REJOINDER: 'MORE DISTURBING SIGNALS FROM INEC'
I find it compelling to respond yet again to the editorial in your newspaper for Wednesday, 16th April, 2014, with the above title. My aim in this short rejoinder is to show that the conclusion the editorial draws from the phenomenon of 'inconclusive elections' is erroneous; indeed, it is the exact opposite of the facts of the matter. The explanation to be provided here, I hope, will also be useful to others who share a perspective similar to THISDAY's on inconclusive elections.
The premise for the editorial commentary is the inconclusive April 5, 2014, federal constituency election in Ilaje / Ese-Odo, Ondo State, which the newspaper considers as evidence of 'the continuous ineptitude of INEC on the conduct of elections even in small territories.'
Sir, the inconclusiveness of an election is in no way an indication of the ineptitude of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct that election. If it shows anything at all, it is the steadfastness of the Commission in insisting on a winner being decided by voters. That reinforces rather than detract from the credibility of the election. Unless our memories fail us, we would recall that there was a time when the general perception of the Election Management Body was that it determined winners of elections without regard to the equation of ballots duly cast by voters. The perception was that it did not matter how many votes were tallied and how many more were outstanding, winners were declared anyway! Besides, elections were won by landslide margins such that outstanding votes, if there were any, were of no consequence.
The present INEC under the chairmanship of Professor Attahiru Jega has come a long way from that tendency. Elections are more tightly contested because the votes are counted and are made to count; and the Commission insists on elections being decided entirely by the preference of voters as indicated in the way they vote. Both the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) give the Commission powers to make guidelines and regulations governing the processes of elections. Besides, Section 26 of the Electoral Act (as amended) provides a guide on what to do when the Commission considers that the result of an election could be affected by the number of votes involved in an area where election has been postponed or rescheduled for reasons of violence, natural disaster and the like. Taking a cue from these existing provisions of law, the Commission has since 1999 issued guidelines prescribing that a winner would not be returned in an election where the margin of difference in votes between a leading candidate and the runner-up is less than the number of registered voters where election has been postponed or cancelled within that constituency.
The import of the guidelines is to ensure that voters in any particular election ultimately determine the winner. Supplementary elections are usually the applicable remedy in situations where elections are inconclusive owing to a scenario such as the one described above. The logic of THISDAY's editorial in question is quite curious when it argues that 'the use of the word 'inconclusive' by the returning officer (is) to abort the will of the people.' On the contrary, it reinforces the will of the people and ensures that they are not short-changed by circumstances, which in some cases may not be of their own making.
The Jega-led INEC did not introduce supplementary elections into the political lexicon of this country as the editorial suggests. Declaring elections inconclusive and conducting supplementary elections to conclude them has been a feature of our political process since 1999. A few examples here will suffice: (i) the Balanga South state constituency election in 2008; (ii) the Ekiti State governorship supplementary election in 2009; (iii) the Anambra Central senatorial constituency supplementary election in 2011; (iv) the Imo State governorship supplementary election in 2011 and, most recently, (v) the Anambra State governorship supplementary election in 2013.
In the particular case of Ilaje / Ese-Odo federal constituency, election could not be conducted in Arogbo Ward 2 of Ese-Odo local government area and certain parts of Arogbo Ward 1 and environs because violence was fomented by some members of the community. Unfortunately, the number of voters involved in the area where elections couldn't hold was far higher than the difference in the margin of votes between the leading candidate and the runner-up for areas where the elections duly held. The margin of difference by the leading candidate was 1, 298 votes; whereas the number of registered voters affected where the election was cancelled was 29, 051. INEC guidelines, which are aimed at ensuring electoral justice, provide that eligible persons who have not been able to vote should be given the opportunity to do so and their preferences taken into account in determining who the clear and unambiguous winner of the election is.
Of course, inconclusive elections can be avoided. But that is when all stakeholders, especially politicians and their supporters, play by the rules and allow a conducive environment for smooth conduct of elections; and provided that voters do not dictate otherwise in the manner they exercise their choice.
It is barely two weeks now that one found the need to take issue with another of your newspaper's editorials. But I really want to believe that your newspaper is well meaning, otherwise it would not be worth the time or effort to respond. Besides, INEC takes the view of a reputable newspaper like THISDAY serious; but that reputation comes with a responsibility â€' namely that the views expressed must be well reasoned and sufficiently informed.
Written By Kayode Robert Idowu
Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman