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Irregularities In The Ekiti Election

Concrete proof that elections in the country still fall short of global standards has been re-established. 

With the world watching, the governorship election of July 14 in Ekiti State was marred by a series of security lapses. The election witnessed malpractices by the main parties...

For the upcoming general election in 2019 not to suffer a similar fate, INEC and the security agencies have to develop counter-measures to disarm desperate politicians.

According to media reports as well as domestic and international monitors, the election in which INEC declared Kayode Fayemi of the APC victorious over his main contender, Kolapo Olusola (PDP), descended into a morass. This was because of vote-buying, snatching of ballot boxes and sporadic shooting, despite the heavy presence of security agents. The monitors argued that the militarisation of the election also undermined the process since many voters stayed away because they feared violence.

However, the most pervasive irregularity was vote-buying. The reports stated that party agents openly distributed cash to voters to sway them to their side while police looked the other way. This is a charade, another blot on Nigeria’s democracy, as it also featured in the last governorship polls in Ondo and Edo.

The denial by the main actors that there was no cash inducement rings hollow. The default mode of Nigerian politicians is to deny the obvious. Neither Nigerians nor the international observers believe this face-saving fabrication. This was a contest meant to prove which party had the financial war chest to outbid the others. INEC confirmed the farce a few days later through a communiqué, condemning “the rising phenomenon of vote-buying.” Abuja-based Centre for Credible Leadership and Citizens Awareness said, “The exercise witnessed a high level of unprecedented electoral related challenges. Such abuse will remain contentious until justice prevails, especially in the areas of cash inducement, arrests of political stalwarts by security agents and snatching of electoral materials by political thugs, among other abuses.”

This is the uncomfortable truth; and it is not even new. Nigerian politicians have been going to great lengths to circumvent the system since the return to democracy in 1999. It calls into question the security operations for the poll. A few days to Election Day, the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, deployed 30,000 police officers, 250 patrol vehicles and two helicopters, among other measures, in Ekiti. Military personnel and other security agencies also deployed their operatives in the state. All this failed to stop party agents from moving cash about to induce voters. It is a pointer to the fact that the presence of security agents during elections in Nigeria does not guarantee credible polls.

However, it is heart-warming that INEC seems to have taken care of its own end. The monitoring groups averred that the umpire adequately handled the logistics. Accreditation and voting with the Permanent Voter Card went on smoothly and simultaneously, aided by the use of the Smart Card Reader device, a technology that seems to have given the commission the edge over party thugs, who used to snatch ballot boxes and thumbprint ballot papers en masse. The dubious culture of forging results at collation was subdued by the device, as it constrained rigging through inflation of votes.

To INEC’s credit, the declaration of result was done in good time. This could partly be attributable to the fact that the election took place in just one state out of 36, without the House of Assembly polls to boot. Another governorship election comes up in September in Osun State, but the major test is in the general election in 2019, in which the whole country will vote to choose a president, 469 federal lawmakers and their counterparts in state assemblies and governors.

That test will define the essence of INEC and the fate of Nigeria’s fragile union. It will also show whether the umpire has really overcome its troubles. President Muhammadu Buhari alluded to the complex assignment before INEC last week during his speech at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. He extensively spoke on the 2019 polls and promised the international community that they would be free, fair and credible. Global leaders are watching Nigeria, which habitually undermines its own democracy by getting state agencies that have nothing to do with elections too deeply involved in the process.

Therefore, Buhari’s avowal will only register at home and with the global audience if he can reduce the interference of the public and security agencies in the coming elections. With the “do-or-die” mentality of politicians here, this will not be a child’s play.

Electoral infringements should be severely punished. And INEC cannot afford to be complacent. Nigeria cannot be truly democratic until its electorate have the opportunity to choose their representatives through free and fair elections. To meet the minimum standards, INEC’s impartiality and the effectiveness of the security agencies need to be reinforced before the 2019 elections.
- Punch Editorial