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Imo, Kogi, Bayelsa Guber Poll: Nigerians Doubt INEC’s Neutrality

As the date for the off-cycle gubernatorial election in Imo, Kogi and Bayelsa draws closer, many Nigerians are increasingly doubtful that the electoral empire can keep it words and conduct a free and fair poll on November 11, Businessday reports.

Observers have predicted voter apathy during the gubernatorial elections in three states, largely due to voters’ lack of confidence in electoral system and perception that their votes may not count at the end of the day.

There are those who fear, that the process may be heavily marred by violence, especially in a state like Kogi with history of violent polls, and where clashes and attacks among rival supporters of leading political parties have been on the rise in recent few weeks.

In recent weeks, political parties and other stakeholders have increased voter mobilisation in these states with some saying that the masses are eager and ready to choose their leaders this time but the challenge is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) readiness alongside other state-actors for a free and fair ballot.

Many stakeholders have challenged the INEC to redeem its image and ensure transparency, accurate and timely transmission of election results in the three state.

These fears come despite assurances by the Commission that it was prepared to conduct hitch-free exercise this time around where the votes of the people would count.

However, many Nigerians say the commitment is not different from all the ones made during the previous elections that were marred by irregularities, intimidation and bias.

Nigerians have increasingly lost hope with INEC’s ability to conduct an election where the wish of the people would prevail, considering the manner the 2023 poll was handled by the commission.

In the run up to the poll, the commission promised Nigerians that the introduction of the electronic transmission of results, would give credibility and transparency to the process.

It was expected that citizens can follow polling unit-level results on the INEC Result Viewing iReV portal and real-time on election day.

This disclosure elicited joy and optimism among a large spectrum of Nigerians, especially first time voters who had lost hope in the nation’s electoral process due to years of flawed polls.

However, on election day across Nigeria, the reverse was the case. It was only the Senatorial and House of Representatives election results that were uploaded to INEC IRev.

Observers say the large volume of the 2023 election upturned by tribunals across Nigeria in recent weeks, is a clear indication of how poorly the 2023 poll was conducted by the commission and the November 11 polls in the three states may not be different.

“I would hardly believe anything INEC says; it is becoming a model in the Nigerian political terrain that words and pledges do not matter. They promised more than this during the general election and failed without any consequence.

“I mean there is nothing to give hope to suggest this November 11 poll would be different, it is discouraging when you come out to vote and they do not count at the end of the day, something must be done. Unfortunately, some people in the commission are colluding with politicians to sabotage the process,” Timi Olutade, a public affair analyst, said.

Some Nigerians have also raised concerns about the late arrival of election materials and other logistics which have become synonymous with elections in Nigeria, often delaying and ultimately preventing eligible voters from casting their votes.

Stakeholders have urged INEC to put their house in order in the November 11 off-season gubernatorial poll, advising that every registered voter must be given an opportunity to exercise their franchise considering that to deprive registered voter opportunity to vote is a weighty oversight in any democracy. They say election irregularity comes in diverse ways, and not necessarily by fake figures.

Meanwhile, political parties are in final rounds of campaigns to sell themselves and their policies to the electorate ahead of the poll.

According to INEC, only 5.4 million Nigerians are on the voting register in the three states for the gubernatorial polls.

INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of Information and Voter Education Committee, Sam Olumekun said recently that 16 political parties are sponsoring candidates in Bayelsa State, 17 in Imo State and all the 18 parties in Kogi State.

He said soft copies of the complete register of voters for each State will be presented to the political parties participating in the elections.

“For the off-cycle Governorship election in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi States there are 1,056 862 registered voters in Bayelsa State; 2,419,922 in Imo State; and 1,932,654 in Kogi State, making a combined total of 5,409,438 registered voters for the three states,” Olumekun said.

Chuma Ezeogu, political analyst, said that the recently conducted general election showed a clear indication that INEC needed urgent reforms and should be restructured for efficiency so that democracy would not fail in Nigeria.

“I think the way the general election was conducted tells us that much work is still there to be done in INEC. If that is not done, in the coming years we may forget about calling this a democracy. It is quite clear that democracy has failed in Nigeria.

“I don’t think we would see any different come November 11, there are so many fundamental things that needs to be done to put the commission to function well and until it is done I don’t see INEC delivering.

“We need to remove the appointment of INEC chairman and other national commissioners from the President, independent body should also be in charge of keeping and giving them funds.

“I don’t see the vote of the people which is the most critical aspect in a democracy prevailing if we don’t do these things.”

James Adeshina former gubernatorial candidate in Lagos State and chairman of Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) in the state, however, said INEC has made significant progress in recent years in terms of its independence and credibility.

He urged all stakeholders to support the commission’s efforts to conduct credible poll in three states.

According to him, “As a political stakeholder, I am aware of the concerns that some Nigerians have about the neutrality of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ahead of the forthcoming Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa poll.

“These concerns are not unfounded, as there have been instances in the past where INEC has been accused of bias in favor of the ruling party.

“However, it is important to note that INEC has made significant progress in recent years in terms of its independence and credibility.

“The commission has introduced a number of innovative measures to improve the transparency and fairness of the electoral process, such as the electronic voter identification system (BVAS) and the results transmission system (IReV).

“INEC has also demonstrated a willingness to crack down on electoral fraud and malpractice. In the 2019 general election, for example, the commission disqualified a number of candidates from running and prosecuted a number of election offenders.

“While it is true that there is still room for improvement, I believe that INEC is generally committed to conducting free, fair, and credible elections. The commission has the leadership, the resources, and the technology to deliver on this mandate.

“That said, I understand why some Nigerians are still skeptical about INEC’s neutrality. The commission has a history of disappointing Nigerians.

“It is important for INEC to address these concerns head-on. The commission should be transparent and accountable in its preparations for the upcoming polls. It should also be open to feedback from stakeholders and civil society organisations.”

Speaking further, he added, “Ultimately, the onus is on INEC to prove that it is truly neutral and independent. The commission must conduct the Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa polls in a manner that is fair and credible. Only then will Nigerians be able to trust that their votes will count.

“INEC should ensure that the BVAS and IREV systems are fully deployed and functional in all polling units.

“These systems are essential to preventing electoral fraud and ensuring that the results of the elections are accurately transmitted. INEC should also take steps to address the security challenges in the Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa states. Voters must be able to cast their ballots freely and without fear of intimidation.

“Political parties and candidates should play their role in ensuring that the elections are peaceful and credible.

“They should avoid making inflammatory statements or engaging in any form of violence. Civil society organizations and the media should also play their role in monitoring the elections and reporting on any irregularities.

“I believe that if INEC, political parties, candidates, and other stakeholders work together, the Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa polls can be conducted in a free, fair, and credible manner. This will be a victory for democracy in Nigeria.”

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Copyright 2023 SIGNAL. Permission to use portions of this article is granted provided appropriate credits are given to  www.signalng.com and other relevant sources.

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