Certificates of return and INEC’s competence, neutrality
There are increasing concerns over neutrality and competence of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) due to its delay in issuing certificates of return to elected Senators and members of the House of Representatives. More worrisome is the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari and his Vice, Yemi Osinbajo, who were elected same day with the National Assembly members were offered their certificates of victory a few hours after declaration.
Buhari was declared re-elected having polled 15,191,847 votes, winning in 19 states, to defeat other 72 candidates including his closest rival, Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who scored 11, 255,978 votes, winning 17 states and the Federal Capital Territory. The result of the elections, which held on Saturday, February 23, 2019 as against its earlier planned February 16, 2019, as a result of logistics, was announced in the early hours of Wednesday, while the president and his vice got the certificate of return by 2pm same day in Abuja. This is regardless of the malfunctioning card readers, violence, cancelled votes, disenfranchisement of millions of Nigerians and other factors that marred the successful conduct of elections in some states across the country.
Already, members of a group known as Occupy Nigeria on Monday protested at the Unity Fountain, Abuja, demanding that INEC reversed the issuance of a certificate of return to President Buhari, alleging that assessment by observers on ground during the election revealed that card readers were not used at all in some states.
The coalition of over 50 civil society organisations and citizens said the observers’ report showed that votes were merely allotted in many parts of the Northwest and Northeast. According to the convener of the group, Idris Usman, it is an insult to the Nigerian people that INEC would allow an election in which voters were intimidated, maimed and even killed to stand. He called for due process to be followed in ensuring that the vote of every Nigerian counts in the 2019 presidential election.
“We’ve done a petition to INEC,” Usman said. “There has never been a time when a decision was reversed. Despite that, what we are saying is that this decision did not settle well with the people. Where card readers were not used in the North, anybody can win but let the proper thing be done. In Osun gubernatorial, no leader was announced till the process was concluded. So, why was INEC in such a hurry to announce the result of the 2019 presidential election?”
However, 11 days after, none of the National Assembly members have gotten their certificates of return. The disturbing trend is driving doubts amongst Nigerians, especially the opposition parties about the independence, credibility and neutrality of the electoral umpire. With the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections held March 9, 2019, the electorate has expressed fears that INEC may be coerced into doing the bidding of certain interests that may be inimical to the generality of all Nigeians.
While some insist that the delay is an evidence of the unpreparedness and lack of capacity of the electoral body, others insist that it is an intentional approach to ensure that the ruling APC has its way in various states by installing its candidates. Political scholars also identified that it may not be unconnected with the inconclusive elections in some states across the federation due to insecurity and other factors that characterised the polls.
What the Electoral Act says
WITH more than a week gone after the conduct of the general elections, INEC may be said to be acting against the electoral guidelines that regulate conduct of polls in the country.The electoral Act 2010 No. 6 A 1127 75 – (I} stipulates that a sealed certificate of return at an election in a prescribed form be issued within seven days to every candidate who has won an election.
It adds, “Provided that where the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court being the final appellate court in any election petition as the case may be nullifies the Certificate of Return of any candidate, the Commission shall, within four hours after the receipt of the order of such Court, issue the successful candidate with a valid Certificate of Return
“Where the Commission refuses or neglects to issue a Certificate of Return, a certified true copy of the order of a court of competent Jurisdiction shall, ipso facto, be sufficient for the purpose of swearing-in a candidate declared as the winner by that Court”.
WHILE in some states the winners have been decided and declared with no certificates to show, some states are still in the tussle for who becomes the final victor as a result of uncertainties that surrounded the polls. In other areas, however, elections did not hold.
Already, INEC has said it would conduct fresh elections in areas where the exercise could not hold due to violence or other infractions. The elections were alongside the Governorship and State Assembly polls.
In Abia State, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has continued to protest against the declaration of Orji Uzor Kalu as the winner of Abia North Senatorial election on the grounds that the total number of cancelled votes exceeded the difference between the winner and runner-up. The Senator has urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh election before releasing a certificate of return to a winner, even as many people attribute the non-release of certificate of return as evidence that the election has ben declared inconclusive.
However, Abia State branch of INEC has come out with a clarification, saying it has no issue or problem with the senatorial election held on Saturday, February 23, 2019.Spokesman of the commission, Mr. Bamidele Oyetunji, told The Guardian that Kalu scored 31,202 votes against Ohuabunwa 20,801 and the 11,410 scored by the third contestant Chief Bourdex Ogbaa Onuoha of APGA.
Ohuabunwa, who faulted the result, insisted INEC did not comply with its regulations and guidelines, claiming that the number with which Kalu defeated him was less than the number votes cancelled in the election put at 38,526.He consequently vowed to challenge the matter, as according to him, in such scenario, no return should have been made by the INEC
In Akwa Ibom, an FCT High Court has ordered INEC not to issue Certificate of Return to the presumed winner of the North West Senatorial District election, Chris Ekpenyong. Justice Valentine Ashi on Friday ordered INEC to stay further action in respect of the February 23 Senatorial election in the state pending the determination of its jurisdiction to entertain the suit. The ex parte application was brought by Senator Godswill Akpabio of APC challenging the results of the election, which produced Ekpenyong of the PDP.
Also, National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, has decried the non-issuance of certificates of return to successful candidates. In his Twitter handle, @officialKolaO, he wrote, “@inecnigeria, I understand that PDP’s Hon. Rita Orji of Ajeromi Ifelodun Federal Constituency in Lagos polled 52,596 to defeat the APC candidate who polled 42,954 in the just concluded elections. Any reason why she has not been presented with her certificate of return?”
DESPITE the many shortcomings that surrounded the presidential and National Assembly elections, the electoral umpire must give citizens reasons to believe its neutrality and fairness.According to political analyst, Gerald Eze, INEC should live up to its expectation and use the remaining few days to the states elections to show Nigerians that it remains non partisan. Its decision to favour some people against others has left many in doubt about its credibility. It must ensure that the organisation redeems its glory as we head to the polls.
Convener, Coalition of Good Governance, Mr. Ugwu Collins, opined that the competence of the electoral body remains in doubt.“I hope they don’t postpone the governorship elections. How can an umpire who claims credibility and readiness in its conduct, declare winners of various polls and till now nobody is yet to get the certificate of return, which shows their victory?
“It is just one of the various ways INEC is collaborating with the ruling APC to impose their candidates on the electorate through the court. I want to remind you that these people are very smart; they have removed the Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen; they have quickly given Buhari his certificate of return not minding the loopholes in the elections. They are only finding ways to ensure that they use the courts to put in their candidates while delaying the certificates of the real winners.”
However, the Chief Press Secretary to INEC chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, in his reaction, could not be explain the delay in the issuance of certificates of return. He, however, promised to get details from the RECs and get back to The Guardian, but he was yet to do so at the time of filing in this report.
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