In this piece, FEMI MAKINDE X-rays the new trend of inconclusive elections and the effects on the nation’s democracy
The 2019 general elections, which started on a shaky note over a month ago, have yet to be completed in some states whose governorship and state assembly results were declared inconclusive by the state returning officers of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
The polls, initially fixed for February 16 and March 2, were shifted to February 23 – March 9 by INEC, attributing the decision to logistic problems.
Inconclusive poll is fast becoming a regular feature of Nigeria’s electoral process and many people are getting worried about the situation.
Verdicts of inconclusive poll did not start with this year’s elections. Some polls organised by INEC as far back as 2011 in Imo State and the Osun State governorship election held on September 22, 2018 were declared inconclusive.
But the magnitude of inconclusive polls in 2019 shows that more winners in future elections may be determined after supplementary elections.
Supplementary polls are usually ordered by the electoral body as a result of violence or other irregularities recorded during the first ballot.
But the rerun of the March 9 governorship and state House of Assembly polls was even more violent in some states than the cancelled polls.
The governorship elections in Kano, Bauchi, Benue, Adamawa, Plateau and Sokoto states were declared inconclusive due to violence, failure to use the smart card readers, over-voting and other irregularities.
The electoral commission had stated that if the number of registered voters in areas where elections were cancelled was more than the margin with which the candidate with the highest number of votes was leading the runner up, such election would be declared inconclusive.
INEC has, however, been accused of seeking to circumvent the provisions of Section 179(2) of the constitution, which states that “a candidate for an election to the office of governor of a state shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being two or more candidates – (a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and (b) he has not less than one-quarter of all the votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of all the local government areas in the state.”
Despite meeting the requirements of this section, some candidates were not returned as winners and rerun election had to be conducted in some areas and after which winners were declared.
A former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Osun State, Mr Niyi Owolade, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, said no state returning officers had the power to cancel elections and order supplementary polls.
He said, “The retuning officer does not have the power to cancel an election. This is where inconclusive elections always come in. Elections can only be cancelled if the presiding officer at a polling unit notices any infraction that affects compliance to the Electoral Act at the unit level.
“He will then fill Form EC40 and the form which originates at the polling unit will now get to the state returning officer. He can now order a supplementary election based on the report originating from the polling unit.
“This is so because it is the presiding officer that knows what happened and not the returning officer who is far away at the state capital. Returning officer cannot cancel any election without the report from the affected units because polling units are the fulcrum of elections.”
A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Jiti Ogunye, faulted the manual electoral process, which he noted was not only expensive but engendered all manner of crises.
He said Section 26 of the Electoral Act empowered INEC to postpone election before the arrival of the date fixed for it.
Ogunye added that the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of INEC on supplementary election in a suit between the electoral body and Timipre Sylva (former Bayelsa State governor).
INEC, he said, had been relying on the ruling to postpone elections even after the exercise had started.
He said, “Our elections are a burden to the nation even without the supplementary election. The supplementary election is just adding to the burden. Is it not crazy that Nigeria is spending N245bn on elections? We are spending so much money on elections when people cannot eat. For those who live in Lagos, we see sea of heads at various bus stops looking miserable, not knowing where to get something to do. The poverty in the land is unprecedented and you are spending N245bn to elect public office holders who will go into office to steal and continue to ruin the lives of the people.
“Election is already a burden to the country and not just the supplementary. That is why we need to simplify the electoral process. We need to go digital and stop this waste of resources. They print ballot papers in Belgium; we will not need that by the time we go digital. Nigeria is not a rich country like many people think. With a population of about 200 million people, spending N245bn to conduct elections to elect those who are not accountable to you is a burden. This is a burden but the supplementary elections are just adding to the burden.”
Apart from the huge funds committed to the exercise, the lawyer wondered why the nation had spent over a month to hold elections fixed for two different days.
“We have to rethink our electoral process and political system and until that, we will not make any progress,” Ogunye said.
A professor of law at the University of Jos, Nnamdi Aduba, who is also a member of the board of YIAGA, an election monitoring group, identified desperation on the part of politicians as the reason for violence and other irregularities in elections.
He stated, “The perks of office for elective officers are humongous and this is the reason politicians are desperate to win. If you reduce these, you will see that the desperation will stop. Have you ever seen anybody being desperate and ready to kill to go and serve others? They are not desperate because they love the people; they are desperate because of what they will gain.
“I heard that members of the National Assembly are usually given a huge amount of money even before they will start legislative duties. Which type of work or business do you see where they pay newly employed upfront like that?
“The inconclusive elections come with additional costs to the nation. We spend so much to organise elections where in most cases, the corrupt ones will emerge. That is why we have not been able to get our best to lead us and we cannot get the best if we continue this way. The best will not have such huge amount of money to buy votes.”
A former National Commissioner of INEC, Prof. Lai Olurode, said the Supreme Court had ruled that INEC was okay to have its own internal rules to assist it to conduct credible elections as long as such rules would not run afoul of the constitution.
He said, “We met that policy when we were sworn in. Prof. Attahiru Jega (the then INEC chairman) and his team thought it was a good policy. Where the number of cancelled votes exceeded the distance between the leading candidate and the runner up, it will not be good for INEC to make a declaration. So, what you do is to hold a supplementary election. The policy was targeted at enhancing democracy.
“On reflection now, it seems that the policy is very expensive because INEC needs to mobilise to the field again and this is not good for a country that is not economically buoyant like Nigeria. Although democracy is the best, we have to weigh the cost. Elections in civilised countries should be the simplest thing anybody can think of. On reflection now, I think we need to do a rethink of that policy because it is causing more harm. Unfortunately, all the supplementary elections without exception are a step backward for our democracy.
“But at the same time, if we say we should now change it, some people will challenge it in court because I think it has been confirmed by the ruling of the Supreme Court. The ruling has legitimised the internal arrangement of INEC which is ordering supplementary elections.”
The Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja Branch, Mr Dele Oloke, also said it was Section 26 of the Electoral Act that INEC had been relying on to declare polls inconclusive.
He said, “INEC can declare elections inconclusive by the provision of the Electoral Act but whether the intention of the draftsman is noble in putting that in the Electoral Act is another thing. You have a body that has been given humongous amount of money to conduct elections; I mean the kind of money that can change the lives of three countries in Africa and you now put a clause that they can declare what they have done inconclusive. The drafting is defective and I do not believe in that clause.
“We should not empower the electoral body to declare what it has done or what it is still doing inconclusive because it could be abused. Anybody can influence them to declare an election inconclusive and such person will go and intensify their rigging plans and will be declared winner after the supplementary elections. They are actually abusing that clause and I think it should be expunged.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Abiodun Saka-Layonu, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, described inconclusive polls as a big embarrassment to the nation and a failure of INEC as an institution.
“INEC should always organise itself to get out of this situation. Inconclusive elections should not be something that is rampant like we had in six or more states in this year’s general elections. INEC needs to always organise itself because we should not continue this way.”
A former judge at the Osun State High Court, Justice Olamide Oloyede, told SUNDAY PUNCH that inconclusive elections showed that INEC lacked the capacity to conduct credible elections.
“Even if they have the power to declare elections inconclusive, the trend shows that INEC is incompetent and lacks the capacity to conduct credible elections,” Oloyede added.