Professor Mahmood Yakubu
Professor Mahmood Yakubu

Mahmood Yakubu and the burden of a nation, by Jibrin Baba Ndace

NEWS DIGEST – Elections are the foundation of democracy. This is because they provide citizens the opportunity to choose those that will steer the ship of the state for a period of time. Elections empower citizens to choose their leaders at all levels.

Nigerians on Saturday, February 25, went to the polls to elect their president, 109 senators and 350 members of the House of Representatives. They will, this Saturday (March 11), go to the polls again to elect governors and members of State Houses of Assembly.

The most important agency as far as elections are concerned in Nigeria is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Headed by an unassuming scholar of international repute, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, INEC works in collaboration with other government agencies, security agencies, civil society and nongovernmental organisations, the media and other stakeholders to ensure it delivers credible elections.

Since his appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari on 21 October 2015, to succeed Amina Zakari who was acting chairman, Prof Yakubu has been determined in ensuring that INEC conducts credible elections at state or federal levels.

To this end, INEC has, especially in the present democratic dispensation, designed ways and means to improve on the quality and credibility of elections in such a way that complaints are minimal and outcomes are in some way comparable to elections conducted in older democracies around the world.

Prof. Yakubu has brought professionalism, dynamism and innovations into election management in Nigeria. Principal among the innovations he has championed in order to ensure transparency and stop desperate politicians from denting the credibility of the process is the introduction of Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS).

The technology has been described by political parties, local and international elections stakeholders as a step in the right direction. They say it creates an enabling environment and a level-playing field for elections.

Over the years, the Card Reader (a machine previously used by INEC) has proved inadequate since it only validated the voter’s card. BVAS on the other hand, validates both the card and the voter by utilizing two methods of identifying the voter; the thumbprints and facial biometrics. These two qualities are unique to the voter and no two individuals in the entire world share the same. In this way, a voter must be present to cast his or her vote since accreditation comes before voting. The results from a polling unit cannot therefore be higher than the number of voters accredited. In this way, the incidence of over-voting is totally eliminated and ghost voters and votes have been eliminated.

Recall that BVAS was first used during the governorship elections of Ekiti and Osun states in 2022. It was adjudged as one of the best innovations to Nigeria’s electoral process in recent times.

This has given hope to Nigerians and many believe that it has motivated Nigerians to register to vote in 2023 general elections with the expectation that with BVAS, their votes will count.

Aside from the BVAS, the commission also introduced the result viewing portal, IReV, to guarantee transparent accreditation and uploading of polling unit results. This technological masterpiece enables citizens to view results in real-time on Election Day.

Justifying the use of the two technologies, INEC chairman said, “As I have said repeatedly, the Commission’s allegiance is to Nigeria. Our loyalty is to Nigerians who want free, fair, credible and verifiable elections supported by technology, which guarantees transparent accreditation and upload of polling unit results for citizens to view in real-time on election day.

“It is for these reasons that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) were introduced. There is no going back on the deployment of BVAS and IReV for the 2023 general election.

“Significantly, the biometric technology actually worked in the February 25 presidential and national assembly elections. It has eliminated multiple voter registrations. If your biometrics are not captured, you can no longer vote. These are improvements. Look at the figures from the states – we did not see the huge figures of voters that were out of proportion to the number of registered voters, as happened in previous elections”.

To show that the elections were credible, it threw up major upsets. We saw big politicians lose in their strongholds. The first shocker was the Labour Party victory in the presidential election in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, which has never happened since 1999. The president-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, regarded as the father of modern Lagos lost. This is the first time he has lost an election in Lagos since the return to democratic governance in 1999. Also, President Muhammadu Buhari lost his state, Kastina, to the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Wazirin Adamawa.

Many incumbent governors lost their bid for seats in the Senate. Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba State lost his Taraba South senatorial bid to APC’s David Jimkuta, Governor Ben Ayade lost Cross River North senatorial bid to incumbent Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe of the PDP, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s lost Abia South senatorial election to Enyinnaya Abaribe of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi lost Enugu North senatorial seat to the LP candidate, Okey Ezea, Governor Samuel Ortom lost Benue North West Senatorial District to APC’s Titus Zam.

Other sitting governors who lost their senatorial ambitions include Simon Lalong of Plateau and Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi states.
Opinion may be divided especially against the background of different parties who failed in their attempts to intimidate and get the INEC chairman work on their own terms. Nevertheless the commission has discharged itself creditably and restored confidence in the electoral process.

Politicians who cannot win elections through clean processes but rely on the old system to rig, can no longer be comfortable with the new system. The new tide is definitely against them.

On the whole and more importantly, the goal of technology was to enhance the quality and integrity of the elections and reduce electoral fraud. This was to a large extent achieved.

More so, Prof Yakubu must be commended for keeping his calm during the collation of results at the National Collation Centre, Abuja, when some anti-democratic forces wanted to stall the process and subsequent announcement of the winner.

He appropriately addressed the situation and restored order. At this point, we must pass a vote of confidence on the Chairman of INEC and his team for being worthy ambassadors of our nation. It is also obvious that there were attempts to compromise INEC IREV by cyber hackers. This was confirmed by the Managing Director of Galaxy Backbone who revealed that his agency blocked over 200 cyberattacks during the Presidential and National Assembly elections.

He said the attempt to hack INEC Server was based on the fact that Nigeria has weak broadband internet, and patchy connectivity. Some parts of Nigeria are still running on 3G network when some countries are already on 5G, some parts are not even connected to the internet. So, conducting elections in Nigeria by deploying technology is a complex exercise.

On the whole, despite the technical glitches experienced by INEC in uploading presidential election results to the IReV portal, it was a good outing for Prof. Mahmood and his team. They swam against the tide of cynicism and succeeded. They can only improve on the foundation that has been laid.

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