Since the end of military rule which heralded the current Fourth Republic in 1999, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has conducted six general elections in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 in the country. TUNDE OGUNTOLA looks at how the commission has fared in the last 21 years, its challenges and successes.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted the general elections in 1999 that kicked off the Fourth Republic in Nigeria. The elections conducted and overseen by INEC were regulated by the national constitution adopted on 29th May, 1999. The 1999 elections brought into power former head of state, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, into the office as civilian president, who was reelected for a second term in 2003.
Since 1999, INEC has been the sole body that conducts and oversees national and some state elections in Nigeria. Since then, the electoral umpire has conducted six general elections including 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019. in between the period, INEC has repositioned itself as an institution that delivers elections that nurtured Nigeria’s young democracy till date.
The electoral umpire body was established by the former military head of the state, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar and guided by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to conduct elections in Nigeria. In accordance with section 153 (f) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the commission has power to: ‘’organise undertake and supervise all elections to the offices of the President and Vice-President, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a State, and to the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each State of the Federation; register political parties in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution and an Act of the National Assembly.
‘’Monitor the organisation and operation of the political parties, including their finances; arrange for the annual examination and auditing of the funds and accounts of political parties, and publish a report on such examination and audit for public information; arrange and conduct the registration of persons qualified to vote and prepare, maintain and revise the register of voters for the purpose of any election under this Constitution; monitor political campaigns and provide rules and regulations which shall govern the political parties.’’
Basically, INEC is charged with overseeing elections and political parties in Nigeria and is best known among Nigerians as the body that organises general elections in the country. But the function of this commission consists not only of conducting some state and general elections and overseeing the entire electoral processes but developing democracy in Nigeria. Guided by their mission and vision statement and values. Its mission is to be an independent and effective election management body that can conduct fair, free, and credible elections to fulfill the aspirations of Nigerians.
Historically, many electoral commissions have been set up and dissolved. They include: Electoral Commission of Nigeria (ECN) established in 1959, the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) established in 1995, and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) established in 1999.
The first INEC chairman was Ephraim Akpata appointed 1999, who trimmed 26 political organisations to nine registered political parties for the 1998/1999 general elections.
As the pioneer INEC chairman, Akpata faced teething problems caused by the unfolding political era, such as the registration of political parties, campaign rules, the conduct of politicians and the elections themselves.
For instance, Akpata ruled that only parties with broad-based national support would be allowed to contest elections. He also mandated that the political parties must win local government seats in at least 10 states to qualify for the governorship, state assembly, National Assembly and presidential elections.
Of the 26 political associations, he gave provisional registration, as political parties, to only nine for the 1998/1999 elections. At last, only three – AD, APP and PDP – qualified to contest state-wide elections. Akpata also lampooned the process through which some of the political parties selected their candidates, as “short of the level of transparency expected from a democratic process.”
Despite his efforts, the 1998/99 elections were criticised by both national and international observers.
Akpata who was a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and a native of Edo State, died on 8th January, 2000 at the age of 72.
Following Akpata’s death, former President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed Dr. Abel Guobadia, a US-trained Solid State Physicist also from Edo State, as INEC’s second chairman.
Guobadia conducted the 2003 elections, which recorded a higher turn-out than those of 1998/99 but were, however, marred by widespread violence and other irregularities.
One of the most notable controversies was related to the April 2007 general elections including criticisms about the preparedness of the commission, the disqualification of former vice president Atiku Abubakar’s candidacy. It had been decided that INEC had no right to disqualify candidates. Based on the Supreme Court’s verdict, Abubakar’s name was added to the ballots.
Prof Maurice Iwu
However, the successful conduct of the 2011 elections marked a turning point in the country’s democratic trajectory, as it contrasted sharply with the electoral mismanagement and widespread fraud of previous polls. Even then, violence in some northern cities in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of election results in 2011 caused over 800 deaths and substantial destruction of property. Many Nigerians began to feel that their votes did not count. However, a few electoral offenders were prosecuted.
