By Nathaniel Gana and Dominic James
9th December 2017
With over 3.63 million new voters registered since 27th April this year and over 175 elections conducted since November 2015, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has made tremendous progress in deepening, sustaining and defending the integrity of the electoral process, the Commission’s Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has said. Significantly, he added, only two out of those 175 elections were overturned by the Election Petition Tribunals.
Prof Yakubu made the assertion at the opening of the Induction Retreat for INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs), held on 8th December, in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom state capital.
In what could be described as his most remarkable speech since his assumption of office, Prof Yakubu detailed the commission’s achievements, just as he outlined the tasks ahead, as the Commission prepares for the 2019 General Elections.
He said: “In the two years since our inauguration on 9th November 2015, the Commission has made tremendous progress in deepening, sustaining, and defending the integrity of the electoral process. So far, the Commission has conducted elections into 175 constituencies nationwide, made up of 79 Court-ordered re-run elections, 73 end of tenure elections and 23 bye-elections. It is an honour to have conducted the largest number of off-season/off-cycle elections ever in the history of the Commission, which serve to continually improve our operational processes and procedures. Beginning from the Kogi governorship election of 21st November 2015, through to the latest Anambra governorship election held on 18th November 2017, the Commission has demonstrated the capacity to fine-tune its operations, sustain stakeholder engagements and rapidly respond to field challenges in our continuing effort to maintain the integrity of the electoral process.”
He continued: “In all the elections conducted so far, only 2 have been overturned by the Election Petition Tribunals. Even so, the Tribunals did not order the Commission to conduct fresh elections, but to issue Certificates of Return to candidates other than those earlier declared winners. Most interestingly, in the most recent major elections conducted by the Commission, the outcomes were not challenged in Court. This is a clear testimony to the Commission’s continued improvement of our operations and the credibility of electoral outcomes.”
The INEC Chairman told the RECs that as an election management body, the conduct of free, fair and credible elections was the Commission’s most important mandate. And beyond just an obligation required by the electoral legal framework, he stated, the conduct and delivery of credible elections “is a responsibility to be honourably discharged by all of us.”
According to him, the largest share of responsibility for nurturing, sustaining and continuously deepening Nigeria’s electoral process rests on the Commission, as a result of which it must take the lead in demonstrating to the general public and all staff, that the integrity of the electoral processes is the defining moment for credible electoral outcomes.
Prof Yakubu said the Commission took two important steps on two critical activities – the Continuous Voter Registration Exercise (CVR) and the 2019 General Elections. He explained: “As you are all aware, the Commission rolled out, for the first time in its history, the continuous registration of voters nationwide on 27th April 2017. This is an important development in our efforts to ensure that electoral services offered to Nigerians are better, more frequent and easier to access than ever before.
“For the first time in the history of the Commission, citizens who have attained the voting age of 18 years and those who could not register during the previous CVR exercises, now have the opportunity to do so on a continuous basis as envisaged by the Electoral Act. So far, some 3,630,529 new voters have been registered. This exercise will continue until 60 days to the 2019 General Elections, as a provided by the Electoral act. The Commission is not unaware of the challenges encountered, which are being systematically addressed. Improving the management and conduct of the ongoing CVR exercise, including the low rate of collection of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), shall be a major issue of discussion at this Retreat.”
The INEC Chairman also affirmed that the Commission was aware of the reported challenges to the optimal performance of the Smart Card Readers. But he noted that technical reports from the more recent elections had shown that the incidence of malfunction in relation to the number of Card Readers deployed was statistically low.
He said: “For instance, in the last Governorship election in Anambra State, Card Readers were deployed to each of the 5,339 Polling Units and Voting Points spread across the 21 Local Government Areas of the State. There were reported cases of glitches or outright malfunction in 106 Polling Units and Voting Points. This represents 1.8 percent of the total number Cards Readers deployed for the election. Our technical support team successfully responded to all but 39 cases representing 0.78 percent. The Commission wishes to assure Nigerians that we are working assiduously to ensure 100 percent performance of the Card Readers. That is why there is an ongoing pilot to upgrade it by enhancing its features including new superior processors.”
He added: “At the same time, the Commission is exploring ways of improving the integrity of the collation and results transmission processes and has begun to deploy the electronic result collation and transmission platform on a pilot basis. Our ultimate aim, learning from the pilot and consequential improvement of the supporting infrastructure, is to deploy the system for all forthcoming off-season elections and, ultimately, the 2019 General Elections. The Commission is working to ensure that this goal is achieved.”
Outlining the tasks ahead, Prof Yakubu said: “As we move towards the 2019 General Elections, changes will be taking place in the political process that will directly affect electoral operations. First of all, with the roll out of the CVR, we must anticipate an expansion in the total number of registered voters. An expansion in the voters’ register requires appropriate adjustments in the planning and delivery of electoral services. The creation of additional Voting Points, the consequential demand for more ballot boxes, voting cubicles, ad-hoc staff, transportation of personnel and logics, training etc. must be adequately planned for.
