The controversies generated by the 2023 general elections will linger for a long time,as different aspects of the process continues to attract scrutinies. Activities of some major actors in the exercise has equally not escaped attention.The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the official body charged with the responsibility of conducting and managing elections and electoral process in Nigeria.
At the return of civilian rule in 1999, the agency has performed these duties, in discharge of its functions towards entrenching democratic principles and norms. The 2023 elections saw a surge in electoral infamy or infractions by various stakeholders, including the umpire INEC.
This is coming despite some innovations introduced into the Electoral Act 2022 (as Amended), aimed at having free, fair and credible elections. The outcomes of the elections into various offices with the attendant unprecedented flurry of election petitions across the nation continues to cast doubts on the credibility and ability of INEC to conduct free, fair and credible elections. Statistical analysis of the 2023 General Elections, showed that 1,280 elective offices were contested for, by candidates of 18 political parties. Out of these,1,209 petitions representing a whopping 94.453% are awaiting judicial adjudication.
On the contrary, only 71 offices representing a paltry 5.547% did not go to court. The electoral umpire INEC in November 2022, addressing a gathering said that it has well over 600 pre-election cases in various courts across country. The addition of 1,209 post-election petitions ballooned the number to an all-time high. INEC is usually had a party in election petition cases.
The INEC will be spending about ₦3 billion to defend court cases. The high turnover of election disputes has continued to attract more than cursory attention. There have been wide allegations of substantial non-compliance with electoral laws against INEC. Stakeholders are blaming the INEC for the poor management of elections, resulting in flawed democracy. The wide criticism has continued to put INEC on the spotlight. Electorates places the identified deficiencies at the doorstep of INEC, accusing them of favoring some parties and candidates during the elections. Lawyers has also fingered INEC, according to some there was widespread misapplication and violations of electoral laws by the umpire Bankole Kayode, came down heavily on INEC citing a particular top official who he said went all over the media to assure the citizens that “IREV and other electronic devices would be compulsorily used, as prescribed by the electoral laws and guidelines”.
Others were of the opinion that INEC created the situation which gave room for much procedural and process anomalies. To some, INEC’s poor performance was as a result of systemic corruption which bedevils the nation. Mr. Festus Ogun, a human rights lawyer knocked INEC, he said that the election was poorly conducted. Domestic and international election observers report also scored INEC low in the conduct of the elections. The European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria highlighted the massive failures, “INEC lacked efficient planning and transparency during critical stages of the electoral process.” The ECOWAS Observation Team, YIAGA Africa and other Independent Observer Missions echoed similar views.
The only favorable view came from the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) team, though that has drawn much controversy and criticism. As it stands, there are already wide calls for further amendments to the electoral laws to enable INEC to become truly independent and be strengthened to face the challenges of managing elections. Stakeholders and experts posit that appointment of top officials of the agency should be removed from the executive arm of government, as the present arrangement ties the body to the apron strings of the government which appointed them, ensuring lack of true independence.
Meanwhile, as the credibility and capability of INEC to conduct free, fair and credible elections continues to attract varied views, it remains to be seen how the Commission intends to redeem her image, as she prepares to manage the forthcoming off-season elections.