Attacks on INEC facilities jeopardizing Nigeria’s electoral process, says Yakubu
Remarks by Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, at an emergency meeting with the Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC) held yesterday in Abuja.
•Let me commence by welcoming you all to this emergency meeting. The Commission has had an exceedingly eventful two months since we last met on 8th March 2021. Some of the events have been very positive and encouraging, but others have been less so.
• On the positive side, the commission conducted 28 out of 32 bye-elections across the country since the 2019 General Election, in addition to four end-of tenure Governorship elections in Bayelsa, Edo, Kogi and Ondo States. The bye-elections were held in 20 States involving six Senatorial Districts, seven Federal Constituencies, 18 State Constituencies and one Councillorship Constituency in Abaji Ward of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Indeed, it is now clear that the Commission must reconcile itself with the fact that elections have become an all-year round undertaking in Nigeria.
• In addition to the bye-elections, the commission successfully concluded stakeholder engagements on the expansion of voter access to Polling Units. I am glad to inform you that the option of converting existing Voting Points and Voting Point Settlements into full-fledged Polling Units and situating them in the most agreeable locations to support increased voter access was overwhelmingly accepted by Nigerians. Consequently, the commission has, in the last three weeks concluded the actual exercise as well as the verification of the newly established Polling Units. In the next few days, the commission will meet to finalise the compilation and coding of Polling Units and thereafter make the information public. The commission wishes to thank all Nigerians for their support in addressing the 25-year-old problem.
• As you are also aware, our current Strategic Plan covering the period 2016-2021 expires at the end of this year. Consequently, the committee set up by the commission to develop the 2022-2026 Strategic Plan has concluded its work, the validation of which will commence this week. The Strategic Plan and the Strategic Programme of Action will serve as the framework and guiding document for the work of the commission for the 2023 General Election and beyond. Therefore, it is a very important document and I appeal to you to accord the validation process the attention it deserves.
• I am also glad to report that the commission has virtually completed the necessary preparations for the resumption of the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) commencing on 28th June 2021. What is left is to finalise the newly established Polling Units in order to update our registration software to make them available to registrants. I wish to thank the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) and staff of the commission for the dedication with which they have approached these enormous tasks.
• However, more work still lies ahead. Apart from the CVR, we shall continue our preparations for two bye-elections scheduled for the 19th June 2021 in Sabon Gari State Constituency in Kaduna State and Gwaram Federal Constituency in Jigawa State while awaiting the official declaration of vacancies by the House of Representatives for the Jos North/Bassa Federal Constituency in Plateau State and Lere Federal Constituency in Kaduna State. Furthermore, preparations for the Anambra State Governorship election to be held on 6th November 2021 and the FCT Area Council election scheduled for 12th February 2022 will be prioritised. Similarly, we shall continue our early preparations for the 2023 General Election. In this regard, the commission has already established an Election Project Plan (EPP) Committee to work on the 2023 Election Plan. The idea is to complete the Plan early enough and make sure that we are fully ready for the election, which is now only 640 days away.
• Unfortunately, some events in the recent past have challenged the commission and adversely affected our commitment to continue to improve the electoral process. The spate of arson and vandalisation targeting the Commission’s facilities and property has become profoundly worrisome. Unfortunately, this has been on the rise since the 2019 General Election but has now developed into a crisis. In the last three weeks or so, three of our Local Government offices in Essien Udim in Akwa Ibom State, Ohafia in Abia State and Udenu in Enugu State have been set ablaze by unidentified persons. Last Sunday, 16th May 2021, our State office in Enugu suffered yet another arson and vandalisation in which parts of the building were ransacked and several vehicles razed. And more of our facilities are being systematically targeted and attacked. Just last night, Tuesday 18th May 2021, two more offices in Ebonyi and Ezza North Local Government Areas of Ebonyi State were burnt down. Although there were no casualties, the damage to the physical infrastructure and electoral materials was total. Nothing has been salvaged from ballot boxes and voting cubicles to generating sets and office furniture and equipment.
• Surely, these attacks are no longer freak events but appear to be quite orchestrated and targeted at INEC. Clearly, these are acts of unjustifiable aggression, which may undermine the commission’s capacity to organise elections and dent the nation’s electoral process. The facilities of the commission are there to serve the local communities for the most fundamental aspect of democratic governance, which is elections. Therefore, targeting such important national assets and repositories of electoral materials that took time and enormous resources to procure cannot be justified. Replacing these facilities in the prevailing economic circumstances will indeed be a tall order, thereby adversely affecting electoral services in the same communities. These facilities are not only limited to voting but also used for other critical electoral activities such as voter registration, the coordination of stakeholder engagements and voter education and sensitisation.
• The commission will certainly work with the security agencies to deal with the perpetrators of these heinous crimes according to the law. To this end, a meeting with all the security agencies is holding on Monday 24th May 2021. However, it has become imperative to call on all and sundry, particularly communities where these assets are located, to see themselves as owners and custodians of these facilities and assist the Commission in protecting them. I am glad that some of them are already doing so.
For this reason, I must put on record the fantastic partnership between the commission and the communities we serve. These communities share with the commission the commitment of improving electoral services to Nigerians. They have over the years supported the Commission during all electoral activities from CVR to the conduct of polls. Some of them actually donated the land on which some of our Local Government offices are built. Even in the recent events of arson and vandalisation, many of them have demonstrated exceptional willingness to support the Commission. For instance, following the vandalisation of our offices in Osun State during the #EndSARS protests in October last year, the Ikirun community in Ifelodun Local Government Area and two communities in Ede South Local Government Area have offered to contribute to the repairs of the offices and promised to work with the Commission to protect them in future. In the same vein, in Nnewi North in Anambra State, the community has also offered to repair our Local Government office destroyed during the #EndSARS protests. The Commission does not take such partnerships for granted. I wish to thank our host communities in all parts of the country and appeal to them to continue to see INEC property as both national and local assets to be protected.
In the light of the current circumstances, today’s meeting with RECs, who lead our offices in the States, will take briefings from across the country on threats to INEC facilities and deliberate on how best to protect them. I believe that we can dig deep and draw from the commission’s longstanding partnership with communities in this regard, in addition to depending on the invaluable support of our security agencies.
Consequently, the challenges posed by these threats notwithstanding, we are still positive that we can find lasting solutions to the spate of attacks on our facilities. However, this must be done quickly to forestall disruptions to several upcoming electoral activities, particularly the CVR exercise which we plan to undertake continuously in 2,673 centres nationwide for a period of over one year involving thousands of INEC officials supported by security personnel.
Once more, I welcome you all to this meeting and I believe that our deliberations will be very fruitful.
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