“In addition, we must anticipate shift in the focus, scope and attention of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other stakeholders on our services and activities beyond the traditional Election Day event to the Commission’s pre-and post-election activities. Related to this are the proposed changes to the electoral legal framework, which are yet to be concluded by the National Assembly. While awaiting the Statutory amendments, we must remain proactive.
“One area we should begin to work in earnest is the inventory of existing equipment and facilities ranging from the Card Readers to ballot boxes, voting cubicles, power generators and the survey of physical infrastructure critical to elections. The second area is the number of ad-hoc staff required for elections as well as the logistics of movement of personnel and equipment on Election Day. The Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in particular should know that in a General Election, unlike bye-election or off-season elections, no one can rely on support from neighbouring States. Everyone is going to be busy hence the necessity to plan adequately. Thirdly, we must begin the revision of election manuals and procedures for the 2019 General Elections in earnest. This is important because it is these revised manuals that will constitute the basis for all training activities (INEC, Observers and security agencies) towards the election.
“Another area that will greatly impact on our operations greatly is the alignments and realignments of political parties and actors as we move towards the election. So far, the Commission has received over 120 applications from political associations seeking registration as political parties. Already, there are 46 registered political parties and recently a Court of Law ordered the Commission to register one more association as political party. Obviously by the time the Commission processes outstanding applications, the number of political parties will increase. The expansion in the number of political parties and possibly independent candidates as contained in the proposed Constitutional amendments now awaiting the concurrence of State Assemblies mean that we need to think fast and plan properly, especially in the management of the ballot.
“As the 2019 general elections draws nearer, election security and especially election violence, may spike in certain parts of the country. Closely related to the expansion of hotspots of conflict and violence, is the increasingly disturbing phenomenon of hate speech. It is important for us to have an accurate idea of possible locations of hotspots and peddlers of hate speech, discuss these with security agencies and examine ways to address them well before the election. So too is the disturbing incidence of the use of money to openly induce voters even on Election Day.
“Our desire is to entrench a truly democratic system for all citizens and not a plutocracy open only to the rich. Violence, hate speech and inducement of voters are criminal activities punishable under our laws. It is therefore important to ensure that ICCES meetings take place regularly, not just at the State but also at LGA level at which these and other sundry by unwholesome practices are discussed and where they occur dealt with according to the law.
“One persistent challenge the Commission has faced is the area of voter turnout. The low voter turnout in some recent elections is of concern to the Commission. We must redesign and develop more effective voter education strategies and platforms while we continue to work with other stakeholders to galvanize voters to come out and vote for candidates of their choice on Election Day.
“The Commission will continue to introduce more imaginative approaches to addressing the special needs of certain categories of voters, especially marginalized and vulnerable groups. As we move towards 2019, we must develop a more comprehensive and coordinated approach towards making, as far as is practicable, electoral services accessible to categories of voters that are traditionally marginalized by society especially women, youths and persons living with disabilities.”
Turning to the RECs, he said: “you are all aware that election is a sensitive, people-based and time-bound activity that requires strong leadership skills. More importantly, it is a collective enterprise. Although the Commission conducts a general election with broadness, each State conducts the election as it specifically relates to its context and peculiarity. In the states, these operational and logistic peculiarities must be thoroughly and urgently studied and understood so that we can collectively devise solutions to them.
The EPP has been approved by the Commission. Copies will be made available to all RECs. As Resident Electoral Commissioners, the implementation of the plan at State level is your cardinal responsibility. In doing so, you will also exercise supervisory control over personnel, resources as well as legal and administrative processes and procedures. You will also interact with various categories of stakeholders. As election managers, you should maintain the required candour, openness, fairness, neutrality, and ensure a level playing field to all in your engagements. At the same time, you should be very firm and courageous on the side of the law, as well as our regulations and guidelines. Continue to be fair to all and partisan towards none in your interaction with stakeholders.
“As RECs, you are to demonstrate a very high sense of personal integrity, ethical conduct and impeccable standard of behaviour and prudence in managing resources under your care. You must maintain at all times the core vision and values of the Commission. You are not responsible for policy. Confine your public statements to matters decided by the Commission and seek clarification where you are in doubt. Avoid making pronouncements on new initiatives yet to be finalized by the Commission, so that discordant statements do not confuse the electorate. You should continue to adequately plan and meticulously implement the Commission’s policies and programmes. Your management of elections and processes thereof must be that of an independent umpire, an impartial judge, and a firm follower of operational procedures established by the Commission at all times. Elections are largely managed on the basis of impressions you create about your role and strict adherence to these is of uttermost importance, no matter who is involved. It will send strong signals that you are not taking sides and this is key to our success.”