By Jide Ajani
There is anxiety among Nigerians and belatedly within the Senate that the unsteady steps of Independent National Electoral, INEC, as it wades through several inconclusive elections until the Edo relief, may be more widespread during the 2019 general elections. Although the fear was abated by the Edo election, soon after the poll, the criticisms, which trailed the conduct of the election by observers, further worsened the anxiety that 2019 may be a chaotic election year for Nigeria.
The growing fear is heightened by the failure or inability of government,17 months into office, to fill the huge vacancies in INEC offices across the 36 states, despite the constitutional provision that each state must have a Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC). The continuing human resources denial of INEC has exposed the Commission to further gaps in peripheral planning with 29 states currently without Resident Electoral Commissioners. Most affected by this worrisome state of affairs in INEC are the North-West with seven states but no single commissioner in the entire zone, the North-East (2), South- West (1) North-Central (1), South-East (1) and South-South (4).
INEC boss, Mahmood Yakubu
INEC boss, Mahmood Yakubu
The situation is even more worrisome considering that among the eight RECs on ground, five are due for retirement in February 2017 while the rest are to retire latest July of that same year.
This is the level of degeneration occasioned by the absence of the constitutionally stipulated personnel provided for, but has not been fulfilled by President Muhammadu Buhari, precipitating a crisis of ill preparation for 2019 in INEC that Nigerians and the Senate just belatedly decried, even though civil society groups and various editorials have been written on the dangers of not constituting the INEC both at the state and at the level of its Board.
These fears were heightened after the conclusion of the Edo election because it was marred by several scheduling problems, notwithstanding that INEC was evidently ready for the exercise.
Before the election was finally held on Wednesday September 28, it had been postponed due to, principally, concerns expressed by security agencies.
Other scheduling difficulties, which the Commission experienced before the election, were the clashes between its timetable and WAEC examinations on the one hand, as well as with the ceremonies of the coronation of the Oba of Benin on the other hand. These issues exposed the difficulties that may arise in local election contests which cannot be effectively addressed by central planning from INEC headquarters in Abuja.
Even appointment of the remaining six members for the central management board of INEC is still not done, unlike in previous years when all such pending appointments are made timeously. Meanwhile, the Senate that has direct supervision over INEC is just raising fears about the unusual state of affairs now. Many Nigerians are concerned that, if the Presidency has been unable to focus on electoral matters and the urgencies therein, should that also be the case with the legislature where many long serving legislators are present?
The unprecedented delays to properly constitute INEC’s full board and appointment of states Resident Commissioners, against constitutional prescriptions, clearly imply that the larger population of election managers, who will drive the implementation of the 2019 elections, would spend less than half of the Buhari administrative tenure in the preparations for the elections. The importance of effectively constituting full election management body before implementation of electoral projects is the fact that, those who shall steer the implementation of election projects should be part of the strategic and operational planning from the outset. It is, therefore, difficult to fathom how the operational planning for 2019 will be realistic, given that the principal drivers, in most states of the election, will be learners of the process midway into the planning of the next election cycle that ought to have commenced immediately after the 2015 elections. This is the standard expected of all election management bodies, an important reason the point is often made that to be effective, election planning must involve people who are at the core of implementing the electoral activities.
SENATE ALOOFNESS TO PARALYSIS OF INEC
The failure of the executive arm of government, with respect to timely constitution of INEC and its full complement of steering commissioners, both at the national and especially at state levels, where elections actually take place, is a direct failure and poor oversight of the National Assembly. The failings of the National Assembly to ensure that the executive strictly follows constitutional stipulates regarding INEC have come as a shock to observers of the trend of legislative elections in Nigeria. The aloofness of the legislature is further accentuated by the disinterest with which the legislators have responded to the slow and unpredictable way government has handled or treated an important institution such as INEC, a Commission that its failing or success is at the root of political stability of the country.
Lack of vigilance of the Nigerian legislators over the unoccupied offices of INEC is evidenced by the fact it was not until lawyers , civil society and election monitoring organizations pointed out the dangers of not constituting the full board of INEC that it became a serious matter of discussion within government and legislative circles and nothing so far has concretely happened that meet the expectations of Nigerians. Some legislators, chiefly, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, of Abia-South, expressed concern over the dangers of the executive not constituting INEC fully might pose to the 2019 elections at a time Nigerians began to feel that there is a Senate. While many have lost hope in the House of Representatives that should have been the champion of matters like this, members of the lower chamber have said nothing about the failure or inability of the executive to fill the vacancies in INEC or maybe they are still focusing on budget padding matters.
As the attention of the nation and keen election observers now turn to Ondo State, where inter-party squabbles are threatening the peaceful conduct of the November 26 governorship election, with an aspirant whose candidacy is mired in controversy accusing INEC officials of graft, anxiety is deepening that further delays in assisting the Commission to constitute its full complement of steering managers, namely, national and states electoral Commissioners, will certainly lead to election crisis in 2019, given that those that would be appointed would be at different stages or level of knowledge or understanding of the task of election management, a situation that may imperil the burgeoning democratic project in Nigeria, that is already quaking from widespread calls for a constitutional restructuring of the governance modes of the country to properly reflect a federal rather than a unitary state.