The off-cycle governorship elections in Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa states may have been concluded but it has left more questions than answers among Nigerians.
Against all odds and notwithstanding the trepidations in many quarters, the exercise has expectedly produced winners that have already been presented with the certificates of returns. Losers have predictably been left to nurse the painful injuries of defeat.
However, as some gladiators continued to bask in cloud nine with others agonising in disappointment, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) apparently seemed to be the biggest casualty.
For many, it was another failed attempt by the electoral umpire to redeem its fast fading image. The commission for obvious reasons has been on the receiving end for both wrong and right reasons from the winners and losers alike ever since the off-cycle poll was concluded.
For many critical observers, the attacks hauled at the electoral umpire were understandably deserved. Opinions were sharply divided on whether there was any marginal improvement in the performances of the commission during the election from the general election earlier this year.
And while many thought that the commission has failed to leverage the opportunity the poll provided to improve on what many observers described as an unimpressive outing during the conduct of general election, others believe that the commission has performed creditably well.
Curiously, many pundits are of the opinion that having failed another integrity test with the off-cycle election, INEC seems to have sunk deeper into the confidence rating of many Nigerians.
Those in such school of thought may be right in their convictions because never in the history of conducting elections in recent times have things degenerated to such level as witnessed in the three states.
It is, perhaps also debatable if conduct of election has been this bad since the incumbent electoral umpire boss, Mahmood Yakubu, took over the mantle of leadership at the commission.
The actions and inactions of the stakeholders during the recent poll confirmed that politicians have not only learnt how to outsmart the commission but also to circumvent the technologies it deployed to improve the credibility of the electoral process.
To say the least, according to political watchers, under the watch of the current chairman, the electoral system seems to be gradually sliding into the dark era witnessed in the previous republics.
In the perception of a political actor who spoke to Daily Sun in confidence for fear of victimisation: “if its sensitive materials, especially answer sheets, could be boldly handed over to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), as was the case in Ogori Magongo and Okehi Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Kogi State, pre-filled and boldly taken to the wards, the commission has truly sunk deeper in integrity test.
“If the commission could uphold the results of elections that reportedly did not go through the various integrity stages of verification and authentication by the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), and announce the fraudulently obtained results, the commission is actually facing fresh trust burden.
“If the allegations, as re-echoed and escalated by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for Kogi election, Dino Melaye, that a commission’s ad-hoc staff was caught in custody of N1 million cash on election day, the commission’s rectitude has come to more questions.
“For the fact that the commission promised Nigerians so much about using its Result Viewing (IReV) portal to change the game and ended up reducing the technological innovation to an inconsequential level of just a tissue paper not good enough to even authenticate the polling units results, the commission really has a long way to reclaim its lost glory.
“If the commission could uphold the election results in many places in Imo including the areas its staff confirmed to the media that certain political actors, in collaboration with the state-armed political thugs, forcefully took the answer sheets from them, it certainly lacked integrity.”
The outcome of the off-cycle election was adjudged so bad by many that aggrieved persons have raised endless concerns over the alleged ungodly collaborations between the commission and the winners to even tamper with the backend results uploaded into the IReV portal.
Election observers and the losers helplessly complained about infractions in several areas where BVAS were bypassed, where ballot boxes were snatched, vandalised and or stuffed with thumb-printed votes, in addition to the perpetration of other malfeasance, yet the commission in its wisdom upheld the election fraudulently produced from such areas in the three states.
The manner the off-cycle governorship elections were conducted looked like the outcomes were predetermined by the power that be and handed down the throat of the commission to sign, seal, and deliver in favour of the anointed political party candidates.
Again, by extension, the number of ongoing post-election litigations across the country could also bear eloquent testimony and attestation that INEC has failed to meet the expected standard to impress Nigerians.
According to several pundits, the implication is that the commission’s weak regulation may have weaponised desperate Nigerian politicians to exploit its weakness to wield the big stick and apply sanctions, especially to its staff with questionable character, as a corrective measure.
Regrettably, desperate political actors, emboldened by the weak regulation, have obviously hijacked the electoral system and denied the electorate the legitimate franchise to be the ultimate decider of the final outcome of the elections.
The political actors did things with impunity during the off-cycle election, convinced that the commission would, to a large extent, uphold, endorse, announce the result, and re-echo the popular mantra of let the aggrieved go to court to invalidate the exercise.
The far-reaching implication, according to observers and concerned persons, is that more and more Nigerians, in addition to the international communities, are gradually losing confidence in the country’s electoral system.
And as many asked, do you blame those in that category? When crime is not punished, it will beget more crimes. After BVAS was callously bypassed in many parts of the country during the general elections without consequences from the commission, the resultant effect is now the widespread over-voting, manipulation, and falsification of results in many places during the recent off-cycle governorship election.
For those still in doubt as to what has become of elections in Nigeria, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and its governorship candidate in Kogi, Muritala Yakubu Ajaka, and other contestants had demanded an outright cancellation of the poll.
The anger of the party against the commission was palpable. “Kogi witnessed a daylight robbery that is supported by an institution of the State that should be neutral, impartial, and fair. INEC, once again, has dashed the hopes of Kogites by conducting an election filled with compromise.