September 17, (THEWILL) – The Governorship Elections scheduled to hold in Bayelsa, Kogi and Imo States on November 11 will afford the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the opportunity to redeem its image in the eyes of many Nigerians who felt the electoral umpire performed below expectation in the 2023 General Election.
Before the general election, INEC had promised Nigerians that the election would not only be free and fair but also transparent in its conduct.
First, after the enactment of New Electoral Act, the commission grabbed every available opportunity to assure Nigerians that the results of the elections would be transmitted electronically from the polling units to the INEC Result Viewing Portal. It said this would prevent the manipulations that usually take place between the polling units and the collation centres.
Nigerians were bemused and totally disappointed when INEC failed to upload presidential election results to the Irev Portal several hours after the election, claiming some glitches in its website.
With less than 60 days to the three off-cycle governorship elections in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi States, National Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has promised that the commission will deliver a credible election.
He said the commission had learned its lessons from the 2023 general election and that there would be an improvement in the forthcoming off-cycle elections.
He added that INEC was satisfied with the feedback it received during the 2023 post-election review that it organised.
Speaking during the conclusion of the three-day review in Lagos, Mahmood assured that most of the issues raised and recommendations made to improve future elections in the country would be test run in the forthcoming off-cycle elections.
“We promised Nigerians that we are going to hold the election review meeting and conclude it within one month. We started on July 4 and rounded up on August 4. The response has been overwhelming. Remember that we started with the state level consultation with the RECs. We had an engagement with the transport unions and then met with the state collation of the presidential election in Abuja. We had engagements with political parties and civil organisations, among others. So, overall, we are encouraged by the response of stakeholders across board and the quality of the contributions they have made,” Mahmood said.
Asked about the challenges that kept popping up during the review, the INEC Boss said, “Several challenges kept coming up. Technology for voter accreditation and result management are some of the issues were raised and recommendations made.
“The were issues of electoral logistics (so that elections can start promptly), the production and collection of permanent voter cards, among others. We are harvesting all the issues and all the recommendations and those that require administrative action by the commission will be dealt with, but those that require amendment to the existing laws, whether the electoral act 2022 or the Constitution, we will harvest and approach the National Assembly for consideration. So, we are happy so far with the response we have received and the frank discussions across board. The most important thing for the commission is that we have heard from Nigerians and it will enable us to go back to the drawing board in our quest to continuously improve the electoral process.
“After harvesting the information, there is an opportunity in the three off-cycle elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi States in November to implement some of the recommendations that require only administrative action by the commission, while those that require legislation, the National Assembly has to work on the laws.
“There is also another opportunity for us because so far, four vacancies have been declared for by- elections; Surulere1 State Constituency in Lagos, Jalingo Federal Constituency in Taraba State, Chibok State Constituency in Borno State and Chikun State constituency in Kaduna State. So we will keep test running some of the recommendations in the forthcoming by-elections.”
INEC has also said that as part of the preparation for the forthcoming elections in the three states it will deploy 11,355 Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, (BVAS) machines for voter accreditation.
According to INEC, Bayelsa State has 2,244 polling units, Kogi,has 3,508 polling units and Imo has 4,758 polling units.
THEWILL recalls that the Presidential and National Assembly elections held on February 25, 2023, were marred by the BVAS malfunctioning.
However, the commission, during reviews of the 2023 polls, insisted that the deployed BVAS recorded 98 per cent success rate.
The electoral body has however given the assurance that the commission would perform better in the forthcoming off-season elections.
INEC said that 2,400 BVAS would be deployed in Bayelsa State, while 5,079 and 3,876 BVAS would be used in Imo and Kogi, respectively.I NEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood and the commission’s National Commissioners had met with the leaders of political parties at its headquarters in Abuja.
The meeting’s objectives include the review of the 2023 general election and the preparation for the November 11, 2023 off-season governorship elections.
Mahmood, who apologised for starting the meeting late, said that engaging with stakeholders is the best way to ensure the credibility of future elections.
The meeting, the first public meeting by the electoral umpire with leaders of political parties after the general election, was attended by the Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and chieftains of other political parties led by the National Chairman of Inter Party Advisory Council, Yabagi Sani.
On Monday, July 24, 2023, the commission met with accredited local elections observer groups and civil society organisations at its headquarters in Abuja.
These meetings, according to INEC, were aimed at reviewing the past and presenting Nigerians with a free, fair and credible election.
THEWILL recalls that the Presidential election was conducted on February 25, 2023 and INEC declared the candidate of the APC, Bola Tinubu, the winner, but two main challengers — Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP – challenged INEC’s declaration, alleging various electoral malpractices, voters’ suppression, violence, the supposed inefficiency of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Result Viewing Portal (IREV) as well as insisting that the poll was not free and fair.
Aside from the presidential poll, INEC conducted the National Assembly election for both lower and upper chambers of the legislature. The electoral umpire also conducted governorship elections in 28 states with regular election cycles. The APC won in 16 states, the PDP in 10, the LP and the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) won in one state each. Some governorship election results are also being challenged at election petitions tribunals across the country.
The general election was not without some drama and visible misconduct by some top INEC officials.
A worrisome case is that of a suspended Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Adamawa State, Hudu Yunusa-Ari, who attracted rebuke from the commission and scathing criticisms from Nigerians for improper and unconstitutional actions during the supplementary elections in Adamawa State.
INEC however has said that it has learnt its lessons from the general election and promised to chart a way forward beginning with the November 11 elections.
At the local level in Kogi State, INEC and the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) have assured that the forthcoming governorship election in the state will be peaceful, fair and credible. Hale Gabriel Longpet, INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) and Williams Aya, the State Police Public Relations Officer, gave the assurance during a two-day workshop organised by the International Press Centre (IPC) for journalists in Abuja.
Longpet said that the commission has made adequate preparations to consolidate the last February 25 and March 18 polls to ensure that the November 11 governorship election is peaceful, fair, hitch-free and credible.
He said: “We are preparing towards changing the perception of Kogi. I am giving the people the assurance that with the help of the media, security operatives and civil society organisations (CSOs), we will get it right, come November 11, 2023”.
“We did sensitisation to educate people that that will help trigger people to have a rethink, unfortunately, a large number of people lives in the rural areas.”
“One of the positive things that I want is that the media will help in calming the people down. The act that INEC kept telling the people that nobody would tamper with the results but people are still making attempts to hack the results. Most of the ad-hoc staff don’t know how to transmit results after scanning the result and we have learnt from there”.
“INEC has gone ahead to make changes. I have enjoyed a good relationship with the media in Kogi and I pray it will continue like that.
“The question is can INEC walk the talk by deliver good elections in the three states. Will it use the off-cycle elections only in three states to prove its worth as it did in Osun, Anambra and Ekiti states before the general election?
Speaking with THEWILL on his expectation from INEC in the three states upcoming elections, Jonas Agwu, a Public Affairs Commentator based in Abuja said he is not comfortable with any promise made by the INEC concerning the elections.
“I cannot believe anything or any promises from the INEC again. With all the promises the organization made before the last elections, what did we see in return.
“Whatever they like let them say. For me I don’t have such trust in INEC conducting good and credible election. If they proved me wrong, I would be happy “, he said.
Also speaking with THEWILL, a political analyst, Ojo Michael said Nigerians should encourage INEC to do well in the coming elections.
“We should encourage the INEC to carry out a credible election. It will be in our interest for INEC to do well. We were surprised with what happened during the last general elections. But we should still encourage the electoral body to succeed.
They should continue with the usage of BVAS and ensure prompt transmission of results to the Irev Portal . By this, people will begin to have confidence in the activities of INEC’, he said.