The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was, this week, forced to wash its hands off last Saturday’s local government polls in Kano State following the troubling reports of underage voting that emerged from the exercise. According to the commission, the clarification became necessary in order to allay fears over the credibility of the forthcoming 2019 elections. The Kano election saw the All Progressives Congress (APC) winning the 44 chairmanship and 484 councillorship seats, but the internet is suffused with pictures of children, some of them apparently less than 12 years old, ‘voting’ in the election.
In the statement released by its spokesperson, Oluwole Uzzi, on Tuesday, INEC acknowledged the pictures of the underage voters, but pointed out that it did not conduct the exercise. Said the commission: “As far as we can ascertain, they [the pictures] relate to a local government election conducted at the weekend in Kano. While the commission remains resolute in our commitment to sanitising the nation’s electoral process and deliver free, fair and credible elections, we cannot be held directly or vicariously liable for a process outside our legal purview. On our part, INEC assures the public that we are doing all we can to ensure a credible election.”
Unfortunately, INEC’s statement only compounded the fears nurtured by law-abiding Nigerians over the 2019 polls. The question must be asked whether the Kano State Independent Electoral Commission (KANSIEC) conducted the election without using the voter register supplied by INEC. Going by the provisions of the Electoral Act, a voter in a local government election must have attained the age of 18 prior to the exercise and must have a voter card. So, who registered these children to vote? Who issued them with PVCs? And if they did not have PVCs but were only conscripted by some unscrupulous politicians, why were they allowed to vote? What was the role of the ruling APC and the opposition parties in the charade?
Reacting to public outcry over the scandalous election, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, unfortunately, chose to play the ostrich. According to him, the pictures doing the rounds on the social media were actually taken during a school assembly. He said: “That was propaganda. You can ask the national observers who went there. They held a press conference. All those pictures were children during a school assembly. It is not true, it is part of the propaganda. Let them go back to the state and ask the people if they queued up and voted in the election.” While Ganduje’s position is understandable given his party’s glorious outing at the election, he would be well advised not to further insult the sensibilities of Nigerians with unnecessary sophistry. Surely, the governor was not saying that INEC was wrong in its acknowledgement of the charade which took place in Kano State on February 10.
To be sure, local government elections have been a charade since the return to civil rule in 1999. Almost in all cases, the ruling parties have ‘won’ by a landslide. In all cases, the ruling parties commit daylight robbery. As a matter of fact, if the averments by the opposition parties in Kano State are any indication, the ruling party was allegedly behind the ugly incident of underage voting in the Kano local government election. The election clearly undermined democracy, driven by the winner-takes-all attitude of the nation’s political class. It showed that there was no level- playing field; it was a mere charade.
Disturbed by the rape of democracy in local government elections, some stakeholders in the democratic process have often canvassed the scrapping of the State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIEC). As a matter of fact, even the National Assembly has been quite receptive of plans to amend the Electoral Act to give INEC power to conduct local government elections. However, even though this has not yet become a reality, such an amendment can only further centralise Nigeria’s federalism and undermine the states. We believe that the time has come when the composition of the SIECs should be looked at critically. Ideally, in any SIEC, there should be representations from the political parties and mass-based organisations like labour and the human rights community. Care must be taken always to ensure that they are not mere appendages of the ruling parties in the respective states.
Going by the charade in Kano, the 2019 general election is clearly imperilled, particularly in the absence of concrete steps to curb underage voting. It is certainly instructive that amid public outrage, Governor Ganduje is busy promising President Muhammadu Buhari five million votes in 2019. The Kano local government election was a charade and must be cancelled to allow the conduct of a free and fair election. In the same vein, we urge the security agencies to unmask those behind the underage voting in the election and ensure that they get their just deserts. Democracy demands no less.