2023 ELECTIONS: How Did Yakubu’s INEC Get It All Wrong? By Dare Adekanmbi

2023 ELECTIONS: How Did Yakubu’s INEC Get It All Wrong? By Dare Adekanmbi



Once an electoral institution fails the neutrality and objectivity tests, public trust is broken and voters disengage from participating in civic life. Nothing is more disempowering and demotivating than having a partisan and partial electoral umpire manage multiparty elections. It strips the elected government of the political authority required to legitimise its rule.

The above is an excerpt from an oracular article written by the Executive Director of Yiaga Africa and convener of the Not Too Young To Run movement, Samson Itodo, published on the website of Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, where the author was a Master of Public Policy student.

The article, which is entitled “Nigeria: the Salience of Depoliticising Election Management Bodies,” was written on June 30, 2021, almost two years before this year’s elections.

There are enough pointers to suggest that the 2023 general election concluded by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is one with the most disputed outcome. Some observers have dubbed the 2023 elections as a reincarnation of the virulent strain of its 2007 ancestor widely acknowledged as poorly conducted and irredeemably flawed.

Just before various candidates and their parties began to file petitions before the various tribunals, there were about 200 petitions asking the election management body, INEC, to review the results it [INEC] posted in the National Assembly election and reverse returns made.

INEC, Sunday Tribune reliably gathered, was open to review of only two of the cases, thus indicating that the avalanche of petitions point to the litigation that will trail the first leg of the elections, with more than double the figure likely to dog the state election.

Not a fraction of the foreign observers that monitored the elections gave INEC a pass mark, as they all described the election as falling short of the required integrity and transparency tests.

Yet, the election in terms of what it costs the country, is the most expensive in the history, particularly since the return to civil rule in 1999, gulping a whopping N305 billion to organise.

Yakubu’s grandiose promises

But what happened to all the promises made by Professor Yakubu about how INEC would make the elections a departure from the ugly past as demonstrated by the performance of the commission in off-cycle elections it conducted using the technology it deployed, Bimodal Voter Authentication System (BVAS) and IReV portal which, it claimed, will make it possible for citizens to view election results real-time as they come from the polling units?

Yakubu had 100 days to the February 25 election reiterated the promise to give Nigerians elections that would be adjudged to be free and fair: “It is exactly 100 days today before polling units open at 8.30am on Saturday 25th February 2023 for national elections (presidential and National Assembly) and two weeks later on Saturday 11th March 2023 for state elections (governorship and state Houses of Assembly).

“Once again, another general election is upon us, the seventh since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria in 1999. Over the last 23 years, we have made steady progress in the twin areas of electoral reform and election administration. Although a lot of work still lies ahead, it is generally acknowledged that our elections are getting better and citizens’ confidence in the process is increasing.

“As I have said repeatedly, the commission’s allegiance is to Nigeria. Our loyalty is to Nigerians who want free, fair, credible and verifiable elections supported by technology, which guarantees transparent accreditation and upload of polling unit results for citizens to view in real-time on election day. It is for these reasons that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) were introduced. There is no going back on the deployment of BVAS and IReV for the 2023 general election,” he had said in a letter addressed to Nigerians.

Addressing a stakeholders’ meeting in Osogbo, the state capital, a few days to the guber election in the state in July 2022, Yakubu had also promised that only the votes of the people would determine winners of elections.

“For us in INEC, let me reassure political parties, candidates, and the electorate that the choice of who becomes the next governor of Osun State is entirely in the hands of voters.

“As I have repeatedly said in previous engagements with stakeholders, INEC will not take any action to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate. Our focus is on the processes and procedures as provided by law,” he had said.

How things fell apart on February 25

It is not only the late arrival of men and materials necessitating late start of election in most states of the country that was the only critical glitch in the first leg of the elections. The inability of INEC to transmit results from polling units straight to IREV as promised by Professor Yakubu was a major issue in the trust-deficit grudge many Nigerians, candidates and parties hold against Yakubu and his INEC in the first election.

But to observers, the parties ought to have been vigilant enough as Yakubu had made a volte face on his promise to ensure real-time transmission and viewing of results 72 hours before the election. He said the change came because raw figures were susceptible to compromise from external forces. He was addressing a team of international election observers in his office in Abuja when he made this sudden turn.

