‘Violence, a major factor for inconclusive election’
Last year, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), declared the Kogi State governorship election held on November 25 inconclusive when over 49,000 voters, for various reasons, were unable to vote.
The umpire also declared the Bayelsa State governorship election held in December inconclusive.
While the development attracted sharp and severe comments from political analysts, INEC placed the blame on politicians and other stakeholders for the growing incidence of inconclusive elections, which prompted the need for re-run polls in affected states.
Speaking on the issue with The Guardian, the Spokesman of the Commission, Nick Dazang, who is also a deputy director blamed the untoward development on Nigeria’s political stakeholders, whom he accused of instigating violence during elections, which he averred often compelled the umpire to declare some elections inconclusive.
Dazang however, proposed that an Election Offenses Tribunal should be set up to prosecute those found culpable or involved in violence during election.
Said he, “Inconclusive elections are occasioned by violence, where the commission is compelled to set aside elections at polling units where violence may have taken place as inconclusive elections are not caused by the commission.”
He explained that the rules for the 2015 general elections, the approved guidelines and regulations provides that where the gap between two leading contenders, that is the winner and the runner up, are less than the total number of votes in polling units where elections could have been set aside because of violence, the outcome becomes inconclusive and you now have to conduct a supplementary election.”
Also speaking on the issue, the Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu said the commission was keen on ensuring proper conclusion of every poll it conducted but violence has also bee a major hindrances and causes of inconclusive elections.
According to him, “Violence was a major factor among the many reasons responsible for the myriad of inconclusive election in some of the polls recently conducted by INEC.”
He, however, urged Nigerians to play their part in ensuring that elections were devoid of violence and other vices that could ultimately lead to cancellation of election midway.
Reiterating the fact that INEC, like other stakeholders, was committed to seeing conclusive election on the first ballot, Yakubu said, “Nobody can be more committed to seeing a conclusive election more than the INEC will like an election to be conclusive because for every inconclusive election, INEC takes the bashing for all manner of reasons. But there are reasons behind the inconclusive election that other people may not understand.”
Pointing to the fact that he has read as much as possible about what has been said on inconclusive elections, he said, “I haven’t heard, read or seen anywhere where INEC has been accused of declaring a winner outside the provisions of the Electoral Act.”
According to him, “Section 26 of the Electoral Act and section 53 are very clear on what to do, and how INEC should respond to certain situations. Section 26 is very clear, where there is a threat of violence, actual outbreak of violence, or natural disaster, INEC is empowered under the law to suspend the election and chose another date for the conduct of another election. Section 53 is even more explicit.”
He said Nigerians often debate election issues out of context and as well forget history, saying: “As a student of history let me remind us that in 2011 two governorship elections were inconclusive. Have we forgotten? Imo was inconclusive in 2011 with four local governments. Bauchi’s governorship election was declared inconclusive with two local governments, Misau and Ningi. I recounted what happened in 2015, Imo governorship election, again was inconclusive, there was a supplementary. Abia was inconclusive and there was a supplementary and Taraba.
“In between, the governorship election in Anambra State was also inconclusive. In fact, INEC had to go back to16 local government to conclude the election. So, in other words we have had inconclusive elections in the past and we also have other constituency elections where elections were inconclusive. Senatorial, and in one or two instances also state constituencies have been declared inconclusive. The one that I can readily recall is Brass Constituency in Bayelsa State but the judiciary has concluded it.”
Yakubu however, expressed optimism that elections in the country were getting better, which he attributed to the introduction of technology in the electoral process, the emergence of stronger and more competitive political parties, reduction in the margin between leading political parties in an election, and the assurance that every vote counts.
Said he, “During the last governorship election in Kogi State for instance, we had two strong political parties, two strong candidates, a former governor versus an incumbent governor.
“In Bayelsa State, two strong political parties and two strong candidates; a former governor and an incumbent governor. Even in Rivers you could see that there were two strong parties and the battle ultimately was between a former governor and an incumbent governor. Even though both the former governor and the incumbent were not candidates for the election because what we did in Rivers was to conduct constituency elections. If you take the election of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja for instance where so many people said oh, the election was inconclusive but this is where we all live and few people understand the terrain.
“In the case of Abuja, there is the typical problem of turn-out. The turnout also compounds the problem of the declaration of winner. Total number of registered voters in the FCT is 1,020, 000. AMAC has almost 50 per cent of the registered voters in the FCT, 520,000 plus. But do you know the percentage of turnout in AMAC? Only 10 percent of registered voters turned out in AMAC to vote.
On the specter of violence that had haunted recently conducted elections, the INEC Chairman said, “The quality of an election is a reflection of the quality of the politics of a nation. INEC had concluded elections on first ballot in places where there were little or no violence.
“That brings me to the major reason why we have inconclusive elections, the specter of violence. Wherever you have violence, depending on the scale, election is inconclusive because truly there are parts of the constituencies where voting wouldn’t take place. And INEC said that wherever voting does not take place, we must go back and ensure that Nigerians truly decide whom their leaders are.
He continued: “Take the case of Bayelsa because of series of violence, particularly in the Southern Ijaw area, we couldn’t conclude the election on first ballot. But we went back to the state on March 5 and specifically to Southern Ijaw for the State Assembly elections. Not one firecracker went up and the election was conclusive. We went to Ekeremo in Bayelsa State, a riverine local government, and we conducted a re-run election in the state constituency. Not one firecracker went up and election was conclusive.”
He added that the commission also conducted election in eight constituencies in Akwa Ibom State and none was inconclusive “we conducted another election in Cross River and there was no violence and it was conclusive. So, wherever we had to grapple with violence elections, it will end up inconclusive. But as much as Nigerians appreciate this explanation, the question is what is INEC doing to ensure that we mitigate violence and make our elections conclusive? That is a challenge for the commission but we will look at the provisions of the Electoral Act; we will look at our guidelines to see where we go from there.
“But ultimately, the responsibility for conducting free, fair, credible and conclusive election is everybody’s and not just the responsibility of INEC. If we play our roles and reduce violence the better.”
“In Rivers for instance, we deployed 4,442 polling units and 1,319 voting points. We had to engage ad hoc staff from the NYSC and others; we had to get the collation officers, the returning officers, the supervisors and the monitors. We engaged over 24,000 staff for the election in Rivers alone.
“The principal responsibility of the commission is the conduct, management of elections. And some of these elections have come up with their peculiar challenges.
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