By Tahir Ibrahim Tahir Talban Bauchi
On the 18th of February, 2019, I had written an article titled: ‘With broken hearts and ready PVCs’, where I had conveyed the disappointment of Nigerians over the postponed 2019 general elections. Snippets of information about the postponement had started coming online a few days before INEC came through with an official position, stating the postponement due to some logistical problems; including fire outbreaks in its offices in atleast two states. In a subsequent article titled: ‘INEC: rebounding for the season’, I captured the efforts put together by INEC to address the logistical issues it encountered in its first attempt at the 2019 general elections; and to redress the disappointment it had caused millions of Nigerians who had readied to vote that week in February. I remember workers had taken holidays, students had travelled home, and the whole nation was in a very excited election mood; and had made long prior arrangements for the event. INEC came short and it was not funny at all.
The 2019 elections came to pass and it was largely successful with all the necessary logistics in place. The war ravaged deep North-Eastern states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Taraba states witnessed very high turnouts without any incidences of violence recorded. I was full of praise for the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakub for a job well done. Late Justice Abdulkadir Hussein used to critique my article and felt that I was overly supportive of public officials that are from my state, Bauchi. The erstwhile Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, had done the onerous task of conducting the 2015 general elections not only successfully; but with a lot of digital transformations that saw to the use of the card reader, and a digital voter’s card that was used to accredit voters before they were allowed to vote. This had tremendously stymied voter fraud and election rigging; and had heralded a new dawn in Nigerian elections where votes really matter, and votes actually count. So Prof. Mahmood had a lot of work to do, taking over from the popular Jega, who was magnanimous in handling a rubble-rousing Orubebe; who had set out to disrupt the collation process of the 2015 elections and cause rancour at the International Conference Centre, in Abuja, back then.
The most recent elections that took place in Edo state, and subsequently in Ondo state, which Prof. Mahmood coins as the ‘off season’ elections are fine examples of the progress made by INEC in conducting elections that are generally termed free and fair. The main contender-parties of both elections which are the PDP and the APC, ultimately adjudge the elections to be the finest outings of INEC so far in its history of conducting elections in the country. We saw the innovation of the z-pads through which electoral officers could key in the results from different polling units, onto an INEC portal; where one could log onto the INEC website to view the results of the elections as people voted, in the cases of the Ondo and Edo polls. This will put to bed, any aspersions that may be cast at the integrity of the votes collation process of elections generally: which is usually a point where rigging sometimes takes place.
On the face of it all, one may not appreciate the magnitude and quality of what has been achieved by Prof. Mahmood in his first term as INEC Chair. The 2019 general elections was the largest election handled by the electoral body with 24,353 candidates nominated by 90 out of 91 political parties, for 1,558 constituencies, with a voter population of 84, 004, 084, spread across 176,996 polling units in Nigeria. The undertaking was huge, given the country’s large land mass, difficult terrain, quality of infrastructure, behavior of the political actors, and large number of officials as well as voters. The turnout was immense and the largest that the commission had ever handled. Aside the main election dates for the Presidential and National assembly elections, and the Gubernatorial and state assembly elections; supplementary elections were held in six states of the federation, 41 constituencies in 17 states and 4 area councils in the FCT. Subsequently also, supplementary elections were held in four state constituencies in Rivers state, and one Federal constituency in Lagos state. Over the course of Prof. Mahmood’s tenure as INEC Chairman, the commission’s entire spectrum of planning, implementation and monitoring of elections has significantly improved and is currently at its best ever. This is according to the Report of the post-election reviews organised by the commission. This is in line with the 2011 and 2015 election review mechanisms which the commission deploys in examining its planning processes and election project implementation tools. If we can remember, the 2011 elections was fraught with a lot of violence and irregularities. So a mechanism was developed in 2011; against the backdrop of what had happened during the 2011 elections so that the commission can assess itself and be able to identify its strengths and weaknesses. This process review enables the commission to identify and rectify its key challenges in any election year.
Prof. Mahmood is set to make history as the first Chairman of Nigeria’s electoral body to serve for two terms, to span a period of 10 years. He has just been nominated by Mr. President and awaits the senate’s confirmation. In a most exemplary move, I read Prof’s statement saying: “our work as election managers requires us to enforce the law. In doing so we must demonstrate strict respect for and compliance with the constitution and subsidiary laws. Consequently it would be inappropriate for me to remain in office beyond today, the 9th of November, 2020, without confirmation by the senate and swearing to another oath of office as provided by the law.” How many public officers keep performing the duties required by the office they occupy even after their tenures expire, while they await re-nomination or re-appointment? How i wish late Justice Abdulkadir Hussein were here to witness this. I would definitely be chiding him and telling him how proud I am of Prof. Mahmood and what he has done by stepping aside, (at a time when no one wants to leave office even for a minute) as well as how far he has come as INEC Chair. The off season or off cycle elections have certainly vindicated him and his credentials as INEC Chair. Lastly, his last public statement truly stands him out as an honorable and remarkable public servant. We are proud of you here at Garu!