According to him: “The difference between what Kenya did in 2015 and what we are doing is that we are not transmitting raw figures for collation. In fact, the law does not allow for electronic collation of results. So, we don’t transmit raw figures because raw figures transmitted online are more susceptible to hacking while images of a document are not susceptible to hacking.

“Like every new technology, initially, it will present its own challenges. In the last elections in Osun and Ekiti, BVAS performed well. But, this is the first time that we are deploying the machine for national elections. We conducted a mock accreditation exercise and the exercise had some issues which we have addressed,” Yakubu had said.

What INEC delivered in February did not gravely fall short of what was promised, it led many to raise posers on the integrity of the elections. What did Professor Yakubu mean by raw election figures? How is that different from the BVAS-photographed results? Why is it that contrary to the promises he made within and outside the country, including during his speech at Chatham House in Central London, there was no real-time transmission of results on IREV?

The questions many political observers and stakeholders have continued to ask are: Why is it that when INEC finally did upload the results onto IREV hours after agitations from citizens had rent the air, there was unpardonable mix-up in the results? Why is INEC still uploading results from the February 25 election unto its portal more than two weeks after the election had been held? What happens to the N117billion INEC said it set aside for the procurement of anti-hacking software and other technology to make it impossible for unscrupulous people to compromise its server? After making various declarations, it is alleged that the results being uploaded on IREV are different from what happened at the polling units. People are querying, for instance, how the results from Zamfara featured under the ones posted for Imo State?

Scholars and lawyers, while reviewing the elections, pilloried Yakubu for not leaving up expectations and for dashing the hopes of Nigerians, especially young voters who trooped out to vote for the first time on February 25.

The chairman, Section of Public Interest and Development (SPIDEL) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr Monday Ubani, gave a thumbs down to the electoral umpire.

“INEC did not transmit the results of the election as it promised. INEC ‘made so much mouth’ it would send the results real-time from the polling units to its IReV portal for people to see. INEC did not fulfill this promise, but instead it started giving excuses of threat to its server and before you knew it, we saw people thumb-printing and doing all manner of manipulation that we thought, with the new Electoral Act, we would not experience such brazen impunity in the system. So, INEC has taken us back to 2011. That is the point.

“But I tell you something: all the people that participated and conspired in order to waste our resources in this country will pay for it and their generations unborn will pay for it. They will bleed and will never enjoy the money; neither will their generation enjoy the money as well.

“If INEC has taken so much and now comes back to tell us it can’t transmit results to its server right from the polling units, it means there will never be peace in the hearts and families of those who have taken that money in order to enjoy themselves at the expense of Nigerians. They will suffer punishment and go to the hottest part of hell because of what they have done to the resources of the country.”

Hassan Saliu, a professor of Political Science at the University of Ilorin and president of the Nigerian Political Science Association (NPSA) also shared his thoughts on INEC’s conduct of the 2023 elections.

“I have two main perspectives to share on INEC. One, INEC, maybe in an attempt to win over the confidence of Nigeria, had over-promised with respect to the presidential and national Assembly election. Most of the fantastic things that the commission promised, some people will argue, did not happen.

“Therefore, one will be tempted to advise that it is better to promise moderately and deliver in a bigger way than to promise in a bigger way and deliver so little. The second perspective has to do with the fact that INEC is part of Nigerian society. So, whatever problem we have in Nigeria, definitely, such a problem will find its way to INEC. So, it will be unfair to expect INEC to be totally extraordinary in its performance of duty when the country itself is wobbling and fumbling along the way.

“I would say INEC needs to understand that much of what it does is fieldwork, not office work. Therefore, staying in Abuja and relying on information from the Residents Electoral Commission has not helped.

“I am not opposed to a professor being appointed as INEC chairman. I am saying that we need to look more critically. Some professors are fine scholars, but they may not be fine administrators. So, merely being a professor is not enough to be appointed as INEC chairman. We have to look at the antecedents of the person to be appointed, the potential the person has.

“I have nothing against Professor Yakubu or Professor Attahiru Jega. They have tried their best. But I am saying that in moving to the next level, even if they want to appoint another professor, let us ask questions and see who can deliver.”

An international scholar and former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Professor Chidi Odinkalu, sees no improvement in INEC’s conduct just as he tasked the judiciary to right the wrongs INEC committed in the election.

