I was woken up by the repeated phone calls of a friend around 4 am on Saturday morning 16th February 2019.
“The elections coming up this morning have been cancelled”, he told me.
My response to this terrible message was to utter an unprintable curse on whoever cancelled the election. I then switch off my phone and tried to catch up with my interrupted sleep. My friend who knows my orthodox Christian background which forbids cursing was shocked and still remains shocked at my response.
It was a spontaneous reaction induced by frustration and anger. As I tried hard to catch up with my sleep, I remembered the words of Ellen Johnson SirLeaf, head of ECOWAS observation mission when she led a delegation of seven to the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room in Abuja on the eve of the presidential election. She said Nigeria has to get it right in the February 16 presidential and parliamentary elections because West Africa is looking up to the country.
‘We know what you (Nigeria) has spent in financial and human resource to buy us (Liberia) peace today, and so we look to you in this election,” she said. As these words flashed through my mind, I kept asking myself repeatedly “why are we doing this to ourselves, to our West African sub region, to Africa and to the whole black world?”
It then dawned on me that we are a country of endless contradictions: we export what we don’t have at home and import what we have abundantly at home. In the West African sub region, we supply electricity to our neighbors while NEPA fails us daily. We have the largest oil deposits in Africa and yet we import petroleum products in large quantity on a daily basis. Our democratic credentials are questionable and yet that did not stop us from exporting democracy to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
To be sure, this is not the first-time scheduled elections are rescheduled in recent times in Nigeria. On April 2, 2011, INEC shifted the national assembly election by seven days (to April 9), citing “logistics and operational” problems. And it took this decision while voting had already commenced in some parts of the country.
On February 7, the 2015 general election was shifted by five weeks, seven days before the exercise. Though INEC relied on security advice and not problems of logistics in taking the decision, the rescheduled election was largely free, fair and peaceful. This is according to local and international observers.
From the experience of 2015, one is tempted to say that rescheduling an election may not colossally affect its turn-out or credibility. But it is rather strange that the management of INEC which consistently claimed that they were ready for the exercise would turn-round to get it postponed nine hours before schedule.
The electoral body had four years to prepare for the exercise and by the admission of the Chairman, all their requests were granted by both the executive and the legislature in appropriation and release of funds.
There is thus no justification of the current tardiness in handling our elections. INEC under the Chairmanship of Mahmood Yakubu should not try to pitch its tent in the graveyard of dead electoral bodies of Nigeria which is full of murdered reputations of great men.
It all started in 1960 with Eyo Ita Esau, a Nigerian teacher and trade unionist who was at the helm of the first Electoral Commission in independent Nigeria. Esua was a school master and a founder member of the Nigerian Union of Teachers renowned for his dedication to duty and uprightness.
The Esua-led commission organized the December 1964 election, which was mired in controversy. Two members of the commission disagreed with the chairman and resigned from the commission. Esua also conducted the 1965 Western Region election, which was violent and disputed by the opposition United Party Grand Alliance. A few days before these elections Esua acknowledged that his organisation could not guarantee a free and fair poll. The widespread electoral abuses were a factor in the success of the military coup of January 1966 in which Major General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi came to power.
As Nigeria prepared for the second republic, General Olusegun Obasanjo established the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) and appointed Michael Ani in 1976 as Chairman.
Michael Ani was an accomplished and retired civil servant. He did an excellent job in conducting all elections. The August 1979 presidential election was won by Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Sadly, his spectacular performance was marred by disputes over Ani’s interpretation of the ambiguous electoral decree which said “a candidate must obtain one quarter of votes cast in at least two thirds of the states of the federation”.
Ani was succeeded by Justice Ovie Whiskey a man with a distinguished academic career from Kings College, University of Ibadan and the University of London. Called to the bar in 1952, he was the Chief Judge of Bendel State, and was seen as upright and non-partisan at the time of his appointment in 1980. However, the general elections he organized in 1983 were marred by widespread irregularities and the electoral officials were accused of rigging the results in favor of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Ovie-Whisky declared that he was largely satisfied with the electoral process in 1983, but said: “We did not expect to be perfect” He denied wrongdoing, and when questioned by reporters on whether “water passed under the bridge” in the elections, he said that he would faint if he saw N1 million cash.
The flawed elections were partly responsible for the military take-over of government at the end of 1983. Under the Babangida transition to democratic government, Professor Eme Awa a distinguished professor of Political Science at the University of Nigeria Nsukka was appointed as the chief electoral umpire in 1987.
Eme Awa’s commission conducted the 1987 Local Government election, which was poorly managed, with irregularities that included a discredited voter’s register and overcrowded polling stations. He was the teacher and mentor of Henry Nwosu, who succeeded him in 1989 as FEDECO chairman.
Nwosu was also a Professor of Political Science at the University of Nsukka. He served in the cabinet of Samson Omeruah, governor of the old Anambra State where he helped traditional rulers to gain staffs of office and receive salaries, and settled intra and inter community land disputes. He also served as chairman of a Federal Technical Committee on the application of Civil Service Reforms in the local government service.
Nwosu’s commission introduced the novel Option A4 voting system and the open ballot system which was largely successful in holding all elections up to the presidency. At that level, Nwosu released many of the election results when he was ordered to stop further announcement by the military regime. The results which pointed to the emergence of Chief Moshood Abiola as President were subsequently annulled. In 2008 he published a book in which he claimed that Babangida was not to blame for annulling the election. The book was severely criticized for failing to accurately account for what happened. The fiasco damaged his reputation beyond repairs.
Chief Sumner Karibi Dagogo-Jack, a member of the Henry Nwosu Commission was appointed chairman of the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) by Sani Abacha in 1994. His commission was reportedly not impartial, but was controlled by Abacha. Under Dagogo-Jack, NECON registered five political associations, none led by credible politicians. The purpose was to ensure that Abacha would become the sole presidential candidate, supported by all parties.
In 1998, Abdulsalam Abubakar appointed Justice Ephraim Omorose Ibukun Akpata, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court as the first chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, (INEC) responsible for the 1998/1999 elections that re-introduced democracy in May 1999.
He was succeeded by a distinguished public servant who made his mark as an educator, administrator, diplomat and retired public servant. Dr.Abel Guobadia a Senior Lecturer and Head of Department of Physics at the University of Lagos.
In January 1984, Guobadia was appointed Commissioner of Education for the defunct Bendel state. Later in 1986, he was appointed the Bendel State Commissioner of Finance and Economic Planning. In 1987, he was appointed Nigeria’s first resident Ambassador to the Republic of Korea.
In May 2000 he was appointed INEC Chairman and in May 2005, Guobada retired from this position becoming the first, and so far, only Chairman of the Electoral Commission since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, to complete his tenure.
His successor Maurice Mmaduakolam Iwu a Professor of Pharmacology was not so lucky. He was appointed Chairman of the (INEC) in June 2005, and was removed from office in April 2010.
Before his appointment at INEC, Professor Iwu was President of the International Society of ethnobiology (1996–2002), member and ex-President of the Nigerian Society of Pharmacognosy, Member of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and Member of the International Society for Medicinal Plant Research.
He was removed ass INEC boss in disgrace.
Compared to some of the great names that presided over electoral matters in the past, Mahmood Yakububu has a short and unimpressive CV. He should have used the opportunity to serve his country with distinction so that his personality will be more colourful.
Sadly, what we see is a mind twisting tendency to mediocrity by Mahmood Yakubu and his Commission.