Electoral bodies have the responsibility of conducting elections to enable citizens’ exercise their franchise to elect their leaders.
Whoever secures the votes of the majority is entrusted with the mantle of leadership and it is to him that the electorate surrenders its political and financial rights.
The choice of the majority may not always be the right one, and, although the minority will have its say, politics is a numbers game, so, the majority will have its way.
But if privileged minorities force their will on the majority (which, in my view, has continued for too long in our country) it is an invitation to bad governance. There is a direct correlation between free and fair elections and good governance. In fact, the most certain way to ensure accountable leadership is a free and fair ballot system.
It is often said that elections in Nigeria since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999, have been anything but acceptable. There is thus a need for concerted efforts to right the wrongs. The first step, in my opinion, is to identify the wrongs that have corrupted the system and cheated the majority of their choices for too long.
Sometimes, the problem is caused by the inadequacies in the enabling legislation: the Independent National Electoral Commission (Establishment) Act 2004. It might also be the absence of the will power to implement the safeguards for independence and good polls as provided and stipulated in the Act.
The 1999 Constitution (as amended) and INEC Act have copious provisions for INEC’s independence.
But, do these provisions merely express an intention of independence for the electoral body or do they cloth the electoral body with actual independence?
Section 158 of the Constitution provides for the independence of certain federal executive bodies, to wit: “In exercising its powers to make appointments or to exercise disciplinary control over persons…the Independent National Electoral Commission, shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.”
Similarly, the INEC Act in Section 6 provides that “In the discharge of its functions under this Act, the commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.”
Do these provisions really guarantee the independence of the electoral body? Is it enough to state that the commission should be independent when the independence is given by the right hand and essentially taken away by the left? How the leadership of the electoral body appointed and what is the source of its funding?
The Constitution and the Act are silent on the funding of the electoral body despite providing for the appointment of the leadership of the electoral body.
On appointment, Section 154(1) of the Constitution provides that the INEC chairman shall be appointed by the president subject to confirmation by the senate. The President also reserves the right to remove him from office albeit on an address supported by two-third majority of the senate – Section 157 (1) of the Constitution.
In a polity like ours, I dare to say that the mode of appointment of the head of the electoral body makes it susceptible to manipulation by the Presidency and to maintain an unholy loyalty to the president as experience has shown thus far.
There must be something fundamentally wrong with the system as we operate it here that has made nearly all the leadership of the electoral body under whatever nomenclature since independence to have failed or performed really poorly.
For instance, Eyo Esua, who led the first indigenous electoral body in the country, organised the first post-independence federal and regional elections of 1964 and 1965. The December 1964 election was marred by controversy and confusion which led to a military coup in 1966.
The result of the Michael Ani-led commission, which conducted the election that ushered in the Second Republic government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari on October 1, 1979, was rejected by the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), led by late Chief Obafemi Awolowo who challenged Shagari’s election in court but lost.
The elections conducted by Justice Ephraim Akpata that ushered in the Obasanjo’s government in 1999 did not carry any wide acceptability or approval.
Maurice Iwu conducted the elections that were perhaps the most controversial in the nation’s history. Even the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua admitted that the election that made him president in 2007 was flawed. By the time his tenure expired he had perhaps no goodwill left, that his appointment was not renewed.
After those era came Prof. Attahiru Jega and now Mohammed Yakubu. The outcries against controversial elections have still not changed. However, the situation does not seem to be as absurd as it was in the recent past. At least, there are hardly many incidences of number of votes outnumbering number of registered voters. Whether that is as a result ‘of the bird learning to fly without perching because of the improvement of the shooter’s prowess, is another issue. All over the world an aligned electoral body no matter how slight the alignment is, has done a polity no good and it cannot be different for our country.
With the experience in Nigeria since the return of democracy in 1999, one can say with almost no fear of contradiction that the ‘INEC’ has been anything but independent. From Abel Guobadia to Maurice Iwu, to Jega and now, Mohammed Yakubu they have always maintained a leaning, most commonly to the ruling and appointing authority.
The then ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) enjoyed the revered privilege of being in control of the ‘INEC’ for so long (sixteen years) and during the period the other political parties were at their mercy and most likely envious of PDP’s position of influence over the electoral body.
The facts in proof of a non-independent INEC have always been very glaring for all to see. The scenario surrounding the postponement of the 2015 general elections at the eleventh hour are still very fresh in our memories, when the elections were postponed on the alleged security situation in the North East. It was commonly believed that the ruling party saw defeat and needed to buy time to strategise. Who says our politicians are not good students? Fast forward to 2016 when the now ruling party needed time to, according to the opposition, perfect plans to rig the gubernatorial elections in Edo State, they raised issues of insecurity again at a time when Edo State was arguably widely adjudged to be the most security threat-free state in Nigeria. Postponement of the governorship election in the state was easily granted by INEC the moment it was requested by the ruling party, albeit through the security authorities.
Hadejia wrote this piece from Gusau, Zamfara State