“INEC is very crooked. You can say parties did this and people wanted to get INEC to comply or buy INEC. If INEC is not selling, politicians will not buy. Pure and simple. Let us call it what it is. He set the country up and raised people’s hope only to dash the hope of Nigerians.”

The governorship/assembly election

While there was a remarkable improvement in the areas of logistics and prompt arrival of polling officials at their stations, a general atmosphere of violence, voter suppression and criminal ballot box snatching and widespread disruptions were recorded in some states.

Though it is not the responsibility of INEC, but security agencies to secure votes cast at elections, the reactions that have trailed the returns made in some states by INEC and the delay that characterised the announcement of winners in other states have detracted greatly from the credit that would have gone to INEC for the second election.

Candidates as INEC contractors

Nothing erodes public trust in Yakubu’s INEC more than the revelation that a couple of candidates in the elections got contracts for the supply of sensitive election materials.

The electoral body has since said it was not aware the APC governorship candidate in Adamawa State, Senator Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed, is a director in a printing company that was given the contract to supply result sheets for the elections. But the rebuttal has refused to fly in the face of the debacle that characterised the conduct of the governorship election in Adamawa such that over a week after the election, no winner has been declared.

Professor Odinkalu, in an interview earlier, had doubted the neutrality of INEC, predicating his doubt on the claim that the commission awarded a contract for the procurement of BVAS to an APC senatorial candidate in Niger State. It was further revealed that the same APC candidate was the supplier of the machines deployed for the printing of PVCs in 2019.

Investigation by Sunday Tribune revealed that a company belonging to a former governor but run by a front of the ex-governor applied to register as a contractor with INEC in the build-up to the 2019 elections. One of INEC’s national commissioners had led a team on inspection of the company. But a tip-off from insiders in INEC stopped the attempt to have the company listed at that time.

The general consensus is that INEC under Yakubu who is a Professor of Political History and International Studies ought to have known how desperate politicians can get if they want to have their way. Yakubu, people reason, ought to have carried out due diligence on the companies that get what contracts from INEC, especially knowing that politicians can masquerade with some companies by using fronts.

Hope in the judiciary?

With winners declared largely by INEC for the elections, all eyes are on the judiciary to redress some of the perceived infractions of laws in the conduct of the elections.

But Professor Odinkalu is not enamoured of the judiciary giving justice in this regard. “The Nigerian judiciary is now captured. You name major politicians and I will tell you this one’s wife is that judge and that one’s son is that judge and the other one’s mistress is that judge.

“In the last election [2019], the president of the Court of Appeal was the wife of an APC senatorial candidate. The chief judge, until recently, was the father of an APC senatorial candidate and he had another son who was running as PDP House of Representatives candidate in Bauchi.

“The current Chief Justice is the cousin of an APC governor. So, how these things work out, I would not know. But the Nigerian judiciary has been captured. At the end of the day, it is the judges who will live with the consequences of everything that they enable. In the fullness of time, I am sure that some of them at least would think about the consequences of this.”

The stand-alone returning officer

Professor Nnenna Oti, the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, stood out as the chief returning officer for the guber election in Abia State. At the collation hall, she insisted she would stick to the right thing and satisfy her conscience.

During the announcement of collated results, she disclosed she got a directive from Abuja headquarters of INEC on the direction they wanted things to go, but she disagreed and insisted on doing the right thing. The Labour Party candidate, Alex Otti, was already leading with only one local government result being expected when this happened. Relief came after some of the BVAS machines deployed for the election were taken to Abuja headquarters of INEC and Otti later announced the winner of the election.

The last line

INEC from the reactions trailing the elections may have ruptured its relationship with Nigerians, especially the young people it organised musical concerts for across the geopolitical zones to mobilise for the elections.

The millions of young Nigerians who voted for the first time, having come to embrace the value of democracy, got the rudest shock from INEC when the commission failed to upload results from the polling units instantaneously onto IReV. Where will these youths turn to now? They were angry during the #EndSARS protest, they were placated to wait for the election time and they did. Whichever of the candidates they might have voted for, what would have been assuring was for INEC to have lived up to its promise of delivering credible and transparent elections, but which, by all accounts, it has failed to do.

Now, majority of Nigerians are pinning their hope on the judiciary to redeem and reclaim the country from total moral degeneration by ensuring justice is served and the integrity of Nigeria is protected.

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