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Rigging an election is now more difficult, says Simbine

National Commissioner in charge of North Central, Prof Anthonia Okoosi – Simbine has rejected the insinuation that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) manipulates votes to enable a particular candidate or political party secure victory in an election.

As far as she is concerned, those spreading such rumour and those who believe it “don’t really know the dynamics under which the Commission operates.”

Responding to a question on why politicians often accuse the Commission of manipulation in an exclusive interview with INECNEWS, Simbine said she was not surprised about the barrage of attacks often unleashed on the Commission by politicians after losing out in an election.

She said: “The conduct of an election, in my view, is not just the business of the Commission but also of all stakeholders, including political parties and candidates. Therefore, what all stakeholders are doing as we move towards any election is as important as what the Commission is doing.

“For Nigerians who don’t really know the dynamics under which INEC operates, they tend to have a wrong impression of the Commission. They tend to believe the lies that fly around with regard to how the Commission conducts its activities. By the way the process goes, I think that it is and will be very difficult for INEC to allocate results or to declare winners when they have not really won. It is difficult. No one person in is charge of any process at any point in time. Even if you are in charge of something, you do it and hand over to another person. Voters come to cast their votes, people are there to see the counting, after which the result is documented. That result is moved from the polling unit to the ward level, from there it is moved to the local government – so, it’s a conglomeration of all the results that comes out to be declared.

“With the use of the Permanent Voter’s Card and the Smart Card Reader, it’s even more difficult. You have the Voters’ Register; you have all sorts of things. So, we cannot but do what we are out to do and will continue to do our best in this direction.

“However, we are not surprised about the criticisms. The nature of the job is such that one group will win and another will lose. Whoever loses at any point in time, we expect nothing but criticism from the losing party. We have seen situations where, today a party or individual will say we (INEC) are the worst thing that ever happened to politics in this country, but the very next day, because they have won, we are the best thing that ever happened to politics in this country. So, a lot of the criticism is hinged on where people stand a lot of the time. But that will not deter us from giving the whole process our best.”

On the several re-run and by-elections conducted by the Commission within a year immediately after her appointment in November 2015, some of which could not be concluded at first ballot due to several infractions, Simbine insisted that INEC is capable of concluding any election, if all actors adhere to the rules.

Her words: “If I’m not wrong, majority of the inconclusive elections were mostly related to re-run or by-elections. Of course, it happened with the Kogi (governorship) election because we had actually declared the results inconclusive before the demise of one of the candidates.

“But in my view, first, the inconclusive elections were a fallout of the 2015 general elections. We have so far conducted more re-run elections that had ever been experienced in the history of the Commission. We should also not forget that it is for the 2015 general elections that the Smart Card Readers were introduced. The introduction of that machine made it difficult to do a lot of the negative things that candidates, politicians and even some elections officials used to do, in terms of the fraud that relate to elections.”

She continued: “Therefore, with regard to the issue of inconclusive elections, it seems to me that people then realized that with this Card Reader, they couldn’t do some things again. The next thing is to engage in violent behaviour. So, you find that majority of the inconclusive elections arose from cancellations arising from violence.

“While the Card Reader improved the process, its existence also, in a way, made people more desperate. It is that desperation that, in my view, is responsible for the level of inconclusive elections, which are just about a quarter of all the elections that we have had so far. But it’s not the way the general perception makes it look like.”

Recalling the Edo governorship election that took place on September 28, 2016 and the drama around it, the National Commissioner observed that the pressure on INEC to succeed in the election informed the rigorous preparations by the Commission.

She said: “The pressure on the Commission had become so much that we ourselves were beginning to feel it that we need to be able to finish at one go. That informed the way we prepared for the Edo election, not only in terms of the activities we had to do, but also at the individual level. The extent to which it worried us, we had to be praying. It was like this is a test of our personal and collective abilities to deliver.

“So we put in, in my view, our best. We were highly disappointed about the issue of security that came up, which led to the postponement. But since we are to conduct elections and not secure them, we could not do anything about the postponement. But it is also possible that the time lag between the postponement and when the election was finally held, gave additional time for preparations.

“I think we did our best in terms of the conduct of the (Edo) election. Whatever problems that may have arisen arose after the election was held, that is, the collation and transmission stages. Even then, it was not as if there were issues with the collation as such, it was at this stage that incidences started occurring, in terms of snatching of and destruction of the ballot boxes. All sorts of other things like not having security personnel to escort people at the right time and the ultimate perceived delay in collating and declaring the results at the local government level.

