JOHN NWOKOCHA in Abuja, writes that no fewer than 75 chairmen and representatives of political parties in Nigeria converged on Abuja, last week and passed a confidence vote on the national chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC),Professor Mahmood Yakubu, in what can aptly be described as momentous post-election conference.
For two days, between May 6 and 7 more than 75 political parties led by their chairmen, officials and political stakeholders gathered at the International Conference Centre, Abuja and reviewed the 2019 general elections. Besides the party chairmen, strategic members of the civil society organisations, women leaders as well as clergies were inside the bowl of the International Conference Centre for similar purpose. The massive turn out of political stakeholders at the event as the hall was fill to capacity is also remarkable. Perhaps, the International Conference Centre has not witnessed in recent time political parties and political stakeholders speak with the same voice. Even though the purpose for the confab was to evaluate the 2019 polls, when the issue of Yakubu’s performance during the elections was raised virtually everybody passed a vote of confidence. Indeed, 73 political parties passed the confidence vote on Professor Yakubu. It was unprecedented in the history of management of general elections in Nigeria. Never before has there been such a consensus among political parties on the sterling performance of the leadership of the electoral body. Surprisingly, there was no dissenting voice despite controversies still trailing the elections. Prior to the elections, some political stakeholders had formed a coalition of political parties and became vociferous in the atmosphere and expressed concerns over the outcome of the elections alleging that the electoral body would be partisan. The coalition of parties raised the alarm over what it called favouring the ruling party based on which it called for the removal of INEC national chairman. The coalition said consistently maintained that the present leadership of INEC would not conduct a free, fair and transparent elections.
Now, with the postponement of the presidential poll, the coalition made it a duty to mobilize Nigerians to agree with it that INEC would disappoint them. To keen observers the postponement seemed to prove the point being canvassed by the coalition. Surprisingly, spokesman for the coalition, Ugochinyere Ikenga was at the round table that rated Yakubu highly in the conduct of the 2019 elections.
The event was a two-day National Round table for review of the 2019 general elections organized by Centre for Transparency Advocacy in conjunction with chairmen of Nigerian political parties. Interestingly it was the first time that political parties would come together in the true sense of it in recent time, for a common goal-holistic appraisal of the general elections. Unarguably, it could be said that the political parties were united for the first time in the interest of the country by passing a vote of confidence on the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, for conducting the 2019 general elections violent-free, among other commendable roles by the electoral umpire. The participants noted with satisfaction the innovation in communication introduced by the leadership of Professor Yakubu, saying the transparency in communication and regular engagement of stakeholders at national state and local government levels ensured that everybody was carried along in the election process. That is not all. The participants commended Yakubu for the manner and dispatch with which all rescheduled and supplementary elections were conducted. However, the participants passed a vote of no confidence on security agencies, or rather expressed dissatisfaction with the conduct of security agencies during the polls. As the put it: “The Round table indicts the security agencies for the lapses in the election due largely to their collusion with unscrupulous politicians and negligence to their jobs”. In the same vain the round table frowned on underage voting and vote buying, stressing that in spite of various meetings organised by INEC to sensitize stakeholders ahead of the elections on the need to avoid underage voting, vote buying, ensure transparency and secrecy of voting, party agents and voters still crowd voting points in order to identify the candidates voted for.
The round table which was had the renowned Professor Aiyede Remi as the chairman was moderated by Professor Anthony Olusanya, while the national chairman of IPAC, Peter Ameh delivered the keynote address. Interestingly, the round table was attended by members of the Diplomatic Corps, security agencies, foreign and local observers who monitored the electoral process.
Speaking at opening of the event with the theme: The Roles and Performances of Stakeholders in the2019 elections; Issues, Challenges and Prospects, acting executive director of Centre for Transparency Advocacy, Ms Faith Nwadishi, stated that “INEC prove quite independent in the way and manner it responded to unexpected challenges thrown on its by the stakeholders in the process and other unforeseen circumstances during the last general elections”. She continued: “Of note is how it bravely prevented the ruling party fielding candidates in Zamfara in its determination to follow the rules no matter whose OX is gored during election and voting day, it refused to be intimidated by threats and violence unleashed on its officials and ad-hoc staff leading to some certificates of return being with held by INEC though this is now subject to litigations”. In view of the alleged ignoble role played by politicians which manifested in use of political thugs to disrupt the process and unleash violence in some cases, desperation to win at all costs, Nwadishi urged the political class to “take internal democracy seriously”.
Interestingly, the international community was not missing out at the event as the immediate past vice president of Sierra Leone, Alhaji Sam Sumana was not only present but also made eloquent remarks and called on politicians in West Africa to close ranks and seek peace in the sub-region.
On some of the challenges encountered during the elections, “the round table condemned the hypocrisy of the leadership of the security agencies that manifested in the partisan deployment of police and security personnel to polling station/ voting point, and also condemned the unprofessional conducts of security agents”. In the same breath it deplored the “role played by the military and some other security agents as well as activities of thugs who said they were used by desperate politicians”.
In its recommendations, the round table called on president Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill into law to save the country from the problems associated with the extant law.
Also, it recommended that presidential, governorship, national assembly as well as state house of assembly elections be held the same day, to address the challenge of voter apathy after the first election.
The round table recommended the scrapping of ad-hoc arrangement by INEC in the conduct of elections, even as it advised that dates for possible run-off, rerun or inconclusive poll be made known while scheduling election time table.
The participants recommended that the round table be organised at the geopolitical zones and states to bring down to the grassroots the experiences and recommendations of the conference.
Other far reaching conclusions are: That political parties and young people should leverage on the provisions of the Not-Too-Young to-Run Act to increase political participation in subsequent elections. That there is need for more regular interaction and engagement of stakeholders with INEC to fashion out ways of managing elections and development, therefrom.
That political parties should review their manifestoes to strengthen their ideologies and loyalties and stem intra-party conflicts that bedevil the nation’s polity. And that the establishment of electoral offenses tribunal to try electoral offenders was overdue, demanding that it should be structured to take off less than a month after election petition tribunal hearings have concluded.
The parties that gave their vote of confidence on Professor Yakubu include: AA, AAD, ACD, ADC, AGA, ANP, ANN,APM, YPP, YP, RAP, UPN, GPN, AUN, NPC, PT, CNP, LP, PCP, UP, NCP, LPN, CAP, COP, NNPP, NUP,PPN, UDP, FRSH PARTY, Accord, PPA, APP, SPU, FJP, ACPN, WTPN, NPC, YDP, CAC, RP, UPP, UP, YES, MDA, and AGPP.
It is expected that the INEC leadership will sustain the high score it recorded in performance during the last general elections, because as they say the reward for a job well done is more work. There is no doubt that Professor Yakubu understands this golden tenet and would even surpass the record in subsequent elections that will further put the electoral body in positive side of history for posterity.