X-raying INEC under Yakubu’s watch

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The tenure of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu as chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) started five years ago with a series of inconclusive elections.

But, after the initial challenges, the agency has midwifed remarkable technological revolutions that energized the electoral umpire’s commitment to the conduct of credible elections.

Appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari on October 21, 2015, to replace the then Acting Chairman, Amina Zakari, Yakubu had led the commission for five years, conducting the 2019 general elections and 195 off-season elections, bye-elections and re-run elections, including governorship elections in Kogi, Bayelsa, Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states.

On Wednesday (October 21), his tenure will officially come to an end. Whether he will be reappointed or replaced is the prerogative of President Muhammadu Buhari, who is conferred with the constitutional right to pick INEC Chairman. Nevertheless, Yakubu’s five years has put the commission on a sure footing that re-engineered its modus-operandi.

On assumption of office in 2015, the Yakubu-led commission embarked on a number of innovations, which started with the development of Strategic Plan 2017 to 2021 after a comprehensive review of the Strategic Plan 2012 to 2016. This was intended to develop a pragmatic roadmap that will serve as a practical, action-oriented guide for its work over a five-year period. The process of developing the strategy was guided by the need for ownership of the process by INEC staff members and engagement with key stakeholders.

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The strategic plan was also intended to provide a strategic direction for INEC and the actions to be taken to achieve its mandate, given the international and national context of its operations and to propose what needs to be done by the organisation to achieve its mandate following a review of the previous strategic plan.

It was also conceived to provide electoral operations, systems and infrastructure to support delivery of free, fair and credible elections; to improve voter education, training and research; to register political parties and monitor their operations and to interact nationally and internationally with relevant stakeholders.

Under Yakubu’s watch, INEC instituted the practice of developing and implementing an Election Project Plan (EPP) to tackle the complexities associated with conducting elections in a country with huge logistic undertakings, such as landmass, difficult terrain, number of constituencies, size of voter population and the number of staff required to conduct a general election. These challenges make planning and management of elections a complex exercise.

The 2019 EPP is the second since 2015 and was designed to ensure the implementation of the 2019 general election as a single coordinated plan to deepen the voter experience and deliver better services. Available statistics show that the 2019 general election was conducted in 1,558 constituencies, made up of one presidential, 29 governorship, (seven of them were conducted off-season), 109 senatorial, 360 federal, 991 state and 68 area councils in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). There are 119,973 polling units across 774 local government areas in 8,809 registration areas.

Prior to the 2019 general elections, the commission conducted 195 off-season elections and re-run elections. These include governorship elections in Kogi, Bayelsa, Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states. This enabled it to test run its processes before the general election, which though was hugely criticized as below expectation.

Shoring up the number of registered voters across the country, is another feat that was recorded by INEC under Yakubu. Prior to the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) carried out between April 27, 2017 and August 31, 2018, the total number of registered voters was 69,720,350.

But, at present, the total number of registered voters stands at 84,004,084, after the CVR was undertaken in all the 774 local government offices of INEC and other designated centres nationwide and following laid down procedures. Additional 14,283,734 were registered. This was unprecedented; as it was the first time the commission would undertake the CVR on a continuous basis as prescribed by law.

Between 2015 and 2019, it registered 91 political parties out of which 73 contested the 2019 general elections, compared to the 30 political parties in 2015. Some of the political parties were, however, later deregistered for failing to meet the requirements to continue as a political party.

In its determination to enhance internal democracy among political parties, INEC prior to the 2019 general elections monitored 29,607 party primaries, comprising seven presidential primaries, 853 governorship primaries, 2,357 Senate primaries, 7,337 House of Representatives primaries and 18,990 state assembly primaries.

In 2018, the commission launched its Regulations for Voting by Internally Displaced Persons to give internally displaced qualified Nigerians, who were forced out of their homes due to natural disasters, insurgency and other conflicts the opportunity to vote.

Another milestone recorded by the commission during this period was the issuance of regulations and guidelines for the conduct of elections to the offices of the President and the Vice President; governors and deputy governors, National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives), state Houses of Assembly; chairmen and vice chairmen of the FCT area councils and councillors in January 2019 and the document was used for the 2019 general elections.

This regulation supersedes all other regulations/guidelines issued previously by the commission and shall remain in force until replaced by new regulations or amendments.

The key components in the regulation include simultaneous accreditation and voting, pasting of Form EC60E or “People’s Result Sheet” at each polling unit after an election and compulsory use of the Smart Card Reader, which unarguably raised the confidence of the electorate in the process.

In the area of technology, the commission introduced for the first time, the Z-pad for uploading polling units’ results to a dedicated portal and the INEC Result Viewing Portal in the Nasarawa Central State Constituency election held on August 8, 2020.

The process was also applied to the Edo and Ondo governorship elections held on September 19 and October 10 respectively. The Z-Pad was used to snap the result sheet and post same to the portal on the World Wide Web. Nigerians only need to register on the platform with their individual email addresses and unique passwords. The portal enables viewers to view all the polling units’ results in the particular election in question.

Although the commission conducted what was adjudged as one of the worst governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states in 2019, it redeemed its image with the Edo and Ondo governorship elections, widely acclaimed to be the best elections conducted under Yakubu’s watch.

It is also noteworthy that the commission in the last five years has made sustained efforts to review Electoral Act by seeking the amendment of the relevant sections of the constitution to allow for electronic voting and other innovations.

To this end, it has partnered and still partnering with relevant stakeholders, including the National Assembly, religious bodies and civil society organizations.

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Workers’ welfare is another area the commission has improved on within the time under focus. In 2017, 4,917 senior officers were promoted, while 2,413 junior staff from grade level 03 to 06 were also elevated.

Earlier in 2016, the commission increased the hazard allowance for staff from 35 to 50.

It also took measures to reduce tensions in the electoral process by introducing robust interactions and interface among the political players, through stakeholders’ meeting which precedes the elections proper.

On election security, INEC under Yakubu also introduced an efficient inter-agency cooperation and synergy process, which has enhanced security during the election. The commission also put in place a procedure for conduction credible risk assessment for elections, which are shared with the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), chaired by the National Security Adviser with Yakubu as Co-Chair.

It may not yet be uhuru, as the commission is still grappling with the challenges of conducting manual elections, but a process that will re-engineer the electoral process has been activated.

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