Mahmood Yakubu’s one year as INEC chairman
The successful conclusion of the Ondo governorship election on November 26 after eight months of intensive preparations, was particularly special and an icing on the cake for the hardworking National Commissioners and staff members of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
There is a reason. The month of November is significant because it was in the same month, last year, that Prof Mahmood Yakubu was appointed to head the Commission. It’s been one eventful year, within which the highest numbers of elections in the Commission’s history were conducted – 141 – and 120 of which were concluded at first ballot.
The remaining ones could not be concluded due to violence and other forms of electoral crimes. In the case of Rivers for instance, elections were not concluded because of violence. In March this year when the Rivers elections were first held, violence was widespread and the exercise had to be suspended. Some individuals lost their lives, including a National Youth Corps member who was serving as an ad-hoc staff. Sadly, the killers are yet to be found or accounted for.
Indeed, many of re-run elections conducted so far were ordered by the courts, resulting from various disputes generated by the 2015 General Elections. But it is important to note that no Court has so far nullified any of the elections conducted by the Yakubu-led INEC. Elections are also conducted in strict adherence to the provisions of the Electoral Law and INEC Guidelines.
The success recorded in Ondo on November 28 is coming on the heels of a similar feat achieved in Edo on September 26th, when the governorship election ended on a good note. Both cases thus underscored one fact: when the atmosphere is conducive and stakeholders play by the rules, INEC will and can successfully conduct and conclude any election.
When he faced the Senate last year, Prof Yakubu made it clear that he was not going to engage in any form experimentation at the Commission. As far as he was concerned, the time between November 2015 and the 2019 General Elections is so short for any form of experimentation. Whatever worked well during the 2015 polls should be adopted while what did not work well should be examined in totality.
But he was firm on one thing: in all elections that would be conducted by the Commission under his watch, every vote must count. To him, only the electorate, through their votes, will determine who rules them. Any other way would be acceptable.
Prof. Yakubu has not looked back ever since. His approach has been to act only within the electoral law and INEC guidelines. The rule of law must be obeyed.
When he resumed in November last year, there were only 29 political parties. Today, there are 40 registered political parties and the Commission is already considering the applications from 60 other political associations seeking registration. Once they meet the criteria, they would be registered.
The INEC Chairman also believes in the application of technology to the electoral process. Some technological innovations have now been added to the existing ones. First on the list is simultaneous accreditation and voting, which enables the voter to visit the polling station only once instead of twice, get accredited and vote afterwards. This saves time and has also improved the efficiency of the Smart Card Readers (SCRs)
Although the SCRs contributed immensely to the success of the 2015 General Elections, but there were some attendant challenges. To that extent, the present Commission has taken the improvement of the SCRs as a top priority. Research into the fingerprint-matching algorithm is underway while the development of more robust Voter Authentication software has commenced.
The electronic collation system, which picks all Polling Unit (PU) results, collates them up to the required level and also takes a photograph of PU results signed by the Presiding Officers, has also been used for all re-run and by-elections conducted since the inception of the current commission. The system works side by side with the manual method but it has helped in checkmating fraud in the collating system.
The Commission has also commenced the process of migrating the National Voter Registration Database from the existing stand-alone servers to a centralized server at the National Data Centre (NDC) in Abuja. Already phase one of the project, which entailed procurement of Servers in 12 states and the NDC has been concluded.
Prof Yakubu has also followed the rule of law in managing the affairs of the Commission. Since his appointment, court orders have been consistently obeyed. To the INEC Chairman, court orders/judgments should not be subjected to rational arguments.
There is another thing. To show his deep respect for the National Assembly, Prof Yakubu personally leads a strong team from the Commission to honour all invitations from both the House of Representatives and Senate to clarify any knotty issue. The relationship between the Commission and the National Assembly has indeed been cordial. The Senate is already holding debates on the proposed amendment of the Electoral Law to aid the Commission in its work.
To give Nigerians living abroad the opportunity to exercise their franchise, the Commission is currently giving serious consideration to diaspora voting. It is cooperating with the National Assembly to facilitate the process. Besides, the right of prisoners to vote, to the extent allowed by the constitution, is also receiving attention.
Unlike the last Commission under Prof Attahiru Jega that had a full compliment of 12 National Commissioners, the Yakubu led Commission has, since November last year, been operating with only six National Commissioners, out of which one left in September when his term expired. What this means is that the assignment meant for 13 had been borne by seven individuals since the past 12 months. Yet, it has been one election after another since they were all sworn in last November. Luckily however, the Federal Government recently appointed six National Commissioners who are expected to resume soon.
There have been challenges. The most prominent, perhaps, is the number of court cases the Commission has had to contend with. When political parties or politicians go to court, they drag the Commission along. Since the 2015 general elections, the Commission has been dragged to court 680 times, although 600 of the cases were dismissed. That was why the Commission had to conduct 80 re-run elections.
In the midst of that, the spate of conflicting court judgments has been such a headache for the Commission. At one time, it received about five conflicting judgments in 10 days! In fact, between May and September this year, INEC was served with 11 judgments and orders from 11 different courts of coordinate jurisdictions, most of which were also conflicting.
Some aspects of the Electoral Law need to be amended. For instance, what happened in the last Kogi governorship election, where a candidate died after winning an election was not envisaged under the law. This and other perceived weaknesses are part of what the National Assembly is currently looking at. Besides, the non-prescription of definite punishment for those who perpetrate electoral violence is seen as being responsible for the unsuccessful prosecution of electoral offenders over the years.
The Commission has also enjoyed tremendous support from Development Partners, particularly the European Union (EU). Since 2003, the EU has allocated 85 million euros to INEC. This is almost 10 percent of the one billion euros the EU has expended in Nigeria over the past five years. Part of the EU package includes picking the bill of a Technical Team comprising three experts, specifically assigned to the office of the INEC Chairman.
As the country marches toward the 2019 general elections, the Commission has been mapping out different strategies. The Continuous Voters’ Registration exercise (CVR) will soon commence to allow those who have come of age to register and allow those who have changed addressed to update their details.
Oyekanmi is the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman.