HeadlineBye-Election: INEC Walking The Roadblocks

Bye-Election: INEC Walking The Roadblocks

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February 10, (THEWILL) – As usual, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, gave the assurance that his Commission would conduct a hitch-free and fair bye-election across 28 states of the country on Saturday, February 3, 2022.

Instead, on that day there was an encore of the violence, vote-buying and ballot snatching that characterised the 2023 General Election.

From complaints of the late arrival of INEC officials and voting materials to the various polling units, to allegations of snatching of ballot boxes, violence as well as missing result sheets, including voter apathy, the story was the same. Nothing seems to have changed.

At the end of the day, the Commission had to suspend the election in four states: Enugu, Taraba, Kano and Akwa Ibom.

According to the Commission’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voters Committee, Sam Olumekun, the affected areas in these states are eight polling units in Enugu South 1; 10 polling units in Kunchi/Tsanyawa State Constituency in Kano State; Ikono/Ini federal constituency in Akwa Ibom State where two polling units in Ini Local Government Area and village hall Mbiabong Ikot Udo 003 in Ikono Council area were affected, while in Taraba State, the affected area was the Jalingo/Yorro/Zing Federal Constituency.

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According to INEC, the suspension of the exercise in the Enugu constituency was occasioned by the absence of original results sheets for inspection by voters before the commencement of poll. In Kano, it was the invasion, vandalisation and disruption by thugs.

Similarly in Akwa Ibom, thugs carted away voting materials. In Taraba, “over voting in certain polling units, impacting the margin of lead between the candidates with the highest number of votes,” was the culprit, said Olumekun.

For these reasons, “The decision of the Commission aligns with the provisions of Section 24 (3) of the Electoral Act, 2022,” said Olumekun, adding that, “The Commission has resolved to conduct a supplementary election in Taraba State and a new re-run election in Enugu State, both scheduled for Wednesday 14th February 2024.

“Due to security concerns, the election in Kunchi/Tsanyawa State Constituency will be held at a later date, after further discussions with security agencies and stakeholders.”

CONCERNS

Before the bye-election kicked-off on Saturday, stakeholders had expressed concerns about INEC’s readiness to perform creditably well and the right public perception of its incapacity, following its arguably woeful performance in the 2023 general election.

Executive Director of Yiaga Africa, a non-profit organisation promoting participatory democracy, human rights and civic participation, Mr Sam Ipodo, had expressed doubt about the transparency of Collation Officers on INEC and Local Government officials, warning that they always compromise the process.

Odaro Aisien, Deputy Director, Voter Education, the only challenge facing the Commission ahead of the poll was insecurity.

Both of them uncannily were proved right. For Ipodo, the report from Enugu vindicated him.

Trouble started when the Electoral Officer (EO), Francis Chigbo and his Supervising Presiding Officer vanished with original copies of the result sheets for the election, setting a stage for protest by contestants and their polling officers.

For one, the election was between Emeka Ngene of the Labour Party (LP) and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) counterpart, Sam Ngene.

Given that the state is under the PDP, LP supporters were on their guard and ready to protest any infraction. So, when the aforementioned official disappeared voting could not start and LP supporters resorted to protest. In like manner, PDP members also staged their protest in support of the election to go on.

Agbu

This situation attracted the heads of all the security agencies in the state, including Customs, Immigration, Police, Civil Defence, DSS and soldiers with an armoured carrier to the venue. Time ticked by. Tension arose. Suddenly, the Resident Electoral Officer, REC, Chukwuemeka Chukwu, arrived at the scene in the afternoon with what many saw as ‘photocopies” of other results sheets and instructed electoral officers to go ahead with the election. This directive infuriated the protesters the more. And LP supporters refused to allow the process to continue, alleging compromise on the part of the REC.

Chukwu did not help matters when he stated that he would “stamp and counter-sign the result sheets” to enable the process to continue.

