Friday, 31st March 2023
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Nigerians go to poll amid hope, high stakes, huge expectations

By Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Odita Sunday, Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Seye Olumide, Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan), Obinna Nwaoku (Port Harcourt), Mansur Aramide (Gombe), Bala Yahaya (Minna), Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna) and Ayoyinka Jegede
24 February 2023   |   4:22 am
On a February afternoon, it was a welcoming blue sky and bright sunlight at the Enugu office of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The facility had turned a beehive of activities.

International observers with INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu. Former South African President, Thabo Mbeki (middle) while Yakubu is third right.

• Go out and vote without fear, army, police DSS assures
• IPOB threat is empty, military, police insist
• I entertain no fear that INEC is fully ready, says Olurode
• Don’t move with VIPs, Adejobi warns policemen
• INEC should have more open conversation with the public – Mbamalu
• Passage of electoral act 2022 a game changer, election expert
• INEC learnt lessons from previous poll, says Jinadu

On a February afternoon, it was a welcoming blue sky and bright sunlight at the Enugu office of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The facility had turned a beehive of activities.

In and around the premises of the Commission, located on Independence Layout, were a detachment of increased security made up of policemen and women, including bomb experts, army, Department of State Services (DSS), Civil Defence, among others.

Outside the compound, the road leading to the office of the Commission had been barricaded against vehicular movement. Except vehicles cleared to drive into the compound, no other vehicle plied the area.

This Wednesday, INEC and security agencies had assured of their readiness for a peaceful, free, fair and credible elections in the state. INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Enugu State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Chukwu, assured after the Inter-agency Consultation Committee on Election Security (ICCES) meeting.

Chukwu said: “We are ready for the polls. We have deployed all non-sensitive materials to the INEC local government offices already.

“INEC will move the materials to Registration Area Centres (RAC) from its local government offices on Friday (today) and then, polling units early Saturday morning for the polls proper.”

The REC urged residents of the state to come en masse and exercise their franchise without fear or favour, as security agencies were on ground to protect the electorate, INEC workers and election materials.

Speaking, the Chairman of ICCES, Ahmed Ammani, who is the Commissioner of Police in the state, said ICCES meeting put finishing touches on the security arrangement and strategies ahead of the Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly polls.

According to Ammani, “we have deployed 9,214 personnel from all the security agencies for now in the state and likely more deployment will come in few days more.

“They are already deployed in the INEC state headquarters, local government and RAC offices, among others. The security personnel are deployed to provide security before, during and after the polls.”

The commissioner assured electorate that there would be adequate security provided for everybody before, during and after the elections. Speaking to The Guardian, a chieftain of Labour Party in the state, Jerry Uwa, said he was satisfied with the commission’s efforts.

He stated that with what he had observed, he was “sure that the country would have a good election this Saturday”.

Despite the assurances and preparations by the INEC, one thing that is not panning out well in the state is their memory of Simeon Ekpa’s sit-at-home order declared on the election day by a breakaway group of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)-led by Simeon Ekpa.

Ekpa’s group had threatened to snuff life out of anyone who attempts to violate the sit at home order. He said there would be no election in Biafra land. But there was news of Ekpa’s arrest in far-away Finland.

AN unnerved, yet energised Nigeria is set to vote tomorrow. This is with an urgency never seen before in the approach to a presidential election, as INEC declared over 93.5 million Nigerians as eligible to participate in the exercise as voters.

Noting that 12.29 million Nigerians successfully completed their registrations as new voters in the just concluded Continuous Voter Registration CVR, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, added that after a rigorous clean up of the data using the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS), over 2.78 million were identified and removed as ineligible registrants.

Yakubu also disclosed that at the end of the recent CVR, 12,298,944 Nigerians successfully completed the registration as new voters and that after a rigorous cleaning-up of the data using the ABIS, a total of 2,780,756 (22.6 per cent) were identified as ineligible registrants and invalidated from the record.

In terms of demographic distribution, 7.2 million new voters or 76.5 per cent are young people between 18 to 34 years while there is a slightly higher number of female (4.8 million or 50.82 per cent) than male (4.6 million or 49.18 per cent) voters. In terms of occupation, 3.8 million (40.8 per cent) are students.

The impact of this huge surge in turnout is one of the most unpredictable facets of the election, as strategists maintain the nation has entered one of the most consequential weeks for voting in recent years, with swaths of Nigerians optimistic their ballots will be received and counted. Never before in Nigerian politics has the electorate faced so many unknowns while so many are hopeful, anxious and determined.

