One year after the 2015 general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] is still in election mode. With nearly 100 re-run elections to conduct, courtesy of upturned and cancelled elections in the 2015 elections, INEC has not yet totally completed the assignment of the last election. The task for completing this assignment has fallen on a new INEC leadership under Professor Mahmood Yakubu which came on board after the 2015 elections. Much as Prof. Yakubu would have wished that he started as INEC Chairman on a clean slate, it is his burden now to clean the stable.
The many elections before the new INEC Chairman shows again that there is hardly a hassle-free time to take up the job of Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC]. At whatever point along the course of the electoral calendar a person is appointed to the prime seat at INEC, it is often the case that the new helmsman finds himself face to face with serious policy decisions waiting to be made; decisions that may define his tenure and profile at the Commission.
Such is the tricky nature of INEC’s main job. Often times, there is little or no room for maneuvers for an incoming helmsman. He does not have the luxury of time too. An incoming INEC Chairman, like the proverbial Boy Scout, is expected to be ready, even on the very first day.
Prof. Mahmood Yakubu must have discovered what the INEC job was all about the very day he arrived the Maitama head office of the Commission, if not before then. On his arrival at his new INEC desk on November 10, 2015, Yakubu had decisions on the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa State waiting for him to make. Actually the Kogi election was already billed for November 21, 2015, while Bayelsa’s was for December 52015 – that is 11 and 20 days respectively from his resumption day.
The question of not having a full grasp of his new workings environment yet was not an issue. Having taken his seat at INEC, the ownership of the two governorship elections before him automatically became Prof.Yakubu’s. That is the way it goes. How fast a new INEC leader took charge of the issues on his plate often becomes one of the defining signals of his tenure.
Prof.Yakubu took off with a lofty declaration of his intentions at INEC. In two of his early reported comments on assumption of office, he had expressed determination to raise the banner of election management higher. First, he told a pre-election stakeholders meeting in Lokoja just before the Kogi governorship election that he wanted elections conducted under him “to be a model for the conduct of all future elections in the country”.
Few days before that, he had reportedly told his new staff at INEC that “very soon our own experience will become one of the international best practices. There can be no better pleasure than working in an organization that has credibility and in an institution that is a world role model”. Those, it can be said, were statements of intent on where the new INEC helmsman will like to take the Commission to. Add these to his comment immediately after his inauguration that INEC under his watch “will be courageous and will be guided by the Constitution and the Electoral Act”, then you have the nearest thing to Mahmood Yakubu’s manifesto at INEC.
But the future can be treacherous. And who can predict what harsh reality will do to good intentions?
It did not take long for Prof. Yakubu as INEC Chairman to come face to face with the challenge of conducting elections in Nigeria. The Kogi State governorship election of November 21,2015 which was the first election being conducted under him as chairman had gone relatively quite well, until ugly incident necessitated cancellation of the polls in 91 polling units in nineteen Local Governments across the state. Thereafter the election was declared inconclusive. The fact that the difference between the leading contending party and the runner up was less than the total votes cancelled clearly explained why the election was declared inconclusive. To add unneeded complexity to the situation, the leading candidate in the election, Abubakar Audu, suddenly dropped dead just before the completion of the exercise. Conspiracy theories started to rear their usual heads.
Then came the Bayelsa election. Once more, INEC found itself not declaring the full result of the election at once. Waylaid as it were, by electoral brinkmanship and violence, the ontoward situation resulted in the cancellation of the result in Southern Ijaw, an outcome that left the election inconclusive until a repeat election was conducted in the affected area.
On both instances, the new INEC under Prof. Yakubu held on firmly to its decisions, determined to get it right above every other thing. This is a positive testament for Mahmood Yakubu as the helmsman of INEC. The new INEC bass has deftly navigated these elections and others in Adamawa and Benue to very successful ends, showing along the line that he has the determination to get the right thing done in elections.
Yakubu’s flexibility in adjusting the existing accreditation/voting procedure, among few other decisions showed him to be a fast learner in his new challenging terrain. There will be other re-run elections across the country, including in the volatile Rivers State and in a noisy setting in Anambra. The new Chief Electoral Officer of Nigeria has the task to properly map out his work plan for the future, because the days and elections ahead will still come with challenges. He should remain firm and keep to the rules as he has done so far.
– By Wilson Eboh
- Wilson Eboh lives in Abuja