The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to all intent and purpose may have set out to do a good job in Saturday's governorship election in Anambra State, but it ended up “messing up” the whole exercise. If this is a foretaste of what to expect in the 2015 general election, the nation has something to really worry about.
For a commission that had earned accolades in previous elections it had conducted under the present leadership of Prof. Attahiru Jega, it is baffling how it bungled the Anambra governorship election, which ran into a second day on Sunday and at the end, still turned out to be inconclusive.
Perhaps the answer to the poser could be found in Jega's reply when he appeared on a discussion programme on the governorship election, aired on Sunday by the African Independent Television (AIT). With his characteristic candour, the INEC chair had blamed one of its officials and desperate politicians trying to secure victory at all cost of sabotaging the election, which by now should have produced a clear winner to succeed the outgoing governor, Mr. Peter Obi, next year.
He accused the electoral official in charge of the Idemili North Local Government Area of conniving with outside interest to subvert the electoral process. However, the outsourcing of responsibility does not excuse the INEC leadership from the nagging problem of the large-scale disenfranchisement of voters whose names could not be found on the voters' register and the logistics nightmare that defined the election.
Meanwhile, the governorship candidates of other parties, except that of the ruling party in the state, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Mr. William Obiano, were boiling with anger as they came to the realisation that they might have had the wool pulled over their eyes owing to the bungling of the poll by INEC.
Given the flaws that characterised the conduct of the election, it was not surprising that Ngige and his party, APC and Tonye are calling for the cancellation of the election, which they described as a charade. However, INEC maintained its stand yesterday that the election results would not be cancelled as it declared results after returns from the rescheduled election in Obosi had been compiled and added to those from the election conducted on Saturday. But contrary to the expectations that Obiano would be declared winner having polled the highest votes of 174,710, the commission pronounced the election inconclusive.
Announcing the results Monday, the Returning Officer, Prof James Epoke, who is also Vice-Chancellor, University of Calabar (UNICAL), said the election did not produce a winner because the total numbers of cancelled votes was more than the difference between the numbers of votes cast for the winner and the runner-up of this election. Obiano, with 174,710 votes was followed by Nwoye who polled 94,956 votes to place second, while Ngige scored 92,300.
The results announced showed that APGA won in 16 of the 21 local government areas, APC won in two and PDP won in two. The Labour Party (LP), which fielded oil businessman, Mr. Ifeanyi Ubah, won in one local government area.
The difference in the figures between Obiano and Nwoye, which is 79,754, is less than the cancelled votes, which stood at 113,113.
A total of 1,763,751 voters were registered for the election, while 451,826 were accredited.
The total number of valid votes was 413,005 and total number of rejected votes was 16,544. Total votes cast was 429,549.
Out of the cancelled votes, 89,997 were from Idemili North Local Government Area alone, and additional 636 from two units in Idemili South.
In line with Section 179(3) of the 1999 Constitution, Epoke said a supplementary election would be conducted at a date to be fixed by the electoral commission, in areas where the election was cancelled. The affected areas where the supplementary poll will be held cover 210 polling units spread across 16 local government areas of the state.
INEC, according to Section 179(4) of the constitution, has seven days from the day the election result is released within which to arrange for the conduct of the supplementary poll.
However, given the statistics released yesterday from the election results, the supplementary poll, whenever it is held, may end up being a mere formality in the process of declaring Obiano as Obi's successor. The fact sheet shows that besides scoring the highest number of votes in the tainted poll, he has met the constitutional requirement of scoring not less than 25 percent of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of all the local government areas in the state.
The supplementary election remains Obiano's to lose, as Nwoye will seek to wipe out the gains Obiano had already made. Between the two of them, they scored 62 percent of the total votes of 429,549 cast in the first stanza of the poll. But whoever emerges winner, his administration will be dogged by a credibility crisis. In fact, the outcome of the supplementary election may not eventually seal the victory of the eventual winner as his opponents, particularly Ngige and APC, have served notice to head to the court to challenge the election results.
Going forward, INEC has a duty to improve on its organisation, management and conduct of the electoral process as a prelude to the 2015 general election. The nation cannot afford the glitches that marred the Anambra governorship election to recur on a larger scale because of the threat the incident will portend for democracy and the rule of law.
It therefore behooves on the electoral umpire to clean up its acts by ensuring that the two impending governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun, billed for next year, do not witness the monumental hitches as witnessed in Anambra, as a form of assurance that it is capable of delivering free, fair and credible elections in 2015.