“But we were very relieved that at the end of the tallying of all these results, we were able to declare conclusively that one candidate or party has won the election. It was a great relief.”

But how did she receive the news of her appointment as National Commissioner? “It was surprising, but very relieving,” she responded with a smile. “I had always felt I had something to contribute, but it looked like the opportunity would never come. Therefore when it came, I was very relieved.” On the nature of her new assignment, she said it was a familiar ground.

“With regard to the place I was supposed to work,” she stated, “it was even more relieving because it is a field that I am very familiar with – a field in which I have always done my academic work. It is also relieving because it’s not that I’m being asked to go and do something that I am going to learn all over, or that the learning process might take so long that one may not be able to contribute. So, I felt that I was in the proper place where I could fit in”

Describing her experience since her appointment, Simbine admits, “it has not been very easy. It has been quite challenging. As much as one was enthusiastic about offering something, there were other eye-openers particularly to the fact that, what you do as an academic is different from what actually happens on the field, where you are to practicalise what you studied.”

Shedding more light, she said: “For instance, as an academic, it’s easy to criticize the Commission for doing or not doing something. But now that you’re inside, you can see why the Commission does or does not do some things. You see the conditions, the environment in which the Commission works; you have a closer opportunity to interact and see how politicians behave, what they expect of the Commission, the intricacies of dealing and relating with them on a day-to-day basis. So, it is challenging on the one hand, but also enlightening on other.”

But the National Commissioner acknowledges that her new role also means that she has lost part of her freedom. She explained: “Right now, I don’t think I can interact that freely anymore, especially with politicians, Before, as an academic, you interact with them, you find out things and you write your paper based on that. Now, you listen more to them.

“But on a general and personal basis, the things I loved to do as a younger person, that I still do in my leisure time: I find listening to music very refreshing and relaxing. Then, watching movies and walking. I enjoy taking a walk a lot. I like to travel, I like adventure but the hectic nature of the job may not allow that.”

Asked about what she detests the most, her response was quick. “Two things: dishonesty and lackadaisical attitude to any good cause – for instance to work.” She explained further: “With regard to dishonesty, let me give you an instance. You give your students a term paper to write, and after submission, you discover that they copied themselves. Some other lecturers may just award marks, but I go through every paper. When I was marking the scripts, I suddenly discovered that I was reading the same thing over again. I thought I was repeating myself until I then decided to check the previous scripts and that was how I discovered that, yes, about three to four students actually copied themselves. And they want their degrees and certificates at the end of the day. You then wonder, what are we producing?”

Prof. Simbine holds a first degree in Public Administration (1984) from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and obtained her MSc and PhD degrees in Political Science from the University of Ibadan. She won the British Council Fellowship award to the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom in 1993 as part of her doctorate programme.
Until her appointment, she was a researcher at the Federal Government owned Nigeria Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER) in Ibadan, where she rose from youth corps member in 1984 to the rank of Research Professor (2010) and Director of the Social and Governance Policy Research Department (SGPRD).
In year 2000, she was a resource person for the Swedish – based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), on “Democracy Assessment in Nigeria”. In 2002/2003 she was a Scholar, at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi on an exchange programme during which she compared political party system in India with Nigeria’s.
She was a Consultant to the Presidency’s Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) Abuja in 2008 and worked with the Sub-Committee on Electoral Systems. She was later appointed a Member, INEC Registration and Election Review Committee (RERC) between August and November, 2011. In 2013, she was appointed a Faculty Member and Reviewer for the New York based Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa Fellowship Program of the Social Science Research Council.
Prof. Simbine is a member of several professional organizations promoting democratic governance and development such as both the Nigerian and International Political Science Associations. She also teaches on the Peace and Conflict Studies Programme of the University of Ibadan and is External Examiner (undergraduate and post-graduate) to the Universities of Benin and Ilorin and Al-Hikmah University in Ilorin. She speaks Yoruba and Hausa fluently.
She brings with her in-depth experience researching on political parties in Nigeria through examining them in relation to internal party democracy, How Citizens view Political Parties, Political Parties and Democratic Sustenance in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic and the Role of the Legislature in Democracy.