INEC’s supplementary poll as tool for electoral manipulation
The dust raised in the recent general elections is gradually settling down, except in Rivers State where collation recommenced yesterday, and a few other states where aggrieved candidates are heading to the tribunals. But the new electoral lexicon that may stick to the lips of Nigerians and which easily makes 2019 elections memorable for the wrong reasons is ‘inconclusive elections.’
As simple as it sounds, the word doesn’t only define the troubling issues that characterised the polls, it is at the heart of the ugliness that marred its success including ballot box snatching, violence, voter inducement and disenfranchisement. To some candidates, it was the height of electoral robbery, while others see it as another tool to electoral victory by other means and subtle imposition of unpopular candidates on the people.
The tactics was simple: greedy politicians wilfully fermented trouble in the strongholds of opposition candidates in order to get rewarded with a supplementary election, especially if they were candidates with the backing of the coercive force of the police and the military. These agencies deployed every machinery to ensure such candidates’ victory while the opposition looks on helplessly.
The spectre of inconclusive elections took a monstrous dimension this year, so much so that some have suggested that the electoral umpire be renamed Inconclusive National Electoral Commission. Also, with university teachers mostly serving as INEC’s Returning Officers, cynics have charged Nigerian universities to take a cue from INEC by declaring some courses ‘inconclusive’ and conducting ‘supplementary examinations’ within 21 days if the number of students who fail a particular course are more than those who passed!
This was the mockery that INEC subjected the country in the eyes of the international community for not being able to conduct itself properly in an exercise that it took over three years to prepare for.
In the past, states’ elections that were declared inconclusive, which led to reruns included Imo (2011 and 2015), Anambra (2013), Abia (2015), Taraba (2015), Kogi (2015), and Bayelsa (2015).
However in 2019, out of 29 states that participated in the governorship polls, six states had their elections declared inconclusive with supplementary elections ordered. The states are Kano, Bauchi, Benue, Plateau, Adamawa and Sokoto States. The electoral umpire had explained that the elections were declared inconclusive for a combination of reasons, mainly the discontinuation of the use of Smart Card Readers midway into the elections or the failure to deploy them, over-voting and widespread disruption in many polling units.
The Electoral Act
While the Electoral Act 2010 does not give outright powers to INEC to declare elections inconclusive, sections 26 and 53 allow the body to cancel, postpone elections, and hold reruns. Section 153 gives INEC the power to make regulations, guidelines and manuals for the conduct of elections and, as a result, the commission subsequently issued the 2019 Election Guidelines, as subsidiary legislation to the Act.
The Electoral Guidelines 2019, 41 (E) stipulates that where the margin of lead between the two leading candidates is not in excess of the total number of registered voters of the Polling Unit(s) where election was cancelled or not held in line with Sections 26 and 53 of the Electoral Act, the returning officer shall decline to make a return until polls have taken place in the affected Polling Unit(s) and the results incorporated into new form EC 8D and subsequently recorded into form EC 8E for Declaration and Return,” and 43 (B) adds that where the margin of lead between two leading candidates is not in excess of the total number of registered voters of the Polling Unit(s) where election was cancelled or not held in line with section 26 and 53 of the Electoral Act, the returning officer shall decline to make a return until polls have taken place in the affected Polling Unit(s) and the results incorporated into the new Form EC 8C(I) and subsequently recorded into form EC 8E(I) for Declaration and return.
Meanwhile, section 26 of the Electoral Act reads, “Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election, there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the Commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.
“(2) Where an election is postponed under this Act, on or after the last date for the delivery of nomination papers, and a poll has to be taken between the candidates nominated, the Electoral Officer shall, on a new date being appointed for the election, proceed as if the date appointed were the date for the taking of the poll between the candidates. (3) Where the Commission appoints a substituted date in accordance with subsections (I) and (2) of this section, there shall be no return for the election until polling has taken place in the area or areas affected.
“(4) Notwithstanding the provision of subsection (3) of this section, the Commission may, if satisfied that the result of the election will not be affected by voting in the area or areas in respect of which substituted dates have been appointed, direct that a return of the election be made.”
While section 53 (2) of the Act provides: ‘’Where the votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceed the number of registered voters in that polling unit, the result of the election for that polling unit shall be declared void by the Commission and another election may be conducted at a date to be fixed by the Commission where the result of that polling unit may affect the overall result in the Constituency.
“(3) Reads ‘‘where an election is nullified in accordance with subsection (2) of this section, there shall be no return for the election until another poll has taken place in the affected area.’’
However, section 69 of the Electoral Act provides: ‘’In an election to the office of the president or governor, whether or not contested and in any elective office, the result shall be ascertained by counting the votes cast for each candidate and subject to the provisions of sections 133, 134 and 179 of the Constitution, the candidate that receives the highest number of votes shall be declared elected by the appropriate returning officer.’’
