Following an emergency meeting it held on September 9 at the Ekiti State Governor’s Lodge, Abuja, the PDP Governors’ Forum issued a statement in which it passed a vote of no confidence in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
According to a report of the meeting in the Vanguard of September 11, the PDP governors said INEC, “needs to re-invent itself as a truly independent umpire of the electoral process in the country. For now we have no confidence in INEC. The Commission has conducted itself as a tool of the APC-led Federal Government, especially with the roles of the chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, and a National Commissioner, Mrs. Amina Zakari.”
Three days later the same newspaper seemed to agree with the PDP governors in its editorial of September 14. There were, the newspaper said, widespread concern for a couple of reasons about INEC’s neutrality as an umpire in the Osun governorship then scheduled for September 22.
“The more insidious factor” the newspaper said, “is that for the first time in the political history of Nigeria the electoral umpire has individuals intimately connected to the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari occupying powerful and sensitive positions. Buhari appointed them shortly after he assumed power in May 2015. The tradition hitherto had always been for the Chairman to come from a region other than those of the appointing President.”
Since then PDP, as the nation’s main opposition party, has seized every opportunity it has had to denigrate the two INEC members and the Commission itself as, in its opinion, an appendage of the ruling APC.
Both the PDP Governors’ Forum and the Vanguard were entitled to their opinions, as we all are. But then whereas opinion, as it is often said, is free, facts must always remain sacred. And although free, any opinion not based on facts is, at best, dubious, at times even downright malicious.
As we shall see shortly, the opinions of both the governors’ forum on September 9 and that of the Vanguard’s editorial on September 14, were not based on facts. Let’s begin with the Vanguard.
The newspaper said the public’s concern about INEC’s neutrality as an umpire was partly because President Buhari’s appointment over three years ago of Professor Yakubu as the Commission’s chair and Mrs. Zakari as a National Commissioner “occupying a powerful and sensitive position” violated a “tradition” of presidents appointing persons from regions other than theirs as chairmen of INEC and to “sensitive” positions in the Commission.
Since Independence in 1960 the Commission has had 12 chairmen, seven of them appointed by the military leaders between 1976 and 1999. All seven military-appointed chairmen were Southerners. All the military leaders, except General Olusegun Obasanjo as military leader between 1976 and 1979, were Northerners. It would then seem that the popular notion articulated by Vanguard of INEC’s chair coming from a region other than that of the serving president is correct. In reality it is not.
It is 23 years between 1976 and 1999 which, in certain contexts, is a long time. It is, however, debatable that a 23-year practice, being just about a generation, is long enough to be considered a tradition in the true sense of the word. But even if it is, it was military tradition and the appointment of Professor Yakubu as INEC Chairman was not the first to break with that “tradition”. What broke with it was the appointment in 2000 of Dr. Abel Goubadia, a Southerner, as INEC’s Chairman by President Olusegun Obasanjo, a fellow Southerner, followed by that of Professor Maurice Iwu, another Southerner, by the same president in 2005. Indeed, as military head of state back in the late seventies, Obasanjo appointed a fellow Southerner, Chief Michael Ani, as the chair of the Commission which conducted the 1979 election that ushered in the Second Republic.
Second, a president’s power to appoint members of the Commission is not absolute; it is subject to approval by the Senate. Besides, presidents do not share out portfolios in the Commission to their appointees. This is strictly its internal affairs. Mrs. Zakari, therefore, does not owe what Vanguard called her “powerful and sensitive” position in the Commission to the President. Besides, Mrs. Zakari was first appointed a member of the Commission, not by President Buhari, but by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Third, Mrs. Zakari would not be the only national commissioner to have been given a second term. There have been three others at least, namely, Chiefs Lawrence Nwuruku, Ishmael Igbani and Prince Adedeji Solomon Soyebi, serving his second term like Mrs. Zakari.
