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We are working towards hitch-free governorship elections – INEC

By Sodiq Omolaoye, Abuja 
05 March 2023   |   4:35 am
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said it will punish its officials, whether ad-hoc or collation personnel, who may have been involved in disrupting the conduct of the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly Elections.

Commissioner, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), May Agbamuche-Mbu (left); INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu; and National Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, during a meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) on the forthcoming governorship elections on March 11, 2023 in Abuja… yesterday.

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The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said it will punish its officials, whether ad-hoc or collation personnel, who may have been involved in disrupting the conduct of the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly Elections.

The commission also admitted that last week’s national elections raised a number of issues that require immediate, medium and long-term solutions. It noted that while the planning for the election was painstakingly done, its implementation came with challenges, some of them unforeseen.

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, stated these yesterday in Abuja at a meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs). He said: “As we approach the Governorship and State Assembly elections, we must work harder to overcome the challenges experienced in the last election. Nothing else will be acceptable to Nigerians.

“All staff found to be negligent, whether they are regular or ad hoc officials, including Collation and Returning Officers, must not be involved in forthcoming elections. RECs must also immediately initiate disciplinary action where prima facie evidence of wrongdoing has been established.”

The INEC chairman told the RECs that of immediate concern to the Commission is how the identified challenges could be addressed ahead of the concluding phase of the general election involving the largest number of constituencies i.e. 28 State Governorship elections and 993 State Houses of Assembly seats. 

He said the issues of logistics, election technology, the behaviour of some election personnel at different levels, and attitude of some party agents and supporters added to the extremely challenging environment in which elections are usually held in Nigeria.

“We appreciate the sacrifice and doggedness of Nigerians and the dignity and maturity displayed by political leaders even in the context of divergent views about the election. A lot of lessons have been learnt.”

He said that arising from the penultimate Saturday’s election, the Commission received reports from its State offices as well as complaints and petitions from political parties and candidates.

According to him, where infractions of any kind are proven, there will be redress, adding that any action taken by the Commission is without prejudice to the rights of parties and candidates to seek further remedy as provided by law. He directed the RECs that election day logistics must be finalised days before the election and handled by the Electoral Officers EOs at Local Government level.

“This has been our standard practice. Centralising the process as was done in some States resulted in delayed deployment of personnel and materials and late commencement of polls.

“RECs will be held responsible for any tardy arrangement or the failure to deploy electric power generators to collation centres or polling units where such facilities are needed. The Commission has enough facilities in all the States of the Federation. Failure to deploy them is simply inexcusable,” he declared.

Yakubu also stated that refresher training must be conducted for ad hoc staff, who participated in the last election, adding that where they are replaced for good reason, they must be properly trained so that processes are not delayed or compromised at any stage.

On Election Day technology, Yakubu added that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) would once again be deployed for voter accreditation and result management.He said the deployment of BVAS has gone a long way to sanitise voter accreditation as could be seen from the result of recent elections.

“Since last week, the Commission has intensified the review of the technology to ensure that glitches experienced, particularly, with the upload of results are rectified. We are confident that going forward the system will run optimally,” he said.

Commenting on the Presidential and National Assembly elections on February 25, former National Commissioner of the INEC, Prof. Lai Olurode, said the attack on INEC as far as the conduct of the 2023 presidential and national assembly elections is concerned was unwarranted.  

According to him, INEC has done its best in this circumstance, adding that no matter what the electoral body has put in place, the existing infrastructure deficit will not make the commission’s best to count so much. Noting that all elections have their own challenges and Nigeria elections cannot be an exception, Olurode said lessons must have been learnt during the last elections. He said: “Perhaps, we could have had a different outcome if the opposition parties didn’t fail to reach a formidable consensus. 

“The major political parties and candidates who didn’t win, particularly the Labour Party and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have said they would approach the court which is good for our democracy. At least, approaching the court will reveal the fault lines so that if not for the next elections on March 11, subsequent elections will be better managed.  

“I think lessons have been learnt, particularly, by INEC. The electoral body shouldn’t promise what it knows it might not be able to deliver. Of course, INEC should issue guidelines to administer the elections but whatever it knows it cannot deliver, there is no point making promises on that.”

While expressing reservations on how much technology should be deployed in the nation’s elections, he said there should not be overdose of election technology, because, according to him, “if it fails, it is going to create it’s own problem.”

The Professor of Sociology added: “We thank God that there is no massive failure of BVAS in any of the stronghold of any opposition political party or region. This is because if it had failed in any region, it could have appeared that it was deliberate so that a region will lose out in that elections.

“In fact, those that owned the technology in Germany, US, India and so on are reluctant as to how much technology should be deployed in their electoral process. If software is hacked for instance, you are in trouble. I don’t think we should be taking much risk of involving too much technology in our elections.”

He noted that the last presidential elections had thrown up how divided Nigeria is along ethno-religious line. Olurode added:”I think INEC is too in a hurry to attain perfection. We are dealing with desperate politicians who are ready to do anything for votes. So, INEC needs to be more careful and circumspect as we approach the governorship election.  

“Ahead of the governorship poll, I think INEC shouldn’t promise electronic transmission of results. There are reforms we need to do. What is the point going to Abuja for presidential election? Why can’t result be declared in each of the region? We can have INEC headquarters in each of the geo-political zone and results would be declared there. INEC Chairman will just have to collate the final one in Abuja. 

