Rerun/by-elections: Long road to free, fair, credible elections

The outcome of the rerun and by-elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Saturday revealed that there is still much more to be done to achieve credible polls in Nigeria as violence, ballot snatching, and compromise by electoral officers marred the exercise. LAWRENCE NJOKU reports.

The rerun/by-elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at the weekend, as ordered by the courts in 80 local government councils across 26 states of the federation, raises concerns about how long it could take the country to organise a credible process that would reflect the will and desire of the electorate and devoid of violence.

The rerun and by-elections, an offshoot of the 2023 general elections, were held to replace members who died or resigned their memberships of the National and State Assemblies, as well as re-run elections at designated constituencies or polling units (Pus) ordered by the election appeal courts.

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had announced before last weekend that the elections would specifically fill vaccines in not less than three senatorial zones,17 federal and 28 state constituencies spread across 80 local governments, 575 registration areas/wards and 8,934 polling units involving 4,904,627 registered voters, out of which 4,613,291 PVCs had been collected.

He listed states affected in the elections to include Ebonyi, Yobe, Kebbi, Lagos, Ondo, Taraba, Benue, Borno, Kaduna, Plateau, Akwa Ibom and Anambra .

He gave other states as Cross River, Delta, Enugu, Jigawa, Katsina, Adamawa, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Kano, Nasarawa, Niger, Oyo, Sokoto and Zamfara, assuring that necessary arrangements had been concluded to ensure a hitch-free and credible elections .

Indeed, going by the number of states and polling units involved in the process, one could easily infer that nothing other than the best would emanate from the exercise at the end of the day, at least to make up for the shortcomings of the 2023 general elections.

However, sound beats that attended the process from different states were an indication that more needs to be done to get elections right in Nigeria .

Aside from complaints of the late arrival of INEC officials and voting materials to the various polling units, there were allegations of snatching of ballot boxes, violence as well as missing result sheets, even as voters’ apathy seriously underlined the process.

While there was desperation by the party in power at the various states to retain the election for their party, irrespective of the acceptance of the candidate by the people, the move to divest from that by other opposition candidates created crises in the election in some areas.

While the elections were on and miffed by reports of poor handling of the process, the Commission announced the suspension of elections in some of the constituencies, over what it termed an outbreak of violence and other glaring irregularities that marred the exercise.

INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Sam Olumekun, listed areas affected by the suspension to include Ikono/Ini federal constituency, Akwa Ibom State and two polling units in Ini local government and village hall Mbiabong Ikot Udo 003 in Ikono council area where materials were carted away by hoodlums.

Olumekun said elections were also suspended in all eight polling units in Enugu south 1 state constituency, Enugu state where the original results sheets were not available for inspection by voters before the commencement of polls.

He added that elections in Kunchi/Tsanyawa state constituency in Kano State were also put on hold in all 10 polling units in Kunchi council due to invasion, vandalisation and disruption by thugs .

“The decision of the Commission aligns with the provisions of Section 24 (3) of the Electoral Act, 2022. Further necessary measures for the affected constituencies will be announced after the Commission’s meeting on Monday.

“INEC invites the security agencies to investigate the incidents, while the Commission commits to thoroughly interrogating any breaches involving its officials”, he stated.

Meanwhile, those who witnessed developments in Enugu South, where a rerun election was billed for the urban constituency would gladly accept that the commission was right in suspending the process.

An Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) official uses a Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to check the details of a voter at a polling station (Photo by Audu MARTE / AFP)

This is a result of the protest that trailed the exercise in the area on Saturday, following the disappearance of the Electoral Officer (EO), Francis Chigbo and his Supervising Presiding Officer with original copies of the result sheets for the election .

The election primarily was between the Labour Party (LP) candidate, Emeka Ngene and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Sam Ngene. Emeka had earlier been returned by INEC. However, the PDP candidate petitioned the tribunal, alleging irregularities in the eight polling units, a development that was upheld by the court.

