BY HON. KARIMI S. SUNDAY.
Since pre-independence Nigeria, Elections has been an important issue of concern in Nigeria, not only because it is the only Constitutional means of securing elective offices during democratic regimes, but because politicians and electorates know it is one way to determine who gets what in our country.
Hence, the desperation and fierceness of politicians and political stakeholders during elections in Nigeria.
In my view, many political office seekers see public office as an opportunity to amass wealth and not for service, akin to Karl Marx theory of State Capitalism.
No wonder the desperation of political actors during elections in Nigeria. Many times, political campaigns are characterized by propaganda, abuses, hate speech, violence to disrupt campaigns, intimidation and so on.
Even on the day of the Election, hitherto we experienced ballot snatching, assassinations, intimidation, kidnapping, arson and burning of houses of political stakeholders e.t.c.
However, since 1999 till date, Electioneering process in Nigeria has greatly improved, save for Local Government Elections, where most of the Governors are the Judge and Advocate in their case. Elections have moved from ‘’Do or die’’ to ‘’my blood is not worth the Life of any Nigerian’’.
This development led to a smooth transition in 2015, where an incumbent President, lost an Election conducted by an Independent National Electoral Commission whose Management was majorly appointed by the his Government.
His Excellency, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan allowed a free and fair Presidential Election with no interference from the Executive, and he lost and handed over to President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.
He not only handed over, but called the General, even before the Independent National Electoral Commission declared General Buhari the winner.
That exalted democratic governance in Nigeria to a status comparable to developed democracies in the West.
It earned Nigeria a golden medal internationally and the world became hopeful that Nigeria was about to wake up from its deep slumber and take its place of pride in Black Africa. Critics of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan could not even deny the enviable enduring legacy of the amiable Ijaw-man; he would forever be remembered as a true democrat and a patriot.
With the perceived integrity of the newly sworn-in President Muhamadu Buhari, one was cocksure that the Electoral Process in Nigeria could only improve, especially that he was said to have contested without victory for years. Unfortunately, a new poisonous bug has infested the Electioneering Process in Nigeria.
This Poisonous bug commenced itsdeadly attack on the Nigerian Electioneering process on the 21st November 2015, when the Kogi State Gubernatorial Election was declared inconclusive.
Late Governor Abubakar Audu, candidate of the APC in the November 2015 governorship election was already coasting home to victory with 240,867 votes whilst the PDP Candidate, the then incumbent Governor Wada was trailing with 199,514 votes. But the number of cancelled votes was 49,953, higher than Audu’s victory at the time 41, 353 votes.
The Returning Officer declared the election inconclusive and whilst the election commenced earlier that day, the APC Candidate Abubakar Audu died.
Unfortunately, instead of APC to allow the running mate of the Late Flag bearer to continue the gubernatorial race based on the principle of joint tickets, Yahaya Bello who had come second in the APC Governorship Primary was mischievously tapped to complete the race on Audu’s behalf, a race he didn’t begin.
They resolve to stop Faleke at all cost, was hatched in both the Courts and the political arena, by some powerful political elites to satisfy the ethnic, religious and self-centred interests.
The declaration of inconclusive Election was in flagrant disregard of Section 179(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(as amended), which provides that a candidate for the election of the office of Governor of a State shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being two or more candidate, he has scored the highest votes cast in the election and he has not less than one-quarter of all votes cast in at least 2/3rd of all the Local Governments areas in the State.
It seems to me, that the Constitution has already provided exhaustively for what qualifies a gubernatorial candidate for electoral victory.
In Imo State, the State Gubernatorial Election in 2015 elections was declared inconclusive as a result of vote cancellations due to electoral malpractices, at the time, Rochas Okorocha was the flag-bearer of APC and he was leading Emeka Ihedioha with 385,671 Votes to 306,142, a margin of 79,529 votes, however votes have been cancelled in several polling units across the States totalling 144,715 votes, the Returning Officer returning officer declared the elections inconclusive.
In Bayelsa State in 2015, Gubernatorial Elections were also declared inconclusive, Seriake Dickson was leading with 105,748 votes and Timipre Sylva of APC trailing with 72,594 votes, INEC declared the election inconclusive. Dickson had won in 6 out of 7 Local Governments areas in the State and Sylvia won just one Local Government, yet the election was declared inconclusive following the cancellation of the entire votes in Ijaw Local Government as a result of electoral malpractice and violence.
The Number of registered voters in Ijaw was put at 120,000 votes, which is above the difference between Dickson and Sylvia.
Out of the 29 Gubernatorial Elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission on March 9, 2019, six State Gubernatorial Elections have been declared inconclusive.
They include Sokoto State, Plateau State, Adamawa State, Bauchi State, Benue State and Kano has been declared inconclusive.
All these States are opposition Party, PDP strongholds and it seems that the Independent National Electoral Commission has another interest to serve asides conduct and declaration of elections. In fact, one is worried that Elections in Rivers State may also be declared inconclusive.
In Benue State, the Returning Officer relying on the Margin of lead principle i.e where the Margin of lead is below the number of cancelled votes, the election should be declared inconclusive.
The total number of cancelled votes was put at 121,019 votes, while the margin of lead between Ortom and Jime stood at 81,554 votes, Ortom totalled 410,576 votes while Jime Scored 329,022 votes.
The cancellation of votes was due largely to the destruction of electoral materials at Mbalom Council Ward.
In Bauchi State, election had been completed without any problem; there was peaceful conduct of election at the polling units, ward and local government. In Tafawa Balewa Local Government which is the subject of controversy, election had been completed peacefully, but at the Local Government Collation Centre, the seating Governors thugs allegedly invaded the Local Government Collation Centre and carted away some result sheets.
