By relevant provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999, as amended last in 2011, the five year tenure of the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Attahiru M. Jega, from Kebbi State, Northwest, Nigeria, ends today. Prof Jega was originally appointed INEC Chairman by former President Goodluck Jonathan on 8th June 2011. This is in accordance with Supplementary Section 14 (1) (a) of the Part 1 of Third Schedule to the Constitution of Nigeria 1999, as last amended in 2011. By the same Constitutional provisions, Prof Jega is entitled to a second and final tenure of five years if the appointing authority (the Presidency) wishes to. But owing to Prof Jega’s public disclosure immediately after the highly controversial and disputed 2015 general polls, that he would not ask for or accept another tenure as INEC Chairman; his tenure as INEC Chairman officially and finally ends today being June 30, 2015.
Comparatively speaking, the worst national electoral commission in Nigeria and its tenure from the 1990s till date was that under the leadership of Chief Sumer Dagogo Jack, which was called National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON-1994-1998). The five parties that participated in the roguish and botched electoral process under NECON were called “the five fingers of a leprous hand” (courtesy of late Chief Bola Ige, SAN) following the April 25, 1998 mocked and leprous National Assembly poll. The five leprous parties, which were all affiliated to the maximum military regime headed by Gen Sani Abacha, are United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), which “won” 61 senate and 229 house of reps seats, Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) with 9 senate and 39 house of reps seats, Congress for National Consensus (CNC) with 6 senate and 6 house of reps seats, Grassroots Democratic Movement GDM) with 2 senate and 4 house of reps seats and National Center Party of Nigeria (NCPN) with 2 senate and 4 house of reps seats.
The worst polls conducted within the period were those of 2007, under INEC headed by Prof Maurice Iwu, followed by those of 2015 and 2003 under Prof Attahiru Jega and Dr Abel Goubadia respectively. The most bloody presidential poll in Nigeria within the period was that of 2011 under Prof Attahiru M. jega, in which over 1000 citizens were butchered, followed by those of 2003 and 2007 under Dr Abel Goubadia and Prof Maurice Iwu in which over 400 and 500 deaths respectively were recorded.
On the other hand, the best national elections in Nigeria within the referenced period were those of 1992 (State governorship and national and State legislative polls as well as June 12 botched presidential poll) and 1999. They were conducted by Prof Humphrey Nwosu (1992-FEDECO) and Justice Ephraim Akpata (2003-INEC) respectively. While Prof Humphrey Nwosu served as FEDECO chairman from 1989 to 1993, Justice Ephraim Akpata served as INEC (created in 1998) chairman from 1998 to January 2000 when he died in office. The referenced polls under Prof Humphrey Nwosu remain the most participated, least disputed and most acceptable locally, nationally and internationally.
Till today and tomorrow, the fundamental minus that trailed Prof Attahiru Jega’s tenure as the Chairman of INEC is rested in the confines of gross demographic manipulation of voting population, both registered and unregistered, leading to gross electoral segregation and exclusion witnessed in the 2015 general polls. The genesis of the foregoing is traced to the 2011 general voters registration exercise where ethnicity and religion were introduced leading to voting population suppression in one part of the country and over voting population in other parts particularly the Northwest and the Northeast zones.
In all, minority communities of voting age were carefully identified and excluded during the general and supplementary voters’ registration exercises. No provisions were made to recapture millions of Nigerians of voting age from southern part who fled their northern residencies following coordinated and politically oiled ethno-religious violence in the north. Instead, sustained efforts by the INEC leadership headed by Prof Attahiru Jega were put place to recapture every single registered voter of northern Muslim extraction displaced by the insurgency. Such efforts included creation of special polling units in camps created for internally displaced persons.
During the distribution of permanent voters’ cards, the entire foul play, played out. Most of the registered voters of northern Muslim extraction resident in northern and southern parts of the country including the physically challenged were identified and issued with permanent voters’ cards. As if that was not enough, millions of underage minors of 8 years to 14 years of core northern origin and residency were issued with temporary and permanent voters’ cards in defiance of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and its subsidiary legislations on voting processes. The 1999 Constitution clearly states that a citizen who is below 18 years cannot be registered to vote or issued with voter’s card.
On the other hand, many registered voters of Igbo Nigerians and the Nigerian Minority populations of South-south and northern extraction of home and outside home residencies were denied permanent voters’ cards through carefully created and orchestrated technical and administrative hitches. In Lagos State, over two million of them registered to vote were denied permanent voters’ cards. In the north, their permanent voters’ cards suddenly disappeared or went missing. In some cases, they were destroyed, defaced or diverted. In the end, out of 68.8 million registered voters in the country, 12 million, which constitutes cumulative population of three larger ethnic groups outside Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani; were denied their fundamental rights to choose their new leaders democratically. Even the 56 million permanent voters’ cards which the Commission claimed to have distributed, were highly disputed.
The most shocking and annoying of it all was adamant refusal of Prof Attahiru Jega and his INEC to allow those with temporary voters’ cards to vote with their temporary voters’ cards following the inability of the Commission to issue them permanent voters’ cards. Another provocative thing lies on the fact that there are no provisions in the Electoral Act of 2010 barring the Commission from use of temporary voters’ cards. As if these were not enough, the Commission inflicted the card reader voters’ verification machines with “INEC Passwords”, which granted access and authentication to voters in the north and denied same to those in the south particularly Southeast and South-south, forcing the Commission belatedly to revert to manual voting.
Another “Jega and INEC’s Magic” was voting perfection of 100% in some core northern States including Kebbi and Zamfara States where no single voter voted wrongly including the blind and millions of underage voters. In other words, there was no single voided vote in the areas. These explain why we held that Prof Attahiru Jega’s tenure as INEC Chairman hugely contributed to bastardization and corruption of the country’s current electoral process particularly in the area of management of voters’ registration and issuance of permanent voters’ cards.
As Prof Attahiru M. Jega steps down as INEC’s Chairman after five years of his gloomy tenure, the stakeholders in Nigeria’s electoral industry including the Federal Government must revisit the gross anomalies under complaint with respect to registration and revalidation of voters and their cards as well as issuance of same so as to address them frontally, fairly and equitably in conformity with Nigeria’s multi religious and cultural setting. It is a truism that if the immediate past federal administration has rejected the poll results on account of the anomalies under complaint, Nigeria would have gone up in flames; which is why the anomalous processes must not be allowed a space in the country’s electoral industry again.
That having been said, the country is yet to recover from Prof Jega and his INEC’s highly excluded and segregated elections of 2015. The ethnic nationalities that were short changed are still very bitter and the only way to ameliorate their anger and anguish is by addressing holistically the anomalies under complaint and ensure their non-repetition in future elections in Nigeria. In the world over, consequences of segregated and technically manipulated polls such as that of 2015 are short term and long term. From Ivory Coast to Sierra Leone; from Liberia to Burundi; and from Egypt to Tunisia, the list is endless. Nigeria as a multicultural and plural society must be handled as such at all times in matters of public electoral, political, economic, social, religious and cultural policies, programs and actions; otherwise the country will not survive genocidal consequences accompanying such time-bomb policies.
Emeka Umeagbalasi, B.Sc. (Hons) Criminology & Security Studies & IVLP Alumnus of US State Dept (2013)
Board Chairman, International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law
Uzochukwu Oguejiofor, Esq., (LLB, BL), Head, Campaign & Publicity Department
Chiugo Onwuatugwu, Esq., (LLB, BL), Head, Democracy & Good Governance Program