INEC identifies unscrupulous politicians, security, others as bane of electoral fidelity
Nigerian political actors, including security operatives, followers of politicians, the electorate and everyone involved in the electioneering value chain in the country have been urged to ensure sound ethics in their conduct to ensure electoral fidelity that would further enhance Nigeria’s democracy and put the country on the path of progress. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) made the call at a parley with media professionals in Lagos while taking stock of the 2019 general elections just as it also looks ahead to off-season elections in Edo and Anambra States in the coming months.
While speaking on behalf of the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, said one of the biggest challenges the electoral umpire faces are the politicians who would do everything to sabotage the electoral process just to fulfill their selfish interests. Falling short of calling politicians unpatriotic, the INEC media officer said it was incredible the length politicians were ready to go to subvert the process and then turn around to label the commission incompetent and tarnish its image.
Oyekanmi said a deadly strategy politicians have devised is to disrupt election in areas they are failing thereby putting INEC in a tight spot. If INEC then declares elections in such areas inconclusive, the commission becomes ‘inconclusive INEC’, but if the commission went ahead to declare result, the same politicians would cry foul and demand cancellation of such results. While inconclusive elections in Osun State sparked a row, the situation in Kogi West Senatorial election was different, he stated, noting that INEC would always follow the law setting it up at all times, but decried scapegoating the commission after desperate political actors had messed up the terrain.
For instance, he said when it became obvious that politicians could not replicate INEC’s forms so as to indulge the usual practice of snuffing ballot boxes with fake ballot papers prior to 2015, politicians thereafter came up with vote-buying and elevated the criminal art to a new, shocking level.
“When politicians realised that we had changed both the colours and other features of polling papers in 2015, they then thought up a new strategy,” Oyekanmi informed. “They resorted to vote-buying, which was so prominent in Ekiti State. We were surprised; we didn’t know that would happen. We didn’t face that scenario in Anambra. In Osun it was the stakeholders that suggested to us that we shouldn’t allow cell phones near polling boots. It wasn’t our idea. That was during stakeholders’ meeting with elders in Osun; they should us what happened in Osun, how voters took photos what party they had voted and later collected money. We could not ignore what they had to say; there was overwhelming evidence of vote buying. That was when INEC said you couldn’t take your phone along with you to the polling boot to vote. You saw the outcry that followed that rule.”
The INEC officer also explained why the commission introduced simultaneous accreditation and voting as means of getting as many voters as possible to vote as against what had obtained in the past. When the two exercises were separate, he said many Nigerians simply went home and never came back to vote. In some cases, he said, many in the rural areas and illiterate voters thought accreditation was the same as voting and never bothered to go back to cast their votes.
“Those that monitored the election and stakeholders said we should abolish that old style and adopt simultaneous accreditation and voting so as not to disenfranchise voters,” he said.Oyekanmi also stated that although the smart card reader lacks legal status for now, it has, however, helped significantly in the electioneering process in the identification of the number of registered voters. He said the smart card reader does three things, namely that it verifies the permanent voters card, verifies the person holding it and then it verifies the biometric, which is additional confirmatory procedure. Although it is not the law, the commission insists the smart card reader helps the electoral process and that it was looking to strengthening its use with the proposed amendment to the electoral act. Oyekanmi stated that the smart card reader has eliminated the flaws associated with the incidence form previously deployed for accreditation.
Oyekanmi also said the Yakubu-led INEC is an improvement on the Prof. Attahiru Jega-led commission on several fronts, noting that people with special needs like people with albinism and vision impairment could now vote, as special facilities for such persons were now readily available.
Other challenges the commission is battling with including voter apathy and the fixed nature of voter registration that restricts individuals to a particular polling unit, especially with transfers usually a cumbersome process that sometimes fails to go through before voting day were being looked into. Oyekanmi also noted the challenges of continuous voter registration and said INEC was talking steps to make the process a continuous one so eligible Nigerian were not disenfranchised. He, however, said the commission would enlist the National Assembly into making registration flexible for Nigerians to be able to vote wherever they are.
“The rule that you can only vote where you are registered is a problem,” he said. “A lot of Youth Corps members are registered in a particular place. So, how do you deal with that? That is a question the National Assembly should resolve in such a way that people can vote anywhere they are. If they do it, what are the possible consequences of that? Will it complicate issues like double voting?”
INEC’s chief media officer gave indication that the commission is enthused by the prospect of electronic voting and is hopeful that the legislative process would hasten its adoption and use in the near future. However, he said the commission is worried about the fidelity of e-voting and possible backlash as it happened in the 2016 United States of America and Estonia elections where evidence of Russian meddling has been established.
“There are also issues, cyber security issues,” he said. “Nigerians should pay cyber security issues attention. Even in advanced countries that we always citing as examples have cyber security issues in their own system. In fact, part of what has led to American President Donald Trump being impeached is cyber security issue. Estonian electoral system was hacked and they messed up everything. They accused Russia. How do we protect ourselves?”
Oyekanmi also said the issue of security is a problem for INEC, as the commission does not have control over security operatives during elections. He said whatever the police tell the commission is what it does. In fact, he categorically accused the police and the Directorate of State Security of forcing the commission to postpone the last Edo State elections, citing security reasons even when the commission was ready to go ahead with the election, saying, “we had to bow to their pressure, because we are mindful of security of lives of our ad hoc staff and Youth Corps members. We do not toy with the lives young Nigerians working for the commission, working for Nigeria.”He urged security operatives to be always neutral and efficient in the discharge of their patriotic duty to Nigeria’s democracy. He also charged political actors and their followers to play by the rules so as to make the work of INEC smooth and without hitches.
Oyekanmi also explained the reasons for the postponement of the 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections, saying the sheer magnitude of the number of political parties on the ballot papers and how far-flung the printing contract was farmed out outside the country warranted the postponement, even as he said the commission was let down on many fronts in terms of logistics prior to the elections. He, however, said the commission was taking steps to bridge such noticeable gaps before the next elections, starting with Edo.