INEC has assured all political parties and candidates that the Commission is neutral. INEC is not a political party. We have no candidate in the election. Our allegiance is to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and our loyalty is to Nigerians. Therefore, Nigerians should feel confident that their votes will count”, he added.

Speaking with The Guardian, former National Commissioner of INEC, Prof. Lai Olurode, said with the level of preparedness INEC has put in place, there are clear signals that elections will go on as scheduled.

According to him, “from my knowledge with regards to certain indicators to state of readiness of the country to hold elections, I entertain no fear that INEC is fully ready to deliver an historic elections.”

He noted that prompt delivery of election materials is one critical area to determine the level of preparedness for an election. He said though with the naira redesign, INEC had entertained some level of doubts especially about the issue of cash to pay for some essential services, but the Commission had got positive responses from the CBN to address that concern.

“This, however, does not mean elections will commence on 8:00pm dot in all polling units in the country, there would be few places that will experience delay but INEC would have map out these areas already and respond to them effectively.

“Also, in spite of the disruptions in some states or Local government, the country can be said to be 85 per cent ready with regards to the deployment of technology. Though there will be a little sabotage because we know that the country is not also very secured.

The professor of sociology, however, expressed concern about the state of mind of the electorate due to the current challenges, noting that the only way Nigerians can alter the status quo is to participate in the electoral process.

“The only thing I will caution against is the post election euphoria or jubilation. The winners should moderate their celebration and not provoke crisis by excessive jubilation to avoid post election violence. We shouldn’t forget we have other elections after Saturday and it has to be conducted in a peaceful environment.”

Programme Director, YIAGA Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, told The Guardian that reports from the organisation’s observers in the field revealed that preparations were in top gear by INEC to ensure that the elections is conducted on February 25 (tomorrow).

She noted that transportation of elections materials and deployment of both sensitive and non-senstive materials are going on at local government levels. She stated: “We have deployed observers across the local government and there are reports that there ongoing activities by the Electoral Commission across these local governments. As at yesterday, INEC has concluded their trainings for the collation officers, so we know that training has happened across the country.

Mbamalu stressed the need for the electoral commission to have an open conversation with the people on their level of preparedness for the elections, basically highlighting the state of deployment, their level of confidence and also informing the people about the challenges that exist and how they intend to resolve the challenges.

Mbamalu added: “It is important that open conversation is had with the people. It also important commence their daily briefing to provided update on its plan and just so that we should not experience any unexpected postponement.”

An election expert, Austin Aigbe said from a closer observation, all logistic arrangements that used to be a challenge for INEC in previous elections had been directly or indirectly resolved.

Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Professor, Adele Jinadu, said that INEC had learnt lessons from previous elections with the current state of preparedness.

Going into the general elections, Jinadu, however, urged that more should be done to complete the effort of INEC in securing the environment elections are conducted.

“Law and order has not effectively been used to protect the citizen, and that the spate of banditry, insurgency and so on as you see is a failure of the states to provide a security level of security that Nigerians will feel secure. This is not something that is new, it has been increasing over the years, because people have lost faith in the ability of the state to provide common basic things, and security for all that matter.”

There had been apprehension over the inability of INEC to get cash from the CBN even though its budget is a first-line charge. This was a result of the cashless policy introduced by the CBN with the support of the Federal Government.

On the INEC chairman who spoke during a meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), held at INEC headquarters on Tuesday in Abuja, said security agencies would not only protect the commission’s staff and facilities, but the will extend to voters, election observers, journalists and others involved in the electoral process.

“The Nigerian police, which is the lead agency in election security, is already familiar with the delimitation details on the basis of which security personnel are deployed for elections. And since they as the lead agency are also coordinating with other security agencies, I take it that other security agencies are also aware of the delimitation details.

“The Commission is encouraged by the assurances of security in all locations, while elections and electoral activities will be conducted. Importantly, the Commission is aware that security agencies are going to protect not only our officials and facilities, but also accredited observers, journalists, service providers, and above all the voters themselves, Yakubu said.

In his remarks, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno, assured Nigerians of safe, free, fair and credible elections.

IN Lagos, the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Lagos, Segun Agbaje, who is overseeing the process in the state, said the INEC is ready for Saturday’s presidential and national assembly elections.

Sensitive materials for elections ready to be distributed to INEC local government offices in Lagos State.

The collection of sensitive materials and distribution to Electoral Officers for onward takeoff to various INEC Local Government Offices took place at the Central Bank of Nigeria, Marina amid heavy security.

The Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Idowu Owohunwa, said the force is not encountering any challenges so far and they envisage the process will go on smoothly.

Security operatives, election observers, and other critical stakeholders witnessed the exercise, which is a major one leading up to the elections.
But accreditation tags for the media were not ready as at this morning. Mediahouses are asking INEC why a process that commenced since three weeks is not concluded on the eve of election.

THE sensitive materials have been sorted for distribution at the CBN premises, Ado the Ekiti, the state capital.
The arrangements of the materials for the election are taking place under the watch of the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, party representatives, monitors and observers. Men of the Nigeria police and other uniform men are also within the premises to ensure maximum security.

INEC in Osun State on Wednesday began the distribution of sensitive election materials to various local government areas. The representatives of the parties, security agents, journalists and INEC officials witnessed the distribution, which held on the premises of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Osogbo Branch.

Before the distribution commenced, there was some drama, as operatives of the Department of State Service, stationed at the entrance to the bank, prevented journalists and other people that were to observe the distribution from entering the premises.

The security operatives had claimed that the management of the CBN Osogbo branch had instructed that they should not allow anyone into the premises. But INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Mutiu Agboke, insisted that journalists and party representatives should be allowed into the premises.

He said, “Our sensitive materials, particularly, ballot papers, result sheets are usually in the custody of the Central Bank of Nigeria. We are ready for the election. We are here to start batching of our materials for onward transmission to these local government areas.

“What you have seen on the ground are the ballot papers, result sheets for the presidential, senatorial, and House of Representatives elections. We will arrange and batch them to various local governments.”

On the security of the materials and offices, the INEC boss said, “all these are indications that the Commission is ready. The Commission is in touch with our security agents. The synergy is there. All our local government offices are well secured.”

AS part of preparation for the polls, the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room (NCSSR), in partnering with a coalition of Non – Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Nigeria, has trained over 100 election observers in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.

Rural and Urban Stewardship Initiative implemented the training for the 2023 General Election Observers in Oyo State. It was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The 101 accredited INEC observers are to be deployed in all the 33 councils of the state. The state facilitator, Mrs. Chinyere Onuoha, who is the programme officer for Rural and Urban Stewardship Initiative for Sustainable Development (RUSISD) – a non – governmental organisation of the Ibadan Anglican Diocese, facilitated the one-day programme.

Foreign observers during the first in the series of Daily Briefings at the Collation Centre by the INEC Chairman in Abuja yesterday. PHOTO LUCY LADIDI ATEKO.

Oyo REC, Dr. Adeniran Tella, said it was ready to conduct free, fair and credible elections in the State despite the scarcity of cash.
Speaking in Ibadan at the Correspondents Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Tella said INEC had secured the required cash from CBN to ease the movement of electoral materials and logistics to various polling units across the State. He noted that 2,305,903 voters are expected to perform their civic obligation across Oyo in the 6,390 polling units spread across all 33 councils.

THE Imo State REC, Prof. Sylvia Agu, has assured of readiness despite the 11 attacks on the facilities of the agency by unknown gunmen, since 2020.
She promised to superintend over a free, fair, credible and transparent exercise, where 2.4 million others would cast their votes to their preferred candidates, in the state.

Agu, said: “As at the close of work on February 3, about 375,004 Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), comprising 206,463 old cards, 116,734 new cards and 51,807 reprints have been collected.”

Incidentally, the Imo REC said there would not be elections at 38 polling units (PUs) where they recorded zero registration. According to her, the affected local councils are Aboh Mbaise, Ahiazu Mbaise, Ezinihite Mbaise, Ideato North, Isiala Mbano, Isu, Njaba, Ohaji/Egbema, Orlu, Oru East, Owerri Municipal and Owerri North Local Government Areas (LGAs). On other areas, Agu said: “All non-sensitive materials have been received and distributed to various Local Government Areas.”

On the containment of security infractions, the Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Barde, assured inter -security agency cooperation. Series of meetings, according to him, were held between the Imo REC and security agencies in the state, such as the police, army, immigration, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) among others on the safety of men and materials before, during and after the general elections.

Speaking with The Guardian on Tuesday, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Henry Okoye, said the Command, working with other sister agencies, were ready. He said: “are ready. The police will work with others to ensure safety. Imo people are assured of our readiness.”

ON his part, the state’s Commandants of NSCDC, Michael Ogar, has mouthed readiness of the Command to provide adequate security before, during and after the 2023 General Elections despite the spate of campaign disruptions and destruction of materials in the state.

