Professor Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman, Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), has failed to fully reveal the findings of the panel set up by the commission to investigate allegations of underage voting during the10 February council polls in Kano State as a way of saving his own face, SaharaReporters can reveal.
This website can also reveal that the INEC Chairman is ready to do the bidding of powerful political interests, who have told him to halt the ongoing voter registration exercise across the country as a way of ensuring the existing contaminated register of voters is used for the next general elections, a situation that will deny millions of prospective voters the opportunity to participate in the electoral process.
The plot to discontinue the registration exercise is contrary to Professor Yakubu’s public posturing, which has seen him assure Nigerians on many occasions that INEC will abide by the provision of the electoral law that stipulates that the voter registration exercise can only be stopped not less than 60 days to the elections.
This implication of the provision is that the exercise is not terminable before December, given that the calendar for the general elections issued by INEC indicates that the next year's will take place from February 2019.
Two weeks ago, while being a guest on a live programme on live Channels Television monitored by SaharaReporters, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, spokesperson to the INEC Chairman, declared correctly that the exercise will end in December and resume on a continuous basis after the elections to allow fresh registrants to be on the register.
Mr. Oyekanmi was responding directly to a question by Maupe Ogun, the programme anchor, on the terminal date of the registration exercise.
On other occasions, Professor Yakubu was quoted by the media as saying that INEC plans to decentralize the registration exercise in the future to address the challenges being faced by prospective registrants, a claim that raised the hopes of millions of prospective registrants that they would not be disenfranchised by the commission.
With the plot to secretly and illegally stop the exercise, the credibility of INEC will be further shattered.
Already, the fidelity of the electoral umpire’s processes and procedures have invited justifiable doubts in view of the fact that the plot to halt the exercise is contrary to what it has repeatedly said. The doubts have been further fueled by INEC’s refusal to accept responsibility for the underage voter scandal in Kano State by claiming that the register used by the Kano State Independent Electoral Commission (KANSIEC) for the council polls in the state.
The underage voting scandal broke when photographs and videos of kids voting surfaced on the social media a few days after the Kano council polls. It sparked allegations that that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had perfected plans to rig the next general elections, a situation that compelled INEC to set up an investigative panel.
On 13 March, SaharaReporters had exclusively reported that some of the recommendations of the eight-man panel set up to investigate the scandal may be rejected or watered down by the INEC Board as a way of deflecting responsibility for the anomaly.
Two days after the panel began sitting, KANSIEC Chairman, Professor Garba Ibrahim Sheka, claimed that the images and videos of primary school-age voters in circulation did not originate from Kano, arguing that card readers were not used in the council polls in the state, in an attempt a cover-up.
Professor Sheka’s denial was echoed by INEC, as clamour grew for the commission to audit its register. The commission itself had reported incidences of underage registration in Taraba State. The attempt at a cover-up gave the commission a breather until 25 March when the panel submitted its report, a document that was not made public.
This sparked agitation for a release of the full report, which Nigerians expected to confirm or repudiate allegations that the election register has underage voters. However, INEC kept insisting that it did not conduct the council polls, a fact already know.
Unwittingly though, Professor Yakubu stripped the Kano council polls of all credibility by saying that the state electoral body did not use the register provided by INEC in many instances, adding that INEC was not responsible for any underage voting. His claim provoked more questions than answers, with observers asking if there were no underage voters in places where KANSIEC used the INEC register accreditation.
They also wondered why INEC has been reluctant to declared the number of underage voters in its register and what it plans to do sanitize the register and restore credibility to the registration process.
Answers to the questions, analysts maintained, can only be provided by INEC when it releases the full report of the investigative panel and not in snatches as it has done. They reckoned that the partial reporting adopted by the commission may have encouraged political parties to obtain the full report through back channels, with the objective of interpreting its findings to suit their respective agenda.
Analysts also believe that parties that obtain the document will use it as a gauge of what the commission plans to do in the next elections and make adequate plans towards countering it.
The consensus, SaharaReporters observed, is that INEC should publish the report on the internet, where it would be available to all, in the spirit of accountability.
“It is in the interest of the commission to abide fully by the administrative standards expected of such inquiry like the Uwais Report that is available on the internet and could be accessed by any interested individuals for different purposes.
“The commission should publish a whitepaper on the report of the investigation, indicating what the INEC Board accepted or rejected,” an analyst told SaharaReporters.