All eyes on INEC ahead of Imo, Bayelsa, Kogi guber elections

With the successful prosecution of mock accreditation of voters and implementation of majority of the items on the timetable and schedule of activities for the off-cycle governorship elections in the three states of Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) can comfortably claim to be prepared to conduct the November 11 polls.

And in a bid to confirm its readiness for the governorship elections, the commission has already presented the soft copies of a combined total number of 5,409,438 registered voters for the elections to the state chairmen of the political parties that sponsored candidates.

The breakdown of the registered voters, according to the commission, indicates that Bayelsa has a total of 1,056,862 voters, Imo has 2,419,922, while Kogi has 1,932654 voters.

Giving further breakdown of the electoral delimitation of the three states, the commission disclosed that while Bayelsa State has eight LGAs, 105 registration areas/wards and 2,244 polling units, Imo has 27 LGAs, 305 registration areas/wards and 4,758 polling units, just as Kogi has 21 LGAs, 239 registration areas/wards and 3,508 polling units.

The commission, after the successful mock accreditation exercise recently, reiterated its resolve to still deploy the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to authenticate the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC).

It announced that it will still adopt the controversial INEC Result Viewing Portal (IREV) to upload polling units’ results real-time and seamlessly on election day.

The commission, in its determination to correct certain flaws detected during the 2023 general election, also promised to improve in certain thematic areas like the poor handling of BVAS, uploading of results and network challenges.

Assuring that it is determined to use the state governorship elections to improve on the previous polls, the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, recently vowed not to give room for any lapses.

He said: “Every election is meant to be better than the previous and that is what INEC has always tried to do; learnt lessons from the last set of elections and working to ensure that the November 2023 governorship elections are better.

“The areas for improvement include poor handling of BVAS, which we are working more intensely with TEI on the training of Presiding Officers (POs) on technologies to be deployed and RATechSS. Since these are standalone elections, we are ensuring that the calibre of staff to be deployed are the best, purely INEC staff.”

And by way of further bringing the electorate and other concerned Nigerians up to speed on the build up to the elections, Yakubu also announced that election materials, especially non-sensitive ones, have been moved to the various states.

He also confirmed that Registration Area Centres (RAC) and Collation Centres have been assessed, adding that the engagement with RAC officials on Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for RAC management in the three states has been completed.

And summarising further arrangements for the poll after supervising the mock accreditation of voters in Kogi State recently, the electoral umpire boss reassured on the transmission of election results real-time during the polls in the three states through the use of IReV.

Speaking specifically on the use of IReV, the commission promised that it would be done timely in all the polling units within 24 hours after the close of the polls.

“The method, as provided by law, is electronic accreditation, electronic upload of results on the IREV portal and that is why we did the mock. So, please disregard whatever was reported about what the REC was said to have said in Bayelsa.

“That is going to be the procedure and it is for that reason that I will advise you also for those who are registered on the IREV portal, that in the next two hours or so, they should go to the IREV portal, you will see the result of the mock from all the three states, we are uploading, as we have done in previous elections,” Yakubu reconfirmed.

The commission also assured that as part of the antidote to tackling network challenges, provision has been made for some funds to be given to the Presiding Officers to purchase backup data on election day.

“We are aware that if PU election procedure is carried out, devoid of all malpractices, and the results are not securely guarded and correctly collated, the election process cannot be termed credible.

“From inception of elections in Nigeria, results were transmitted manually, from the PUs to the collation centres. This made room for possible election malpractices, results could be hijacked, could be exchanged or could be altered between the PU and collation centre,” the commission announced.

Aware of its regulatory mandates, the commission has also read the riot act to the major stakeholders for the elections to ensure strict compliance to the rules of engagement.

“We urge political parties participating in the off-cycle elections to critically study and pay attention to the provisions of the Constitution, the Electoral Act, the Police Act, and the Public Order Act for the proper and peaceful conduct of political campaigns, rallies, and processions.

“A political campaign or slogan shall not be tainted with abusive language, directly or indirectly, likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal, or sectional feelings. Abusive, intemperate, slanderous, base language or innuendoes designed or likely to provoke violent reactions or emotions shall not be employed or used in political campaigns.

“Let me also remind the media of their constitutional obligations. State apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election. In other words, equal coverage and visibility shall be allotted to all political parties by all public print and electronic media organisations. The same applies, in equal measure, to privately owned media organisations subject to payment of appropriate fees,” the commission enumerated.

However, to many observers and political watchers, the commission may be ready in theory but not in practical reality, judging by the humongous challenges confronting the preparations for the polls.

For the umpteenth time, the commission had lamented that certain challenges like escalating insecurity in the three states involved, use of hate speeches in the form of abusive, intemperate, slanderous, base language or innuendoes has disturbingly been on the increase in the build-up to the polls.

It has also repeatedly lamented the impact the unending pre-election litigations are having on the preparations for the elections, especially in printing sensitive materials.

The commission, through its legal department, recently lamented that it is still battling with 11 pre-election court orders in the three states, admitting that they have posed serious challenges on the production of sensitive materials for the poll.

Commission’s Director Legal, Drafting and Clearance, Mrs Toyin Babalola, who spoke at a two-day training workshop for INEC Press Corps held in Akwanga, Nasarawa State recently, particularly expressed concerns that the judgment on PRP will necessitate the reproduction of ballot papers in Imo State since ballot papers and result sheets are customised.

