By Nathaniel Gana
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is deepening its collaboration with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Commission (ICPC) in order to curb electoral malpractices ahead of the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections scheduled for 16th November 2019.
The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu made the disclosure on 29th October at a consultative meeting with leaders of registered political parties held in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
He appealed to the political parties to advise their candidates and supporters not to engage in hate speech, inciteful statements, physical attacks on opponents, destruction of each other’s campaign materials and other action that could violate the Electoral Act.
According to him, voter harassment or intimidation and vote buying around the polling units constitute a violation of the Electoral Act. He reminded his audience that prohibition of the use of mobile phones and other photographic equipment in the voting cubicles is still in force.
He said: “We are going to deepen our collaboration with the EFCC and the ICPC in this respect. They will keep an eye on the movement of cash during campaigns and on election day.”
He averred that some alleged vote buyers who were arrested across the country during the 2019 general election by the EFCC have already been charged to court. “The latest update I received indicates that the EFCC has secured the first conviction of a vote buyer in Gombe state. This is surely a welcome development,” he said.
Speaking further on achievements recorded in prosecuting electoral offenders, Prof. Yakubu said: “about two weeks ago, the Commission received some case files from the Nigerian Police on alleged offenders arrested during the 2019 general elections. We are studying the case files for further necessary action”.
On the part of the Commission, the INEC Chairman assured the stakeholders that its staff members are constantly reminded on the need to remain professional and neutral at all times. His said: “We have repeatedly warned all staff of the Commission to remain neutral and professional. All election duty staff will swear to an oath of neutrality as required by law. We are working with the security agencies to ensure that our officials, material, processes and procedures are adequately protected”.
The INEC Chairman used the occasion to inform party leaders that the Commission had decided to combine the Brass 1 State Constituency supplementary election in Bayelsa state and the Kogi West Senatorial District rerun election with the governorship elections in both states. This, move he affirmed, would save the country over N300 million naira.
He explained: “You all know that on November the16,th we’ll have two major elections. The end of tenure governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states. But recall also that in March (2019) after we conducted the State Assembly and governorship elections, we had issues of violence in Brass, leading to the declaration of the election as inconclusive.
“We had planned to conclude the election two weeks later, but for protracted litigation over six polling units that went up to the Supreme Court. Finally, the Supreme Court decided that INEC was right, that we should go back and conduct the elections in six polling units. So, seven months later, we are now combining the governorship election in Bayelsa state with the Brass 1 state constituency in six polling units in Cape Farmosa Registration Area and we have already made arrangements.”
Prof. Yakubu continued: “In the case of Kogi West, it’s in a whole Senatorial District that the Election Petition Tribunal and the Appeal Court nullified the election conducted on the 23rd of February and ordered INEC to conduct a rerun election. By coincidence, the judgement of the Election Petition Appeal Tribunal came very close to the (governorship) election, so the Commission decided to combine the governorship election with the Kogi West Senatorial District election.
“As a stand-alone election, the Kogi West Senatorial District election in seven Local Government Areas would have cost the nation well over N300 million. But because we are combining the election with the governorship election, it’s going to cost less than N10 million. So, the Commission decided to combine the two elections to save cost and for convenience”.
Commenting on the implementation of the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the two governorship elections, the INEC Chairman said only four activities were still outstanding: The publication of the Notice of Poll and the last day for submission of names of polling agents by political parties, which is the 2nd of November 2019, followed by the last day of campaign which is midnight of Thursday the 14th of November. The election day proper will hold on Saturday 16th of November.
“While on this matter,” he said, “let me appeal to political parties to please submit the names of their polling agents to the Electoral Officers in the Local government areas in the states where elections will be held.
“In addition, the Commission will make available detailed figures of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) collected, with each state broken down by Local Government and Registration Area in order to deepen transparency and accountability. Copies will be given to the stakeholders at the next stakeholders’ meeting that we are going to convene at Yenagoa and Lokoja, in addition to uploading the information on our website”.
On efforts to ensure that the electoral space is conducive for the conduct of election in both states, the INEC Chairman said, “given the history of volatile politics in the two states, the Commission decided to engage the stakeholders early and also continuously, in addition to some focused engagements with Persons Living with Disabilities and other categories of persons who play roles in elections.
“We had a major stakeholders’ meeting not long ago in Yenagoa and Lokoja. I was personally present. The tradition of the Commission is for the INEC Chairman and the Inspector General of Police to address stakeholders a few days to the election. But this time around, we decided to break with tradition, over a month to the election. I personally visited Yenagoa and Lokoja, addressed the stakeholders and visited some Local Government areas. We plan to have more engagements”.
He continued: “on the 7th of November, the Inspector General of Police and I will be in Bayelsa to address the stakeholders. We’ll repeat the same thing in Lokoja on the 11th of November. Our objective is to speak early and loudly enough to those stakeholders on the necessity for peaceful conduct during campaign, election day activities, collation of results, declaration of winners and the aftermath”.
Prof. Yakubu appealed to party leaders to urge their candidates to attend the stakeholders’ meetings in order to deliberate on ways to ensure peaceful elections in the state.
Responding, the Chairman of the Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC), Chief Peter Ameh commended INEC for its support to the umbrella body in the area of voter sensitization.
He explained that the parties under IPAC had been talking to themselves on the need to put Nigeria first and shun all electoral vices.
He said: “As a multi stakeholder platform working for a sustainable and credible electoral environment, we have been speaking against mudslinging, name calling when it comes to campaigns, electoral violence, ballot box snatching and voter intimidation and vote buying.
“We must speak to ourselves that whoever is contesting the Kogi and Bayelsa elections must understand that whoever wins elections is an indigene of either Kogi or Bayelsa state”.