This made the Returning officer of the Local Government collate the results on a separate paper and wrote an explanatory memorandum to the State Returning Officer explaining why she was compelled to write the Results on a separate sheet from the designated Local Government Collation form.
The State Electoral Officer rejected the results and declared the elections inconclusive.
Meanwhile the Thugs had been arrested by the Security operatives and the confessed acting for the seating Governor who had polled second to the PDP Candidate.
Does it now mean that a Candidate for an election can cause any form of crisis in a bid to ensure the election is inconclusive to give him a second bite at the cherry?
Would that not be allowing the wrongdoer to benefit from his wrong? Would that not be injustice?
In Adamawa and Sokoto States, Election has also been declared inconclusive based on the margin of lead principle.
In Adamawa State, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission, 40,988 votes were cancelled in 44 polling units across the State; the margin of lead was 32,476.
The People’s Democratic Party Candidate Ahmadu Fintiri was leading having polled 367,471 votes against Mr. Bindow who polled 334,995 votes.
The total number of accredited voters in the election is 894,481 votes.
In Sokoto State, where PDP is leading and accusing the umpire of bias, PDP sored 489,558 votes whilst APC scored 486,145 votes leaving a margin of 3,413 votes, while 75,403 votes were cancelled because of violence in some poling units.
Does it now mean that, whenever a Candidate for an election sees that he is polling behind another, he should sponsor unrest in few polling units in a bid to ensure that the Independent National Election Commission declares the Election inconclusive so that he can have a second bit at the cherry, and so that he can manipulate the process to victory? Would that not be allowing the wrong doer to benefit from his wrong? Is it merely coincidental that all the States where inconclusive elections were declared are PDP strongholds? Does it mean that the independent National Electoral Commission is conniving with the Ruling Party? Or rather, will the Independent National Electoral Commission not be seen as conniving with the Ruling Party? Would that not have a negative impact on the image of the Electoral Umpire? What happens if the Ruling PDP now loses all inconclusive gubernatorial polls where it seems to be in the lead already? Would it not affect the assessment of the reasonable man about the neutrality of INEC? Would it not endanger the security of the nation?
The recent Presidential election should have been declared inconclusive too as the difference between Buhari and Alh Abubakar Atiku is 3.8million while d cancelled votes is 5.8million.
One is not oblivious that section 153 of the Electoral Act gives the Independent National Electoral Commission power to make Regulations, Guidelines and Manuals for the conduct of Elections in Nigeria and as a result, the Commission issued the 2015 General Election Guidelines and the 2019 General Election Guidelines, as Subsidiary Legislation to the Electoral Act and engrained in them the Margin of lead principle.
In page 17, paragraph C of the Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections on the margin of lead principle state that where the margin of lead between the two leading candidates in an election is not in excess of the total number of voters registered in polling units where elections are not counted or voided, in line with section 26 and 53 of the Electoral Act, the Returning Officer shall decline to make a return until votes have taken place in the affected polling units and results collated in to the relevant forms for declaration and return.
Also, section 26(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 provides that where a date has been approved for the holding of an election and there is reason to believe that there will be serious breach of peace if the election is proceeded with that day, or that it is impossible to conduct the elections due to natural disaster or other emergencies, the Commission may postpone the election and fix a new date for the election.
The combined effect of Section 134,179, 111 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(as amended) and 26(1) as well as Section 53(2)&(3) of the Electoral Act shows that inconclusive elections is not envisaged in our laws, except where there was over-voting in a polling unit, not where votes already cast were cancelled.
It is therefore my considered view that the Independent National Electoral Commission should adhere strictly to the provisions of the Electoral Act and the Constitution and do away with the Margin of lead principle because it is becoming a tool for the subversion of the will of the people.
The Constitution has already stipulated what makes a Candidate for chief executive offices duly elected, the Electoral Act in section 26 posits that where there is likelihood of civil unrest, elections shall be shifted to another day, section 53(2) &(3) is to the effect that inconclusive elections can only be declared when there are over-voting at the polling units, it is therefore ridiculous for the Guideline of the Commission, a subsidiary Legislation to be seen as being used to rob the electorates of their desire.
Isolated elections in Nigeria are usually over-militarized and full of intimidation all in a bid to ensure the victory of the candidate of the Ruling APC. The Gubernatorial Elections in Osun State and its re-run still resonates in our mind.
If something is not done to whittle down the wide powers of the Commission in applying its Margin of Lead Principle in elections in Nigeria, it may signal the end of democracy.
No doubt, the Elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission since 2015, has been plagued largely by inconclusive elections and the last General Elections shows that rather than improve on the legacies of the Professor Jega Led Independent National Electoral Commission, we are regressing as a nation in the conduct of our election.
Elections in many State was marred with violence, for instance in Kogi State, the House of Assembly Elections was characterized by ballot snatching, sporadic gunshots and intimidation of the electorates, the situation in Rivers State currently is even worse.
The Point has been made, that Inconclusive Elections has a potential of eroding the confidence of the electorate in the Electoral system, cause insecurity, showcase the Electoral Commission as a biased umpire and endanger democratic governance in the Country.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, the Legislature and the Courts, must review the Margin of Lead Principle in Elections in Nigeria, to avoid whimsical and arbitrary use of the powers of the Electoral body.
Also, the 8th National Assembly made far reaching amendments to the Electoral Act, aimed at relying on Electronic Voting, ease and simplicity of vote and the security, credibility and transparency of the election process.
These far-reaching Amendments were borne out of patriotism and a desire to improve the election process in Nigeria.
The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is admonished to re-visit that piece of legislation and sign it into law.
Also, it is my humble advice that he leaves a Legacy of credible elections in Nigeria, as he commences the final lap of his stewardship and service to our great country.
Hon. Karimi Sunday Steve
Member Representing Yagba Federal Constituency.