Having endured an avalanche of criticisms following the initial postponement of the presidential election, the Independent National Electoral Commission was also not spared after the conduct of the elections came with logistical and security issues. The controversy that followed the declaration of the presidential election result also left the electoral commission at the mercy of political parties that lost the elections and reproaches from political analysts.
The latest barrage of criticisms INEC is facing is as a result of the declaration of inconclusive elections in six states and suspension of the process in Rivers State. Understandably so because the commission is the only constitutional body responsible for administering elections in Nigeria and thus virtually every garbage regarding electoral issues lands on the commission’s doorstep. Sadly, another round of taxpayers’ funds will be used to conduct supplementary elections as a result of the misdemeanour of the same politicians who control the state resources.
Taking a holistic look at the circumstances where elections can be declared inconclusive, it seems that INEC has been applying the margin of lead principle in a bid to further its credibility and transparency. INEC guidelines for the 2019 elections succinctly explain that supplementary elections may hold in line with the ‘Margin of Lead Principle’ where the commission is unable to deploy to Polling Units due to logistical challenges, wilful obstruction or resistance to deployment/distribution of election materials or where there is voter resistance to the use of the Smart Card Reader. Similarly, supplementary elections will be announced where the commission determines that violent disruptions occurred at a substantial number of Polling Units before announcement of results.
Although there were reports of delay in deployment of materials in a handful of polling units, elections still held. The main reason behind inconclusive elections is due to vote cancellation caused by either ballot box snatching, destruction of electoral materials, over-voting or violence at polling units or collation centres. The commission itself obviously will not snatch its own ballot box or destroy its own materials and as a matter of fact, there cannot be over-voting in polling units without the collusion of political party agents and security operatives present at the time. It’s no more news that politicians through thugs, agents and loyalists are usually the culprits and perpetrators of electoral violence in a desperate move to swing voters’ decision in their favour.
Reports abound on how thugs inspired by desperate politicians disrupted the process or destroyed election materials especially when their personal interest was at stake. The sudden fire incidents at a number of INEC offices close to the elections still await investigation. More so, whether the security agencies involved in the elections claim that they were impersonated by thugs in their uniforms or not, these agencies also have a chunk of blame when it comes to disruption of elections leading to cancellation and most times the infamous inconclusive election declaration.
Election officials cannot be harassed, intimidated or assaulted and then still take the blame for snatching of ballot boxes while security agents who as a matter of fact are mandated to protect everyone including the materials remain exonerated. The best INEC can do in such scenario is to cancel elections in such polling units or collation centres and if the total number of registered voters surpasses the margin of lead between the two major candidates, the credible thing to do is to conduct a supplementary election.
It is thus high time we called out politicians who are the major actors in the electoral process to desist from disrupting the process or face the wrath of the law. It will even be better if these electoral offences that lead to cancellation of hard-earned votes can be investigated and when linked to principal perpetrators, they should be punished accordingly. Come to think of it, has the Inspector General of Police ever made effort to hold commissioners of police responsible in states where electoral violence occurs? It’s high time commissioners started holding Divisional Police Officers responsible at the locations where there are disruption of elections.
While this piece is not completely exonerating the electoral commission from the ills bedevilling Nigeria’s elections, the politicians and security agents should take a lion’s share of the spoils. The electoral commission does not operate in a vacuum and thus electoral actors must play their own role to ensure a credible process.