The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, last week, expressed worry that the pervading insecurity in the country, particularly in the North-East, would hinder the successful conduct of the 2019 general elections. Some Nigerians and members of the international community have also entertained such fears ahead of the polls. The INEC boss, who disclosed this at the INEC/private sector forum held in Lagos, lamented that in spite of efforts put in place to ensure a hitch-free election, the insecurity in the North-East region will make or mar its outcome.
According to the INEC Chairman, security remains a major concern ahead of the elections, despite the electoral umpire’s effort to ensure that no eligible voter is disenfranchised. He said that the security problems require “a more imaginative response by the commission…”
The security concerns over the 2019 election, which is about seven months away, should not be ignored. It is a timely warning that calls for all hands to be on deck. This is not a task for INEC alone. It is a problem for which the Federal Government should swiftly find adequate solutions. Every passing day, events across the country validate the apprehension of the INEC boss. President Muhammadu Buhari should quickly respond to this security problem, as he promised last week in the aftermath of the bloodbath in Plateau State.
Sitting on the fence is no longer the answer. Whatever effort INEC is making to ensure a hitch-free, fair and transparent election will yield little result if the security challenges are not resolved. The problem is that when the outcome of the elections fails to meet public expectations, INEC carries the entire blame. Recently, the immediate past Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, gave similar warning that the 2019 elections are fraught with danger if insecurity in the country was not contained.
It, therefore, goes without saying that time is fast running out for the government to respond to the potential dangers that may cast doubts on the outcome of the elections. These threats could prevent the conduct of elections in the North-East. It is, therefore, expedient to address the insecurity.
Addressing the challenges that pose threats to our elections will improve the integrity of the elections and boost confidence in our democracy. It is a fact that insecurity is unarguably the greatest threat facing our people, and our democracy today. Although Section 14(2)
(b) of the 1999 Constitution states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government,” we wonder if security is given the priority attention that it deserves. Our democracy needs peace to enable voters to exercise their franchise.
We urge INEC to continue its election security engagement with all the security agencies. This will ensure that the environment for elections is secure for voters, electoral officials and other stakeholders. This collaboration was part of the reasons for the success of the 2015 polls.
In addition to addressing the security challenges, the National Assembly should pass all the Bills on electoral offences. It is unfortunate that some of these bills that will enhance the electoral process and punish electoral offenders are being delayed by the lawmakers despite recommendations by the Committee of the Senate on Electoral Matters.
Although the Electoral Act 2011 makes ample provisions for punishment of electoral offenders, INEC has prosecuted only a few from the 2015 polls. This could be due to lack of political will to do so or unnecessary delays in the courts. That is why the bill on a National Electoral Offences Commission or Election Tribunal, needs to be passed and signed into law before the commencement of the 2019 general elections. The advantage of this body to try offenders is that it will be faster in the disposal of cases ahead of swearing in of elected officials. It will also serve as a deterrent to those whose conducts pose a threat to peaceful elections.
The government and security agencies must heed the warning of the INEC Chairman and provide adequate security measures. All the legal frameworks that will make the elections peaceful, transparent and credible should be put in place.