Will an election conducted under the cumulus of suspicion, doubt and allegations against the umpire of the exercise be accepted by most Nigerians?
Do Nigerians still believe in the integrity of INEC? Is the commission still that fearless, dispassionate and impartial arbiter we have known it to be since 2011?
I cannot answer these questions for any Nigerian, but for myself. I think INEC’s integrity is still intact.
But right now, the biggest issue in this election is the credibility perception of the commission.
Before Professor Attahiru Jega, immediate past INEC chairman, the electoral body was accorded the “credibility of a fraudster”. But Jega changed all that. He brought some appearance of integrity into the institution, and won trust as well as a verisimilitude of affection for the commission.
Jega left INEC with a surplus of trust, having conducted an election in which a sitting president was defeated, and adjudged free, fair and credible by most Nigerians and international organisations.
But this “trust” appears threatened going by the avalanche of sour allegations against the commission. Both the PDP and the APC have accused INEC of compromise. In fact, Adams Oshiomhole, APC national chairman, publicly accused the electoral body of leaking information to the PDP; I can as well say, of working for the opposition.
Also, President Buhari’s cathartic expression of frustration at the APC caucus meeting, where he decreed death for ballot-box snatchers, clearly betrays his lack of faith in the electoral process. On WhatsApp, there is a barrage of conspiracy articles on how either of the two parties has compromised INEC.
And the PDP is alleging that the commission is working with the APC because one of its contractors is a member of the governing party, and a senatorial candidate in Niger state.
What does this portend for the outcome of the election? So, who has compromised INEC? The PDP or the APC?
Really, trust is an essential element a critical institution like INEC must not gamble with. The abrupt postponement of the general election was the commission playing poker with citizens’ trust.
These allegations may be untrue. I believe they are. But INEC set itself up for this circus. It must manage the perception that it has been compromised, and this it must do by ensuring that Saturday’s election is free, fair and credible, and seen to be so. Perception matters.
However, I understand that, beyond the excuse of logistics, INEC is grappling with some internal problems, which may also encumber the election. It will be the undoing of the leadership of the commission if it springs up another ‘hot season surprise’.
INEC must get it right it. It must not go below the bar Jega set; it must seek to go above it.
Fredrick is a media personality.