Following Professor Maurice Iwu’s removal as INEC boss by former President Goodluck Jonathan, he appointed renowned political scientist from Kebbi State, Professor Attahiru Jega, as the new INEC chairman on 8th June, 2010. Many Nigerians saw Jega’s appointment as a quantum leap, not only to Iwu’s integrity battered INEC but also in line with the promised electoral reforms of the Jonathan presidency.
Aside from the post-election skirmishes that trailed the 2011 general elections in some northern states, both the 2011 and 2015 elections conducted by the Attahiru Jega-led INEC were acknowledged as free and peaceful by international and local observers.
Nevertheless, Jega was criticised by both the opposition and the ruling party in the run-up to the 2015 general elections.
The 2015 presidential and National Assembly elections were monitored by several international election observation missions. Some of them were the African Union (AU), International Republican Institute/National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA). Others were the Commonwealth and the European Union Observation Mission (EU EOM).
In separate conferences, the EU EOM commended INEC for the conduct of the elections. It said the electoral commission made several improvements since 2015, including continuous accreditation and voting.
The mission’s chief observer, Maria Arena, however, decried that there was only limited opportunity for Nigeria’s Internally Displaced Persons to vote. While stating that the initial postponement of the elections showed serious difficulties with INEC’s operations, she said many polling units opened very late on election day.
“On election day, the majority of polling units opened extremely late, leaving voters waiting for hours uncertain of when voting would begin.
In its findings, the AU observed that the political space was significantly broadened, as evidenced by the high number of registered voters, political parties and candidates who took part in the elections, adding that despite some reports of election-related violence, deaths and intimidation, the overall political climate remained largely peaceful and conducive for the conduct of democratic elections.
The mission regretted that key electoral reforms proposed after the 2015 elections were still not passed into law. It, however, commended the federal government for the passage of the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ Act.
The IRI in a joint conference with NDI stated that it is the people of Nigeria who will determine the credibility of the elections and urged political parties and candidates to cooperate in good faith with INEC
In its statement, the IRI said the failure to enact the amended Electoral Act was a missed opportunity for codifying recent improvements in election processes.
It also said the absence of internal democracy within political parties continues to hinder women and youth from rising within their ranks and running as candidates for elected office and the last-minute delay of the presidential and legislative elections in the early hours of election day on February 16 also contributed to voter apathy and the lowering of confidence in the election commission.
For electoral improvements since 2015, it mentioned advances for youth, women and persons with disabilities, consolidation of electoral advances and Nigerian-led initiatives to support credible elections.
NDI said the persisting challenges include weak internal democracy within political parties, unfulfilled promises of electoral reform, slow resolution of election disputes, multiple sources of insecurity, hate speech, disinformation and last-minute postponement of elections.
The NDI urged the federal government to ensure adequate security to support and protect INEC deployment and voter engagement as the governorship election approaches.
The electoral observer organisation, however, called on INEC to intensify communication and outreach to the Nigerian public and relevant stakeholders in the electoral process as well as improve plans for the distribution of sensitive materials.
EISA, whose election observations were not different from the others, gave recommendations to security agents and INEC.
Rupiah Bandah, former President of the Republic of Zambia and mission leader of EISA, urged the electoral commission to investigate the incidences of the fire outbreaks at INEC facilities and account for the cause of the fire.
Also, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) said that Nigerians went to the polls and voted decisively for change. It said the opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari won approximately 52 percent of the vote to defeat incumbent President Goodluck Jonathon, who collected 44 percent. Across the country, the electoral management body which works to capture, develop and share knowledge on effective electoral management and leadership as key factors in achieving credible electoral environments that contribute to good governance, stability and development said the conduct of the vote took place in a civil atmosphere, largely undisturbed by violence.
‘’Goodluck Jonathan graciously conceded defeat and congratulated Buhari on his victory, a move which was welcomed by the heads of international observer missions. Although there were some reported problems, these elections were a positive harbinger for democracy in Nigeria and Africa at large.