Last but no means the least, the lady, contrary to widespread belief, is not a blood relation of President Muhammadu Buhari. Her mother was from Daura, alright, but she was not Buhari’s sister. It’s also true that Buhari’s sister was once married to Mrs. Zakari’s father. But this was over 60 years ago before Mrs. Zakari was born. Besides, the marriage was short-lived and did not produce a child. Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, the veteran Kano politician who first made the claim many years ago, has since recanted. Those who continue to repeat it are therefore either unaware of his recantation or they are simply incapable of letting go their prejudices in the face of facts to the contrary.
Clearly when Vanguard repeated the widespread notion that both Mrs. Zakari and Prof. Yakubu owed their appointments to their “intimacy” to President Buhari, the newspaper couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The claim is even more tenuous in the case of Professor Mahmood Yakubu who incidentally, comes from Bauchi State, and owed his first prominent public service job as Executive Secretary of then Education Trust Fund (ETF, now Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND)) to late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, General Buhari’s nemesis in the 2007 presidential election. The professor also owed his second prominent public service job as Assistant Secretary (Finance and Administration) of the 2014 National Conference to President Goodluck Jonathan, the general’s nemesis in the 2011 presidential election.
Nepotism and geographical origin in the composition of INEC’s membership, as in the composition of any other organ, should, of course, be of public concern. However, what should be of far greater concern is the character, diligence and competence of the members, not whose relations they are or where they come from. On all three counts no one can accuse either Prof. Yakubu or Mrs. Zakari of failure in the past or in the present.
Each of them was the best graduating student of his/her class; the professor as the best overall graduating student of the university with a first class in History from Usman Danfodio University in 1985 and Mrs. Zakari as the best graduating student of her class with a second class upper in Pharmacy from Ahmadu Bello University in 1980. Before ABU, Mrs. Zakari had finished her secondary education as one of the best students from the once prestigious Queen’s College, Lagos.
Yakubu went on to earn his Masters from Cambridge in 1987 and his PhD from Oxford in 1991, making him a member of that rare breed of Oxbridge graduates. He also earned his professorship in 1998 at a relatively tender age of 36.
Their public service careers after graduation have been no less stellar than their academic records. Among other things, the professor was dean of graduate studies at the Nigerian Defence Academy and Executive Secretary of ETF. Mrs. Zakari was Secretary, first of Health and Human Services and then of Social Services. In all the offices they served both left a legacy of character, diligence and competence. Both have since brought these same virtues to bear as members of the Commission.
However, since INEC’s last governorship election in Osun on September 22, not only have they come under attack as being deficient, or even lacking, in these virtues. The entire INEC has come under similar attack from several quarters.
For instance, Thisday in its editorial of September 30 entitled “INEC and bungled elections”, condemned the Osun governorship election as “wide off the mark” because it was lacking in “justice, equity and fairness.” It also dismissed the supplementary election of September 27 that followed the inconclusive one of September 22 won by APC as “a sham.”
No fair-minded assessment of the election would agree with the newspaper. True, the Osun election, as Vanguard said in its own editorial a day before the supplementary election of September 27, was not perfect. But, to quote the same newspaper again, at least the first election was “generally acclaimed as free, fair and peaceful though tension-soaked.”
The supplementary election is now before the courts and therefore cannot be commented upon freely without risking contempt of the courts. Still it is safe to say any fair assessment of INEC’s conduct of the election should take into consideration not only the record of all the elections it has conducted since 2015. It should also take into consideration all the things it has done in the last three years to ensure free, fair and credible elections.
Since 2015 INEC has conducted about 195 odd elections, including seven off-season governorship elections, about a dozen senatorial and two dozen federal constituency elections and scores of State Assembly and Federal Capital Territory Area Council elections.
Out of these 195 odd elections only a handful have been successfully challenged in courts and in none of them did the courts order wholesale re-runs. Even more importantly, in a large number of the elections, notably the Ondo governorship election in which all contestants were senior lawyers, there were no litigations at all. Most important of all, victories at the polls have been shared across all the major parties including the ruling APC and opposition PDP and APGA.
