At long last, the rampart of deceit, which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) erected around the April 2007 polls in a desperate bid to hedge in the rights of Nigerians, is crumbling. And the electoral umpire is grumbling aloud. But it is necessary to state from the very outset that whatever difficulties INEC claims to be facing currently in the discharge of its constitutional responsibility – conduct of free, fair and credible polls – were avoidable. To that extent, any injuries it may claim to be nursing are self-inflicted.
Last Wednesday, Chairman of INEC Information and Publicity Committee, Mr Philip Umeadi, while briefing the press on the commission’s activities, expressed doubt over the likelihood of the elections holding. “We are losing the game,” he said mournfully, adding “the way things are going, at the end of the day, we may be boxed into a situation whereby it would be difficult for election to hold.”
Umeadi who was speaking against the background of an Abuja Federal High Court’s nullification of INEC’s disqualification of Dr Chris Ngige, Anambra State Action Congress (AC) gubernatorial candidate said further: “We might be boxed into a difficult situation for the election to hold. As I speak to you, most sincerely, we might be boxed into a tight situation, if the court continues to speak…Since February 20, when our nomination process ended, we have been saddled with the issue of candidacy. There may not be an end to this matter.”
To be sure, this is not the first time Umeadi would cynically attempt blackmailing Nigerians into accepting the electoral umpire’s insalubrious political agenda. He spoke in similar vein on March 14, 2007 when he said courts’ verdicts upturning illegal disqualification of candidates by INEC “are capable of scuttling the elections.” Umeadi’s logic is absurd but we will come to that shortly. Before then, let us deal with the issues of how and why INEC “boxed” itself “into a difficult situation.”
It wasn’t as if INEC officials were not warned by right-thinking Nigerians of the dangers inherent in their jaundiced interpretation of the constitution and electoral law in order to make them a minefield for the unwary. They were advised to tread softly but they spurned all well-meaning advice, preferring instead, to serve the citizenry a cocktail of lies. The only reason why the commission would insist on adorning the togas of partiality and prejudice is to unhinge even the most stable of minds in a desperate bid to accomplish a sinister plot.
To be sure, INEC has enough responsibilities that should keep it perpetually busy; conducting credible polls even in developed democracies is no mean task. So why would the commission distract itself with frivolities rather than executing the onerous responsibilities the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2006 saddle it with? My answer is that INEC does not want the elections to hold, protestation to the contrary by its chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu, notwithstanding. Working in cahoots with the cabal bent on ensuring that the age-long desire of Nigerians to witness a successful transition of power from one civilian government to another is put on a permanent leash, INEC is working hard to achieve a stalemate. All the bizarre actions taken by the commission in the past six months which have ratcheted up the heat in the polity are premeditated.That explains why INEC’s high priests have become deaf and dumb and impervious to reasoning.
But even the most carefully hatched conspiracies, most times, leave lacunas that inevitably lead to their unravelling. When INEC embarked on the ill-advised mission of candidates’ disqualification, it didn’t reckon with the intrepidity of the men on the Bench; the fact that the judiciary has not only rediscovered itself but also prepared more than ever to be a bulwark against political shenanigans.
Nothing has exposed the hypocrisy of the electoral umpire more than its reaction to the well-considered judgements of the courts against its patently illegal actions. If INEC is not a pawn on the political chess board, it should have latched on the lifeline being extended to it by the judiciary to extricate itself from the vicious grip of the presidency.
Rather than do that, INEC is blackmailing Nigerians to either allow it to execute an agenda, which in itself is deleterious to the health of the nation, or there will be no election. In other words, the electoral umpire is giving Nigerians the dubious options of the devil and the deep blue sea. A supposedly unbiased, dispassionate, unprejudiced and even-handed umpire has finally crawled out of its shell of deceit to show its hands forcefully. By unabashedly blackmailing Nigerians into partaking in its mélange of bad faith or kiss successful transition goodbye, INEC has lost every stature and façade of moral authority.
Umeadi and his colleagues may not have realised it yet but the fact is that a majority of Nigerians are neither taken in by this burlesque of a transition nor spooked by their blackmail. So when they raise alarm over the election as they did last week, they should bear in mind that many are not fazed. They are not fazed because ultimately Nigerians are the winners whenever a duplicitous agency such as INEC loses a game of deceit and treachery. But the game was won and lost a long time ago, when Nigerians, emboldened by the dauntlessness and pluck of the judiciary, resolved that despite all odds, the elections must hold.
Now back to Umeadi’s fallacies. The INEC’s spokesman said the commission “might be boxed into a tight situation if the courts continue to speak.” In other words, in order that INEC might not be boxed into a tight situation (whatever that means), the courts must turn blind eye to injustice and cast out the weak to the wolves. Such mendacity!
The missing conclusion in Umeadi’s spurious argument is that the courts should be held responsible if the elections fail. But he was not man enough to say that. By so insinuating, he would rather Nigerians come to the very unlikely conclusion themselves. He said INEC’s position “is that some of these cases will be better treated during post-election litigation.” A position which Iwu had earlier canvassed when he told scandalised Nigerians that the commission had resolved to contest every court decision rendered after the time limit provided by the Electoral Act for the substitution of candidates. Said he: “After the election, parties may either continue the cases in regular court or proceed to the elections petition tribunal.” Can any advice be more disingenuous? Why must Nigerians and indeed the courts leave cases that might as well be disposed of now until after the polls? Why induce post-electoral crisis by refusing to do now those things that could promote credible polls?
What manner of election does INEC want to conduct that can only succeed if the rights of Nigerians are infringed upon, courts abdicate their constitutional responsibility and international election monitors are banned? Is it not curious that the same INEC that has no time to carry out its constitutional responsibility is dissipating energy and resources in court over cases that at best it should only be a nominal party with nominal interest?
Umeadi said INEC will appeal the court ruling on Ngige and wondered what would happen after the commission might have appealed some of the rulings and loses the cases few days to the elections. But the question must be asked; should or must INEC appeal? What will INEC lose if Ngige, Atiku, Peter Obi or any of the candidates it whimsically disqualified contest the election? How will the participation of these people prevent INEC from conducting free and fair elections which is its primary responsibility? Assuming the Appeal Court rules this week that Atiku is not qualified to contest the election, will INEC raise a squeak? Will it appeal against the ruling? If not, why then will it appeal if the court rules otherwise if it is indeed an impartial umpire. If the Abuja High Court rules tomorrow that the PDP gubernatorial candidate in Anambra State, Mr. Andy Uba whose candidacy is being challenged on account of alleged certificate forgery and money laundering, is qualified to contest election, will INEC appeal against the ruling? If not, why is it appealing against the court ruling in favour of Ngige?
By chasing shadows, literarily, INEC creates the rather erroneous impression that it has less work to do. But nothing could be farther from the truth. As the International Crisis Group (ICG), the global think-tank that draws its board and staff from across the world, recommended in its detailed report on the Nigerian political quagmire – Nigeria’s Elections: Avoiding A Political Crisis – last Wednesday, the commission is obligated to educate the voters.
Shouldn’t, as the group rightly recommended, INEC “intensify voter education, including through mass and community-level media, particularly in the last few days before the elections” and “monitor and publicise the election finances of candidates and parties to ensure they conform to the Electoral Act 2006,” if it has no other work to do?
It is good that INEC officials have finally realised they have lost the game. But I am perplexed they ever dreamt of winning. They lost it aeons ago when Nigerians saw through the web of deceit and blackmail and decided to wage war against authoritarianism. Now that they have seen the light, it behoves them to be true to their calling – impartial umpires – or risk the damning verdict of history.