“Also, logistics have to be improved upon. They should also look at how to improve upon the BVAS that went crazy and also the training of the ad-hoc staff. Some of them just messed everything up. We have series of allegations that some of them bye-passed the use of BVAS. If this is true, they should be sanctioned and not be used for subsequent elections.”

On the verdict by international observers that the presidential poll fell short of expectation, Olurode advised that observers’ verdict should not be too damaging, noting that people who work in INEC are humans and can make mistakes.

He said: “They have done so well in the past and I don’t think this election should be regarded as the worst. The framers of our Constitution and Electoral Act never expected perfection in our elections. They know there would be hiccups. Could anyone ever have won that election if not Tinubu? Of course, NO! Look at the opposition parties, they are shattered and couldn’t get their act together and didn’t go into the election in peace. None of them was willing to make sacrifice so they can’t be blaming the ruling party for what happened. 

“INEC should be encouraged though we can’t completely exonerate them. There were attempts to hack the results and all kind of attempts to bring down INEC. The commission was under intense pressure. Democracy cannot be perfected in a day. We should use this election to improve on our electoral process. What is important is the mindset of an average Nigerian politician. When they don’t win any election, that election is the worst.

“These international observers also have vested interest. They have their candidates, sometimes, they sponsor them. They don’t wish Nigeria well. Let’s just improve the electoral process. Again, the court will also not fold its hands. Nigerians should also wait for the court’s verdict on the election.”

For the Executive Director of Centre for Transparency and Advocacy (CTA), Faith Nwadishi, Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) of INEC in the last presidential election should be investigated for their alleged partisanship and connivance with politicians to sabotage and derail due process. 

She also called on INEC to investigate its staff, especially some RECs, Electoral Officers at the councils, Supervisory Presiding Officers and dubious ad-hoc staff, while all those involved in electoral malpractice should be arrested, prosecuted and punished adequately, to serve as a deterrent to others.

According to her, to the disappointment of Nigerians, polling unit results were not uploaded in real time at the end of elections and collations at the polling units as promised. 

Nwadishi said, “INEC officials on the field claimed they had no codes to transmit the results and in a statement issued, INEC said that there were technical glitches. These explanations did not sway Nigerians from believing that staff of the electoral umpire were not compromised. Results uploaded were either mutilated or had people’s photographs, and in fact, unreadable.  

“Sabotage by some INEC field officers and Electoral Officers at the councils areas: These set of Nigerians have always set the clock of democracy back due to their fraudulent activities in connivance with dubious politicians.

“INEC should, as a matter of priority, set up an enquiry to investigate its staff especially Resident Electoral Commissioners, the Electoral Officers at the LGAs, supervisory presiding officers and dubious ad-hoc staff. We ask that all those involved in electoral malpractice should be arrested, prosecuted and punished adequately. This will serve as a deterrent.”

Director, Democracy and Governance, Connected Development (CODE), Emmanuel Njoku, said ahead of the March Governorship elections, INEC must address the lapses witnessed in the presidential elections. According to him, the commission still have opportunity to redeem its image before Nigerians. 

He said: “One of the most important things in an election is early snd INEC has created what we have as registration areas centres. What this supposed to serve is to decentralise and make materials and personnel from local government to sub local governments closer to the polling unit.

“But we do not know what happened with INEC, we do not know whatever could have caused it. Whether it’s cashless policy, or whatever it is, we’re hoping that INEC will do the needful and deploy election materials early enough so that people will have the six hours voting time as prescribed by the INEC guidelines, and even before and more importantly, so elections can finish before midnight.”

MEANWHILE, INEC is perfecting arrangement for the conduct of supplementary elections in 46 Senatorial and Federal Constituencies where elections did not hold on February 25. Prof Yakubu said that only 98 out of 109 Senate seats have been declared so far, while 325 out of 360 seats have been won by eight political parties.

According to the INEC Chairman, the Senators-elect will get their Certificates of Return on March 7 while Members-elect would get theirs the following day (March 8).

Yakubu said: “In February 25, 2023’s elections, winners have also been declared for 423 national legislative seats while supplementary elections will be held in 46 constituencies. In the Senate, 98 out of 109 seats have been declared. So far, seven political parties have won senatorial seats while in the House of Representatives, 325 out of 360 seats have been won by eight political parties.”

He observed that in terms of party representation, “this is the most diverse National Assembly since 1999.” Giving a breakdown of the seats won by parties, Yakubu said in the Senate: APC has 57; APGA 1; LP 6; NNPP 2; PDP 29; SDP 2 and YPP 1. As for the House of Representatives, the African Democratic Congress (ADC) won 2 seats; APC 162; APGA 4; LP 34; NNPP 18; PDP 102; SDP 2 and YPP 1.

“Certificates of Return will be presented to Senators-elect on Tuesday, March 7, 2023 at 11.00am at the National Collation Centre (the International Conference Centre), Abuja, while Members of the House of Representatives-elect will receive theirs the following day, Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at 11.00 am at the same venue.

“However, for effective crowd management, each Senator/Member-elect should be accompanied by a maximum of two guests. The comprehensive list of all members-elect will be uploaded to the Commission’s website shortly,” Yakubu concluded.