INEC in the last three years – Part 2
However, since INEC’s last governorship election in Osun on September 22, not only have they come under attack as being deficient, or even lacking, in these virtues. The entire INEC has come under similar attack from several quarters. For instance, Thisday in its editorial of September 30 entitled “INEC and bungled elections,” condemned the Osun governorship election as “wide off the mark” because it was lacking in “justice, equity and fairness.” It also dismissed the supplementary election of September 27 that followed the inconclusive one of September 22 won by APC as “a sham.” No fair-minded assessment of the election would agree with the newspaper.
True, the Osun election, as Vanguard said in its own editorial a day before the supplementary election of September 27, was not perfect. But, to quote the same newspaper again, at least the first election was “generally acclaimed as free, fair and peaceful though tension-soaked.” The supplementary election is now before the courts and therefore cannot be commented upon freely without risking contempt of the courts. Still it is safe to say any fair assessment of INEC’s conduct of the election should take into consideration not only the record of all the elections it has conducted since 2015. It should also take into consideration all the things it has done in the last three years to ensure free, fair and credible elections.
Since 2015 INEC has conducted about 195 odd elections, including seven off-season governorship elections, about a dozen senatorial and two dozen federal constituency elections and scores of State Assembly and Federal Capital Territory Area Council elections. Out of these 195 odd elections only a handful have been successfully challenged in courts and none of them did the courts order wholesale re-runs. Even more importantly, in a large number of the elections, notably the Ondo governorship election in which all contestants were senior lawyers, there were no litigations at all. Most important of all, victories at the polls have been shared across all the major parties including the ruling APC and opposition PDP and APGA.
It may, of course, be argued that an election management body, like a newspaper, is as good as its last outing and the Osun State governorship election, as INEC’s last major outing before next year’s general election, was not perfect. Certainly, it was not as good as, say, those of Ondo and Anambra states. Even then no fair-minded critic of the Commission would accuse it of being tardy, or worse still, of being an appendage of the ruling APC. Were it so, it would not have had the courage to announce, as it did in early October, that APC had no candidate, save that of the Presidency, for all the elective offices in Zamfara State, because the party had failed to conduct proper primaries for its candidates for those offices by the Commission’s deadline of October 7. The Commission would also not have had the courage earlier to have conducted a free, fair and credible impeachment process against Senator Dino Melaye in Kogi East which failed woefully in spite of the notorious fact that the Senator had become a painful thorn in APC’s flesh.
The most obvious reason why it is wrong to accuse INEC of partisanship is the apparent irony that the same people who accuse it of being an appendage of the ruling party are often the first to advocate that Local Government elections should be transferred to it because the State Independent Electoral Commissions that were given the mandate to do so by the 1999 Constitution, have, without exception, signally failed in their duties. Second, not only has INEC’s strict adherence to its procedures produced different winners and losers at different elections, it should be apparent to even the most casual political observer of our politics that the central directive principle of the Commission’s policies and programmes in the past three years is the dictum that “Sunlight is the best of disinfectants.” INEC’s watchwords in being guided by this dictum have been inclusiveness, courage, openness and transparency.
Hence, the Commission’s well-structured quarterly meetings with all the major stakeholders – the political parties, security agencies, civil society organisations, the media, development partners, etc. – to thoroughly discuss issues pertaining to its mandate, find solutions to them and through these robust discussions, secure the public’s buy-in of the solutions. Among the Commission’s key innovations in furtherance of its mandates in the last three years are, first and foremost, the fixing of the dates of future general elections going forward from 2019 (in this case, the third Saturday of the February of every election year) and its subsequent issuance of the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2019 General Election on January 9. This was in line with the best global practices that allow long range planning by all stakeholders in elections.
Second, is its reintroduction of simultaneous accreditation and voting, in contrast to the practice in the immediate past of separating the two which was more prone to abuse. Third, is its implementation for the first time in the Commission’s history, of the constitutional and electoral provisions for continuous voter registration (CVR). Fourth, is its enhancement of existing 167,875 smart card readers (SCR) for authentication and verification of its biometric permanent voters’ card (PVC) in addition to procuring 27,327 new ones. This has led to continuous declines in the failure rate of the SCR in the elections it has conducted since 2015 such that today the rate is down to a negligible single digit.
Last, but by no means the least, there is its introduction of Form EC 60E, the so-called peoples’ result sheet. This is a poster-size copy of certified results of vote counting announced at polling units (PUs) posted on walls or similar surfaces so that the results can be captured by anyone with a phone which has a camera. This will enable any interested person or political party collate results of an election well ahead of INEC’s official announcements of same. This is meant to make it well-nigh impossible to change the results between PUs and collation centres. These five innovations are by no means the only ones INEC has introduced in the last three years in consolidation and improvement of the system it inherited from Professor Attahiru Jega.
Suffice it to say that between them alone the Commission today has been transformed into arguably the country’s most efficient and respected public institution in service delivery. The foundation of this transformation is obviously the CVR because without a credible voters’ register there can never be a free, fair and credible election. This was why the Commission took the decision last year to put a stop to its practice of conducting fresh voter registration every general election year. Instead it chose to build on the one it inherited from Jega.
• Haruna is national commissioner and member, Information, Voter Education and Publicity Committee of INEC.
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