Speaking with the newsmen during a Pre-Election Media briefing at the Command Headquarters of the NSCDC in Port Harcourt; the Rivers State Commandant affirmed that the Command is fully prepared for Saturday and March 11, 2023 Elections noting that the Corps’ preparedness was informed by the determination to remain apolitical, neutral and highly professional while on election duty.

He further hinted that the training and re-training programmes organised internally as well as in conjunction with the INEC, the Nigeria Police and other Sister Security Agencies in the State had been very impactful hence the NSCDC officers and men are well informed on the election operational guidelines, the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, the NSCDC Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), amongst others.

“With the level of the training programmes we have organised for our personnel coupled with the Election Security Personnel (ESP) joint trainings you can be rest assured that there would be effective security coverage in the elections”.

He also maintained that the level of collaborations amongst the security agencies with the Nigeria Police as the lead agency in election security; the sensitive and insensitive INEC materials, INEC Ad hoc Staff and the election environment would be adequately secured to enhance a serene and peaceful election process.

He urged the voters to remain calm and cast their votes in a peaceful manner shunning all forms of electoral violence, as the security agencies would not hesitate to arrest anyone who disrupts the peaceful conduct of the elections.

However, INEC have commenced distribution of sensitive materials for onward movement to Local Government Areas ahead of the Presidential and National Assembly elections in Rivers State on Saturday, February 25.

The Guardian learned that all sensitive materials have been distributed to only three LGAs: PHALGA, Obio-Akpor and Bonny. More material would continue tomorrow morning. EOs and their teams were on ground to receive them.

INEC Gombe office has taken delivery of all sensitive materials for Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections.
The materials that included Presidential runoff ballot papers were delivered at the premises of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The Guardian learnt that the materials from Abuja were brought to the state in crane truck.
The exercise conducted at the presence of party agents, heads of security agencies including the military and the police and media practitioners marked the complete readiness of the umpire to conduct the 2023 polls in the state.
The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of INEC in the state, Mohorret Bigun said: “As you can see, we at the INEC are set for this exercise as we have just taken delivery of all sensitive materials including the presidential runoff ballot papers.”
Meanwhile, all the already labelled materials were immediately taken to the 11 INEC local governments’ offices.

THE Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, on Thursday, met with security chiefs in the state, assuring that the security agencies were fully prepared to ensure peaceful conduct of the Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly elections in the state. Briefing journalists after the security meeting held at the Government House, Benin City, Governor Obaseki, said all security agencies in the state are ready to provide a safe and secure environment for the elections, urging voters to come out en masse on Saturday to perform their constitutional duties without fear of intimidation or harassment.
The governor said, “I am quite satisfied with the level of coordination and cooperation among the security agencies. They have made known how they intend to secure each polling unit, ward collation center, local government collation center, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office in Benin City.

“Our appeal now is for the citizens to come out and fulfill their constitutional duties. It is also time to warn all of those who plan to ferment trouble not to even attempt it because the security agencies are more than ready to deal with anyone who ferments trouble.”
He added, “People should come out peacefully, go to their polling units, make sure that they conduct themselves peacefully, go through the accreditation, vote, and leave the polling units until it is time for sorting if they have to be there.”
Obaseki further noted, “Citizens should note that from 12 midnight, Saturday 25th, movements will be restricted until 6 pm after elections are over.”
On his part, the Commissioner of Police in charge of Elections in Edo State, Ben Okolo noted that over 11,000 security operatives have been deployed to ensure a peaceful election in the state.
Okolo said, “We are looking at over 11,200 security operatives. We have made preparations; we have deployed men and logistics and there is a fantastic synergy between all the services.

A STATEMENT by the Police Command spokesman, DSP Wasiu Abiodun, stated that the police and other security agencies had mobilised manpower, logistics and equipment to enable security personnel perform their election duties optimally, noting that the officers of the Command had undergone training on the standard operational guidelines, peace and conflict resolution at the polling units, as well as Human Rights Policing.

The statement further explained that the Police and other security personnel will cover polling units/IDPS camp, and voting centres across the state, and other layers of deployment for visibility policing and confidence building patrol of nooks and crannies of the state.

It warned parents and guardians to cautioned their children not to engage in any form of violence, political thuggery or attempt to snatch ballot boxes, pointing that the Command was battle ready for any miscreants who may want to foment trouble before, during and after the election, assuring the people of the state that the Police had put in place necessary security arrangements for a peaceful and credible general elections.