She said: “The commission has been served with court orders of the Federal High Court in Suit Nos. FHC/ABJ/CS/651/2023 – Hon. Hassan Abdullahi v. NNPP & 2 Ors, and FHC/ABJ/CS/881/2023 – APGA & 2 Ors. V. INEC & Anor, ordering INEC to replace the NNPP governorship candidate and the APGA deputy governorship candidate for Kogi State.

“Federal High Court, Owerri judicial division in Suit No. FHC/OW/CS/35/2023 – PRP & Anor v. INEC, amongst other orders, ordered as follows: That the name of the second plaintiff was unlawfully excluded from the list of published candidates made on May 22, 2023 on INEC website as a nominated candidate of the 1st plaintiff for the Imo State governorship election, 2023.

“In another matter, the Federal High Court in Suit no. FHC/ABJ/CS/821/2023 –Chief Denesuoyefa Koloma v. Chief Sylva Timipre Marlin & 2 Ors., disqualified the candidate of the APC, Sylva Timipre and directed INEC to remove his name from the list of contestants into the office of governor of Bayelsa State on the platform of the APC or any other political party for the election.”

Enumerating further legal challenges facing the governorship election, she disclosed that; “the commission has complied with the judgments in respect of Kogi State via the publication of Amendment No. 1 to the final list of candidates which was published on the commission’s website on September 26, 2023.

“The orders as they relate to candidates will impact on the production of Form EC8E (Declaration of result). It is worthy of note that the commission is bound to comply with decisions of the Courts as stipulated in Section 287 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

“The above-cited judgment on PRP will necessitate the reproduction of ballot papers in Imo State having regard to the fact that ballot papers and result sheets are customized.

“Other impacts of litigation on the preparation for Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi governorship elections include uncertainty of candidates and parties participating in the elections.

“Colossal waste of public funds and resources. Waste of man-power. Tendency to create confusion among the media and electorates.”

Apart from the challenges of litigation, insecurity is another issue posing serious threats to the election. From the statement it issued recently to express concerns over escalating spate of violence, unguarded utterances by candidates, supporters and their political parties, the commission’s chairman issued fresh warning over the worrisome security situation in the three states.

INEC, in a statement signed by National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Sam Olumekun admitted that the situation is getting out of control.

The electoral umpire however declared that it will continue to closely monitor the situation and sustain engagement with security agencies and stakeholders to ensure a peaceful conduct of elections in the three states.

“The commission is concerned about the spate of insecurity and violence, including clashes among supporters of political parties and candidates in the forthcoming elections.

“In our engagement with political parties, the commission has constantly called on parties to rein in their supporters from actions capable of jeopardizing the peaceful conduct of elections in Nigeria.

“INEC earnestly appeal to all political parties and candidates to avoid utterances and acts that may heat up the polity. The commission will continue to closely monitor the situation and sustain its engagement with security agencies and stakeholders to ensure a peaceful conduct of elections in the three states,” the commission assured.

To underscore the gravity of the security concerns in the three states, the commission’s chairman in a stakeholders’ meeting with the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) last week, raised fresh alarm, fixing an engagement with the security agencies this week.

His words: “The massive deployment of human and material resources requires a secure environment which is beyond our immediate responsibilities. As we said repeatedly, we are concerned about the prevailing insecurity and election-related violence in the three states.

“We have been reassured of adequate deployment by the security agencies. On our part, we will continue to deepen our engagement with the security agencies and more meetings are planned in the next few days.

“Similarly, the commission will hold a series of meetings with stakeholders at the national level in addition to ongoing engagements at state level.”

Few weeks to the elections, the commission has not done enough in reality to rest the curiosity of many Nigerians, particularly the electorate on the reliability of using IReV to transmit results real-time.

It has also created more confusion with the legal lacuna on electronic transmission of results, refusing to confirm if IReV can be used to authenticate election results.

Little wonder the stand of the commission in insisting on manual transmission and the ruling of the presidential election tribunal in endorsing the provision has given room to all manner of speculations on plans to manipulate the poll.

Last weekend, the commission was forced to disassociate itself from the malicious rumour of its staff reconfiguring BVAS inside Kogi State Government House to rig the election in favour of a political party.

Debunking the allegations by Social Democratic Party (SDP), the commission described the report as untrue and malicious. It emphasised that the three persons mentioned to be involved are not associated with the configuration of BVAS machines and not even anywhere near the state at the moment.

“The configuration of BVAS is done simultaneously and exclusively in our offices in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states professionally and strictly handled by teams deployed from the national headquarters, Abuja.

“The public is advised to disregard the story as fake news. At the same time, the commission appeals to political parties to desist from engaging in malicious rumour mongering of this nature,” the statement signed by Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi, the Chief Press Secretary to INEC chairman, read.

In a separate interview with Daily Sun recently, both the former deputy governor of Imo State, Prince Eze Madumere and former chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Peter Ameh, raised doubts about INEC scuttling the polls.

Itemising his fears for the elections, Madumere said: “I also have fear that there will be voters’ apathy except political parties and leaders of thought go back to reassure our people. INEC is the problem. They say one thing and do another.

“The institutions or the electoral umpire that will be involved should not ever scuttle the will of the people. It will be heartbreaking to have another electoral robbers on the prowl. I believe the security agencies have the capacity to chase these people far away,” he charged.

On his part, Ameh said that; “with the introduction of BVAS and IReV, we hope that the Nigeria electoral system would have been cleaned up, but it was also truncated by those that introduced it. That was why we were brought back to ground zero, which I am afraid of what will happen.”

Regardless of the assurances to deliver credible elections in the three states and the capacity to tackle the challenges, the commission should be aware that all eyes are on it to redeem its dwindling credibility that nosedive after the conduct of the general election.


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