The stipulation of an early timetable for the national and state elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has really generated controversy with politicians and allied stakeholders applauding that move while others have been expressing strong feelings against it. February 16 and March 2 have been fixed for the elections, at least eighty-eight days to the expiration of the tenure of this regime. Top ranking officials of the PDP have dismissed the early release of the electoral timetable as a sure proof that INEC has began rigging the processes of conducting 2019 general elections in favor of the ruling APC. The APC stalwarts, on the other hand, have lauded it as a welcome development and a good innovation to ensure smooth conduct of free and fair elections under what they called a forthright and conscientious administration.
It may however, be difficult to believe how a two-year notice given by an electoral umpire could tantamount to rigging. Nevertheless, some aspects of the alarm the PDP officials have raised cannot and should not be totally ignored. Points that prompt query about this development ought to be considered objectively with a view of determine the rationale behind the decision that informed them. First of all it must be asked whether the roll out of the elections dates was in conformity with legal dictates and then to also find out if INEC had actually consulted relevant stakeholders, such as political parties and civil societies. Furthermore, is the electoral body properly constituted presently? It is on record that over 30 states of the federation are currently without resident electoral commissioners, RECs. Yet, the ample notice given by INEC may be sufficient enough, but there are no personnel to sensitize members of the public about this important development. The setting of the new dates may also disallow unscrupulous politicians to contemplate throwing spanners in the works through unnecessarily long litigations.
While the electoral commission is highly commended for rolling out the new election dates early enough, it must also be encouraged to save itself from the predicament into which it is now sinking and to urgently attempt to fix up or overhaul its machinery for the easy conduct of day-to-day activities and effective management control. This has become absolutely imperative so as to not to jeopardize smooth conduct of the forthcoming general elections. As it is now, there are so many vacancies in the commission that needed to be instantly filled. It took the government eighteen months to appoint national commissioners whereas six of the twelve seats remained vacant until December last year. The government ought not to have left some seats of the national commissioners vacant since there were properly qualified Nigerians to occupy them. Certainly, it cannot be said that the government was totally unmindful or absolutely ignorant of the importance of the electoral commission and the prominence of its chief operatives to the stability of the country.
It is even more unfortunate that almost two years after the inauguration of the present administration the President was unable to appoint Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs. It is obviously a lapse on the part of the president not to appoint the thirty-seven state resident electoral commissioners including Abuja who are to be saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the conduct of national and state elections. Presently, there are only three RECs in office: in Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Gombe which have less than four months to spend in office. This explains why it is difficult for the president and his team unwilling to make these appointments. Such situation clearly negates the spirit of the constitution which clearly provides for the offices of the state resident electoral commissioners. One can thus be vindicated to aver that the president has done grave injustice to INEC by nonchalantly avoiding the appointment of the RECs.
In Anambra State gubernatorial election is due in November this year while that of Ekiti was slated for next year and already the states are boiling politically without any one to speak for INEC. This is a serious issue considering the fact that certain constitutional provisions do not limit the responsibility of a resident electoral commissioner to the activities of an election day, but to the monitoring of electioneering and enlightenment campaigns and ensuring that candidates conduct themselves in accordance with the law. These are in addition to revising voters register before elections, with a view to ensuring that no one is denied his fundamental rights. It can therefore be seen that in states where there are no RECs it would be difficult to play these roles as they cannot directly be performed from the headquarters in Abuja by national commissioners.
The federal government should be prevailed upon to do the needful now by ensuring that it is committed to improving the country’s electoral processes. It is important to realize that only a reliable and trusted electoral umpire could midwife a reliable and trustworthy administration capable of restoring the lost hope and confidence in the ability of various elected stakeholders to deliver the country out of its seemingly insurmountable difficulties.