The most visible and very worrisome outcome of the Saturday, March 9 governorship and state assembly elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] was that governorship elections were declared inconclusive in six states while the election process was halted in its tracks in one state.
The elections in Kano, Sokoto, Bauchi, Plateau, Adamawa and Benue states were declared inconclusive while INEC halted the entire process in Rivers State due to violence and severe disruption. Several Senate and House of Representatives elections from two weeks earlier were not concluded while many state assembly polls were also disrupted. While violence was blamed in some cases, late arrival of polling materials or failure of the card reader machine were blamed in some others.
Elections are declared inconclusive under Sections 26 and 53 of the Electoral Act. This happens when the total number of registered voters in areas where elections could not hold exceeds the margin between the first and second placed candidates in the election. In other words, the votes of people who could not vote could alter the election result. In some cases this calculation is academic because it is the number of voters with PVCs [permanent voter cards] that is important, not the total number of registered voters.
The Electoral Act’s provision for inconclusive elections has created a huge image problem for our elections because too many people believe that it is just an avenue to rig elections by favoured candidates and parties. The opposition PDP made much of the fact that its candidates were leading in five of the six governorship contests that were declared inconclusive. In actual fact however, the provision was created for a very good reason because our politicians contrive to unleash violence in areas where they are not strong in order to depress their opponent’s votes. Without this provision therefore, a candidate could win the election simply by disenfranchising enough voters in his opponent’s strongholds.
On the other hand, the same provision is now used by losing candidates to unleash violence so as to prevent a return. This gives them time to reorganize and plot new ways of winning the supplementary elections. In so far as inconclusive elections cause anxiety and tension and supplementary elections entail costs for INEC and the public till, it is important to modify the provision. If 50,000 voters are affected by cancelled votes, for example, but INEC knows that only half of them have PVCs, this should be the yardstick for deciding if polls are inconclusive.
Early yesterday, INEC reversed its Bauchi State returning officer’s rejection of votes from Tafawa Balewa Local Government and said his decision violated its election manual. It has now ordered the collation of those votes to resume under a new collation officer. INEC also reduced the number of outstanding votes from Ningi Local Government from 25,000 to 2,500. Matters should not end there. Both the Returning Officer and the Ningi collation officer should be investigated for possible collusion with crooked politicians and if found guilty, should be prosecuted for electoral offences.
On the other hand, the supplementary elections to be held in five states [and possibly Bauchi too] on March 22, as well as the polls to be concluded in Rivers State, must be handled with the utmost transparency. All the outstanding elections pitch APC against PDP and politicians will leave no stone unturned to win. The security agencies must not be used by any side to suppress the will of voters or manipulate the results. Any improper use of state power by Federal or state authorities and security agencies will not go undetected by voters and election observers. Such will erode the legitimacy of our democracy, apart from the very real danger that it could also ignite violence.