We have started this; we are doing a lot of this already. We’ve started a process of reorganisation and restructuring,” Jega was quoted as saying rather confidently even though it is poles apart with the reality on the ground.
About three months before the Anambra election, INEC conducted Voter Verification, Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), and met with national and state leaders of the registered political parties to brief them on preparations made towards the election. With all of these steps taken, analysts wonder why the election turned out a failure. They said while it was important to acknowledge Jega’s stride and the fact that we cannot get it right in our election process from conducting a couple of elections, INEC, nonetheless had to comprehensively study the lapses in all the elections so far organised as the nation approach 2015. They argued that it was needed for INEC to correct all the mistakes made by conducting a free and fair peaceful general election come 2015.
Perhaps one quote for Jega to ponder and chew on as he prepares to deliver a ‘free and fair’ election in 2015 is one from Ngige: “INEC has taken one step forward in 2011 and three steps backwards in 2013. We do not know if Iwu’s INEC is better than this INEC.”
Certainly, the Saturday election was a huge failure which no rational mind can defend, not even the one to whom victory has been handed. It is therefore not enough for INEC to admit failure and move on without addressing the mess it has created, because from all indications, it does not look like this election can stand in the final analysis.
If took Governor Peter Obi some 33 months to reclaim his stolen mandate in the 2003 election over the same circumstance, then this election is in trouble if the many allegations of irregularities, connivance and other electoral fraud allegedly perpetrated are established with convincing proofs. And that, more pungently, is a blemish on Jega’s leadership.