By Dominic James
3rd February 2022
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has urged all political parties participating in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Council elections to allow the eligible voters choose their leaders in a free, fair, and peaceful contest scheduled for Saturday 12th February 2022.
Speaking at the Stakeholders’ meeting organized by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) in Abuja on 3rd February, Prof. Yakubu also assured that nobody would be allowed to benefit from disrupting the process or other acts of bad behaviour during the polls. He however added that the Commission would also keep an eye on all its officials, both ad-hoc and regular.
His words: For our part, we will protect the integrity of the process. Our eyes are on all our officials, be they ad-hoc or regular staff, to ensure that they strictly abide by the rules. All parties, candidates and their supporters should do the same. No one will benefit from the disruption of the process or other acts of bad behaviour. Let the voters in the FCT choose their leaders in a free, fair and peaceful contest.”
The INEC Chairman acknowledged that in terms of grassroots democracy, the FCT had become a leading light in Nigeria, with its regular and well conducted Area Council elections, making it possible for any political party to win an election. He urged: “Let the 2022 Area Council election be the beacon for a peaceful 2023 General Election”.
The FCT is the only part of the country where INEC is required by law to conduct local government elections. Consequently, the Area Council elections are conducted regularly and consistently every three years to elect six Chairmen or Chairwomen and 62 Councillors. For that reason, the FCT has never had any so-called caretaker committees. It is also the only Local Government election in Nigeria where bye-elections are conducted to fill vacant councillorship positions. The last one was the Rimba/Ebagi Ward bye-election in Abaji Area Council, held on 24th April 2022, following the death of Hon. Usman Wodi. The forthcoming 2022 Area Council election is the third consecutive poll conducted by the present Commission in the FCT since April 2016.
The INEC Chairman also spoke extensively on the Commission’s preparedness for the election. He said: “After the period for substitution and withdrawal of candidates as provided by law, the Commission has listed 473 candidates sponsored by 14 political parties for the forthcoming elections. In all, 110 candidates (Chair and Vice Chair) are vying for the leadership of the six Area Councils while 363 candidates are competing for 62 councillorship positions. Detailed analysis of the candidates by Area Councils, political parties, gender, age and educational qualifications has already been uploaded to our website for public information.
“With only nine days to the election, major activities have been concluded. Right now, the Commission is only putting the finishing touches to our preparations. Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) was conducted over a period of six months. Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) have been printed and made available for collection.
“There are enough ad hoc staff engaged and trained for the election. Non-sensitive materials have been deployed to the various Area Councils. Non-pharmaceutical materials have been procured to protect voters and personnel from COVID-19 in line with the Commission’s policy based on the protocols prescribed by health authorities. Voter education and publicity are ongoing. Transport arrangements have been made, including motorcycles for remote locations and boats for riverine areas.
“We have had several meetings with the security agencies in the area councils, the FCT and the national level on how to address potential threats to the election and secure the process. They have also been trained on the code of conduct for security personnel on election duty to ensure their neutrality and professionalism.
Prof Yakubu also affirmed that the Commission had reviewed the performance of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) in the recent Anambra State Governorship election. He stated that the lessons learnt from the election have been considered in planning for the Area Council elections.
He averred that the BVAS had been configured and ready to be deployed for the election. He confirmed that the Commission had also made adequate arrangements for technical support and transportation to speedily respond in the unlikely event of glitches on Election Day. According to him, election results will also be uploaded to the INEC Result Viewing portal (IReV) in real-time when voting ends and votes are counted at polling units on Election Day.
He commended the conduct of the political parties participating in the election for carrying out their campaign activities within acceptable benchmarks. He said: “The Commission is happy with the behaviour of parties and candidates in the FCT. So far, there are no adverse reports of clashes between supporters of different parties and not many incidents of hate or inciting speeches as they canvass for votes. I commend the stakeholders for their advocacy for peaceful elections. I appeal to political parties and candidates to continue to show maturity and decorum as campaigns come to a close and Election Day draws nearer.”
On litigation, Prof. Yakubu said: “The 2022 FCT Area Council Election is not without its fair share of litigations. Right now, there are eight cases in court challenging the nomination or educational qualification of candidates. Some of the cases are already before the Supreme Court.
“However, contrary to the Commission’s experience in previous elections around the country, there are no conflicting judgments or orders by courts of coordinate jurisdiction anywhere on the forthcoming FCT elections.
“Let me seize this opportunity to appreciate the judiciary, particularly the FCT High Court, for standing firm to the shenanigans of forum shoppers and litigation-happy individuals who often waste the precious time of the Courts and INEC by litigating even the most improbable cases.”
He also drew the attention of participants to what he described as a few areas where the Commission needs their support in the FCT. He reminded his listeners that early last year, INEC succeeded in expanding voter access to polling units for the first time in 25 years despite the apparent expansion of the voter population and emergence of new settlements.
He explained that from just 562 polling units, the Commission established additional 2,260 units and relocated some of them from congested locations to proximate but underserved areas. He said that the Commission gave voters the opportunity to transfer to some of the new polling units. “Unfortunately,” he said, “voters did not take advantage of this opportunity as we had expected in all cases.”
He added: “Consequently, there are 593 polling units in the FCT without registered voters, 1,328 polling units with between 0-50 voters and 546 polling units with over 1,000 registered voters. We have already informed political parties, civil society organisations, the media and security agencies at the national level about this development.
“The Commission has decided that no election will take place at the polling units without registered voters. No materials have been produced for these units and no personnel will be deployed to them.
“However, voting will take place in all the other polling units. For congested polling units, the Commission will deploy more than one BVAS to facilitate a speedy accreditation of voters. We will also deploy additional staff to these locations. We also agreed with the security agencies to deploy more personnel to ensure peace and order.
“For transparency, the Commission is making the hard copies of the detailed locations of these polling units to all stakeholders at this meeting. In addition, soft copies have also been uploaded to our website. By doing so, we want to achieve two objectives. First is to ensure that voters in the FCT and indeed all Nigerians are aware of these polling units and the arrangements made for them on Election Day. Secondly, to seek the support of all stakeholders to ensure that these polling units are populated ahead of the 2023 General Election. We need the support of especially the traditional, community and religious leaders in this regard.”