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INEC’s golden chance

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Yakubu

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has another good chance from September to November this year to improve on its past performance and write its name in gold.

With that, hopefully, it may succeed in repairing its image which was nearly bruised in some past elections. After every election, the electoral umpire, as an earnest of its grim determination to do better in subsequent outings, has had to engage in post-mortem examination of its conduct.

It carries out this exercise diligently in conjunction with some concerned stake holders – National Assembly members, political parties, security agencies and some critical foreign agencies like the European Union – whose input have been found invaluable towards the conduct of a free and fair election.

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It has always emerged from such conversation more determination to do better, having identified areas of weaknesses.

Some of the weak areas invariably have to do, apart from its own organizational capacity, the role of desperate politicians who must win elections by all means fair or foul  – without batting an eye lid some of the time.

And you can’t discuss the role of desperate politicians without the generous mention of the bloody-mindedness of their thugs. Even in the face of heavy security presence, the thugs, in the service of their paymasters, almost always have a field day, shooting wildly and carting away ballot boxes. If need be, they shoot to kill in the discharge of their mandate.

We are all witnesses to some of the ugly incidents in some of the so-called elections in which even the police authorities, deployed to maintain peace and provide security, had cheerfully confessed that some of these bad boys overpowered their heavily armed men.

And you can be sure that when thugs overpower security men, the result is brutal. Innocent voters would be the first victim. Invariably, those who were suspected of nursing ambition to vote according to their conscience would be taken out – either brutally maimed or killed in broad daylight. No question asked and no consequences.

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With such unbridled audacity, coupled with officially sanctioned impunity, there is very little INEC can do to deliver a free and fair election. At best, the outcome of such election is one that is procured not at the ballot box but by the bullet.

This is what I was saying in December last year in a piece titled Wrong template for election victory. In that column, I made reference to the dramatic incidence of such bravado in the by-elections in Kogi and Rivers states. For purpose of elucidation and a reminder to the electoral umpire and security agents, I wish to reproduce some excerpts:

“Take for instance, the by-elections that were held in Rivers and Kogi states in August 2018 which came some six months to the General Elections of February 2019. Held on August 18, that of Rivers State was a three-state constituency bi-election. It was, on all counts, moderate enough for easy conduct and effective policing, but, unfortunately, not too difficult for touts to put a spanner in INEC’s work.

“As usual, INEC had fully mobilized and deployed personnel and materials to the 142 polling units involved in good time. But mid-way into election, Obo Effanga, Resident Electoral Commissioner, reported that miscreants and hoodlums accompanied by armed security personnel in uniform, stormed the various polling units and registration areas disrupting voting activities, destroying and carting away election materials including smart card readers and ballot boxes.”

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The mayhem didn’t stop there. The commissioner spoke about the trauma his officials were subjected to. Many electoral officials, he reported, were manhandled, injured and held hostage.

“The Lokoja/Koto by- election conducted also in August did not fare better. It featured ballot box snatching, intimidation, gunshots by thugs and men in uniform. Punch on August 11 and other newspapers reported that mob reacted by killing two persons who attempted to snatch ballot boxes. Police spokesman in Lokoja, DSP William Aya, confirmed that some persons were killed during the by- election, one of them in front of the palace of the Maigari of Lokoja.

“Like the one in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the one in Lokoja started peacefully enough but it was later marred by vote-buying, ballot box snatching and other malpractices.”

These by- elections came before the general elections and can be regarded as a dress rehearsal for the D-Day of February 2019 and other off-season elections, some of which proved to have failed to meet the normal standard of a free and fair election.

But how could they meet the acceptable standard of a free and fair election, given the shenanigans of desperate politicians, with the power of dubiously deployed fresh mints, as opposed to their character, capacity and capability, to say nothing about competence?

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Knowing that they lack the capacity to win in a fair and free election, they almost always have their way not with the ballot box but the bullet box and generous supply of AK 47. In such a situation what is left is for the harried and pitiable but incapacitated independent electoral empire to declare the  grossly compromised results. Though independent, INEC is vulnerable, clearly and obviously incapacitated by its own officials in the field who are either incompetent or are easily overwhelmed and overpowered by the same forces that can overpower security forces deployed to protect them. Whatever results they bring from the field, is what INEC is authorized by law to declare.

In one of its post-mortem conversations with members of the National Assembly, stakeholders and security agencies last year, INEC was given the assurance of cooperation from quarters that matter.

National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno, who has been very visibly concerned these days with the state of insecurity in the country, spoke the minds of many citizens. He said most of the electoral malpractices happened because there was no consequence. He vowed that nobody would go unpunished henceforth. He said: “ Gone are the days in which people will be gagged, in which people will be suspicious of security agencies. Nobody is allowed to be partisan, to take side with anybody, any political group or organization.” He warned security agencies not to allow themselves to be used by those who want to cause violence during election.

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Speaking in the same vein, Adamu Mohammed, the Inspector General of Police, gave the assurance that henceforth his men would be on top of security situation during the elections and would not be compromised by politicians. All these assurances sound quite commendable and encouraging.

Unfortunately, the citizens, and not all of them are born pessimist, have learnt to take such vows and assurances with a pinch of salt. Not without reason. They have not forgotten what happened to similar vows and assurances in the past. They remained just vows because of government officials and security agents’ notorious inability to follow them up with action. For some reasons – a lot of them due to deployment of money for corruptive inducement – some of the widely perceived electoral heist and numerous  other malpractices, including murder of opponents in broad daylight, have remained unpunished. Communities have been razed down and innocent people killed in daytime. No arrests. But there is no lack of government assurance and vow to arrest and punish the culprits.

And if they go unpunished, they may be taken as the template for winning elections in the future. The Edo and Ondo states elections in September and November respectively will prove to be the acid test for the seriousness of INEC and security agencies. If they allow the sins of the past to be repeated during the forthcoming elections, then the chance of growing democracy in Nigeria will be gravely imperiled.

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