Monday, 4th December 2023

Why we want INEC to print 2023 election materials in Nigeria, by CIPPON

One area there has been a noticeable challenge for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the printing of electoral materials.

[FILES] INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu. Photo; FACBOOK/INECNIGERIA

One area there has been a noticeable challenge for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the printing of electoral materials.

The president, of the Chartered Institute of Professional Printers of Nigeria (CIPPON), Malomo Olugbemi, in this interview with The Guardian, speaks on the need for INEC to involve the institute in the printing and production of 2023 electoral materials.

The INEC Chairman has pronounced that election materials will be printed locally. Is that a relief for CIPPON?
WITHOUT any doubt, we are very happy about the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu’s pronouncement. CIPPON’s leadership is grateful for that, but it’s not yet uhuru. While we commend the chairman for publicly telling Nigerians that all INEC printing, both sensitive and non-sensitive materials, will be printed in Nigeria, which is our goal, it’s still not mission accomplished. We now have to transit into monitoring the phase of implementation so that the chairman’s pronouncement is not circumvented.

Why do you think it can be circumvented? Is it that you don’t believe or trust INEC to deliver on her promise?
It shouldn’t be a trust issue. It should be a scientific process issue. Things shouldn’t be left to ‘trust’ alone. I think there is a need for us to move beyond the issue of trust and follow practicable scientific processes.

For instance, if a property company tells you they are going to build a house and a structural engineer or building institute is not involved in the process, are you going to trust them to deliver on their word? It’s already clear that there is a trust deficit. Recently, INEC spokesman, Festus Okoye, spoke on national television about the trust deficit in the country’s electioneering system. We couldn’t agree with him more!

But are you aware that INEC has set up a process and has commenced inspections of printing presses?
Who are the people doing the inspections? Is the inspection an administrative exercise or a technical exercise? Do they have the technical expertise to do the inspection? Are they our registered members/consultants as stipulated by the law? To the best of our knowledge, they are not qualified to do the inspection by the provisions of the ACT that set up the Chartered Institute of Professional Printers of Nigeria.

What if INEC comes back to say that there is not enough capacity and therefore they are going to print abroad?
Was the institute invited as the professional body to come and observe? So all these are clear examples of ‘trust deficits.’ I have heard complaints from our corporate membership that they reached out to the inspection team and they completely ignored them and never gave them a chance. I personally will not object if all jobs are printed in Nigeria, even if I am not aware of the criteria used. If they come back to say there was not enough capacity, then we are going to have big issues with them.

But if you are privy to the criteria, will you not tell your members about it or even give info to your preferred printers, and that could count as circumventing the process?
So, you think that we can’t accuse those doing the ‘inspection’ of the same thing? That’s why we shouldn’t be operating by old wives’ fables in the name of trust and should instead follow a foolproof, transparent scientific process. Anyway, to answer your question, remember that the situation we are in is not that of ‘many printers’ chasing ‘few jobs.’ On the contrary, from the point of view of INEC, it is ‘many jobs’ being chased by fewer printers! So there is no reason why more printing presses should not be inspected except that they have enough printing presses already.

Why do you think INEC should involve the Institute in the inspection of printing presses?
Many roles of the institute have been usurped by procurement entities in collaboration with some ‘strongmen’ in the industry simply because there has been a gap because of the lack of strong institutions in the past. It seems like the norm due to the unregulated nature of the industry. CIPPON is the statutory adviser to all government agencies in matters of printing. We are the printing regulator just like INEC is the election regulator or COREN the regulator of the engineering profession. We must move away from procuring entities in conjunction with strongmen taking over our statutory duty. We have to start building and strengthening institutions, and if we allow institutions to fail, then the country will fail. We may eventually need to seek judicial interpretation concerning the Institute’s roles being usurped.

What in your opinion are the economic benefits of INEC printing in Nigeria?
INEC will be spending over 40 billion Naira on printing in the 2023 election. In a developing country, spending such money should boost the economy and reduce unemployment and not end up in the pockets of a few, making it of little economic benefit. It’s not somebody’s money, it’s Nigeria’s money, it’s part of the commonwealth and it should be spread for the benefits of as many people as possible without compromising the main purpose of spending, which is the election. We are a business ecosystem and if that money is concentrated in the hands of a few, it will continue to distort equilibrium and create poverty, which leads to insecurity. Spending such a huge amount should boost the economy, create jobs, build capacity for national industry, help the government to make more money through tax collection, and trickle down to all. You get the opposite if taken abroad, which in itself will be tantamount to economic crime. Our goal is to see that it spreads around as much as possible, not to the detriment of the election. You will recall that jobs are time-bound and people can only do what their capacity can do, so instead of sharing their ‘overflow’ with less privileged others, which is actually dangerous considering the security nature of the job, our job as regulator is to ensure that doesn’t happen but that more people are prequalified. We need to demystify all the fables and old wives’ stories about printing in a scientific age. We have an institute, a regulator, and the era where strongmen turn themselves over to the institute for their benefit is over. The institute is working for the benefit of all. It’s insulting to us as an institute established by an ACT of Parliament with a statutory duty to perform. That individuals are taking over the role of the institute is disgraceful and medieval, and that has to stop.

Can your institute determine who INEC can patronise?
We do not have the power to determine which printer INEC can patronise. However, the law is unequivocal on who INEC should patronise. They cannot patronise any press that is not registered with the Institute. We have seen some big and notable printers that worked for INEC in the past and, because of that, refused to comply with the law that set up the printers’ institute by registering with us. As part of the enforcement proceeding against them, we have written to where they are getting jobs, including INEC, not to patronise them until they register. When it comes to the law that set up the institute, there will be no sacred cow.

We also have information that some have even resulted to forging our licenses. We have anticipated this and that’s why we have upgraded our license with secured features, sent copies to procuring entities, and gone a step further to introduce online verification of the license. If you input the last five digits of the license to, due diligence information and the capacity of the press will be displayed. Any company that presents a fake license will also be prosecuted.

According to the grapevine, INEC now uses your license as a prerequisite. Isn’t that another win for you?
Win? INEC is doing what they are expected to do as democratic umpires, which is to obey the law. Besides, they cost the Institute a whole fortune by not including that in their newspaper advert for pre-qualification of printers for more than 5000 companies that applied. For that, we are unhappy with them because we are a ‘self-funding’ institute. Aside from printing contracts, INEC should help us build capacity and train industry trainers as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR).