Independent National Electoral Commission’s Roles in the 2007 Nigeria’s Elections: Analysis of Trends. By John Ikubaje

Abstract

This paper affirms that the Nigeria Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is a federal executive body established to conduct and supervise all elections into the country’s political offices at the state and the federal government levels with the exception of Local Government elections which is conducted by the State Independent Electoral Commission(SIEC). It argues that the April 14 and 21 2007 elections had been adjudged the worst elections Nigeria ever had and concludes that INEC cannot be exonerated of this mishap. While INEC played a critical role in ensuring that the Nigeria 2007 elections were conducted as scheduled thereby leading to the first transition from one elected government to another; the partisanship of this institution in these elections coupled with its transformation into an instrument of electoral manipulation in the hands of the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) made it difficult in several parts of the country for Nigerians to protect their electoral mandate.In states like Kano and Bauchi where election mandate was protected, the citizens violated the law to accomplish their goal. This work therefore posit that for Nigeria future elections to be credible, free and fair, a holistic review of all the defective provisions on electoral issues in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution and the 2006 Electoral Act must be revisited by the Nigerian legislature. Finally,this work concludes that for Nigeria’s future elections to satisfy international standards and for Nigerians votes to count, INEC’s independence in terms of appointment and finance is critical.

Introduction.
The Nigerian 2007 elections took place under an ill-prepared and partial electoral commission; ……they were marred by reports of voter malfeasance and vote-rigging. In certain areas of the country, polls opened either after significant delay or did not open at all. We also have encouraged to strengthen the independence and capacity of the Independent National Electoral Commission. Barry F. Lowenkron, USA Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy,
Electoral management bodies occupy a significant and strategic position in the election process and by implication are decisive for the success of democratic election. Since they are the institution responsible for organising democratic elections, their omission or commission could make or mar elections (Ujo, A. A; 2007). The primary goal of any election management body is to organise credible, free and fair election with an outcome that satisfies all stakeholders. In other words, the outcome of its exercise must reflect the wishes of the citizenry and electorate votes must count as cast. For this to happen, the following are the basic among few others qualifications that such body must possess. It must be independent, impartial, transparent and accountable. To be independent, means the body must not act under the influence of any government, political party and or organised group. It must be impartial in all its activities and programmes by refusing to take side unjustly with any politician, government, political parties and social or political group. A deliberate effort must also be put in place to ensure that its operations and programmes are open and known to all. Finally, it must be accountable to all stakeholders.

The Nigeria April 14 and 21 2007 elections had come and gone. The leadership of the electoral management body, the Nigeria Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) concluded that INEC roles in the elections made the entire exercise a huge success (Iwu, M; 2007). On the contrary, majority of the national and international election observers’ groups- the civil society, regional and international governmental organisations- in their reports on Nigeria 2007 elections concluded that INEC failed to deliver free, fair and credible elections (Bilikisi Yusuf, 2007) The sections below examine INEC as an institution in the context of the following concept, independence, impartiality, transparency and accountability and its roles in the April 2007 elections.

The Nigeria Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is one of the Nigerian federal executive bodies established by Section 153 (1) F of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution to perform the following amongst several other functions; organise, undertake and supervise elections into the federal and state political offices. The Commission is also responsible for registering and monitoring political parties’ activities. INEC is constitutionally empowered not only to monitor political parties’ campaign but to also ensure that all registered political parties financial accounts are audited annually. For the Commission to carry out these duties, its independence is crucial. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution is not unaware of this independence challenge; hence, it provides that the chairperson of the Commission is to be appointed by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but such appointment must be subjected to the National Assembly’s confirmation and approval. In other words, the Commission’s head and its operations are expected to be independent of the executive and other election stakeholders including the legislators. In fact, Section 158 (1) of the 1999 Constitution provisionally guarantees the independence of INEC and other Federal Executive Bodies when it said “…and the Independent National Electoral Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person” According to the Nigerian 1999 Constitution, this is one of the ways through which INEC can successfully carry out its functions without fear or favour.

