We are all ringside witnesses to the drama that began unfolding on Saturday, February 25, with the commencement of the 2023 general elections.
The excitement was palpable leading up to the day and seemed to approach a fever pitch that morning. This was excitement imbued with the spirit and energy that only youth can bring. Young people turned out in large numbers, making us all proud and almost giddy with expectation and a fresh hope.
Following our advice, they had faithfully and dutifully channeled and carried forward their resolve from the EndSARS movement through to the point where they could now strike with impact. And strike they did, roaring like lions as they did.
Fast forward just a few days, and the mood is very different. It is like night and day. In the current era, I don’t recall an election that was trailed by more widespread dissatisfaction than this one. Even those that have been declared to be on the winning side will not claim that this is an ideal victory.
What went wrong?
There has been, and still will be, so much legal, political and technical analysis of the events surrounding these elections. I want to focus on a different perspective. At its core, in my view, this a story about leadership and character.
Everyone admits that there were significant flaws in the conduct of the elections. The fact that INEC departed significantly from its own guidelines and its repeated promises to Nigerians and the World is not in question.
Specifically, electronic transmission of results directly from the polling unit, the very measure that was the foundation of our evidently over-inflated hope for transparency and a credible process, was where INEC fell most short.
There are really two possibilities here. Either these events were intentional – i.e. INEC and/or its operatives were compromised, or inadvertent – i.e. it was due to incompetence, inadequate planning, lack of capacity. I suppose it could also be a bit of both.
Whatever the case, the outcome we have today is a reflection of the Character of INEC leadership under Mahmood Yakubu. Character is often revealed in the crucible of challenges and adversity, especially where such developments are unforeseen. It is the choices that leaders make in response to such times that reveal their true essence.
Assuming the INEC Chairman was not personally compromised, when it became evident that electronic transmission from the polling units was experiencing widespread failure, two things should have become paramount:
First, transparent and forthright communication with the public, and second, setting clear and appropriate priorities to guide the actions to be taken in resolving the challenges.
Anyone familiar with the antecedents of Nigerian elections and the process that led to electronic transmission being incorporated in the electoral guidelines will understand why these were critical. Yet, INEC dropped the ball on both of these.
The choices made by INEC smack of a hurried, face-saving, head-in-the-sand, approach that prioritized timely conclusion of the process, sacrificing quality, truth, and the fragile hope of a new generation, along the way. With the eyes of the world watching, INEC’s leadership squandered a golden opportunity to deepen our democracy irreversibly and birth a new generation of believing converts to our democratic ethos. I pray that this will ultimately prove not to be too costly and lasting a choice.
What could have been done differently?
INEC has wide-ranging powers and discretion, based on the provisions of the Constitution, “..to organize, undertake and supervise all elections…”. Further, where an election has commenced, INEC has powers under the electoral act to suspend an election if “there is reason to believe that there is or has been substantial disruption of an election in a polling unit or constituency”.
The widespread inability to transmit results electronically directly from polling units, as required by its own published electoral guidelines, must be considered a substantial disruption of the election process between voting on the one hand, and collation and declaration of results at the ward and local government area levels on the other.
Once the scale of the shortcomings came to its attention, INEC should have openly admitted these widespread, pervasive failures, apologized to the Nigerian people and using its powers, suspended the election, ensuring that the issues relating to electronic transmission are fixed in the interim or that effective alternative procedures are expeditiously determined, adopted and communicated, in consultation with the political parties and other stakeholders.
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This course of action, though difficult and potentially uncomfortable, should have been championed and led by the INEC Chairman, after due consultation, acting with courage, conviction, a full appreciation of the trust reposed in him by the Nigerian people and the independence expected of INEC.
Of course, he should have been mindful to act with the authority of a formal decision of the Commission properly taken and approved by its relevant decision-making organ as appropriate for this purpose.
However, INEC under the leadership of Mahmood Yakubu opted for a different approach. A result has been declared, but only time will tell what the true cost of INEC’s prioritization of expediency will be. It may well be that there are other factors they considered that led them to their decisions, but if there are, they should be disclosed and put in the public domain to preserve trust.
Everyone makes mistakes, but a hallmark of leadership is to admit them when they occur and have the sincerity of purpose and courage to take the appropriate remedial actions even where these may be difficult and unpleasant in the interest of the greater, lasting good.
If history judges the current leadership of INEC harshly, it will not be because of poor planning or glitches. Problematic though these are, they happen. It will more likely be because of the missed opportunity that February 25, 2023 turned out to be, as a result of the actions and inactions of INEC leadership in response to the challenges that arose. Challenges which, it should be noted, could probably have been foreseen and better planned for.
On our part, we must not give up hope. We must remain undaunted. Those seeking redress and pursuing it through lawful means should do so.
Most importantly, we must continue to emphasize character in leadership and hold leaders, whether elected or appointed, to account. Ultimately this is how our institutions, states and nation will eventually be transformed.
Funso Doherty is the ADC governorship candidate for Lagos state in the March 11 polls
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