He said, “The political parties demanded that in line with the Electoral Act, the result be shown to them. So, when I got the information, I quickly rushed to this place to calm the situation down to issue a replacement.

“So, I am here to tell the whole world that whatever anybody is saying in line with the law, if any result sheet is altered before the election, the INEC has every power to issue a replacement result sheet. I am going to stamp it and counter-sign it so that voting will commence shortly in this place.”

Agents rose with one voice and the REC and accused the commission of compromising the process and wondering what had happened to the original results sheets.

In Kano, Taraba and Akwa Ibom where thugs were very active in hijacking the process, enough security personnel in their thousands were deployed by the police, army, National Security and Civil Defence corps under the Election and Security Management Committee, chaired by Professor Yakubu, assisted by the Inspector-General of Police Kayode Egbetokun as co-chairman.

He also placed a ban on movements from 12 pm to 6 pm in the affected constituencies, which were, in most cases small parts of the 28 states where the bye-elections held.

Some pundits say the INEC is saddled with too many responsibilities that hamper its effectiveness and suggest its unbundling. They say, for example, that the government should set up a special court to try cases of election malpractice as this will go a long way to improve citizens’ respect for the electoral process. Others advocate inclusive governance to checkmate public and voter apathy.

Speaking in an interview with THEWILL recently, Professor Anthony Kila said INEC and politicians should be blamed for the lack of due process and accountability, with regard to the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria.

According to Kila, Director of the Centre for Advanced Professional Studies, most of the people trying to rule Nigeria are crooks and criminals. If they were good, he argued, they would not use violence to intimidate voters and buy votes.

On INEC, Kila said, “If we need to move the country forward, we need to understand that INEC is a failed institution because it is dealing with millions of people who have no trust in it. If you have a body that runs election and about 90 per cent of the results end up being contested in the law courts, you need to change the manager.”

Changing the managing of the system is what the National Assembly embarked upon as the Constitutional Amendment process got underway at the chamber of the House of Representatives last week. Last Wednesday, a bill seeking to amend the Electoral Act 2022 passed through second reading at the House.

Titled “A Bill for an Act to amend the Electoral Act, 2022 and for Related Matters”, the bill was sponsored by a member of the House representing Ughelli North/Ughelli South/Udu Federal Constituency, Delta State, Francis Waive.

Presenting the bill at plenary on Wednesday, Waive lamented the gaps in the Electoral Act 2022, noting that an amendment of the law to pave the way for “the electronic transmission of results would help the nation’s democracy.”

“A review of the voter register every 10 years will be a good starting point,” he added.

Meanwhile the INEC has presented Certificates of Return to candidates who won in the bye-elections.

Taken together, seven political parties won seats in both the National and State Houses of Assembly. They are the Action Democratic Party, All Progressives Congress, All Progressive Grand Alliance, Labour Party, New Nigeria Peoples Party, Peoples Democratic Party and the Young Progressives Party.

The Senator-elects are Prof Anthony Okorie, Ebonyi South Senatorial District, Ebonyi (APC); Pam Dachungyang, Plateau North Senatorial, Plateau (ADP); and Musa Mustapha, Yobe East Senatorial District, APC, Yobe State.

Members-elect of the House of Representatives Ifeanyi Ozokwe, Nnewi North/Nnewi South/Ekwusigo Federal Constituency (YPP-Anambra); Clara Nnabuife of Orumba North/Orumba South Federal Constituency, (YPP-Anambra).

Others were Ehindero Babatunde, Akoko North East/Akoko North-West Federal Constituency (Ondo- APC), and Daniel Ago, Jos North/ Basa Federal Constituency (Plateau- LP).

About the Author

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Amos Esele is the Deputy Editor of THEWILL Newspaper. He has over two decades of experience on the job.

Amos Esele, THEWILLhttps://thewillnews.com
Amos Esele is the Deputy Editor of THEWILL Newspaper. He has over two decades of experience on the job.

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