Detailed provisions that would help the commission to excellently perform its roles are enshrined in Section 15 sub-section a – i in the third schedule, part one of the Federal Executive bodies in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution as follows:

1. 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
2. Register political parties in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution and the act of the National Assembly
3. Monitor the organisation and operation of the political parties, including their finances
4. 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
5. 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 the Nigerian 1999 Constitution
6. Monitor political campaigns and provide rules and regulations which shall govern the political parties
7. Ensure that all Electoral Commissioners, Electoral and Returning Officers take and subscribe to the oath of office prescribed by law
8. Delegate any of its powers to any Resident Electoral Commissioner and;
9. Carry out other duties in the 2006 Electoral Act

As clearly indicated, while there are good provisions in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution for the Commission, there are also bad provisions in the same legal document. For example, Section 156 (1) (a) of the Constitution provides that those to be appointed as electoral commissioners must be qualified to be members of the House of Representatives. The interpretation of this which may not actually be in the spirit and letter of the Constitution, is that those appointed as members of the electoral Commission should be party members, as party membership is a major criteria for being elected into the House of Representatives in Nigeria (Adejumobi, S. 2007).

Another defect in the Constitution is Section 14 (2) a; in the Third Schedule, Part one of the Federal Executive Bodies in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution empowers the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to appoint Resident Electoral Commissioners for all the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja without recourse to the National Assembly for Approval. This provision made it possible for President Olusegun Obasanjo to appoint a handful member of his party (PDP) as Resident Electoral Commissioners across the country for the 2007 elections. A case for reference was what happened in Edo state where a newly elected Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) purported to be PDP member paid a courtesy visit to Chief Tony Anenih, the Chairman of PDP Board of Trustee the week he resumed office in Edo state. Members of the opposition parties, particularly the Action Congress in the State expressed their dissatisfaction with the Commissioner and made their feelings known to the Commission. The affected Commissioner was immediately removed for peace to reign in the State. This provision in the Nigerian Constitution made it possible for the majority of INEC leadership to be susceptible to manipulation in several parts of the country before, during and after the 2007 elections in the hands of the ruling party.

Connected to this Constitution factor, is the structural and institutional dimension to the electoral management. The Nigeria Electoral Commission is not independent of the executive; the Commission lack transparency in its decision and did not provide important information, including the final numbers of candidates and voters per constituency for the 2007 elections. Despite the improvement on the Electoral Act 2002 which led to the enactment of the 2006 Electoral Act, INEC remains a tool in the hands of the executive. The chairman of INEC, and the 37 Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) were not only appointed by President Olusegun Obasanjo, they also reported to him how they were managing INEC affairs. The financial fate of the Commission was also at the mercy of the Federal Minister of Finance who is appointed by the President. The executive did not only determine the levels of funding and disbursement to the Commission, it also determines when and how the allocation to INEC will be released. With these structural and institutional problems, INEC was susceptible to manipulation and control from the federal government before, during and after the 2007 elections. The Commission that was supposed to work in the interest of all was working directly for the ruling government. This leads us to the ill-preparedness of the commission for the Nigeria 2007 elections.


2007 Election and INEC Preparation
The preparation of INEC towards the 2007 elections started early. Nevertheless, the entire process was shoddy and non-transparent (Adejumobi, S. 2007). The Commission started its voter’s Registration on the 7 October 2006 in specific areas across the country while the nationwide registration exercise started on 25 October, 2006. This exercise was marred by complaints from the electorate, the legislature and the civil society groups (Ibrahim, J. 2007b). INEC introduced a computerised Direct Data Capture Machine to modernise voter registration and to prevent multiple voting, unfortunately the result of the exercise failed to meet national and international electoral standards. The Commission lacked the technical capacity and material resources to successfully implement this laudable project. For example, the Commission could not supply the data capture machine in several places across the country. This is because, of the 33,000 DDCM needed to cover the 120,000 registration centres, only about 1,500 were available at the commencement of the exercise. Registration could not take place in many of the wards due to the inadequacy of the registration machines.. Millions of Nigerians were disenfranchised due to this insufficiency. In some areas where these machines were available, there was no light to charge the batteries when they run down. In fact, Nigerians made contributions in some places to hire electricity generator and to buy petrol to generate light in order to operate these registration machines. Evidence abounds in some parts of the country, particularly in the Eastern Nigeria where INEC ad-hoc staff collected bribe from qualified Nigerians before they were registered . Also, whereas many Nigerians were roaming about during this registration exercise to find a place to register, late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, the most influential politician in Ibadan, Oyo State in the Fourth Republic, harboured six DDCM in his house where he was illegally registering both qualified and underage people .

The National Assembly was also not satisfied with the epileptic outcome of the electronic registration exercise across the country. On the 10 October, 2006, the upper house of the National Assembly- the Senate invited Professor Maurice Iwu, the Chairman of INEC to convince them that his Commission has the capacity to successfully utilise the technology to register qualified Nigerian voters. In order to convince the legislators that his Commission was more than ready, Maurice Iwu operated one of the registration machines on the floor of the upper chamber; unfortunately for the Commission, the machined utilised to convince the legislators packed off after a mock registration of ten Senators.

