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INEC, Media harp on responsible reporting of 2023 elections 

By Seye Olumide (Southwest Bureau Chief)
09 October 2022   |   4:05 am
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) during a recent media parley with the media in Lagos, expressed determination to conduct, a free, fair and credible general election next year, to usher a new president and successor of the incumbent, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd).

Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) during a recent media parley with the media in Lagos, expressed determination to conduct, a free, fair and credible general election next year, to usher a new president and successor of the incumbent, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd).

While it is not in doubt that the 2023 general elections may be the last, which the incumbent chairman of the electoral umpire, Professor Mahmood Yakubu and his INEC-led team will supervise, having spent two terms, the Yakubu-led umpire has vowed to do everything within its capacity to ensure the next general election is near perfect if not perfect.

But it said such achievement could not be attained solely without engaging other critical stakeholders, especially the Fourth Estate of the Realm, the media.

Yakubu and his current team of experts, were applauded to have brought about some significant innovations and achievements to election processes in the last couple of years such that rigging, ballot snuffing and other electoral malpractices are becoming difficult if not impossible.

The Electoral Act 2022 of which the Yakubu-led team made significant contributions is also assisting tremendously to enhance the credibility of elections in the country going by the experiments of the June 18 and July 16, 2022 governorship elections in Osun and Ekiti states. Politicians and political parties were compelled to play by the rules and not necessarily adopt the rigging options or usage of thuggery. All these have been successfully taken care of in the new Electoral Law. INEC however pleaded with the media to educate Nigerians about implications of vote buying, a new tactics at play now.

But the commission is not resting on its oars over the possible dangers irresponsible reporting and damages fake news could cause to its efforts as the 2023 elections draw near.

In a recent two-day capacity building workshop entitled, ‘INEC’s Process, Innovations, Preparations for 2023 General Elections and Critical Issues in the Act 2022 for Press Corps Members,’ held at the Radisson Blue Hotel, Lagos State in collaboration with the European Union (EU) and DAI, Professor Yakubu said despite the great improvements done to the electoral process(es), the media need to wake up to the responsibility of ensuring that it availed Nigerians timely and relevant information pertaining to the 2023 electoral process.

He said the media is responsible as from now, to embark on crucial voter education and public enlightenment reporting for Nigerians.

The commission chairman, who was represented by the National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, said the media has the responsibility to mobilise the electorate to participate in the electoral process through awakening in them the consciousness of taking ownership of the political process.

He also said the media should as a matter of necessity give vent, visibility and life to the programmes and activities of INEC with a view of updating stakeholders on the developments in the electoral process.

The commission also said the media should take it as its responsibility publicise information and activities of political parties and their candidates, with a view to assisting the electorate make informed decisions and choices.

Yakubu noted that the media has a role to play in ensuring through its searchlight and reports that the process and rules of engagement in the electoral system as codified in the electoral legal framework are duly complied with and adhered to by necessary stakeholders.

The commission said that as first-hand witnesses to its activities: “The media, INEC Press Corps particularly, is supposed to be the repository of electoral information in Nigeria. This places them in an advantageous position to play a critical role in shaping the opinions and editorial policies of their media organizations on issues relating to the programmes and policies of the commission.

“The implication of this is that the INEC Press Corp must be familiar with the Constitutional mandate of the commission and the roles and powers ascribed to it. The INEC Press Corp must strive to understand the intent and nuances of the powers granted to the commission by the Constitution and the Electoral Act that are expressed in subsidiary legislations including the Commission’s regulations, guidelines and manuals.”

Professor Yakubu further emphasised that aside from the critical role of the media in the political and electoral process, he said democracy will only grow and flourish through adherence by the media to professional and ethical standards. “Indeed, true democracy cannot exist without effective information flow. As I have pointed out, the commission has entered the critical phase in the electoral process and it has also undertaken eight out of the 14 items on the calendar and schedule of activities for the 2023 General Election,” he said.

Fake News
Also tasking the media, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Lagos State, Mr. Segun Agbaje, the host REC, said it was the duty of journalists to lay bare the manifestoes of political parties through robust engagement with parties and candidates and as well assist voters to make informed choices at the election.

The Lagos REC added that journalists also need to checkmate the current trend of fake news and sensational reportage of events. He said journalists should also take it as a duty to educate the citizens on the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 and help in checkmating vote buying through sensitisation, effective monitoring and enforcement of the laws.

In his goodwill message, Chairman of the INEC Press Corps, Segun Ojumu, acknowledged the fact that a lot of fake news, misinformation and disinformation have found their ways to the media space “INEC must be on top of its game and be in charge of the narrative. I also appeal to my colleagues to stand up to their responsibilities.”

