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Bayelsa, Kogi polls, litmus test for new INEC Chairman



The governorship elections coming up in both Kogi and Bayelsa states later in the year have been described as a litmus test for the new Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, writes FISAYO FALODI

Nigeria’s political history will not be complete without mentioning Prof. Attahiru Jega, a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, who conducted two general elections widely adjudged to be free and fair in the country.

The former INEC Chairman conducted the 2011 presidential election won by the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and the 2015 presidential poll won by the then opposition All Progressives Congress candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.

Jega, based on his exemplary performance in the 2015 general elections, was said to have laid the foundation for democratic change of government in the country.

The innovations introduced by the university teacher such as smart card reader and permanent voter card were considered as some of the ingenuities that contributed to the success of the last general elections.

As Jega bowed out of office as INEC chairman less than two months after the last elections, compliments were showered on him by local and international observers for raising the standard of election management in the country, which whoever succeeds him is expected to improve upon.

Though some critics said Jega manipulated the 2015 general elections with the introduction of card reader and PVCs to give undue advantage to the APC to enable the party to win, observers – local and international – had noticed some loopholes in the elections, which they wished corrected or avoided in future elections.

The appointment of Prof. Mahmud Yakubu as the new INEC boss by President Muhammadu Buhari during the week has, however, shifted public discussion to the governorship elections due in Kogi and Bayelsa states later in the year and the rerun in 18 local government areas of Akwa Ibom State ordered by the elections petitions tribunal.

To ensure the success of the elections, some Nigerians have said the polls would serve as a litmus test for new INEC boss. They are of the opinion that Yakubu should be able to demonstrate the determination to resist temptation to compromise the standard laid by Jega.

Prof. Dauda Saleh of the Department of Political Science, University of Abuja, asked Yakubu to study the recommendations of observers in the last general elections for the purpose of bringing out inputs that would contribute to the success of the governorship elections in both Kogi and Bayelsa states.

He said no doubt the observers must have pointed out some loopholes in the last general elections which they would want corrected before future elections.

“The next two governorship elections is a test for INEC under Yakubu and the whole world is expecting the new INEC chairman to address the inadequacies noticed in the last polls,” Saleh said, asking him to “ensure that voter’s registers are ready and card readers are functioning before the polls.”

Though he was miffed that Buhari failed to comply with the Federal Character principle in the appointment of Yakubu as the new INEC chairman, the founder of Oodua People’s Congress, Dr. Frederick Fasehun, urged Yakubu to abide by the constitution guiding the commission.

Fasehun said, “The chairman needs to correct certain things in INEC. Why should he control the intraparty advisory council? The council has nothing to do with INEC; it is an independent political party structure so we want the new INEC boss to correct that and do things according to the constitution guiding the electoral body.

“I hope that the new man will do things very well. I don’t care where he comes from as long as he is constitutional in his dealings and national in his outlook.”

He, however, said the President had the prerogative to appoint those he thinks can work with him but he has some constitutional clauses to comply with like the federal character and the Nigerian constitution.

Fasehun said, “I remarked earlier that he (Buhari) was behaving like a sole administrator; he is still doing that. I said he was behaving like a bird flying with only one wing and he is still doing that, but he is getting away with these things because not many people are talking and asking him to comply with the constitution. So, he is getting more and more entrenched as a sole administrator. I have not seen any balancing in his appointments and I’m sure he knows what he is doing.”

While appreciating the role of security in any election, a United Kingdom-trained criminologist, Mr. Pedro Ayandokun, asked the new INEC boss to take the issue of security seriously during the elections.

He recalled that despite the praises heaped on Jega for raising the standard of election management in Nigeria, pockets of violence still dotted the 2015 polls.

Ayandokun, who foresaw violence in Bayelsa and Kogi states because of their vulnerability, asked Yakubu to work in synergy with security forces to ensure that the polls were violent-free.

While asking the new electoral body chairman to recruit more hands if the need arose, the criminologist said that Nigerians could not afford to record a performance that would be rated below the standard Jega left behind.

