INEC’S SWANSONG: A Commission in Its Shadows

By Dan UGWU.

 

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), set up in 1998 to oversee elections in Nigeria is running a risk of going defunct. As the day goes by, its troubles increase in breadth and width. Right from the time of Justice Ephraim Akpata; the Commission’s premier chairman to these days of Mahmood Yakubu, INEC has been saddled with irregularities in matters of elections.

Apart from irregularities centered on common factors as shoddy preparations, ballot paper unavailability, unavailability of smart card readers and large cancellation of valid votes, INEC’s crown of thorns has further been complication with court verdicts. This is the latest addition in the Commission’s sad story, a development that is almost becoming a dirge to INEC’s swansong.

If there is anything that poses threat to the continuous existence of democratic governance in Nigeria aside from the rising spate of insecurity and the dangerous trend of distrust among ethnic nationalities in recent times, the rate at which the Supreme Court now decides election outcomes and the perceived shortcomings of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have become matters of major concern.

In the recent times, our beloved country has witnessed the tribunalization of our electoral process and democracy. Nigeria as a nation has had the highest number of electoral disputes in the world. It is only in Nigeria, that our election candidates or aspirants are determined not by the political parties or electorates per say, but by the courts which legislate on the outcome of party primaries and conventions.

INEC'S SWANSONG: A Commission in Its Shadows
    Prof. Yakubu Mahmood; Current Chairman, INEC

    At times, the courts determine rightful party flag-bearers even months after the general elections, leading to sack of elected officers by the people. Our leaders and the courts also have a way of imposing candidates on the people. Even after the elections, we also go back to the tribunal for them to determine who has won.

    It doesn’t happen anywhere in the world where the courts are saddled with such responsibilities that make the electorates irrelevant in matters of selecting their choice leaders, a situation that is making political offices appear as positions for the highest bidders and corrupt persons who have the whims and caprices to wangle their ways.

    INEC; the electoral body that superintends over elections does not even have the authority to determine who wins and who loses. INEC reports are challenged by the aspirants who push them to court as defendants. Even the Nigerian police and other security agents appear more powerful, resourceful and reliable in elections as their reports have become more valuable and reliable than INEC’s.

    In cases of irregularity and fraud, INEC’s decision to exclude such units and votes for transparency and credibility are even challenged by some aggrieved aspirants. In the foregoing, they drag the Commission to court and the court adjudicates on their litigations, rendering INEC as toothless Bulldogs.

    INEC'S SWANSONG: A Commission in Its Shadows

      Sadly, the Commission has been involved in over 1,600 court cases arising from the February/March 2019 general elections. This includes 809 cases on pre-election matters and 807 cases on post-election litigations.

      Unfortunately, Nigerian judges are not essentially trained to determine winners of elections, and yet they have over a thousand cases to address all through election period. It does appear the courts have no more responsibilities than election matters in Nigeria. This is a very ugly development that has marred our democracy, making us the scorn among other nations.

      As a matter of fact, the verdicts of the Supreme Court in the isolated governorship elections of Osun State held in September 2018, the Imo and Bayelsa State governorship polls and the conduct of INEC in the Kogi State exercise have continued to give political pundits and legal luminaries worry over the fate of Nigeria’s democracy should the trend continue.

      Several other Nigerians, using the Bayelsa and Imo states governorship elections and the final verdict of the apex court as a peg, have also expressed concern that Nigerian courts are gradually taking over the role of the election umpire, especially when it comes to determining winners in many contests. This is further complicated by the inconsistency inherent in some Apex court’s decisions.

      INEC'S SWANSONG: A Commission in Its Shadows
        Justice Muhammad Tank; Chief Justice of Nigeria

        For instance, in the judgement that sacked David Lyon the governor-elect of Bayelsa and his running mate Biobarakuma Degi-Eriemienyo on the grounds of alleged certificate forgery, was received across the board with mixed feelings because in a similar case involving James Faleke and Audu Abubakar in Kogi state, the court separated the deputy governor from the governor.

        The same court refused to give it to Faleke on the ground that he was not the governorship candidate but the deputy. In the Bayelsa case, the same Supreme Court joined and sacked them. Now, the governor who was chosen by the people is suffering for the sins of his running mate.

        The people of Bayelsa State have elected their candidate through INEC but the Supreme Court subverted their choice without recalling its earlier judgment that brought Yahaha Bello of Kogi State to power.

        In Imo state, the Supreme court only succeeded in distracting and destabilizing governance by short changing the people’s choice. Even after human right groups and well-meaning Nigerians shouted wolf to the judgement that gave Senator Uzodimma victory, the court still went ahead to assert its judgement in favour of Uzodimma on the premise that the Supreme court cannot set aside its prior judgement.

        INEC'S SWANSONG: A Commission in Its Shadows

          In the lead judgment delivered by Justice Kayode Ariwoola, the court held that granting the request of the applicants would open the flood gate by parties to all kinds of litigations. With this, it became clear that there was error and fraud in the entire process.

          In the interest of justice, the court ought to have set-aside its decision that was given in error and even issue a punitive measure to the plaintiff for misleading the court. But that was not to be, as the court ruled in favour of the candidate who has usurped an elective position by fraud. In these situations, the credibility of INEC has been put to question as an electoral umpire.

          This is a time when the government will think properly what to do with INEC. Some Nigerians are calling for the replacement of the current electoral body with a better and well-organised one to manage its electoral processes. This is good especially when the Commission is intensified to improve on the current Electoral Act to address grey areas in the election process.

          But this will only be meaningful if the courts will no longer be the final determinant of the true representatives of the electorate after elections, otherwise it will tantamount to changing SARS to FSARS.

          Disclaimer: “The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Dan Ugwu and do not necessarily reflect those of The World Satellite. The World Satellite will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.”

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