The changing faces of INEC in 10 years



By Abbas Jimoh
(Daily Trust Mon, 03 Jan 2022) The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has evolved in the last 10 years, same way it developed since its creation 23 years ago.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has evolved in the last 10 years, same way it developed since its creation 23 years ago.

A former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar’s administration dissolved the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) and setup the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in 1998.

NECON was established in December 1995 under the military government of late Gen. Sani Abacha to conduct some elections to usher in democracy. However, the elected institutions were not inaugurated before the sudden death of Abacha in June 1998 which aborted the process.

Gen. Abubakar appointed Justice Ephraim Akpata as the pioneer INEC chairman. Akpata had to deal with 26 political associations, giving only nine provisional registration as political parties for the 1998/1999 elections, which were eventually whittled down to three parties.

After Akpata died in January 2000, then civilian government of President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed Abel Guobadia as new INEC boss, after the Senate confirmation in May 2000.

Guobadia was responsible for the 2003 elections which were marred by widespread violence and other irregularities.

In June 2005, Guobadia retired and was succeeded by Prof. Maurice Iwu who led INEC till April 28, 2010.

A former Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University Kano (BUK), Prof. Attahiru Jega, who took over from Iwu, conducted two general elections (2011 and 2015).

Smart Card Reader (SCR)

In the build-up to 2015 general elections, INEC under Jega introduced the Smart Card Reader (SCR) machines for the verification of voters and their voting cards to minimize fraud and rigging.

The introduction of the card reader was hailed by many Nigerians but a group of four ‘minor’ political parties which claimed to be acting on behalf of 15 political parties opposed it and urged INEC to suspend its usage for the 2015 elections.

The 2015 general elections were adjudged the most credible, free and fair elections since the return of democracy in 1999, partly due to the use of the SCR and other technological innovations.

Many Nigerians believed INEC under Prof. Jega recorded a mileage in the conduct of credible elections in the country.

Apart from the SCR, the introduction of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) by Jega during the 2015 elections for the verification and accreditation of voters was seen as a sterling innovation that may have reduced incidences of electoral malpractices, which left a dent in the democratic development of the country.

There was also the use of vice chancellors of universities and heads of other tertiary institutions as returning officers which many also saw as bringing sanity and a measure of integrity into the process and which also added value to the election management body.

However, in one of the critical incidences of Jega’s tenure, the 2015 general elections were originally scheduled to take place on February 14, but INEC decided to postpone the polls by six weeks. The delay generated controversy with some accusing the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of meddling in the electoral process.

At an event organized by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC on June 11, Prof. Jega explained that the six-week delay was ultimately integral to the success of the elections.

He said INEC used the six-week window to fine-tune the electoral process and that also allowed voters to acquire uncollected PVCs among other ‘gains’.

Some of the seeming innovations for which INEC under Prof. Jega thrived, like the use of the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines for the registration of voters were initiated by his predecessor, Prof. Iwu.

Before the conduct of the 2015 elections, there was the registration of voters for the 2015 elections through what was known as Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise.

At the end of the exercise, 68.8 million voters were registered, albeit with introduction of technologies.

Short-comings

However, the device either by omission or commission, did not checkmate the incidence of child-voters.

The situation in some parts of the country, the rate at which children under the constitutional voting age of 18 participated in the general elections was alarming.

Many of those who believed that it was not really Uhuru with Jega, argued that it was either the then chief electoral umpire was biased to have allowed that to go unhindered or was incompetent because the children had a smooth ride through all the stages of the election – registration of voters, verification, collection of PVCs, accreditation to vote and actual voting on Election Day.

Enter Yakubu

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, a lecturer, guerrilla warfare expert, and Professor of Political History, prior to his appointment as INEC chairman, served as the executive secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND).

Following his assumption of duty as INEC chairman on November 9, 2015 with only half of the members of the commission, he was faced with the immediate task of conducting the Kogi and Bayelsa states governorship elections scheduled for November 21 and December 5, 2015 respectively.

