The wages of INEC

Ogunsakin Mustapha
12 Min Read
Ebun Olu Adegboruwa SAN

By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN

“Truth must be told, the non-transmission of results to the IReV portal may also reduce the confidence of the voting population in the electoral process.”
Hon Justice Inyang Okoro, Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

These are words on marble, coming from the highest court of the land. They simply summarize the failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC during the 2023 general election and they remain indelible marks on the record and history of the electoral umpire. We have now gradually come to the reality of the bastardy of democracy. An institution established to strengthen democracy is daily eroding it, through crooked elections, dribbling tactics and electoral malfeasance. Putting it very mildly, INEC has simply become a hindrance to the search for democracy in Nigeria. It is moving dangerously to sink the democratic ship that many Nigerians have paid the highest price for, with their liberties and their lives. This is not peculiar to Nigeria though as so many other African countries have such other fanciful entities similar to INEC in the name electoral umpire, as the means of perpetuating themselves in office. When the people can no longer tolerate the riggings and manipulations, they resort to armed struggles and at the end of it, coup d’etat.

Why is credible election important for democracy? Good governance and accountability, for if a leader is only to emerge through the verdict of the people freely delivered at the polls without any form of manipulation, he will be on his toes while in office in order to escape the wrath of voters. If elections are free and fair, no political party will take voters for granted by conducting sham primary elections, imposing candidates on its members and the people. And where people are allowed to choose their leaders freely, the government in power will hold itself accountable to the electorate. But because of INEC and its voodoo elections, we have ‘leaders’ who consider themselves as emperors, leaders who oppress those who are supposed to have voted them into office and who go without due regard for accountability. What My Lord Justice Okoro is saying is that election is not and cannot be about figures alone. That is why we talk about free, fair and credible elections. The credibility of any elections is in its transparency, secrecy and accessibility. Once the people have lost confidence in the electoral process, any candidate emerging from such flawed contraption cannot truly claim to have the legitimacy of the people. Two major areas of concern for the people of Nigeria for the 2023 election were the deployment of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS and INEC Result Viewing Portal, iREV. BVAS is a device that facilitates the identification and accreditation of voters whilst iREV is an online portal where unit-level results are uploaded directly from the polling unit, transmitted and available for public monitoring. It is to help secure election results and guarantee the sanctity of votes. Accreditation of voters and election results are the two main areas of election rigging and manipulation. In times past before BVAS was introduced, it was possible for politicians to hijack the process of accreditation to their own selfish advantage.

INEC has been involved in the conduct of elections for an unbroken period of twenty years on, from 1999 to 2019. It would seem however that there is still a lot to do to get the electoral umpire moving. For sure, INEC is the only statutory body authorised to organise or conduct elections in Nigeria, in respect of certain offices created by the Constitution. INEC is one of the federal executive agencies of the State established under section 153 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, with its functions stated in paragraph 15 of the Third Schedule of the said Constitution. Under and by virtue of paragraph 14 of the said Third Schedule, the Chairman of INEC should be at least forty years old, he must be non-partisan, he must not be a member of a political party and he must be a person of unquestionable integrity. By law, the major functions of INEC are to:

* organize, undertake and supervise all elections into major positions of national importance as stated in the Constitution;
* register political parties;
* monitor the organisation and operation of the political parties, including their finances, conventions, congresses and party primaries;
* arrange and conduct the registration of persons qualified to vote and prepare, maintain and revise the register of voters for the purpose of any election;
* monitor political campaigns and provide rules and regulations which shall govern the political parties.
From all the above, INEC is the alpha and omega of major elections in Nigeria. This is further confirmed by section 158 (1) of the Constitution which states that INEC shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person. In plain language, the Constitution has set out to establish an electoral body that is truly independent, because of the unique roles that INEC has to play in the emergence of leaders across the land. Statutorily and financially therefore, the goal is to make INEC a self-accounting body, in order to guarantee its independence and impartiality. But this has not been the case at all, over the years.

Confidence involves trust, reliance and faith that one will act in a right, proper or effective way, it mirrors certainty that something will be done as stated or as expected. It goes to the root of credibility, especially when there are competing forces and there is need for someone or an entity to stand in the place of the examiner or umpire. If the referee in the football match, in the boxing arena and indeed all other sports cannot be trusted to act fairly, then the contest cannot be said to be fair. Political parties and their candidates are usually invited by INEC to jostle for certain positions of leadership, they are to convince the people and seek their mandate to be elected to represent them. If that process of emergence cannot be depended upon, if the umpire cannot be trusted, then we cannot in good conscience claim to have a contest. Now let us relate all these with the 2023 general election. INEC postponed the election at the very last minute, at dawn. There were too many challenges associated with the registration of voters and issuance and collection of the permanent voter’s cards, which indeed should be the foundation of any electoral success. There was some form of disconnect between INEC and the voters, in terms of voter education and information, especially in relation to the collection of the voter’s cards. The procedure was unduly bureaucratic, unwieldy and frustrating. You just have to keep going and going, at times for many days on end. With the resources committed to this exercise, there is no reason why any voter should have been denied this basic entitlement. The frustrations associated with election and voting in Nigeria make it unattractive to get involved in the process of leadership recruitment through the ballot.

When there is a breach of public confidence due to failure to fulfil promises made, there must be consequences otherwise there will be no change. One of the reasons for imposing penalty for infractions of the law is to achieve deterrence so that the pains, discomfort and inconveniences suffered for past offences will serve to discourage their repetition or continuance. Presently, it is business as usual for INEC. The same iREV portal that failed in the past elections is still being marketed by INEC for the off-cycle elections coming up in November. INEC has allowed politicians turn election into some kind of ritual, whereby you cannot participate decently in the process unless you agree to do it their own way. The declaration of Hon Justice Inyang Okoro is sufficient for the INEC Chairman to either resign or be relieved of his office. You cannot continue to supervise a system that you cannot improve upon for the good of the nation. In this regard, the only reason that the Tinubu administration will continue to retain the current chairman of INEC is if it seeks to profit from the failures of that organisation. Free, fair and credible elections constitute the foundation of democracy and no democrat can lay claim to that title if he cannot bequeath a legacy of electoral reforms. The President needs to act urgently to initiate genuine electoral reforms that will satisfy the tenets of democracy.

UNBUNDLING INEC

INEC is simply too large, like an octopus without direction. The responsibilities imposed upon the organization by law are too enormous and indeed cumbersome. Non-election related matters such as registration of voters, distribution of voter’s cards, creation and delimitation of constituencies, registration of political parties, monitoring political campaigns, observing party primary elections, funding elections, etc should be undertaken by a different entity from INEC. For instance, under the Electoral Act, 2022, political parties are required to conduct primary elections for all elective offices and these must be monitored by INEC. To achieve this, there will be elections at the wards to determine their representatives. Where on earth will INEC have the manpower and fund to achieve the task of monitoring these elections across Nigeria? And the same INEC is to attend and observe the campaigns of political parties and track their funding? Observing the behavioural patterns of INEC leaders, from the Chairman to the Resident Electoral Commissioners at least, it is easy to notice some semblance of highhandedness, with the impression of lord and master, as if holding the rest of us to some kind of ransom. With the present INEC, we will only move round in circles.

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