The decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not to declare results of Edo and Ondo governorship elections if disrupted should be supported by lovers of democracy and peaceful conduct of elections, writes ONYEKACHI EZE
he Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), recently, read the riot act to political parties participating in the Edo and Ondo governorship elections.
The electoral umpire, at a virtual event on Democracy and Elections in West Africa, warned that it would not declare result where the election was disrupted. The event was organised by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington DC in collaboration with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, told the meeting that the Commission could not vouch the integrity of the process where the election is disrupted.
“But what pro-active measure is the commission going to take to ensure that if there is a replay of what happened in Bayelsa and Kogi? We will protect the integrity of the process.
“(The politicians) either behave for the elections to be concluded in a free and fair manner or we do what the law says,” he warned.
The Nigerian electoral process had been dogged with violence since 1959 when the country held its pre-independent election. Before the introduction of technology in the conduct of elections, there were reports of ballot box snatching and stuffing by party thugs.
But since 2015 when INEC adopted technology in the conduct of elections, perpetrators of electoral violence now resort to snatching and destruction of election materials, disorderly conduct, unlawful possession of ballot papers and permanent voters’ cards and canvassing for votes at polling units on election day.
These apart, election officials and voters were not spared as well. INEC had lost a number of its personnel, including innocent members of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members who were engaged for election duties.
The height of this was in 2011. A human right group reported that over 800 persons were killed in election related violence in 2011 alone. That year, about 10 youth corps members serving in Bauchi, and who were engaged as ad hoc staff by INEC were brutally murdered.
In Borno State, one of the leading gubernatorial candidates was assassinated in January. Bombings were witnessed in four states of Bayelsa, Borno, Kaduna, and Niger, which left dozens dead. Clashes between opposing party supporters or attacks by party thugs during the campaigns equally killed dozens of others.
As a matter of fact, the elections were said to have been orchestrated by allegations of vote buying, ballot box stuffing and inflation of results.
In November the previous year, election violence linked to the party primaries and campaigns reportedly left at least 165 dead.
The gruesome murder of the Youth Corps members was most pathetic. Two of them, females, were said to have been raped and killed, while the lodge where the corps members live weces invaded and eight of them, all males killed.
The protests later degenerated into sectarian killings in the northern states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara. Relief officials estimate that more than 65,000 people were displaced.
Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch said the April 2011 elections in Nigeria, which were “heralded as among the fairest in Nigeria’s history, but they also were among the bloodiest.”
Human right groups called on authorities to bring those who orchestrated the violence to justice and to address the root causes of the violence. But this was not to be.
The police in Kaduna State said more than 500 people were arrested and charged to court in connection with the violence, but nobody has been prosecuted till date. The highest the Federal Government did was to set up a 22-member panel to investigate the causes and extent of the election violence.
Later, the sum of N5 million was paid by the Federal Government as compensation to the families of each of the 10 slain Youth Corps members while N1 million was paid a NYSC insurance cover. The sum of N100, 000 was paid to representatives of the families to come to Abuja as transport fare.
In addition to monetary reward, government had promised automatic employment for siblings of the deceased youth corps members. It is still doubtful if this was fulfilled.
Similar thing happened in Rivers State in 2015 when another Youth Corps member, an orphan, Samuel Okonta, was shot and killed by an unknown person. Samuel was engaged by INEC for electoral duty when he was killed.
Other corps members who were with Samuel at the time he was shot, were fortunately rescued unhurt.
The NYSC management described his death as “primitive, barbaric, and ungodly; and should be strongly condemned by all well-meaning Nigerians.”
Violence erupted again in Rivers State that same year during rerun legislative elections, forcing INEC to cancel the elections in two local government areas, Bonny and Akuku-Toru.
In Akuku-Toru, seven persons, including a soldier, reportedly lost their lives while six suspected hoodlums who ambushed an army convoy in Abonnema were killed.
The November governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa State in 2019 equally witnessed electoral violence.
The elections were marred by intimidation of voters, ballot box snatching, thuggery and other associated electoral offenses.
INEC, in a reaction through its National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Information, Festus
Okoye, expressed disappointment at the level of violence that characterised the two elections.
Okoye regretted that “despite all the efforts of the commission and the promises of the political parties to promote peaceful elections, including several engagements with stakeholders and signing of Peace Accords, there are reports indicating that the process was in several places affected by thuggery and violence, which the commission unequivocally condemns.”
The most unfortunate incident was the brutal killing of ward woman leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mrs. Salome Abuh. Mr. Abuh was set ablaze in her husband’s house in Ochadamu, Ofu Local Government Area in what could be described as post-election violence.
National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Mugonu was equally not happy at the level of violence during the elections.
Sanusi Galadima, who represented him at the Inter-Agencies Consultative Committee on Election Security with INEC to review the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections, expressed the fears that “if nothing is done to curtail all these kinds of violence in future elections, voters will not even come out and vote.”
Perhaps, why electoral violence persisted was because of absence of deterrent measures. INEC had made case for special court to try election offenders. The Justice Uwais’ committee on election reforms had recommended the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal. This has not been done.
Prof. Yakubu also accused state attorneys general of frustrating the prosecution of election offenders, adding that they often enter a “nolle prosequi” to stop the prosecution of some electoral offenders.
“We have drawn public attention to our constraint in this regard. We have no capacity to arrest offenders and conduct investigation without which successful prosecution is impossible,” Prof. Yakubu stated.
INEC said16 case files arising from the conduct of the 2019 general elections have been provided by the police, after the conclusion of their investigation. But it is left to be seen how far the offenders will be brought to justice.
The commission, in 2019, withheld the certificate of return of now Senator Rochas Okorocha following the allegation that he forced the returning officer, Innocent Ibeabuchi to declare him the winner of Imo West senatorial election at gunpoint. The court was however to declare otherwise and the commission had to comply.
The decision not to declare the result in event violence in an election should be seen as an antidote to electoral violence. This is because since nobody has been held accountable for the past offenses, INEC should be allowed to employ any rule it considers effective of handling the situation.
It is unfortunate that after 21 years of democratic rule, Nigeria still contends with anti-democratic forces who work to thwart the process. Nigeria’s previous democracies were disrupted because of the manipulation of the electoral process. This should not be allowed to happen this time.