INEC’s Riot Act on Bayelsa, Kogi gov poll —Okoye

August 30, 2019
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National Commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Festus Okoye, who is also a lawyer, speaks on lessons from 2019 elections, questionable party primaries and preparations for the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, among other issues. KUNLE ODEREMI brings the excerpt.

National Commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Festus Okoye, who is also a lawyer, speaks on lessons from 2019 elections, questionable party primaries and preparations for the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, among other issues. KUNLE ODEREMI brings the excerpt.

The political parties are bracing up for their primary elections to pick candidates for the November 16 governorship election in Bayelsa and Kogi states. How is the general preparation of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the poll?

On May 16, 2019, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the timetable and schedule of activities for the conduct of the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections. Based on our schedule, we have delivered all the non-sensitive materials required for the conduct of the two elections. The commission will start stakeholder engagements relating to the distribution of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) in the states. Presently, we have a total of 49, 291 and 170, 644 uncollected PVCs in Bayelsa and Kogi. On September 2, 2019, the commission will start the distribution of these PVCs and end on September 30, 2019. The INEC will engage two streams of distribution officers per local government and they will rotate the distribution in the various registration areas/wards and in the various communities. The commission will send bulk SMS to the registered voters that are yet to collect their cards and call the rest to collect their cards. We will make sure that all those who are willing to collect their cards have the opportunity of doing so. The commission is determined that all those that are desirous of voting have the opportunity of doing so. We appeal to the people of both states to cooperate with the officers of the commission as the INEC will not extend the period for the collection, given its tight schedules and timelines.

The commission will also engage traditional and religious leaders, civil society groups and organisations, political parties, the media and the security agencies towards a harmonious conduct of the elections. It will procure and deliver all the sensitive materials for the two elections on time and the materials will be deployed to the staging posts or the Registration Area Centres (RACs) before the election. The training of the various categories of elections officials that will conduct the election is ongoing and will continue till the commission is satisfied that the critical lessons have been imbibed.

Furthermore, the period for the expression of interests for the conduct of party primaries has elapsed and 59 and 58 political parties indicated intention to conduct party primaries in Kogi and Bayelsa states. We shall monitor the party primaries and political parties are obligated to submit the list of nominated candidates to the commission on or before  September 9, 2019. During the election, the commission will engage a total of 16,139 election officials for the 21 local government areas; 2,548 polling units and 3,508 voting points to service the 1,646,350 registered voters in Kogi State and a total of 10,063 election officials for the eight local government areas, 1,804 polling units and 2,244 voting points involving 923,182 registered voters in Bayelsa.

Against the backdrop of certain lapses that manifested in the last general election in the country, what proactive measures has the commission put in place to guarantee a credible poll?

The conduct of party primaries and the contentious nature of such primaries affected the preparation of the 2019 general election. We have drawn up a clear timetable for the monitoring of party primaries and we have made it clear that political parties must conduct their primaries in accordance with their party constitutions and guidelines and in accordance with Section 87 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended). We have informed all the parties that they must conduct their primaries between August 18 and September 5, 2019. The commission will not accept any list from a political party that did not conduct party primaries.

The INEC will not accept any list from any political party whose primary election is shrouded in secrecy and conducted in clear violation of the law. So, the commission will energise its staging posts on time and deliver non-sensitive materials on time to get to the polling units.

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Voters get agitated the moment materials and personnel do not get to the polling units on time. We have commenced robust engagement with the various transporters for the movement of materials and personnel and for reverse logistics. We shall also liaise with the divisional police officers and the heads of the various security agencies for early deployment for escort duties. We shall spend more time training our electoral officials. We are not under pressure and will increase the period for the training of officials. We shall engage the security agencies towards professional and ethical deployment of security agents to the polling units and the various offices of the commission. We shall vigorously protect our collation centres and enforce the letter and spirit of the law. The chairman of the INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, will lead the stakeholder engagements in the two states. We want a violence-free election where the voters will exercise their franchise without any security and other unwholesome challenges.

 

From experience, there has always been serious challenges in the areas of manpower, mobility, security and welfare of electoral officers?  

The ordinary people of Nigeria have wholeheartedly embraced the concept of free and fair elections. Unfortunately, some members of the political elite are still vacillating and designing violent, unproductive and non-democratic routes to power. The conduct of free, fair and transparent elections is a multi-stakeholder venture and must be accompanied with total submission to constitutionalism and the democratic spirit. The commission will continue to infuse technology in the electoral process, but we must deal with the human element that wants to bypass new and creative ways of conducting elections. We must obey the law and the constitution and do things in accordance with the processes and procedures set out in the Regulations and Guidelines for the conduct of elections. On our part, we shall review our processes and procedures. We shall make sure that we train our election officials well and deploy them the country on time. We shall take on board the critical and actionable suggestions made by domestic and international election observers and improve on the regime of elections in the country.

 

What is the kind of paradigm shift Nigerians should expect from INEC, something that will be different from what obtained in the past?

The security of election materials and the security of our permanent and non-permanent staff remains the biggest challenge for the commission. The commission can no longer accept and or tolerate the holding of collation/returning officers’ hostage and their being forced to make declarations and make returns against the law. The INEC cannot afford to deploy electoral officials and receive them back in body bags. The commission is worried at the extent to which a section of the political elite goes in trying to compromise its ad-hoc officials. So, the INEC is designing counter-legal, administrative and security measures against observed challenges in the electoral process. It is a matter of common knowledge that the military is engaged in internal security operations in so many states of the federation and this means that the commission must commit resources and expertise in the conduct of elections in areas with serious   security challenges. The cost of election continues to increase on account of trust deficit in our elections. Sometimes, the commission must wait for the electoral legal framework to be ready. At other times, the INEC accesses approved funds late and this affects procurement. On governorship elections coming soon in Bayelsa and Kogi states, the commission implores the political parties and the candidates to conduct clean primaries and campaigns. It is not edifying to profile and categorise both states as violence prone and where things are taken by violence. We have mapped out the two states based on their geography and political behaviour and our preparations and deployment will take on board our appreciation of the peculiarities of each state.

There must be one thing that tends to give the commission much worry to the INEC, particularly given the prevalent security situation in the country, undue militarization of the political space on the election Day?

The commission has no control of the deployment of troops for internal security operations. We work in collaboration with the security agencies for purposes of security of the votes, materials and officers needed for the conduct of elections. Elections are the ordinary civic responsibility of the citizens. But the citizens do not want to “vote and die.” So, the political parties and candidates must caution their supporters to allow the will of the people to prevail. The INEC will do its own bit in terms of early deployment and availability of all the electoral materials. All the ad-hoc staff recruited for the election in both states will be properly trained. We plead with the people of Kogi and Bayelsa to cooperate with the INEC in delivering good elections. It is against the democratic spirit to shed blood on account of elections. A clean and sovereign mandate is more important than a tainted mandate. Let us engage in cooperative responsibility and engagement towards the success of both elections.

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