By Jude Ndukwe
During his screening exercise before the Senate prior to his confirmation as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof Mahmud Yakubu had, in response to one of the questions from the senators, said it was too late in his life for anyone, no matter how highly placed or powerful, to influence him in the discharge of his duties. Although I had my reservations about his sincerity but having watched him on that day, he performed so well in convincing the senators and every other person who might have had doubts about his capacity, firmness and fairness that he was the right man for the job. Since then I have taken special interest in him to know if indeed we still have men around who honour their word irrespective of the prevailing circumstances and pressure.
For a majority of the elections which Mahmud Yakubu’s INEC has conducted since he came on board, Nigerians have often expressed strong reservations about them to the extent that at a point in time, the Commission was rechristened Inconclusive National Electoral Commission, INEC, in mockery of its several elections it declared inconclusive as a result of reasons not appearing genuine to some citizens, a move which many saw as attempts to rig the system in favour of one party against the other.
Although INEC has stoutly defended its conduct of elections, if there was still any faith in INEC by the citizens, such faith must have finally melted away with the conduct of the Osun State election which started well but whose rerun ended up leaving soured grapes in the mouths of electorates, observers and Nigerians in general.
To start with, it is believed by many Nigerians that the Osun rerun was conjured up by INEC under the influence of powerful forces who were desperate to subvert the people’s will in the election in order to create time and space for the many infractions observed during the rerun on Thursday, September 27, 2019. The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room rightly observes that “the circumstances that led to the cancellation of the election in the seven polling units where the election were rerun including violence, also repeated themselves in most of this election, raising questions on why results obtained under these conditions should now stand”.
It further stated that “the entirety of the Osun State rerun election derogates from the recent gains made in our elections process and the confidence that was beginning to be built. The lapses in the Osun rerun election have put a serious question mark on the electoral process and raise concerns about the forthcoming 2019 Nigeria general elections”.
Also, missions of the US, EU and UK observed these infractions with particular concern about the role of the security agents who were reported to have harassed and intimidated voters as a way of preventing some of them from voting and even arrested some election observers including those from the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA. It is therefore troubling that despite these reports from credible local and international observers, INEC still went ahead to declare results in a rerun where a good number of the voters were deliberately disenfranchised.
The Osun election has, no doubt, cast a dark shadow on the nation’s electoral process. Following the election, Nigerians across spectrums have questioned the usefulness of their PVCs which they conclude are only just another card that has no value whatsoever for elections as, in their reckoning, INEC, the security forces and other relevant agencies of government have over time shown unrestrained bias and openly pitched their tents consistently towards one party against the other.
There is no stronger evidence of the rigging template and determination of the APC in their insatiable desire for power even if it means severely circumventing the process and denying the people their will and choice than the Freudian slip of the APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole who was caught on camera saying “Only people who can afford the pains of rigging…should partake in elections”. The bravado with which the former Edo State governor said it is even a louder testimony that the APC is working in cahoots with INEC and security agencies to continue to demean the system.
The Osun debacle borrowed its roots from the earlier Ekiti governorship election that was heavily militarized with the security agencies showing unmitigated bias against the PDP and other political parties in favour of the APC. It is therefore most unfortunate that the zeal and enthusiasm with which Nigerians registered for and collected their permanent voters card just in August have been dampened only barely a month after by the shenanigans of those in authority.
Some Nigerians have even been forced to conclude that the results of the 2019 general elections have already been written to favour the ruling party at the centre and therefore there is no need participating in the electoral process any longer.
How we got here is saddening. While APC rode on the goodwill of Nigerians based on their scurrilous attacks, campaigns of calumny, propaganda, half-truths and sophistry embarked upon against the then president Goodluck Jonathan and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, it is bewildering how this same party that had endeared itself to the hearts of Nigerians with their vitriolic style of campaign has lost so much support and so fast just in three years to the extent that they apply the win-it-by-all-means strategy including dubious collaboration with security agencies and INEC officials to manipulate the process and thereafter declare themselves winners with aplomb while dismissing the electorates and other participants with the “go-to-court” sermon that has now become a new catchphrase of ridicule in our electoral lexicon.
The Osun rerun is a monumental travesty. Videos abound where electorates were lamenting their inability to vote because security agents or APC thugs either harassed them or turned them back from approaching their polling units to cast their votes. The larger implications of such practices could be very dire on the nation. It was John F. Kennedy who once said that “Those who make peaceful change impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”.
In as much as no one wishes violence on another not to talk of the nation, the actions of some of our leaders have gone beyond preaching the impossibility of making peaceful change impossible to actually practicing its impossibility. Such leaders should know that there is a limit to the endurance of a people, and no one has the monopoly of violence. When people are constantly pushed to the wall, they would be forced to react and the extent of their reaction is sometimes only measured after the billowing smoke have gone down and the dust settled.
Prof Mahmud Yakubu and his team must realize that they owe posterity their integrity. They owe the nation their sworn impartiality. They must realize that sovereignty resides with the people and the people have the freedom to exercise it as they see fit. From Kogi, Ondo, Edo, Ekiti to Osun, the story has not been different. The disenchantment created by INEC’s perceived partiality against the people is leaving question marks on their lips? They are asking, is this the same INEC which Prof Mahmud Yakubu promised during his screening was going to be impartial and conduct free, fair and credible elections, or is there another INEC which Yakubu and his team want us to wait for to conduct a widely acceptable 2019 general elections?
INEC should know that the election observers including the US, EU, and UK who spoke with one voice in condemnation of the Osun rerun process cannot all be wrong. The nation is already hanging by the cliff and it might just take only one more push by INEC and the security agencies at the 2019 elections to finally push her down the abyss and set off a conflagration that might make historians write on the nation’s epitaph: “Here lays the ashes of Nigeria, murdered by her electoral umpires. Indeed, there was a country”! May this not be Nigeria’s lot. It will not be only if INEC, the security agencies and other critical stakeholders in the polity allow a free and fair electoral process.
INEC, over to you!
—[email protected]; Twitter: @stjudendukwe