By Nick Dazang
On Wednesday 18th June, three days to the crucially important Ekiti governorship election, the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, had solemnly assured that the Ekiti governorship election would be the best conducted by the Commission thus far.
Solemn as the assurance given by Professor Jega to stakeholders at a meeting at the Great Eagle Hall, Ado Ekiti , most had cause to take it with a pinch of salt. After all, before the Anambra governorship election on 28th November, 2013, the Commission had issued the same refrain: That it was resolved to make the Anambra governorship election the best it would conduct in its annals. As we all know, that election, one of the most elaborately and steadfastly prepared by the Commission, was scuppered by the alleged shortcomings of one of its officials. And rather than improve the fortunes of the Commission, the Anambra governorship election plunged them to the depths, eroding the substantial gains made by the Commission in 2011 and the subsequent governorship elections conducted by it, to the acclaim of all, in Edo and Ondo states.
The stunning success recorded by the Comission in the recent conduct of the Ekiti governorship election has not only brought it into public reckoning, the Commission has since been showered with kudos by grateful Nigerians, domestic and international observers and the media who paid a more than cursory attention to the election. Rarely in our history has an election been so peaceful. And rarely, too, has its conduct and outcome been soapplauded by all and sundry across political divide. The Situation Room, also known as the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, which comprises more than 60 civic organisations and which observed the Ekiti governorship election, noted that timely arrival and early start of accreditation of voters was observed in more than 90% of Polling Units across the state. It also reported, in an interim statement, that “findings from observers deployed across the 16 local government areas (LGAs) of the state showed a marked improvement by INEC in management of the electoral processes and the outcomes of the poll, this represented a significant shift away from the irregularities and logistical failings that have consistently characterised previous elections.” Little wonder, the incumbent, Dr. John Olukayode Fayemi of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who was defeated by Mr. Ayodele Peter Fayose was prompted, in a rear show of gallantry in our clime, to congratulate the winner and to pledge to work with him to develop Ekiti state.
Several factors combined to make the Ekiti governorship election outstanding, and for now, INEC’s shining star. Like the unfortunate Anambra state governorship election before it, the Commission began planning early enough. It also strained itself to increase the volume of training for its staff in order to make them more proficient. Instead of the two-day training given to staff which was standard fare, it was increased to three days, in spite of additional cost. For each of seven weeks, the day set aside for Community Development (CD) was used to train members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), most of whom conducted the election. Voter education and enlightenment started early as well and the Commission engaged all stakeholders – the media, the security agencies, civil society organisations, women groups and disadvantaged groups. Groups prone to violence such as Okada Riders and members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) were conscientised and appealed to not to allow their members
to beused to foment trouble or find recourse in violence. In an interview with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) shortly after the result of the Ekiti governorship election was announced on Sunday morning, an elated Alhaji Hussain Aliyu Pai, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Ekiti state, had attributed two major factorsfor the success of the election: the factoring of lessons learnt from previous elections in the Ekiti governorship election and the carrying along of critical stakeholders in the conduct of the election. Indeed, four days previously at a Stakeholders’ Meeting at the Great Eagle Hall, Ado Ekiti, Alhaji Pai had hinged his confidence in delivering an unsurpassed election on the scrupulous planning and implementation of the Commission. Before then, the INEC Chairman, on 12th February 2014 had graphically explained to stakeholders the status of the Voters’Register. This together with other stakeholder meetings held in the 16 Local Governement Areas by the Resident Electoral Commissioner, assuaged the apprehension of Ekiti citizens and inbued the process with requisite confidence.
In addition to elaborate planning and meticulous implementation, INEC introduced a number of novel measures to secure the transparency and integrity of the process. The Commission customised all ballot papers according to the sixteen local governments in the state such that ballots assigned a particular local government were unique to it andcould not be used in another. Similarly, the Commission customised all result sheets such that they were unique to each Polling Unit (P.U.) and could therefore not be used in any other. Also, the Commission serially numbered all ballot boxes such that they could not be transferred to other PUs. Besides, once a ballot box was snatched and stuffed it could not be brought back to the PU and its contents counted.
The Commission implemented, with vigour, the notion of Super RACs (Registration Area Centres). Under this regiment, a large contingent of INEC staff, with security personnel, departs the Commission’s state office a day ahead of an election. The contingent sleeps there and in the small hours of morning its members aredispersed to adjoining PUs in the Ward, thereby making it possible for personnel and staff to arrive at the PUs ahead of the 8.00am when accreditation begins. In Ekiti, the Super RACs worked with near clock-work precision. And to ensure that they did, the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, a stickler for details,after addressing a Stakeholders’ Meeting on Wednesday 18, June, insisted on visiting some Super RACs across three local governments adjoining Ado Ekiti to ascertain things for himself.
For the first time, and with the assistance of one of its development partners, the Commission put in place an Electoral Operations Support Centre (EOSC) which tasks were to: Monitor and track critical election day activities, identify trends and incidents that pose potential threats, collate and index incidents, compliance and non-compliance, co-ordinate response to emerging challenges and mobilise redundant resources and active field assets for speedy intervention.
The Commission deployed 8,433 staff to conduct the Ekiti governorship election. A breakdown of the deployment is as follows: 1 Returning Officer; 16 Local Government Collation Officers; 177 Registration Area Collation Officers; 20 Local Government Area Supervisors; 177 Supervisory Presiding Officers; 101 Registration Area Cluster Supervisors/RA Supervisors; 2,195 Presiding Officers drawn from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and Federal Tertiary Institutions (FTI); 2,803 Assistant Presiding Officers I (NYSC/FTI); 2,803 Assistant Presiding Officers II (NYSC/FTI); 140 Reserve (5%) for Voting Points.
If the Commission was elaborate in its planning and implementation, the security agencies came out in massive numbers to secure the process. Apart from at least two Policemen and some security agencies assigned to each PU across the state, 126,000 Mobile Policemen patrolled each of Ekiti’s three Senatorial Districts. Air surveillance was also provided by Police helicopters. The Police, like the INEC staff,did their job professionally: they were diligent firm but polite.
Eighteen candidates contested the Ekiti governorship election. A total number of 733,766 eligible voters were registered in the state. A total number of 369,257 were accredited to vote in the election. The total number of votes cast in the election was 360,455 while the total number of valid votes was 350,366. A total number of 10,089 votes were rejected. The percentage turnout fort the election was 50.32%
Mr. Ayodele Peter Fayose of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who won the election scored 203,090 votes representing 56.34% of the total votes cast while the runner up, Dr. John Olukayode Fayemi of the All Progressive Congress (APC), got 120,433 votes, representing 33.41% of the total votes cast.
Even as Nigerians and members of the international community applaud INEC for a superlative job, the Commission recognises that it did not do a perfect job and that it would not relent in its efforts to deliver better elections in the future. But two things are certain: this election has set the tone for subsequent elections. And it provides Nigerians with an inkling of what to expect in 2015.
Mr. Dazang is the Deputy Director and Head of Publicity, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).