By Emmanuel Aziken
One of the most intriguing claims of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC leading to today’s governorship election in Edo State is that the votes of the people will count!
It was a claim the chairman of the commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu reiterated in the regular pre-election session with stakeholders earlier in the week.
Saying that votes will count inevitably drew reference to the well-noted claim by many Nigerians that votes, where they were cast in recent elections, did not count in the declaration of the final results.
Coming against the background of the last governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States, the apprehension about the Edo election descending to bedlam was understandable.
The Kogi State 2019 governorship election was particular in its notoriety as not just being the worst election conducted in recent memory in Nigeria, but also, among the worst ever in the world.
The infamy associated with that election was brought home to us last week when the United States Mission in Nigeria disclosed that it has placed a visa ban on the actors who messed up with the will of the people in that election.
The action of the United States followed the ban on four governors, two serving ministers and two Resident Electoral Commissioners for their shameful conduct in the 2019 election. Source: https://gwg.ng/2019/07/24/hot-exclusive-4-govs-2-ministerial-nominees-in-us-visa-ban/
Can an election be worse than the Kogi State governorship election of 2019?
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It was one election where state actors either gave way or actively collaborated with brutish elements to deny the people of the state the opportunity to cast their votes.
Whether the declared winner of the election was the choice of the people may not be at issue. What is at issue is that during the election and by the claim of the commission, several INEC ad-hoc staff presiding over the election were abducted and where not, chased away from the voting centres as thugs packed voting materials.
The horrific description of how a female oppositionist was burnt alive in her home by thugs is one of the most enduring pains in the narrative of what happened in Kogi.
At the end of it all even with unbelievable turnouts, the votes were upheld by INEC.
Even worse, the commission went to court to uphold and defend the insidious developments that played out in the state.
The narrative in Kogi follows the gradual erosion of the integrity of the ballot box and the innovations that were brought to bear by the Attahiru Jega led commission.
Principal to the revolutions brought forward by the last commission was the card reader which became the game-changer in shamming election cheats.
It is on record that in 2015 that the compliance with the use of the card reader was 54%. Innovations in the law and regulations of the commission with the stoppage of the use of the so-called Incident Forms were supposed to increase compliance with the use of the Card Reader.
However, available figures show that from 2015 that compliance with the use of the card reader fell during elections, crashing to 19% in the 2019 General Election.
In the deceit that was called the Kogi State Governorship Election of 2019, compliance with the use of the Card Reader was reportedly 16%!
So as Edolites go to the polls in the most competitive election in the history of the state, the fear of the election turning to bedlam is particularly discernible.
Yaiga Africa, a Non-Governmental Organisation claimed in a poll leading to today’s election that only 46% have confidence in INEC to conduct a free and fair poll.
The same NGO also claimed that only 39% have confidence in the security agencies to protect the voters and keep the integrity of the ballot!
But it need not. Despite the obnoxious narrative that played out in Kogi, INEC still has a measure of respectability in its ranks.
The conduct of its officials in Cross River and Sokoto States where Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs boldly reprimanded electoral cheats is cheering. RECs in the two states were bold in recent elections in turning down election results where the card reader was not used.
So as voters go to the polls today to choose the governor of Edo State for the next four years, the ball is in INEC’s court.
Despite the apprehension and high stakes involved in today’s election, nearly everyone agrees that the conduct of today’s poll cannot be worse than what it was in Kogi State.
It is up to Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and the REC in Edo State to assert their words and stand up to their assertions that the votes will count.
They can do that by ensuring that any result or action that falls shortfall of the guidelines or whatever malfeasance is rejected and the culprits subjected to the due process of the law.
It is worthwhile that the United States Government is now including election officials in its sanctions list. But even more than the eyes of Uncle Sam watching over today’s poll is God, who will bring the act of every man, great and small, including those who kill in the name of election to judgment one day.