The Kogi governorship election was particularly challenging as it threw up a unique situation in the history of electoral contest in Nigeria.

Not only did a candidate in the election die after the commencement of polls but before the declaration of results, the number of votes cancelled in 91 polling units (PUs) as a result of various electoral malpractices exceeded the margin of lead between the two leading parties and could affect the final outcome of the election.

This situation was not envisaged in the existing electoral legal framework, thus to resolve the legal conundrum, the commission used the most proximate section of the Electoral Act by requesting the party of the deceased candidate to replace him for the supplementary election held in 91 PUs on December 5, 2015.

The commission accepted the nomination of the runner-up to the deceased candidate in the party primary election. This decision was later affirmed by the Supreme Court.

Also, between November 9, 2015 and November 9, 2020, the commission conducted 11 end-of-tenure/off-cycle governorship elections in Kogi (November 2015), Bayelsa (December 2015), Edo (September 2016), Ondo (October 2016), Anambra (November 2017), Ekiti (July 2018) Osun (September 2018), Kogi (December 2019), Bayelsa (December 2019), Edo (September 2020) and Ondo (October 2020).

There were also by-elections into 178 electoral constituencies comprising 21 senatorial districts, 47 federal constituencies and 110 states’ houses of assembly constituencies occasioned by the death of the incumbent and nullification of the original election by the Election Petition and Appeal Tribunals.

The commission also institute registration of eligible voters and maintenance of the national register of voters, apart from inauguration and institutionalisation of all-year-round CVR as prescribed by law at LGA and other designated levels resulting in the registration of 14,283,734 new voters.

The commission also procured upgraded Direct Data Capture Machines (DDCMs) with finger print scanners and camera.

There was also the revision of regulations, guidelines and manuals to abolish separate accreditation and voting procedure.

This was done with the introduction of the Continuous Accreditation and Voting System (CAVS) to address the possible disenfranchisement of voters and the mandatory use of the Smart Card Reader (SCR) for the accreditation of voters.

INEC equally instituted the discontinuation of the use of Incident Forms to address fraud and the requirement by poll officials to paste results at each polling unit in a new Form, EC60E.

The commission established Voting Points (VPs) and Voting Point Settlements (VPSs), equal in status to Polling Units (PUs) to cater for voters in new settlement areas.

There was also the development and dissemination of the INEC policy on conducting elections in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was the first supplementary to regulations and guidelines for the conduct of elections, the supplementary regulations and guidelines for the activities of political parties and supplementary guidelines for election observation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the major landmarks by the commission is the launching of the INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED).

Also, on June 28, 2021, INEC launched its online voter registration portal for the first time. This was to enable eligible Nigerians who are 18 years and above to pre-register online and thereafter complete the process at any of the designated centres.

The IVED was to serve the physical registration of voters; enable fingerprint and facial authentication of voters on Election Day through a process known as the Bi-modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).

The IVED thus replaced the Smart Card Reader (SCR) for voter accreditation on election day.

Under the Prof. Yakubu administration, upon his reappointment for a second term in December 2020, INRC embarked on the process of expanding voter access to polling units.

For 25 years, the commission had 119,974 PUs and 56,872 Voting Points (VPs).

At the end of the four-month exercise, the commission successfully converted the VPs to PUs, bringing the total number of PUs to 176,846.

This was regarded by many as a miracle because all attempts by the commission to create new PUs in the last 25 years had been met with opposition and dogged by conspiracy theories. However, the commission was able to achieve the feat through massive consultations with all stakeholders and the strategic presentation of the nature of the problem.

Speaking on the changing faces of INEC in the last 10 years, Mr. Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi, the Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, told Daily Trust that the commission’s achievements far outweighed its challenges and that the benefits of democracy and good governance are in the interest of the nation and that of Nigerians.

“The commission cannot succeed without the support of Nigerians who are the participants and seemingly owners of democracy and all the processes of democratic development that can ultimately lead to good governance and national development,” Oyekanmi said. — Culled from Daily Trust