While addressing some of the core issues that may smear the 2023 election processes, INEC allayed the fears and or concern regarding its staff operating observer groups to monitor election for personal gains.

Okoye, while dwelling on this issue, dismissed the allegation that some INEC staff were operating and or sponsoring observer groups to monitor elections for ulterior motives.

He also said that the suggestion to allow yet to be convicted prison inmates to vote in the next general election is not feasible for now.

The electoral umpire also gave the detail of figures of elective candidates that are to participate in the entire process of 2023 elections with a breakdown on gender basis and People With Disability (PWD).

On the details of candidates and gender, PWD issues, the commission disclosed that 36 candidates would contest for the presidential election on the platforms of various political parties out of which 35 are males and one female.

It also said 1101 candidates will contest the senatorial election with 1008 males and 92 females, whereas for the House of Representatives there are 3122 candidates with 2832 males and 288 females.

It said three PWD will partake in the senatorial polls and eight in the House of Representatives making a total of 11 PWD. In total for all the three elections there are 4259 candidates out of which there are 3875 males, 381 females and 11 PWD.

Okoye, who gave most of the clarifications, said the insinuations that INEC officials deploy observers to monitor elections is not correct because it cannot be possible.

He said being the chairman of the Transition Monitoring Group for four years “I understood and the processes and procedures for applications as election monitoring observers.

He said, “The commission has already published almost in major newspapers inviting CSO and organisations to apply to observe elections and it has also invited international organisations to apply to observe elections and the criteria for accreditation are clearly spelt out in those accreditations.

“No group can be accredited without having a CAC accreditation and such must also have a bank account or have some level of pedigree in terms of election observation. So the criteria has been clearly set out and when the commission accredits, it publishes the names of all accredited domestic and international observers in newspapers.”

He added that there is no reason an INEC official would sponsor or recommend election monitoring observer or group since the commission does not pay anybody. It is not possible for INEC official to deploy observer to go and monitor elections without being paid.  “I don’t think the allegation is correct,” he said.

Voting By People On Essential Service
Part of the clarifications the commission also made at the meeting was the unavailability of opportunity for people on essential duties to vote due on election days.

Though, INEC agreed that the issue has been a major challenge because for the 2023 general election, the commission will deploy over .4 million ad hoc staff, who are mostly members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).

It said there is possibility that many of these individuals are registered voters who do not have the privilege to vote on election day possibly due to logistic issues and secondly due to legal issues imbedded in the electoral rules.

It also acknowledged the fact that police officers, who are on essential services, journalists, INEC officials and other on essential services hardly vote. Okoye disclosed that INEC is looking at the situation with a view to adopt a framework where people on essential services will vote on a particular day before the election and their votes would be added up to the general votes.

Okoye said this is something that the commission is still looking at. “No decision has been taken on it yet and even if it has to be taken the electoral Act will need to be touched to accommodate this issue,” he said.

INEC also said the issue of Incident Forms, has been put to rest and that nobody can resurrect it. “It has been strike out so people should leave it because it is some of the things that have been buried. We should be thinking of how to advance.”

INEC Portal Wasn’t Attacked
INEC also dismissed the story that its server was attacked as it was presented to the public. According to Okoye “Any database can be attack. We have three different of attacks and it could be international, it could be by professional and it could also be internal. You don’t expect to build a database without fortifying it against hackers.  We have professionals in the commission. Let me take the Osun example, It is not true that our server was hacked in Osun State governorship election. If you go to the result portal that is why I say everybody should register and access the results. Our server was not hacked in Osun.

Multiple Registration
Is a major problem that we are investing a lot of resources because of it. If not because of multiple registration anybody that registered has to be issued his or her Permanent Voters Card  (PVCs) and then use it for election but because of multiple registration ICT has to acquire technology that has to do data processing.

Expatiating more on why prison inmate voting is not possible, not at least in the coming 2023 general elections, Okoye said, “This is part of issues raised relating to people with special needs. The issue of inmate voting is not as simple as people are looking at it.

If we say that they should vote the implications is that political parties have to go and campaign inside the prisons, secondly they will have to go and paste posters, thirdly they will have to have their party agents inside the prisons and INEC has to take the ballot boxes there and also have presiding officers and provide security, I doubt who would want to be a presiding officer inside the prison.

There are logistics and security issues and legal issues involved. We would have love to allow inmates, who are yet to be convicted or does not suffer any legal disability to vote but there are a lot of issues we need to take into considerations before we come to that particular conclusion and determination of when and where prison inmates will vote.”