It may, of course, be argued that an election management body, like a newspaper, is as good as its last outing and the Osun State governorship election, as INEC’s last major outing before next year’s general election, was not perfect. Certainly, it was not as good as, say, those of Ondo and Anambra States. Even then no fair-minded critic of the Commission would accuse it of being tardy, or worse still, of being an appendage of the ruling APC. Were it so, it would not have had the courage to announce, as it did in early October, that APC had no candidate, save that of the Presidency, for all the elective offices in Zamfara State, because the party had failed to conduct proper primaries for its candidates for those offices by the Commission’s deadline of October 7. The Commission would also not have had the courage earlier to have conducted a free, fair and credible impeachment process against Senator Dino Melaye in Kogi East which failed woefully in spite of the notorious fact that the Senator had become a painful thorn in APC’s flesh.
The most obvious reason why it is wrong to accuse INEC of partisanship is the apparent irony that the same people who accuse it of being an appendage of the ruling party are often the first to advocate that Local Government elections should be transferred to it because the State Independent Electoral Commissions that were given the mandate to do so by the 1999 Constitution, have, without exception, signally failed in their duties. Second, not only has INEC’s strict adherence to its procedures produced different winners and losers at different elections, it should be apparent to even the most casual political observer of our politics that the central directive principle of the Commission’s policies and programmes in the past three years is the dictum that “Sunlight is the best of disinfectants.”
INEC’s watchwords in being guided by this dictum have been inclusiveness, courage, openness and transparency. Hence, the Commission’s well-structured quarterly meetings with all the major stakeholders – the political parties, security agencies, civil society organisations, the media, development partners, etc. – to thoroughly discuss issues pertaining to its mandate, find solutions to them and through these robust discussions, secure the public’s buy-in of the solutions.
Among the Commission’s key innovations in furtherance of its mandates in the last three years are, first and foremost, the fixing of the dates of future general elections going forward from 2019 (in this case, the third Saturday of the February of every election year) and its subsequent issuance of the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2019 General Election on January 9. This was in line with the best global practices that allow long range planning by all stakeholders in elections.
Second, is its reintroduction of simultaneous accreditation and voting, in contrast to the practice in the immediate past of separating the two which was more prone to abuse. Third, is its implementation for the first time in the Commission’s history, of the constitutional and electoral provisions for continuous voter registration (CVR). Fourth, is its enhancement of existing 167,875 smart card readers (SCR) for authentication and verification of its biometric permanent voters’ card (PVC) in addition to procuring 27,327 new ones. This has led to continuous declines in the failure rate of the SCR in the elections it has conducted since 2015 such that today the rate is down to a negligible single digit.
Last, but by no means the least, there is its introduction of Form EC 60E, the so-called peoples’ result sheet. This is a poster-size copy of certified results of vote counting announced at polling units (PUs) posted on walls or similar surfaces so that the results can be captured by anyone with a phone which has a camera. This will enable any interested person or political party collate results of an election well ahead of INEC’s official announcements of same. This is meant to make it well-nigh impossible to change the results between PUs and collation centres.
These five innovations are by no means the only ones INEC has introduced in the last three years in consolidation and improvement of the system it inherited from Professor Attahiru Jega. Suffice it to say that between them alone the Commission today has been transformed into arguably the country’s most efficient and respected public institution in service delivery.
The foundation of this transformation is obviously the CVR because without a credible voters’ register there can never be a free, fair and credible election. This was why the Commission took the decision last year to put a stop to its practice of conducting fresh voter registration every General Election year. Instead it chose to build on the one it inherited from Jega.
It is easy to take that decision for granted until one realizes that in taking it INEC faced daunting financial and logistical obstacles. The ideal level to have conducted the VR was at the PU. At roughly 120,000 PUs in the country and with five staff per PU each required for the exercise, the Commission would have needed over 600,000, mostly ad-hoc, staff and over 1.20 billion Naira per day for their emoluments alone. INEC’s entire budget for the year was 45.5 billion.