Following the disappearance of the official, voting could not start as LP supporters resorted to protest. PDP members also staged their protest in support of the election to go on. The charged atmosphere had attracted heads of all security agencies in the state including Customs, Immigration, Police, Civil Defence, DSS and routine of soldiers and Armored Carrier to the venue. By 2.20 p.m., voting had not commenced in the venue.

INEC REC for the state, Chukwuemeka Chukwu who had been evasive all through the period surfaced in the afternoon with a ‘photocopy” of other results sheets and directed that the election should go on but supporters of opposition parties refused.

Chukwu, who stated that he would “stamp and counter-sign the result sheets” to enable the process to continue, while addressing the development said: “The political parties demanded that in line with the Electoral Act, the result be shown to them. So, when I got the information, I quickly rushed to this place to calm the situation down to issue a replacement.

“So, I am here to tell the whole world that whatever anybody is saying in line with the law, if any result sheet is altered before the election, the INEC has every power to issue a replacement result sheet. I am going to stamp it and counter-sign it so that voting will commence shortly in this place .”

This was stoutly opposed by the agents of opposing political parties who accused the commission of compromising the process and wondering what had happened to the original results sheets.

They observed that while the election was being held in February 2024, the Resident Commissioner brought the results sheets used for the 2023 general elections, stressing that, “in law you cannot lay claim with something that is nothing. ”

LP agent, Arinze Ogbodo, who seriously queried the transparency of the commission in the process, stated that “the EO intentionally refused to display the original result sheets”, adding that, “he is on a mission to use it to write results for our opponent.”

In Igboeze north/Udenu federal constituency, a man was beaten to pulp by voters after being caught with pre-filled election result sheets.
According to a video that went viral on social media, the man who identified himself as Ronald Ugwudani from Igboetiti council of the state claimed the pre-filled result sheets were given to him by the local government by an INEC officia l.

In response however, INEC dismissed his claim as fake, stressing that the “individual is not an employee of the commission and not known to the commission” and urged the public to disregard him.

Although the federal constituency result had been declared on Sunday in favour of PDP’ Simeon Atigwe, those who monitored the process, raised concerns about the level of thuggery that characterised the process.

Speaking to The Guardian, a Public Affairs Analyst, Eze Duruoha said the INEC alone should not be blamed for the irregularities that marred the elections last Saturday, stressing that the way the courts have handled the petitions arising from the 2023 general elections enamoured certain persons to violate the laws.

“The truth is that many of our politicians believe in the power of money, that with their money they can buy everything including justice. So, many people were able to walk their way through the courts after defrauding the electorate during the 2023 elections. So, they believe that you should first of all, ensure that INEC returns in the election and you use your money and connections to do the rest. That is why even against the laws barring snatching of ballot boxes or hoarding of materials, officials themselves are engaging in it.

“Look at the scenario in Enugu south, just eight polling units. The officials of INEC decided to disappear with original results sheets when people have not voted, and you could ask why. Probably to write whatever he thought could favour anybody that paid him. In the end, if you submit that kind of document to the court, it will still be accepted. That is why it is so,” he said.

For Mrs Mercy Orji, an official of the Civil Rights Initiative (CRI), until the laws are properly implemented the country will continue to throttle in the guise of conducting elections .

She stated that the inability of the INEC to rely on the technologies it put in place including the IREV and BIVAS to determine the true winner of the 2023 general elections would hunt it for a long time.

“You can see what we have in the instance where there is voter apathy because the people no longer have confidence in the electoral body because their votes cannot be used to determine the winner. The fact is that if we continue this way, we will get to a level where only those who are benefitting from any ruling party will stand to elect somebody in an election.

“How many people have been sanctioned or punished even by INEC among its officials who commit electoral fraud? It is not enough to suspend or cancel an election but they should go further to prosecute those officials who contributed to it. What they have wasted by derailing an election is taxpayers’ money. The earlier we do this the better for the system.

“Those politicians who have compromised the process, what has happened to them? We are not being truthful to what we profess. We have out of selfish desires destroyed things that took us years of hard work and planning to build. That is what we are suffering now. I am afraid of what will happen in 2027 if we cannot get common rerun/by-elections right,” she stated.

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