‘’The investments made in new technologies and processes and the many other preparations made by INEC provided Nigerian voters with confidence in the electoral process. In the 2011 presidential elections, there were riots and mayhem leading to approximately 800 deaths and 65,000 people displaced from their homes – and the 2011 elections were managed significantly better than the 2007 vote. Now, a week after the announcement of the results, Nigeria is on the path for a peaceful, democratic transfer of power. Indeed, Buhari is the first opposition candidate to win a presidential election in Nigeria, setting an important precedent for the country.’’
However, while the results of the vote reflected the will of Nigerians, it was never a perfect election and the 2015 general election in Nigeria was no exception. INEC made a major investment in biometric technology to improve voter identification and reduce allegations of voter fraud. The new Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) and electronic card readers were introduced for the 2015 vote as part of this effort. There were a variety of issues with the card readers on Election Day. In some cases, biometric information could not be read, in other cases, poll workers did not seem to understand how to use the machines. The INEC’s smooth handling of this potential crisis demonstrates its burgeoning capacity as an independent and trustworthy institution. Since taking his post as chairman of the INEC in late 2010, Jega brought a new level of professionalism and integrity to the institution.
The introduction of the biometric register, while costly, was seen by many Nigerians as an important step in cutting down on the possibility of voter fraud and ballot stuffing. Since 2010, Jega has also pioneered the internal reorganisation of INEC’s departments as well as new policies and procedures to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the bureaucracy. Despite the highly politicized environment surrounding INEC and elections in Nigeria, Jega has managed to maintain a reputation for being impartial and professional and is well respected by civil society and citizens.
As observers bemoan the worldwide “democracy recession,” Nigeria’s 2015 general elections was an important victory for democracy in Africa and around the world. The 2015 general elections in Nigeria were a step in the right direction for democracy in Africa and a sign of hope for those who fear a growing democracy deficit as the body lead Nigeria through a peaceful transition.
However, upon the expiration of his tenure on 31st June, 2015, Jega voluntarily bowed out from INEC despite the chances of having his appointment renewed. Hence, Professor Mahmood Yakubu from Bauchi State was appointed as the fifth INEC chairman by President Muhammadu Buhari on 21st October, 2015. He succeeded Amina Zakari, who acted in that capacity since June 2015.
Yakubu came into the INEC job with an impressive record of intelligence as the first and, to date, only Nigerian from the North to obtain a first-class degree in history; however, the task before him might have proven to be quite daunting.
According to observers and opposition parties, the staggered elections Yakubu’s INEC had conducted and the general elections, especially. in Ekiti and Osun, were a retrogression from the gains made in the free and fair election in 2011 and 2015.
Also, joint Nigeria International Election Observation Mission of the NDI and the IRI final report on the 2019 Nigerian elections in its findings and recommendations of three pre-election assessment missions in July 2018, September 2018, December 2018 and 2019, said the elections did not meet the expectations of many Nigerians.
It said the last-minute postponement of the presidential and National Assembly elections on the morning of February 16 and delays in opening some polling units and other administrative challenges on February 23undermined public confidence in INEC.
While INEC distributed materials and opened polls in a more timely fashion for the March 9 gubernatorial and state House of Assembly elections, it said many serious irregularities occurred, including vote-buying, intimidation of voters and election officials, and election-related violence.
“The 2019 general elections fell significantly short of standards set in 2015. Citizens’ confidence in elections was shaken,” said Dr. Daniel Twining, IRI President. “Election stakeholders should take concrete steps to address the concerns of citizens with regards to the polls to rekindle their faith in the power and possibility of credible elections.”
“The 2019 elections highlighted for many Nigerians the need for a national conversation about the country’s democratisation since the 1999 transition to civilian rule,” said Ambassador Derek Mitchell, NDI President. “We hope this report may both spur and contribute to enriching that national conversation.”
Ahead of the forthcoming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states, INEC has reassured Nigerians of its preparedness amidst COVID-19 and warned all political parties that intend to field candidates for the election to strictly adhere to dates as well as the new online procedure for filing of nominations.