The anxiety of supplementary
The trend has become worrisome, as the election organisers seem to be overwhelmed or that it is simply not decisive on how to carry out its duties. This is so because the same irregularities that led to the supplementary polls still found their way into the rerun poll, with politicians becoming more brazen with no sanction beign meted out to any offender.
More so, the shoddiness of the supplementary elections conducted have generated fears about the fate of the country’s democracy. Concerned citizens have continued to express anxiety that if the trend is allowed, Nigeria would soon get to a point where the electorate would be compelled to vote at gunpoint and INEC would still uphold the candidates that emerge from that charade.
For example, despite INEC’s reasons for the supplementary polls in the six states, the polls were also threatened by high levels of violence, widespread vote buying, under-aged voting, political thuggery and intimidation, especially in Kano where the deployment of senior police officers could not stem these identified infractions to the exercise.
In Kano precisely, it was widely reported that the rerun election was a charade, scandalous and an act of brigandage with thuggery and rigging brazenly perpetuated in the open with security personnel looking the other way. It was also alleged that men of the Nigeria Police were involved in aiding the deployment of thugs who allegedly made voting difficult for the electorate.
Already, 42 political parties in Kano, under the aegis of Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), have rejected the results over numerous irregularities recorded.
Suffice to say that the same infamous but politically orchestrated supplementary polls also played out in Osun State’s governorship election in 2018. Already, the election tribunal has put a huge question mark on that disingenuous electoral contraption. It remains to be seen what the higher court will say. This is because the keen contest between the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Senator Ademola Adeleke and All Progressives Congress’s (APC) Adegboyega Oyetola that ensured the ruling APC emerged victorious was reversed by the State Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja. The tribunal held that the supplementary election was a product of an illegality that caused the cancellation of the results in the seven polling units during the September 22, 2018 main election.
A public analyst, Kenneth Ogwuegbu, has suggested that for the country to move forward, the electoral body must work to avoid supplementary polls. He said despite the few people and polling units involved, the tension, rigging and anti-democratic practices that occur are not worth the effort and ultimately rubbishes the image of the electoral umpire before the eyes of the world.
Ogwuegbu advised that where there is a hitch in the conduct of polls, INEC should totally cancel the elections and announce a fresh date for rerun instead.
“This will ensure that politicians don’t stage-manage and coordinate problems so as to be rewarded with supplementary elections which they are always confident to win,” he submitted.
Already civil society groups under the umbrella of Situation Room have called on INEC to put an end to supplementary elections in the country. Convener of the coalition of 70 civil society groups, Clement Nwankwo, said the call has become imperative because it appears that the process has now become a manipulation tool to circumvent the will of the electorate.
He said some flaws observed were recurrent in Nigeria’s elections and as a country, they ought to be condemned, especially voter intimidation and insecurity that resulted in the shooting of a returning officer in Benue State.
Also, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM), in its report of the supplementary exercise monitored by 20 of its observers, said, “Extensive electoral security problems were observed in some areas, with groups of men armed with weapons intimidating and obstructing the process, while security agencies were ineffective at protecting citizens’ right to vote.”
The mission also identified suspected political thugs, who patrolled Kano streets with machetes and other deadly weapons, as largely responsible for the brutality which neither the police nor INEC could do anything about.
“In Benue, election materials were burnt, resulting in the cancellation of polling affecting 13,000 registered voters, and a collation officer carrying result sheets was shot in the leg,” the observers group found.
Already, the House of Representatives is making plans to amend the Electoral Act over the spate of inconclusive and supplementary elections witnessed during the 2019 polls.
The lower chamber has set up a committee to look into the issues leading to the declaration of inconclusive election by INEC with a view to ascertaining areas to be amended in the Act. This followed the adoption of a motion of urgent national importance by Sunday Karimi (PDP, Kogi) who said INEC does not possess the powers to declare elections inconclusive.
In Nigerian parlance, it has become a case of “seek ye political power first and every other thing shall be added unto you”. This fatalistic view of politics has been blamed for the ‘win at all costs mentality’ that allows thugs who are sponsored by desperate politicians to disrupt the process and destroy election materials in the strongholds of opponents. It has become the sole ticket for a supplementary election. Therefore, some have suggested that there is need to look beyond the thugs and perpetrators of violence so as to unmask their sponsors. Those who are behind the trouble should be made to face the wrath of the law.
Analysts who spoke to The Guardian canvassed political reform to make elective positions less attractive. By this, they mean, the need to desperately quest for office would be less. They also canvassed for independent candidacy as antidote to the unhealthy rivalry.
With the party structure already compromised with money politics, independent candidacy would bring sanity to the system where people with proven integrity and track record of service to the community will be elected by the people as a true reflection of their will. It will also reduce the incidence of godfathers hijacking the party and tele-guiding the candidate. The country’s political class also needs total reorientation towards service delivery rather than politics of self-aggrandizement. The level of self-centred politics being practised in the country will continue to hold Nigeria back for a long to come unless something gives and urgently, too.