Saturday, 1st October 2022
<To guardian.ng
Search
Breaking News:

Despite insecurity, INEC to conduct elections in volatile areas – Commissioner

By Sodiq Omolaoye, Abuja
18 September 2022   |   2:52 am
As the 2023 general elections draw near, especially with presidential campaigns commencing on September 28, 2022, there had been concerns in some parts of the country by the electorate

Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu<br />Photo/twitter/inecnigeria

Commission Begins Risks Assessment, Says Poll Must Hold To Avoid Constitutional Crisis
• ‘President Didn’t Goof On Credible Poll Statement’

As the 2023 general elections draw near, especially with presidential campaigns commencing on September 28, 2022, there had been concerns in some parts of the country by the electorate, some stakeholders and observer groups as to the negative effects the pervasive insecurity may have on the conduct and outcome of the election.

However, despite the widespread security challenges across the country, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said the general elections will hold as planned to avoid a constitutional crisis. The commission noted that it has the capacity to conduct elections in volatile areas. 

The assurance came following concerns about the current security situation in the country and how much threat it would pose to the successful conduct of the general elections.

From the North to the South, terrorist activities have heightened across the country. For instance, the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir Elrufai recently disclosed the presence of Boko Haram and Ansaru terrorists in two council areas of Birnin-Gwari and Giwa in the state. 

In April, the commission suspended the voter registration exercise in some registration centres in Imo state after an INEC official was shot dead in the White Uboma council of the state.

Also, some local councils in states like Katsina, Sokoto, Borno, Imo, Enugu, and Anambra, among others, are hotbed of terrorist activities. 

A report by the Centre for Democracy Development (CDD) last week raised concern about the safety of election officials and staff that would be deployed for the 2023 general elections. 

But responding to the concerns, National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye told The Guardian that the present commission has the experience and pedigree for conducting elections in difficult circumstances.

He also said the commission was conscious and mindful of the constitutional imperatives of conducting elections at times and periods circumscribed by the constitution.  

He added that security agencies areas were working to degrade the security threats in different parts of the country. 

Okoye recalled that at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, advanced democracies with advanced technologies cancelled, rescheduled and or postponed elections. 

He, however, said in the midst of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, the Commission developed the “Policy of Conducting Elections in the Context of the Covid-19 Pandemic.” 

“The purpose of the policy was to enable officials and staff of the Commission to understand and respond adequately to the challenges of conducting elections in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its health and financial implications, and to provide a guide for engagement with stakeholders during elections. The Chairman of the Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu rolled out the policy on May 21, 2020. On the basis of this, the Commission conducted the Edo and Ondo Governorship elections and averted the constitutional challenge that would have accompanied the indeterminate cancellation, postponement or rescheduling of the election.

“It is now a matter of historical record that amidst the security challenges in Anambra State, the Commission conducted the Governorship election at a time of stringent calls by stakeholders for its postponement. The Commission is conscious of and mindful of the constitutional imperatives of conducting elections at times and periods circumscribed by the constitution.  

“Within the period of heightened insecurity in the country, the Commission conducted five end-of-season Governorship elections. It conducted six Senatorial bye-elections; seven House of Representatives bye-elections and 18 House of Assembly bye-elections. It also conducted six Area Council Chairmanship elections; 62 Councillorship elections and one Ward bye-election in the Federal Capital Territory. 

“These bye-elections cut across all the geopolitical zones of the country and cuts across different theatres with different colours and varieties of security threats and challenges.”  

Okoye said INEC was also mapping the level of threats and risks associated with the conduct of elections in difficult circumstances.

“Security agencies are also working to degrade the security threats in different parts of the country. On our own part, the Commission will continue to build trust in the electoral process. We have reached the critical stage in our preparations and we are confident in our processes and procedures and we are confident that the 2023 election will be free, fair, transparent and inclusive,” he added. 

Speaking on the insurance cover for electoral officials, Okoye said the commission would ensure the over one million ad hoc staff and electoral officials who would participate in the general elections

According to him, ensuring election staff is a standing policy of the Commission and it will be continued and deepened. 

He, however, noted that no form of insurance and no quantum of compensation can replace or make up for a life lost, adding the commission is protective of its ad-hoc staff. 

His words: “These are young men and women at the prime of their lives and we want them to be safe and continue to contribute their quota to nation building.”

“The law gives the Commission the power to protect them. Under section 24(3) of the Electoral Act, where an election has commenced and there is reason to believe that there is or there has been substantial disruption of election in a polling unit or constituency or it is impossible to continue with the election occasioned by the threat to peace and security of electoral officials and materials, the Commission shall suspend the election and appoint another date for the continuation of the election or process. 

“The Commission will continue to cooperate with and consult the security agencies for the purposes of protecting election officials and materials.

“Political parties and their supporters must see ad-hoc staff as Nigerians on national assignment. They are on essential duty and they have patriotically contributed their quota to the development and sustenance of the electoral process and we must continue to encourage and protect them.”

He assured Nigerians signing up to serve as ad-hoc staff in the 2023 general election of adequate safety. 

On President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement that he would ensure that the elections were free and fair, Okoye insisted that there was nothing wrong with the president’s statement, adding that the conduct of free, fair, transparent, inclusive and peaceful elections is a multi-stakeholder venture.  

According to him, INEC does not have the sole responsibility of ensuring the conduct and organisation of free, fair, transparent, inclusive and peaceful elections.

He said: “The conduct of the election is a process that involves so many organisations and agencies. The Commission is the regulatory agency and organ saddled with the responsibility of organising, undertaking and supervising elections set out in the constitution.  

“However, the Commission does not have the sole responsibility in ensuring the conduct and organisation of free, fair, transparent, inclusive and peaceful elections. The political parties have a responsibility to ensure that they organise and nominate candidates in accordance with the dictates of the constitution and the law. 

“The political parties have the responsibility to ensure that campaigns are conducted within the confines and ambit of sections 91-97 of the Electoral Act. Political parties have a responsibility to ensure that their polling agents act and behave appropriately on Election Day. 

“The security agencies have the responsibility of ensuring election security under the leadership of the Nigerian Police. The President, who is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, has a responsibility to ensure that the armed forces act professionally and ethically, especially on election-related duties. The media have a responsibility to perform their duties professionally and in accordance with sections 94, 95 and 96 of the Electoral Act.  

“The Courts in pre-election matters and Election Tribunals in post-election litigation have a responsibility to ensure that political parties do the right things in their nomination processes and that candidates win elections in the manner prescribed by the constitution and the law. 

“The people of the country have a responsibility to protect their sovereign right to elect their leaders. It is a joint responsibility. In the new INEC, National Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners cannot influence the outcome of elections even in a single polling unit. The Chairman of the Commission and National Commissioners are building a professional, independent and ethical Commission that will be the pride of the Nigerian people.”