• April 20, 2024

I REFUSE TO GIVE UP ON INEC

 I REFUSE TO GIVE UP ON INEC

Please permit me to start with response to a twist and contortion done by the lying online medium called Sahara Reporters to my article last week.

I had written under the headline, For PMB, it’s Nigeria or Nothing, and the point I made was that President Muhammadu Buhari had given the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) all that it needed to deliver free, fair, credible polls on February 25, 2023, and if there were glitches and shortcomings, it had nothing to do with the President.

When the contortionist Sahara Reporters went to town, they said: ‘2023 election that produced Tinubu as President-elect not perfect—Buhari’s aide, Femi Adesina.

What was the intention? To put me on collision course with some forces and interest groups in the country. You know most people lack intellectual rigor, and they never bother to find out the original thing you wrote, they just believe the twisted version hook, line and sinker. And they would share it widely on digital and social media, as they did to the Sahara Reporters slant.

But does it bother me? Heck! It doesn’t. When they have twisted and negatively slanted everything one said or wrote in about eight years, one gets inured to their mischief and shenanigans. Na who that one scare again?

Curiously, however, the words Sahara Reporters tried to put in my mouth now constitute one side of the narrative trailing the February 25 election. Chatham House has said it. The American Ambassador in Nigeria has said it. And INEC itself has admitted that the election had challenges, which it would strive to correct in the Governorship and State Assembly elections now postponed to March 18.

And that is why I still repose confidence in the INEC as led by its Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu. It has not tried to hide behind one finger, proclaiming loudly that the election was the best thing that ever happened to us in Nigeria.

By the way, do you have perfect elections even in the Western world? America, more than once, has had highly disputed presidential polls. So also some other major democracies of the world. And it is quite manly to own up to it, as INEC has done, and resolve to do better.

Prof Yakubu held a meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) from all over the country in Abuja last weekend, and he declared:

“No doubt, last week’s national elections raised a number of issues that require immediate, medium, and long-term solutions. The planning for the election was painstakingly done. However, its implementation came with challenges, some of them unforeseen. The issues of logistics, election technology, behaviour of some election personnel at different levels, attitude of some party agents and supporters added to the extremely challenging environment in which elections are usually held in Nigeria.”

The election came with challenges, some of them unforeseen. Does it then tantamount to a perfect exercise? By no means. Are there perfect elections anywhere in the world? A rarity. But is INEC trying to cover its shortcomings in areas where they didn’t measure up to pledges and promises earlier made? Not at all. Hear Prof Yakubu again:

“We appreciate the sacrifice and doggedness of Nigerians and the dignity and maturity displayed by political leaders even in the context of divergent views about the election. A lot of lessons have been learnt. Of immediate concern to the Commission is how the identified challenges can be addressed as we approach the concluding phase of the General Election involving the largest number of constituencies i.e. 28 State Governorship elections and 993 State Houses of Assembly seats.”

Frank. Honest. And that gives cause to still maintain confidence in the electoral umpire. An organization that has owned up to lapses, and is willing to correct them in the immediate and long term. This is the pledge it has made:

“As we approach the Governorship and State Assembly elections, we must work harder to overcome the challenges experienced in the last election. Nothing else will be acceptable to Nigerians. All staff found to be negligent, whether they are regular or ad hoc officials, including Collation and Returning Officers, must not be involved in forthcoming elections. RECs must also immediately initiate disciplinary action where prima facie evidence of wrongdoing has been established.”

Nothing else will be acceptable to Nigerians, says Prof Yakubu. True. This is a man who recognizes the burden of history on his shoulders. Most of his predecessors barely ended their tenures with their image and reputation intact. This cool and calm academic must, therefore, pull the chestnut out of the fire. The shortcomings of February 25 must be corrected pronto, particularly the failure to upload results from the polling booths to INEC portal real-time. Promises had been made on that, Nigerians had held onto it, and it should be achieved.

Hear Yakubu again: “Election Day logistics must be finalised days before the election and handled by the Electoral Officers (EOs) at Local Government level. This has been our standard practice. Centralising the process as was done in some States resulted in delayed deployment of personnel and materials and late commencement of polls. RECs will be held responsible for any tardy arrangement or the failure to deploy electric power generators to collation centres or polling units where such facilities are needed. The Commission has enough facilities in all the States of the Federation. Failure to deploy them is simply inexcusable.

“Arising from last week’s election, the Commission has received reports from our State offices as well as complaints and petitions from political parties and candidates. Where infractions of any kind are proven, there will be redress. I must add that any action taken by the Commission is without prejudice to the rights of parties and candidates to seek further remedy as provided by law.”

Yes. Proven infractions should be redressed, and rights of parties and candidates who wish to seek further redress in courts must be respected. As we all know, the then Candidate Buhari approached the courts after disputed polls of 2003, 2007, and 2011. He didn’t get the reliefs he sought, but by 2015, he won through the ballots cast. Rather than resort to self help, which may lead to breakdown of law and order, and cause wanton loss of lives, it is good that the challengers of the February 25 polls have gone to court. Let them have their days.

The Commission has made us a fresh pledge:

“On Election Day technology, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) will once again be deployed for voter accreditation and result management. The deployment of BVAS has gone a long way to sanitise voter accreditation as can be seen from the result of recent elections. Since last week, the Commission has intensified the review of the technology to ensure that glitches experienced, particularly with the upload of results are rectified. We are confident that going forward the system will run optimally.”

I can’t but share the optimism of INEC, and say a quiet prayer for it to acquit itself well. An irreducible legacy President Buhari wants to leave for Nigeria is free, fair, credible elections. He has made the pledge both home and abroad. And he has given all the support necessary to the electoral body. Nothing must detract from the President’s promise. Nothing. Again, I say, nothing.

*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity

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