Despite this limitation and several appeals from the Nigerian civil society to revert to the past manual registration, the Commission insisted that it is either electronic registration or no registration. When the Commission could not register a satisfactory number of Nigerians for the elections, it extended the period of the registration, which ought to have ended in December 2006, to 2 February 2007. At the end of the exercise, INEC claimed it registered about 61.5 million voters out of the 140 Million Nigerian population.

Section 20 of the 2006 Electoral Act provides that INEC should also display on time the registration list for Nigerians to cross check their names; it only did so few days prior to the April 14 2007 election in few urban centres without adequate publicity. Also important for our information, is the fact that the temporary voter slips issued to the electorate during the registration exercise were not laminated by the ad-hoc registration officials and no one could get the permanent voters card from INEC before the elections and even as at the time of writing this piece which is three months after the polls. These, coupled with other numerous reasons account for why some social and political analysts conclude that the Nigeria 2007 elections were programmed to fail (Ibrahim, J. 2006). While it was impossible for Nigerians to prevail on INEC to drop the idea of electronic voters’ registration, they succeeded in convincing the Commission that vast majority of Nigerians weren’t matured for the INEC proposed electronic voting.

Neutrality Versus Partisanship: the place of INEC in 2007 Elections
Obasanjo’s anti-corruption crusade in the Fourth Republic also covers political corruption. Prior to the elections, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) compiled a list of what it called an advisory list of corrupt Nigerian politicians. EFCC submitted its compiled list of 135 indicted politicians to the Federal government and argued that the politicians should not be allowed to contest the 2007 elections. The Federal Government immediately responded to EFCC’s request by setting up an ad hoc administrative panel to consider the list. Within a few days, the panel completed its assignment and made recommendations to the federal government that those indicted should be gazetted, and disqualified from contesting the 2007 elections. Their names were gazetted and sent to INEC. Despite the fact that INEC has no legal power to disqualify candidates but the Court, it went ahead to disqualify the indicted candidates. Alhaji Atiku Abubaka, the then Vice President who fought vigorously against the Third Term Presidential Agenda of President Olusegun Obasanjo was on the list and was disqualified from contesting the 2007 Presidential election. It took the intervention of the Nigeria Supreme Court for politicians like Abubakar Atiku, Senator Ifeanyi Araraume and the present governor of Abia state, T. A. Orji just to mention but a few to contest the 2007 polls. This positive intervention of the Nigeria Supreme Court did not only nullify INEC wrong action, it goes a long way to tell Nigerians that INEC was directly implementing the programmes of the ruling party. In fact, President Obasanjo made it known to Nigerians that PDP must win the 2007 elections by all means- He declared, ‘’the 2007 election is a do or die affair’’. His declaration came to pass and PDP won the Presidential and majority of the gubernatorial, the National and States Assembly elections but hundreds of Nigerians lost their lives in the elections for this to happen. As indicated below, while INEC kept taking all the wrong steps in support of the ruling party, this Supreme Court decision increased Nigerians confidence that the judiciary will make the 2007 election go the right direction.

This paper has identified and briefly analysed the external variables that were beyond the control of the Commission and thus made life difficult for it in the 2007 elections. For example, it shows how the leadership of the ruling party handpicked INEC Commissioners; dictated to them and directed the affairs of the Commission through them. It confirms the popular adage that says ‘He who pays the Pipers dictates the tune’. The chapter has also indicated the provisions in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution and other legal limitations that were clogs in the wheel of INEC’s effectiveness in the 2007 elections; others include dependency of the Commission on the executive for financial survival. These and other factors were beyond the control of INEC and thus impacted negatively on the roles of the Commission in the elections. Despite these findings, would it be right to argue that INEC did not play any positive role in the 2007 election? Were there opportunities for INEC to independently and positively influence the 2007 elections against the will of the executive (variables under the control of INEC), if yes? Did INEC exploit such opportunities and in what direction? The section below attempts to respond to these questions.

