By Nathaniel Gana and Dominic James
14th May 2019.
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has hinted that the Commission will soon embark on the prosecution of electoral offenders apprehended during the 2019 general elections and whose case files have been prepared by the Nigeria Police.
Prof. Yakubu dropped the hint today when he received a delegation from Bayelsa State at the Commission’s headquarters in Abuja. The team was led by the Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha Jonah (rtd) who represented the Governor, Seriake Dickson.
The delegation was at the Commission to plead for a change of the date fixed for the state’s governorship election.
The Commission had on 9th April, announced that the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections will hold on 2nd November this year. The tenure of the governor of Kogi state will expire on 26th January 2020, while the Bayelsa state governor’s tenure will expire on 13 h February 2020.
Explaining the State Government’s dilemma, Jonah said: “INEC announced November 2 as the date for the Bayelsa governorship election. When that date was announced, various interest groups raised an issue about the relevance of that day to Bayelsa State.
“Recall that when Bayelsa was created on October 1 1996, and shortly after the celebration, the state was dedicated to God on the 2nd November 1996. That day was subsequently not celebrated. But later, when this government came, the issue of thanking God for all He has done for the state came up again. Then, the governor asked the Clergy to suggest to him what they would want done. The Clergy met and said Bayelsa needs to thank God on a yearly basis and the most significant day was the 2nd of November. Subsequently, the date was accepted as the Thanksgiving Day.
Jonah continued: “An executive bill was sent to the House of Assembly, it was passed into law and for the past seven years, we have been having our Thanksgiving Day on the 2nd of November every year.
“So when the news came that election will be held on that day, the clergy met again and advised the governor that yes, INEC has a right to fix a date, but it will not be out of place for the state to plead with INEC to reconsider the date because of the relevance of that date to the state. That is why we are here.”
Responding, the INEC Chairman said:“We maintain an open-door policy and all stakeholders are free to request for audience with the Commission on any matter they consider important for the improvement of our electoral process.
“A few weeks ago, on9thApril 2019, we released the timetable and schedule of activities for the Bayelsa and Kogi Governorship elections. The Commission fixed Saturday 2ndNovember 2019 for the elections in the two States. Shortly after the release of the timetable, we received a letter from Bayelsa State Government drawing the Commission’s attention that the 2ndof November each year has been designated as Thanksgiving Day in Bayelsa State and declared work-free by an Act of the State Assembly. The State Government has appealed to the Commission to reconsider the date for this reason. The Speaker of the State Assembly, religious leaders and other stakeholders made a similar appeal to the Commission. Today, all the stakeholders are here to further reiterate their appeal. We have listened to you. At the next meeting of the Commission, your appeal will be examined and the Commission’s decision will be announced by Friday this week.”
Prof Yakubu also seized the opportunity to appeal to stakeholders in Bayelsa and Kogi States to ensure that the forthcoming governorship elections are devoid of hate speech, intimidation of voters and INEC officials, vote buying, violence, including bombing and arson that led to the destruction of election materials and the Commission’s facilities in the last Governorship elections in the two states.
He said: “I urge you to appeal to your supporters to ensure that the creeks and waterways, the hills and forests, urban and rural areas, the polling units and collation centres are free of thugs who unleash mayhem that turn a simple democratic process into needless bloodletting.”
He added: “I want to assure you that for our part, the Commission is committed to a free, fair and credible process. We will deploy early, adhere to our guidelines and regulations and ensure a transparent and prompt collation and declaration of results. Arising from the arrests made by the security agencies in the 2019 general elections, the Commission will soon commence the prosecution of offenders whose case files have been prepared by the Nigeria Police.
On the conduct of primaries, he said: “May I also appeal to all political parties to ensure the conduct of transparent, credible and rancour-free primaries for the nomination of candidates. From the 2019 general elections, we have seen how acrimonious party primaries have been, resulting in numerous litigations and making our preparations for elections difficult. We are still grappling with issues arising from the conduct of party primaries. Pre-election litigations through the regular courts have resulted in a number of judgements in favour of petitioners.
“So far, primary elections conducted by political parties in 22 constituencies across the Federation have been upturned by the regular Courts of Law on account of improper party primaries. In all cases, we have obeyed the orders of court and issued Certificates of Return to candidates declared winners by the Courts. More of such judgments have been received and are currently under consideration by the Commission.”