INEC officials took delivery of the sensitive electoral materials from the State branch of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), along Yàkubu Gowon way, from where the materials were dispatched to the various local government areas.
Among those who witnessed the distribution exercise were, the local and foreign observers, representatives of the 18 political parties whose candidates are vying for elective positions, except the All Progressives Congress (APC) that was not represented.

The INEC Administrative Secretary, Kaduna State, Muhammad Anwal Mashi, explained, “unlike the previous elections, where there were over 90 political parties this time around there are only 18 parties and even in the 18, only in the Presidential election we have all the political parties contesting.”

He said: “So, if you look the quantity of materials we are going to distribute, it is not as huge as in 2019, so, hopefully, it will not take us very long to distribute”.

According to him, the next thing to do is transportation of the election materials to all the 23 local governments, pointing out that “we just had our meeting on Inter agency consultative committee on election security and we made it known to them that we are taking the materials to the local government areas and the plan is for the security agencies to provide us with security, for men and materials to be taken to all the 23 local government areas of the state including those areas we have security challenges.”

Mashi said, “in terms of logistics preparedness, the Commission has received part of the funds for the elections, stressing, “the monies will be given in four tranches.”

“Nigerians should expect a very good election. We started making arrangements for the 2023 general elections immediately after the 2019 general elections, in between then and now, a lot has happened, for instance the electoral act has been amended.”

Akwa Ibom
OLATOYE Durosinmi, Commissioner for Police, Akwa Ibom State, said: “We are ready and in the area of training, we have done our training at different stages. INEC training too has actually been attended both in our office here and in INEC office. Officers and men of the Command have actually been tutored on the new electoral law and the roles expected of them in the coming elections.”

Durosinmi said, “I have just newly introduced eight vehicles that were not in working conditions before, we have fitted them with new engines and brand new tires, the vehicles are good to go and they will be handy, they are responding to emergences before, during and after election.”

On the level of insecurity in the country, he said: “There is no cause for alarm, our men are ready to protect all citizens that are prepared to vote during elections, eligible voters should come out and vote, we are more than ready to protect all the electorate, patrol vehicles are deployed to right places and there will be enough men in each of the polling units. We are working with other services including the army to ensure citizens that are ready to vote during this election are well protected so that they can actually perform their civic duties as entrenched in the Constitution, hence, people should come out en mass and vote.”

“I have warned that if anyone asks for bribe, both the giver and receiver are guilty. The best is do not give bribe, report anyone asking you for bribe to dedicated lines, 08039213071, 08081388797, report to the PPRO or call the control room, they will apprehend anyone asking you to give bribe and disciplinary actions will be taken, if you give bribe you are equally guilty as the person you give bribe,” he said.

THE Nigeria military, police and Department of State Services (DSS), have urged Nigerians and residents of South East to go out and vote as adequate security has been put in place.

In a joint briefing by the services at the Defence Headquarters, Abuja, the spokesman of Nigeria military, Brig General Tukur Gusau noted that the military and the police have ensured that there is election in every part of the country.
His words: “There is going to be election in every part of Nigeria. Don’t listen to any threat by faceless groups.”
He assured that the military has cemented collaborations with the police and the secret police to ensure that no electorate would be intimidated on Election Day.

Police spokesman, CSP Muyiwa Adejobi warned policemen attached to VIP’s to desist from moving with them on Election Day.

Spokesman of the DSS, Dr. Peter Afunanya, assured that hoodlums would not be spared during the election, adding that adequate security has been put in place to ensure that youth corps members were given adequate protection.

The Nigerian military and Intelligence high command bosses had vowed to give a bloody nose to thugs and troublemakers during the election billed for Saturday, February 25, 2023.

Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, also assured that both military and intelligence community are ready for the election. It would be recalled that the army had earlier produced and circulated Codes of Conduct and Rules of Engagement for Operation Safe Conduct to formations and Units to provide guidance and ensure that troops operate within the provisions of the codes and rules.

THE Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Usman Baba, said no fewer than 310, 973 personnel of the Nigeria Police would be deployed for the forthcoming elections.
These personnel will comprise conventional policemen, mobile policemen, the Special Counter-Terrorism Unit, the Special Forces, Intelligence Response Team and other sections of the Force.He said that other security agencies including the State Security Services (DSS), National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), EFCC, the military among others would also deploy their personnel to complement the police.According to him, the police have put in place operational and tactical measures to achieve a peaceful electioneering atmosphere in Nigeria.