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Pressure on INEC to admit observers in situation room

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Adamu Abuh, Matthew Ogune (Abuja) and Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos)
24 December 2018   |   4:26 am
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to grant international...

[FILE PHOTO] INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

• We’ll not trifle with our confidentiality, says official
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to grant international and local observers access to its situation room during the elections.

It said the call became imperative because of President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and alleged manipulations during the Osun State gubernatorial poll.

“INEC said it has spent money to acquire software and improve on the card readers. If the optimised card readers have the facility to transmit results from the polling units, then the situation room should be equally accessible to poll observers, to ensure nobody uses information to subvert the process.”

While interacting with journalists in Lagos, yesterday, the party’s National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbondiyan said pointers suggest the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Buhari were not interested in free and fair elections. It was therefore not enough for INEC to say it would not use incident forms during the exercise.

The national chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Ralph Nwosu, backed the PDP’s call. He told The Guardian via telephone: “The situation room should not just be only for INEC officials. All the parties must be involved, so that as they are counting, we are getting the information. That is the way it is supposed to be. This call is important because nobody trusts INEC anymore. They are biased; they have shown bias in all the elections we have had. The result that was supposed to be declared, they called it inconclusive.”

Also, rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria Olisa Agbakoba described the idea as “good”, saying anything that would make the election transparent would be welcome.

“I think INEC should support it because it will make them look more credible. The commission is already under suspicion. People are saying they are pro-government. Anything that INEC can do that would make people say it is truly independent and neutral will only add to its credibility.

“This would make the result they will declare believable. And the only way the result can be believable is if INEC brings in people who are neutral and have no interest in whether it is Atiku or Buhari or any other person. I will urge INEC to endorse any process that will make their work more credible to Nigerians and international communities,” he said.

Asked what the position of the commission was on the demand, INEC’s spokesman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, replied: “I have no comment.”

A reputable source within the commission however told The Guardian the request would most likely be turned down, saying it was akin to “exposing your bedroom to outsiders.”

The source said: “The problem is that our situation room is unique to us. It is our internal control mechanism. This is the core activity of the commission, which is not open to outsiders. We try as much as possible to (be) open but there are certain things that we cannot bring people in (to).

“When the British government is having their own election, do they allow people get into that area? I don’t think so. The situation room also exists for non-governmental organisations. They have their situation rooms where they do lots of feedbacks; monitor what’s going on in the field and get across to us anytime.

“We have a direct line of communication with all our accredited observers whether local or international. But that situation room…I doubt if INEC would ever allow anybody to be there. I am there and I know a lot happens there, which I know is not advisable to bring to people outside. That’s my personal opinion. There we can easily detect an error and correct it. It’s going to be very difficult for INEC to allow EU observers get in.

“The chairman made a remark recently that there are applications from organisations that want to monitor the election. But we are not going to allow everyone, because the process is meant for those who are purely interested in credible elections.”

Still worried about the credibility of the elections, the PDP maintained that the retention of service chiefs after their tenures had expired and a recent decision to do the same for Inspector General of Police Idris Abubakar implied a rigging plot.

It further accused Buhari and the APC of luring the southeast and southwest geopolitical zones with a promise of a 2023 presidency in exchange for votes in the elections.

“How can the president be promising southeasterners the presidency when his vice president is also promising southwesterners the same position in 2023, all in the name of 2019 re-election? This is a clear show of deceit, desperation, crass insincerity and hypocrisy of the highest order,” said a statement by Kassim Afegbua, one of the spokesmen of the party’s presidential campaign organisation.

The PDP went on to proclaim why it believes it is the preferred choice of voters, promising its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, would eliminate multiple taxation, slash income taxes and increase government funding to small and medium enterprises in key sectors of the economy.

This refrain was re-echoed by the founder of Progressive Women and Youth Alliance of Nigeria, Josephine Uwakwe, who said Atiku alone could bring Nigeria out of hopelessness, hunger and poverty. “Atiku is a true democrat with passion to eliminate the sufferings of Nigerians,” she said.

But a group, No Alternative To Buhari-Osinbajo 2019 (NATBO 2019), insisted Buhari could not be blamed for the poverty in the country. Its national coordinator, Chief Vincent Uba, said it was an irony that after a 16-year PDP rule marked by the “enrichment of a few individuals,” the party was still pointing an accusing finger at Buhari who “means well for Nigeria and has the capacity and integrity to fix the problems they created and take Nigeria to the next level.”