Many contradictions of Bello’s ‘double registration’ in Kogi
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may be at the receiving end in the double voters registration scandal involving the Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello as the governor has turned the heat on the electoral body by pointing to an error on the part of the commission to deny the allegations.
The commission, which accused the governor of double registration, first in 2011 in Abuja and recently in Lokoja during the on-going exercise, with a promise to have him prosecuted after dropping the shield of immunity, claimed that the second registration took place last May 23rd, a day the governor is on record to have traveled outside Nigeria.
The issue has raised a lot of dust in Kogi as many politicians express doubt about the credibility of the electoral body to conduct the 2019 elections.
However, the governor’s defence, which is seen by many as an afterthought to latch on to the obvious error of date by INEC, may not extricate him from the accusation of double registration, an offence punishable under Nigeria electoral laws.
The photograph of INEC officials and the data machine capturing the governor was posted on social media by some of his aides who thought they were boosting their principal’s image but inadvertently showing the governor as doing double registration.
The photograph elicited such reactions and condemnations from critics that INEC had to issue as statement condemning the act.
In the statement by its National Commissioner and Chairman, Voters Education Committee, Solomon Soyebi, INEC said, “It has come to our attention that Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello registered as a voter for the second time on Tuesday May 23, at Government House in Lokoja. His first registration was on January 30, 2011, in Wuse Zone 4, Abuja.
“The governor’s double registration, and doing so outside lNEC’s designated centres, are both illegal. For the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), INEC has designated a centre in each of the country’s 774 local governments areas, including FCT’s six area councils.”
Chairman of the electoral body, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, who hinted that the governor might be prosecuted whenever he leaves office, disclosed that an investigation was in progress and that the commission was waiting for the outcome.
According to him, “We have already issued a statement on the incident and there is nothing more to add at the moment. Our Kogi Office is investigating the role of our staff in the matter. The commission is awaiting the outcome of the investigation for further action.
“This is not something one can comment on because it is dependent on whenever his tenure ends. For now, this is the action we have taken. Our constraint is that we cannot prosecute a serving governor. Let me reiterate that it is illegal to register more than once.”
Asked if there are other cases of multiple registrations, the INEC boss replied, “No, but at the end of the exercise we are going to have what we call d-duplication, where we would compare the data coming from the field with what we already have. It is only when we do this that we can authoritatively say some people have registered more than once. This one was detected because he is a high profile personality and it was on the Internet.”
But the governor, while denying the allegation and mocking INEC, said it must have been his ghost that did the second registration because he left the country for a brief holiday four days earlier than the 23rd of May, they claimed he committed the alleged crime.
He said he was in Dubai for a brief holiday during the period stressing, “I was taken aback that I did double registration on 23rd. Probably it is my ghost that has done the double registration. I think INEC has earned itself a very high reputation and I think and I am very confident that the leadership if INEC will not allow some element in INEC to drag the name of the commission into the mud. Surely that’s a falsehood. I did not do double registration of permanent voters card.”
The governor’s denial was a departure from his earlier position when, in his May 29th Democracy Day speech delivered at the Lokoja Local Government secretariat, he said would not join issues with the electoral body.
He had then questioned the possibility of anybody registering twice under the highly sophisticated INEC automated registration system and blamed some staff of the commission for overzealousness and attempting to corrupt politicians.
His words: “You cannot rule out some overzealous staff in INEC who are used to old ways as people corrupting the politicians but those days are over. They should not drag the name of that institution to the mud. “I have confidence that our erudite professor Mahmoud Yakubu will build on the legacies left behind for him we will never join issues with INEC.”
Further dust was however raised by the governor’s spokesman, Kingsley Fanwo who created more contradictions in earlier statements where he acknowledged that his boss actually registered twice and that there was nothing illegal in the act.
Fanwo, who is the director-General of Bello’s media and publicity, argued that the governor had to register again in Kogi, because nothing had come out of efforts to get INEC to transfer his voter’s card from Abuja to the state. He acknowledged the photograph of the governor being registered in his Lokoja office, which he said had elicited “hysterical overplay.”
According to him, “The governor’s efforts to transfer the card from Abuja to Kogi has not been successful, hence the need to seize this golden opportunity to get registered in the state. Secondly, as the governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello is the chief mover of government policies. He must always lead by example. He needed to demonstrate that to the whole world to woo others to go and register. There was nothing wrong with registering in the Governor’s Office because it belongs to all Kogites. Government House is People’s House.”
In another breath, Fanwo said the issue was straight forward enough as the governor welcomes the decision of INEC to cancel the latter registration.
The entire saga has however raised some questions about the operations of INEC and its preparedness to handle election matters, sincerity of the governor and his aides and whether the matter would continue till after Bello leaves office.
For instance, why has it been difficult for INEC to transfer the governors PVC from Abuja to Okene if he actually registered in the first instance as the electoral body claimed?
Secondly inquisitive minds are curious on how the second registration can happen when INEC had earlier made voters to believe that with their automated system, any second attempt to register will cancel the earlier registration. And again, between INEC, Governor Bello and his media handlers who is lying?
Yet the burden of prove lies with the electoral body that accuse the governor of the illegality as the date they quoted to be when Bello committed the offence was when he was out of the country.
According to a Lokoja lawyer, Joel Usman, double registration is a criminal offence and if the governor is found to be involved, he would be subject to prosecution. He said much proof is not needed because INEC registration is by biometrics for which any attempt to double register would be discovered in the course of time in their database.
While questioning the integrity of INEC in the whole saga, he blamed the governor for the alleged act saying, It is laughable and an embarrassment for a governor to claim ignorance of the law not just on him, but on the state.
Another lawyer and former chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) in the state, Williams Aliwo said, “registration is a matter of record and that the electoral act is very clear on when to register, how and who to register. This is why if you want to find out whether a person is registered, it is not a matter of pictures but the matter of the record.”
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