The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, says given the challenges and malpractices that have marred elections both in the past and in recent times in the country, the commission cannot guarantee that the general elections in 2019 will be conclusive.
He said any attempt to give such assurance at this time would be second-guessing the outcome of the election, noting that it had become inevitable for the commission to declare some elections inconclusive.
The INEC boss, who spoke when he led some staff of the commission, including a national commissioner, Mr. Solomon Soyebi, on a visit to PUNCH Place, the corporate headquarters of PUNCH Nigeria Limited in Magboro, Ogun State, on Friday, stated that if everyone, including the staff of the commission, the voters, politicians and other stakeholders, play by the rules, there would be no inconclusive election.
He said, “We can’t second-guess to say this is the outcome of an election before it happens, unless we are not conducting elections. We hope it won’t lead to that, but if it happens, the constitution has a way out of it.
“There is no way the commission will declare any election conclusive where the threshold is not met. We can only declare an election conclusive when we are satisfied with the law and electoral act because all elections are governed by constitutional provisions, provisions of the electoral act and our guidelines. This is the challenge that we face, but we must express it because we (INEC) will not compromise.
“The constitution of this country provides condition for making return in an election. If that threshold is not met, can INEC make a declaration? We can’t, under the law, and if you do so the court will nullify the election and then we incur costs to do the election again.
“As to what will happen in 2019, only God knows, but we will abide by the provisions of the constitution, the electoral law and our guidelines in making declarations. We can only hope for the best.”
The INEC chairman, who spoke extensively while responding to questions on the inconclusive elections conducted by the commission, explained that majority of the 137 elections conducted by the commission in the past eight months were conclusive, dismissing insinuations that the commission had been organising inconclusive elections.
He explained that people had been used to conclusive elections on first ballot, pointing out that the political terrain has changed completely. He added that most of the elections were a product of the 2015 general elections and that there were no less than 680 court cases emanating from the 2015 general elections.
“It is not strange. More than any commission in the history of this country, we have conducted more elections outside the context of general elections. People often forget that we had inconclusive elections in the past.
“The first inconclusive election in Nigeria was in 1979, and that was the election that brought Shagari into power. We have forgotten about the mathematics of what two-third of 19 was, whether it was 12 or not. Eventually, the matter wasn’t resolved by the commission. People like Richard Akinjide went to court, and eventually the court decided the winner in 1979.
“In recent times, we have had series of inconclusive elections. The governorship election in Bauchi State was inconclusive because of post-election violence and INEC concluded the election after two weeks. The same thing happened in Imo; the first election that brought in Rochas Okorocha was inconclusive, until two weeks after. In 2015, Taraba, Abia and Imo were inconclusive and there were other constituency elections where elections were inconclusive.
“The most difficult election for the commission to conduct are off-season elections, because the attention of everybody focuses on a particular constituency and the political actors and gladiators and their antics have time to mobilise nationwide to descend on a particular constituency, which made the conclusion of such elections very difficult.
“What I want Nigerians to understand is that our democracy is maturing. If it matures, it cannot be the way we used to do things before. The mindset would have to change. Days were long gone when politicians do everything they can to be declared winners, knowing that the case would end up in court.
“So, let’s hope for the best, but it is everybody’s responsibility to make this democracy work. Citizens can protect their mandate. If we play by the rules and we are patient, I’m sure we will minimise all these issues leading to inconclusiveness.”
However, the INEC boss said apart from power play by political gladiators, emergence of strong political parties had made the elections more competitive. “When we had one dominant political party and other smaller parties, elections were always conclusive, but now, by evolution, not by imposition, we have two strong political parties, fielding strong candidates, making the elections extremely competitive,” he added.
When asked if he was being teleguided by the executive as rumoured in some quarters, he said there was no such thing, noting that both the opposition and the ruling parties had accused him of being teleguided by the executive anytime their party didn’t win an election.
“I have made a commitment to this country that the day I think I cannot perform this job in good conscience, I would leave, afterall I have a job to go back to; teaching. So, it’s not true that we are being teleguided,” he said.
Yakubu equally lamented that the nation had not been penalising electoral offenders, saying it was painful that over 1,000 persons died as a result of post-election violence in Kaduna in 2011 and nobody was arrested or prosecuted.
He added that it was also regrettable that the recommendations of the Mohammed Uwais-led committee and the Ahmed Lemu-led committee had not been implemented, saying time had come for the government to set up an electoral offences commission and tribunal, to which all violators of electoral acts would be subjected, including staff of the commission.
He said, “Under the electoral act, INEC is supposed to penalise electoral offenders and what are the steps: first, we have to make arrest, but INEC has no police, so we can’t arrest. Secondly, we have to investigate to be able to have evidence that can be tendered in court during prosecution, but we have no power to investigate, and for me, most extraordinarily, that means INEC is supposed to prosecute its own staff. How can INEC prosecute itself?
Meanwhile, when asked what the commission had done in punishing some of its staff found guilty of electoral offences, the INEC chairman said over a hundred of its staff, both serving and retired had been invited by the EFCC in connection with the allegation of financial misappropriation levelled against the former Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Maduekwe.
The EFCC had alleged that some key staff of INEC benefitted from the $26m allegedly shared by the former Minister in the run-up to the 2015 general elections.
Yakubu said, “The first one when I came in was the revelation coming out of what you people in the media call DiezaniGate. So far, over a hundred staff of INEC had been invited. At a point, we toiled with the idea of speaking to the EFCC to see the weight of evidence they have so that we can take administrative action against our own staff, but they are innocent until they are proven guilty. They have to be charged to court, but we have taken notice and we have a complete list.
“If you hear a certain number this week, the following week, it would have increased, arising from the interrogation of more staff, so we have not got to the end of it, and it’s not good for the commission to take decision in pieces, but eventually, some of them who are culpable will be charged to court.”
He, however, assured that the commission would continue to deepen the use of technology, learn from what happened, make the smart card reader better and add new initiatives. “We are committed to ensure that every ballot counts and is accounted for,” he said.