The next best option would have been the ward level, or what we call Registration Areas (RAs). We have 8,809 of these. The cost at that level would have been over 20 billion Naira for the period, i.e. nearly half our annual budget. Thus, we were left with no choice but to conduct the exercise at the level of the 774 Local Governments in the country. Though this cost was affordable, it was by no means chicken change.
We then commenced the registration of Nigerians who came of age (18) last year and presented themselves at the registration centers, from April 17 and ended it on August 31 this year, altogether a little over 16 months. In addition, we recorded those who had lost their PVCs and those whose cards were defaced or whose particulars were wrongly captured from the 2014 exercise. We also captured those who wanted their PVCs transferred from where they voted in 2015 to their new areas of residence.
Consequently, the exercise captured over 14.5 million new voters. Added to the roughly 70 million captured in 2014, we are likely to have a gross total of over 84 million in the country by the time all the back-end cleaning up processes would have ended well ahead of the February 16 election. This would make our register of voters by far the single biggest data on adult Nigerians in the country, probably on the African continent. The PVCs of virtually all these voters have been printed and distributed to the states for collection.
What has made all this possible is, as I’ve said, the Commission’s watchwords of inclusiveness, courage, openness and transparency, watchwords that derived from its adherence to the dictum that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
It is this dictum that explains why INEC, for the first time in its history, opted to defend its budget for next year’s General Election, line by line, at a public hearing before the National Assembly. Hopefully, this decision to let the sunlight shine on its budget would, among other things, enable the discerning public see that more than 60% of the Commission’s election budgets go to emoluments for election personnel and logistics. This is as a result of the politicians’ notorious lack of trust in each other and lack of commitment to democratic values.
If, for example, our politicians have kept faith with each other and with the democratic value of freedom of choice, INEC would never have needed to print its ballot papers to the quality of currencies, store them in Central Bank of Nigeria vaults and distribute them to our wards only a couple of days to elections, with virtually all the security arrangements with which the CBN escorts our currencies to its branches. The cost implication of all this is mind boggling.
The most recent manifestation of the politicians’ lack of faith in each other and in democratic values as a class were the just concluded primaries of their parties. With hardly any exception, but particularly with the ruling APC and the leading opposition PDP, these primaries have been the most acrimonious in recent history.
As at the time of this writing, INEC had been joined in over 560 court cases challenging the outcome of the primaries. It had also received 52 petitions and over 300 applications for Certified True Copies (CTC) of the reports of its staff who monitored the primaries in an apparent prelude to even more court cases.
Since the last general election nearly four years ago, the political landscape has changed tremendously. Today the number of political parties has increased from 28 in 2015 to 91. As a result, the numbers of contestants for the country’s 1,558 constituencies – consisting of one presidential, 29 governorship (seven have since become off-season due to court orders), 109 senatorial, 360 House of Representatives, 991 Houses of Assembly and 68 FCT Area Councils – have exploded exponentially from those of 2015 to 73, 1,068, 1,886, 4,634 and 14,643 for the Presidency, Governorship, Senate, House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly, in that order. As at the time of this writing we had not finalized the tally for FCT Area Councils, the only Local Government whose elections INEC is mandated to conduct.
As we’ve seen, the number of voters has increased following the CVR from about 70m in 2015 to over 84m at present, as has the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from three states in 2015, all in North Eastern geopolitical zone, to 15 states at present, virtually across all the country’s six geopolitical zones as a result of communal and religious strife and this year’s record flooding.
All these and more – security at the PUs which is outside INEC’s remit, the do-or-die attitude of politicians and their impunity exemplified by the scourge of amplified vote buying – will confront INEC with formidable challenges as it conducts next year’s General Election.
In spite of these and other challenges, INEC, composed of 13 of the most accomplished Nigerians, with their records of integrity and courage at stake individually and collectively, stands ready to deliver an even fairer, freer and more credible general election than it did four years ago.
Haruna is an INEC National Commissioner and member of its Information, Voter Education and Publicity Committee.