The author made a concerted effort and interviewed Nigerians and non-Nigerians who were deeply involved in the elections with the aim of finding answers to some of these questions. Responses from these experts show that the future of democracy is bleak if INEC continues to function the same way it did in 2007 in future elections .
As indicated in the introductory part of this chapter, the fact that INEC succeeded in organising the first successful election that led to the first transition from one elected government to another in 2007 makes INEC a force to reckon with in Nigeria’s democracy. INEC as an electoral management institution is a noble idea. Similar electoral management bodies in other African countries, particularly the Ghana Electoral Commission had been a reference point for best practice in the region in recent times. Similar institutions in United States of America, India just to mention but a few had demonstrated that electoral management bodies can be independent, impartial, transparent and accountable. INEC is a noble idea but it is presently facing an independence challenge. For INEC to play a noticeable, commendable and sustainable role in Nigeria’s future elections, the Commission must be free from the whims and caprices of the executive control.

While it is right to argue that INEC was not fully in control of the 2007 elections it will also be wrong to conclude that the Commission did not make any attempt to carry out any positive role. The sincerity of such attempts might be questionable and the manner with which INEC carried out such roles left little to be desired. At this juncture, it is imperative to indicate that there were quite a few numbers of positive initiatives and programmes that INEC embarked upon prior to and during the 2007 elections. These include:
 Awareness campaign in the media through jingles which raised the political awareness of millions of Nigerian voters
 Training of INEC ad hoc staff
 Partnership with the Nigerian and foreign civil society organisations working on the 2007 elections to constructively shape the election
 Facilitation of post graduate studies in selected universities to embark on electoral management programmes. Staff of INEC capacities had also been built through this initiative
These were excellent initiatives geared towards the organisation of free, fair and credible 2007 elections. The Commission however spoilt majority of these good initiatives with actions that contradicted the good intention of the programmes. Below is a good example of excellent initiatives with explanation of how INEC spoilt the good initiative.

Organisation of consultative and dialogue meetings with the civil society on the 2007 (Elections Stakeholders Summit launched with fanfare both at the National and Sate levels); one of the first commendable initiatives of INEC towards the 2007 elections was its proposition to work with the Nigerian civil society and the registered political parties. INEC organised several consultative meetings and conferences with these groups prior to the election. The goal of these meetings was to work with these stakeholders in order to incorporate their suggestions into INEC programmes with the aim of making the 2007 elections a success. This collaboration led to the formation of these networks, INEC- Civil Society Management Committee, INEC-Civil Society Forum, Political Finance Monitoring Group and Civil Society Partnership for Democracy (CISPAD).

These groups were made up of different organisations that cut across the country’s six geo political zones; The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Alliance for Credible Election (ACE), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Electoral Reform Network (ERN), International Republican Institute (IRI), Catholic- Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), National Council of Women Society (NCWS), Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN), and IFES etc. At the beginning of these relationships there was no indication to suggest that INEC had ulterior motive. The Commission was looking for civil society organisations that it can conveniently mobilise and work with to accomplish its objectives in the 2007 elections.

In February 2007, the Commission organised a bigger conference from the 19th to the 20th in Abuja. The meeting brought together hundreds of different civil society organisation.. At this meeting some of the old organisations that INEC had been working with were not invited. Majority of the organisations invited to this meeting had no track records on electoral works in Nigeria. The process led to the formation of CISPAD. One of the officials of CISPAD, Ayokunle Fagbemi, was to facilitate the accreditation of Nigerian civil societies that would observe the 2007 Nigerian elections for INEC. Unfortunately, this government coordinated and supervised civil society network encountered problems due to INEC’s overbearing influence on the group. Some of the network officials withdrew their membership and coordination and INEC accredited civil societies that pleased the Commission to observe the 2007 elections. Rather than partnering with credible civil society organisations with vast experience on electoral matters like TMG and ACE that it started consultations with, INEC’s Chairman waged ceaseless war against TMG by refusing to accredit its members to observe the 2007 elections. It took pressure from both the national and international stakeholders in Nigeria 2007 elections for INEC to accredit TMG members. On its part, the national Secretary of ACE, Comrade Emmanuel Ezeazu was arrested and detained for hours by the state security agency over ACE activities on the 2007 election.

