The 2019 general polls exercise may be technically over but for a few states with yet to be concluded processes, even as the season of stock taking is following close on its heels. At least the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) has even issued Certificates of Return to the first batch of successful candidates with the exception being those whose elections have ‘K’ leg, as Nigerians would say. As the victorious candidates are celebrating and the losers are counting their losses, so are various aspects of the exercise surfacing for critical review, with each concerned party trying to reflect on the positive or negative impact of the exercise on its fortunes.
In the circumstances, the launch of a probe into the polls by the National Assembly has clearly raised the bar, as the development promises to place under formal public scrutiny, some of the undeniably odious outcomes of the exercise. At the resumption of the two chambers of the National Assembly during the past week, they independently resolved to look into some aspects of the conduct of the polls exercise. Specifically, last Wednesday in the Senate, Senator Dino Melaye of Kogi State succeeded in his attempt to sponsor a motion in respect of a post mortem on the polls, specifically with respect to the incidence of reported instances of militarization. In the House of Representatives, a flood of criticisms attended the debate on the polls as several members expressed misgivings on the exercise, and called for significant reforms to the electoral processes even if such would include the amendment of the Constitution to redefine the powers of INEC.
On the flip side is the report of some Senators who were not enthusiastic about a probe of the polls exercise, but were eventually over ruled by the President of the Senate Bukola Saraki. In the context of national interest Saraki was right in allowing the probe to proceed. It is instructive that the Senate President alluded to the need for legislators to allow national interest to supersede personal interests, in his response to the anti-probe lobby.
Seen from a casual perspective, a probe into the 2019 polls exercise may easily be seen as insurmountable due to the sheer scope of associated numerics. For one the exercise which featured elections at five levels, ranging from the Presidential to governorship to federal and state legislators across the states, and local government officials for the Federal Capital Territory, was carried out in 119,973 polling points, while results would be collated in 8,809 wards across the 774 local government areas in all of the 36 states of the federation. Secondly it involved the direct participation of hundreds of thousands of officials comprising regular and ad-hoc INEC staff, multi-agency security personnel, local and international election monitors, political parties, community based organizations and other interest groups including the ubiquitous thugs as well as odd-jobbers. Expectedly therefore, the exercise has involved a humongous scale of deployment in financial, human and material resources. Hence expectations that outcomes would emerge with text book precision remain simply unrealistic.
However, given that the essential feature of the exercise was that it was driven by the law of large numbers, there exist a guarantee of common and similar features as well as tendencies across the various polling units no matter where located. Hence a probe as envisaged may not need to go beyond most pronounced anomalies, to yield appropriate insights for reforming the electoral system.
It is also for good measure that the conduct of the polls has been trailed by a welter of misgivings, complaints and protests over issues – many of which gnaw at the very base of the exercise, with some actually bordering on outright discredit of aspects of the exercise. For instance, the results of the polls featured in many cases computational errors, falsification of field reports, ballot-box theft or snatching, and innumerable instances of violence leading to unwarranted deaths especially in Rivers State. The fore going therefore makes a post mortem on the polls a national imperative.
To accentuate the imperative of a post mortem is the fact that several other stake-holders in the polls are also conducting reviews of the exercise. At least the Nigerian Army is also probing reports of questionable conduct of its officers especially in the volatile run of the exercise in the River State.
Would the anti-probe lobby argue that the country’s interest will be best served by sweeping all of these anomalies under the carpet? In deed for the National Assembly to avoid such a post mortem of the 2019 general polls constitutes a classical play-out of the antics of the proverbial ostrich, which hides its head in the sand, when faced with a threat of calamitous proportion.
Meanwhile for the purpose of maximizing the dividends of the envisaged probe of the 2019 polls by the National Assembly, the need exists for a closer involvement of the state assemblies in any such exercise. From the experiences gathered in the course of legislative inputs to the polls which in the main featured the dingdong affair over the yet to be assented, amended Electoral Act 2018, the involvement of the state assemblies had remained largely benign.
By the express provisions of the Constitution, the National Assembly is required to activate the effective participation of the state assemblies in matters like electoral reforms. However just as it cannot be denied that the state assemblies suffer the common pain of being constrained by the over bearing dispositions of their respective state governors, their passive involvement in critical reforms in the country’s polity has not been helpful. This dispensation of running solo denied the National Assembly the required momentum and traction for its initiatives for transforming the electoral process across the country. With the opportunity of the probe the National Assembly needs to activate its constitutionally defined interfaces for relating with the state assemblies. Without doubt the contributions of the state assembles to any review of the country’s electoral process cannot be quantified just as such remains indispensable.