Underage voters used to illustrate the story

The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum, an amalgam of opinion molders from the two geo-political areas, asked Professor Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to publish the full report of the inquiry into the underage voting scandal during the February’s council polls in Kano State.

The Forum made the demand in a statement issued on Wednesday. Jointly signed by Messrs. Yinka Odumakin (South-West), Bassey Henshaw (South-South), Professor Chigozie Ogbu (South-East) and Dr. Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), the statement criticized Professor Yakubu for the partial release of the findings of the committee of inquiry set up by INEC.

The Forum noted that on 5 May, the INEC Chairman released snippets of the findings, quoting him as saying: “Given that the register was substantially not used to accredit voters before voting, it is logical to conclude that if underage voting occurred in the election, it was not due to any presence of underage registrants on the register of voters."

 The Southern and Middle Belt leaders observed that the partial disclosure of the findings has only fueled public demand for the full report, as Professor Yakubu did not specify whether the recommendations of the committee of inquiry were wholly or partially accepted. They also stated that copies of the report were not made available to the media.

The Forum recalled that Professor Yakubu, while addressing journalists at an INEC workshop, held in February at the lntercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island in Lagos, made a promise that the commission would set up a committee to investigate the reported underage voting in Kano and that the outcome of the inquiry and recommendations would be made public.

“This was not done at the Friday press conference addressed by the Chairman except commentary on the report. 

“What is expected of Professor Yakubu’s commission is to live up to its promise by publishing the full report and state what its views are on it.

“In other words, issue the equivalent of a government whitepaper side -by -side the report, which will include its reasons for accepting or rejecting the committee's recommendations and the actions INEC intends to take to implement accepted recommendations.

“This is the usual practice and accepted norm in government and in the public sector. This is what Professor Yakubu failed to do last Friday and it is hoped that this would be done in the days to come otherwise the inevitable conclusion if not done would be that there are, indeed, attempts at a cover-up or the setting up of a committee was just a ruse or a strategy to buy time because Nigerians would easily forget and move on with their lives,” the Forum said. 

It noted that if its suspicions are true, it is unfortunate that Professor Yakubu, about whom nothing was known before his appointment unlike his predecessor, Professor Attahiru Jega, is attempting to con Nigerians. The Forum stated that Professor Jega was known from his days as Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Chairman and civil society activist. 

“As an umpire that should be an open institution that should be committed to transparency, integrity as its guiding principles in tandem with the requirements and spirit of the freedom of information Act and a statutory duty, Professor Yakubu should have made public the full report of the investigation and not snippets or commentaries on it.

“This has now heightened public suspicion and demand for the full report, given the delays and speculations about INEC’s sincerity and the displayed equivocation on the true content of the so-called report.

“Those at the press conference  observed pointedly that Professor Yakubu’s syllogism is flawed because if only one or two polling units used the  register and it contained underage voters, even if  ninety percent of the polling units did not use the register, the voter register is contaminated and the nation will never believe that this was not the case except the Chairman of INEC, who should know better as an academic, releases the full report to show how INEC reached its conclusion of substantial negligibility,” the group argued. 

The Forum maintained that a scrutiny of Professor Yakubu’s speech at the press conference would make statisticians insist that the quantitative conclusions or generalization he made can only be credible and reliable if the sample size or sample frame of councils used to arrive at such can be evaluated to be significant with respect to the commission’s claim. 

It insisted that INEC has to show that there is enough evidence that the voter register was not used to accredit voters in very many places and that the document does not contain underage voters.

“It is doubtful if INEC can say that there are no underage persons at all in the Kano register of voters and elsewhere.

“The leadership of the electoral management board must be very careful and not to destroy its credibility and public perception before 2019, so that it would be able to command public confidence. 

“The register of voters is in the possession of politicians, as required by law and confirmed by Professor Yakubu during the press conference, and so playing any hide and seek game about existence or otherwise of underage persons on the register of Kano or elsewhere, which has been alleged by key stakeholders in Kano, could damage the umpire's credibility and should be avoided at all times,” the Forum warned.

It further stated that the need for INEC to release the full report also draws urgency from the political implication of its statement because on the basis of its conclusion, it can be deduced that the Kano council polls was procedurally illegal, as voting can only be credible if it was preceded by accreditation. While acknowledging that council elections, by law, are conducted by sub-national electoral bodies, the Forum said such bodies are subject to the Electoral Act on procedures.

It contended that INEC’s declaration invalidates the Kano State council elections unless the full report provides evidence or caveats to the contrary.

More significantly, it added, political parties and politicians, particularly those who participated in the Kano polls, will be unwilling to accept their outcomes because INEC has declared that it did not comply substantially with electoral procedure.

“The only proof the opposing parties have to substantiate this irregularity bordering on political fraud is to demand how the conclusion was reached because not to do so will mean that all other elections, especially in Kano, will not be conducted on a level playing field if the outcome of such irregularities can be sustained without consequences for those declared as winners of the flawed election,” the Forum reasoned.

It noted that Nigerians, who reacted to the press conference addressed by Professor Yakubu, remain doubtful of the message he tries to convey over the Kano scandal. According to the Forum, most are of the view that INEC, for the sake of credibility, should release the full report to regain public trust. 

“Public trust in INEC, in this respect, is in doubt because shortly after it set up the committee and even before all facts have been examined, the Committee Chairman (Mr. Nahuche Abubakar) was quoted to have said that there were no underage voters in the Kano elections, but had to reverse himself when the commission came under pressure regarding how he came to such conclusion.

“Again, after Mr. Abubakar submitted the committee report to Professor Yakubu on 25 March and reported by media, SaharaReporters, on 13 March, hinted that there were attempts by the ‘Chairman to influence the report, water down or reject sections of the committee’s findings and recommendations," stated the Forum.

Since then, it noted, the INEC report became a subject of public scrutiny particularly, especially when the Kano State governor, Mr. Umar Ganduje, in an interview, disclosed that INEC had "clarified" that there were no underage voters two weeks ago before INEC released snippets of the report.

On this basis, the Forum argued that stakeholders in Kano were already in possession of the INEC full report from which they drew the conclusion that the committee found the state blameless of any irregularities.

The group quoted a source at the office of the Kano State Independent Electoral Commission (KANSIEC) as saying that in the register of voters passed on by INEC contained underage persons and "they were  flagged and marked in their submission of the register requested and given to INEC Committee when its members visited our office".

This, it added, was also confirmed by an aide of a Kano political chieftain, who had also seen the report. He was said to have confirmed that the committee found a huge number of underage persons in the register, but that they did not vote.

“It is, therefore, confusing which version of the report ought to be believed, given that some other groups in Kano are in possession of leaked copies of the committee report and are refraining from going public with it for now because they want to see if the INEC Chairman will release a re-drafted version,” claimed the Forum.

It warned that until INEC releases the full report for the Nigerians to see if there are recommendations that would benefit other states on the matter of underage voters, it is simply gambling with its integrity.

“While Nigerians are waiting, the bigger questions many stakeholders are seeking answers to are: If there are underage voters in the voter register, why is INEC eager to gloss it over rather than fix it? Or is that the commission trying to cover up a bigger problem of widespread contamination of the voter register with underage voters in many states, as many suspect?

And if that is the case, how can the commission conduct a credible election with such a suspect voter register? In line with time honored practice of government and its agencies, expectations are that the entire contents of the report and INEC's view in its observations and recommendations should be made public through its website and its offices so that interested citizens, scholars, researchers, journalists, political parties and all other stakeholders can have access to it,” the Forum said.

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