INEC did not stop this assuming behaviour but continued with the following during and after the election;
• Delayed supply of voters’ materials,
• Delayed arrival of INEC adhoc-staff leading to mismanagement of time at the detriment of the electorate.
• The use of partisan and underaged ad-hoc staff
• Restriction of civil society organisations from monitoring the elections
• Delayed handing over of observation materials to accredited election observers and election mandate protectors
• Disenfranchisement of millions of Nigerians. Many had their registration Identity Cards but their names were not in the voters registration lists utilised to conduct the 2007 elections
• Denial of aggrieved politicians access to evidences that were in INEC’s Custody to support their election petitions
• Announcement of the 2007 election winners without releasing the results in the election for Nigerians to see the details.
• Thumb-printing of ballot papers by INEC officials after the elections to assist the ruling party at the tribunal court
• Refusal of INEC officials to provide adequate voting materials to polling stations
• INEC’s delayed printing of Presidential ballot papers and it resulted to omission of candidates names, their pictures and ballot paper serial numbers
• Misspelling and omission of candidates’ names and pictures in the ballot papers thereby causing cancellation of elections, for example in the case of a Senatorial race in Lagos state etc

INEC knew and had the human and financial resources to conduct free, fair and credible 2007 elections. But the influence of the executive on the Commission made this impossible. For example, the Commission, in addition to its permanent staff, recruited and utilised 500,000 ad hoc staff to manage the elections . INEC was also provided with adequate budget of N54.5 billion Naira (Euro 349 million) to conduct the election. The Joint Donor Basket Fund (JDBF) put together for the Nigeria 2007 elections by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), European Commission (EC), United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) also made it possible for INEC to independently carry out some positive roles to influence the 2007 elections in the right direction (EU Mission Report, 2007).

From the a foregoing, it is right to argue that no matter how willing INEC was, it could only influence little in the right direction the 2007 elections. Its roles, as it is presently constituted will make no significant impacts on free, fair and credible election given its dependency on the executive. Organising credible, free and fair election will continue to be a major challenge until the Commission is practically independent of the executive in term of finance and appointment. The Commission will continue to initiate good programmes and act in deceit to fool Nigerians and the international community of its seriousness and determination to conduct free, fair and credible election but this will not happen until INEC is practically independent.

Finally, election mandate protection was successful in states like Kano, Bauchi and Lagos in 2007 elections because voters kicked against INEC’s directive that they should leave the vicinity of the Polling Stations once they cast their vote. Voters in these states watched their votes and followed these votes to the final collation centre for their mandate to be protected. Election mandate protection that is legal and constitutional will remain a theoretical concept in the history of Nigeria election until INEC is practically independent of the executive.

The Way Forward
Elections are very central to the principle and practice of democracy all over the world. The genuine path to good governance and development in Nigeria lies in the type of election that is conducted. For future Nigerian elections to be credible, free and fair, a wholistic review of all the defective provisions on electoral issues in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution must be immediately carried out. The executive and the legislature must initiate a Constitution review process that is people oriented and participatory to address all electoral defectiveness in the Constitution to guaranteed the independence of the Commission. INEC’s full and unfettered independence can only be guarantee if the Nigerian Constitution makes adequate provision for its funding, structure, operation and composition in this manner; the Commission should be provided for in the Constitution to draw its finances directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The Nigerian 1999 Constitution should be amended to remove the provision that make INEC Commissioner a card carrying member of political party before they can be appointed. The Commission should be removed from one of the Federal Executive body and be made a complete independent body. INEC should advertise for the position of Commissioners in popular Nigerian newspapers, Radio and Television. Candidates that apply for these positions should be screened for approval by the citizens through objection and support in the media and letters to the National Assembly. Based on this bottom–top approach, the National Assembly will finally screen and settle the appointment of the Chairperson and the Commissioners for the President’s confirmation and assent. Nigeria can also utilise the Ghana experience where the chairperson of the Commission is a civil servant who rose from the junior cadre to become the chairperson of the Commission.

Finally, the independence of INEC can be guaranteed by a wider representation of Labour and professional associations like the Nigerian Bar Association, the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities, the organised private sector and human rights and pro-democracy groups

Conclusion
This work is divided into five sections. The first section introduces the topic while section two and three examine the roles, preparation and the neutrality of Nigeria Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in 2007 elections and argues that the role of electoral management body in election is critical to democratic sustainability and development. It concluded that INEC successfully organised the 2007 elections and Nigeria transited for the first time from one democratic government to another. Despite this laudable achievement, this work argues that the roles of the Commission in the entire process has left little to be desired.

The dependency nature of INEC on the executive in terms of finance and appointment affected negatively the roles of the Commission in the elections. For Nigeria future elections to be free, fair and credible and for election mandate protection realistic and be carried out within the purview of the law, the Commission must be truly independent of the executive and the ruling party. Provisions that deals with electoral issues in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution and the 2006 Electoral Act that need amendments must be attended to immediately by the legislators.

Section four made recommendations on the way forward for INEC with the aim of guaranteeing election mandate protection in Nigeria’s future elections. This final section concludes the paper.

















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