He said, “Kogi and Bayelsa states are vulnerable. There may be violence in Bayelsa State because the election will be the second time the APC candidate, Timipre Sylva, and his PDP counterpart, Seriake Dickson, will be contesting for the governorship election against each other. So, it is expected that the governorship election will generate anxiety among the supporters of the two candidates.

“Sylva’s supporters are all out to ensure that the APC candidate wins, while those backing Dickson will want their principal to retain power and this may provoke violence. But the electoral body has the responsibility to prevent violence by ensuring that all materials are brought to the state days before the poll under the watchful eyes of armed security personnel.”

Ayandokun also asked Yakubu to remember that security of all INEC officials that would be involved in the two elections are fully guaranteed.

He said, “The INEC officials must be fully on ground; they must be fully protected by the armed security men because the supporters of the candidates in the governorship polls would want to do anything, including snatching of ballot boxes and threat of violence to ensure that their principals win.

“All election materials should be distributed simultaneously in all the local government areas in the two states and more workers should be recruited if the need be.”

Ayandokun, however, asked Yakubu to engage traditional rulers in the two states in the area of seeking the cooperation of youths who he described as the critical elements in the society.

He said, “Youths always listen to the traditional rulers of their respective towns. So, traditional rulers should be seen playing the role of a father in the election.

Head, Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof. Jonah Onuoha, described Yakubu’s appointment as positive.

He however said that the appointment should have come from a different region of the country to ensure fairness.

He said, “His appointment is very positive. The PDP had said it would not accept any election conducted by the former Acting Chairperson, Amina Zakari. If the appointment was not made, it then means that the outcome would be contested. The PDP had alleged that Zakari is a blood relation to the President. Yakubu’s appointment is also good because he is a professor as university scholars have been known to have integrity.

“Bringing a professor to replace another professor is a tradition that should be sustained. And with the exit of Jega, there is a need for a new substantive chairman who would come with a new vision.

“However, I was worried when I saw the name because I think that someone from the South-West should have been appointed, at least for the first time. It does not show a fair balance; that is a minus, but in terms of competence, Yakubu is very competent. But there is a question mark as regards his region.”

Speaking on the task before Yakubu, Onuoha described the Bayelsa and Kogi elections as capable of making or marring the reputation of the new INEC chairman.

He said, “The elections coming up by the end of the year will test the ability of the new chairman. He will need some time to understand what is on ground. So, the question are: Will he sustain the gains by using the same strategy used by Jega in the last elections? Will he use a new strategy? Is he going to be fair or bias towards the APC or Buhari since they are both from the North?

“The Kogi and Bayelsa elections will be a litmus test for his competence and credibility. Therefore, Nigerians will expect him to ensure free and fair election. He can build on the use of electronic gadgets which Jega left behind and improve on it. He should perfect on what was left behind.

“We don’t expect him to go back to the old age. The two elections will make or mar him and if he does not handle them well, Nigerians will likely raise the alarm and ask for his removal immediately. He should make use of Information and Communications Technology to ensure credible elections and he should be fair to all parties concerned.”

Similarly, the National Conscience Party presidential candidate in the last general elections, Chief Martin Onovo, wants the elections conducted in such a way that they will be audited.

Onovo alleged that the last general elections could not be audited because Jega failed to comply with the procedure.

He said Jega did not deserve the commendations that were showered on him because he (the ex-INEC boss) encouraged rigging.

He, however, asked Yakubu to demonstrate integrity in his actions as the new INEC boss so as to have free and fair elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states

Onovo said, “There is no process that can work without integrity, what destroyed the 2015 elections was the lack of integrity in INEC led by Jega. So, the last general elections were a charade. Nigeria did not have any election.”

Mahmud Yakubu, a Professor of Political History and International Studies, was born in Bauchi in 1962. He had his early education at Kobi Primary School from where he proceeded to the Teachers’ college, Toro, and later to the University of Sokoto (now Usmanu Danfodiyo University) where he graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in History.

Yakubu later gained admission to the University of Oxford where he bagged a Doctor of Philosophy Degree with specialisation in Nigerian History in 1991.

He is an expert in guerrilla warfare, terrorism and counter terrorism.