By Nathaniel Gana and Dominic James
10th December 2020.
Reappointed Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu on 10th December received a tumultuous welcome from ecstatic members of staff, who turned out en masse to usher him in.
On sighting them, a visibly delighted Prof. Yakubu alighted from his car immediately after being driven through the security gate to greet and acknowledge the excited workers who responded with shouts of “welcome sir” and accompanied him in a two-minute walk to the foyer, where the Acting Chairman, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Ahmed Mu’azu, other National Commissioners and the Secretary to the Commission, Mrs. Rose Orianran-Anthony were waiting to receive him.
But yet another surprise was waiting to unfold. The Vice President of the INEC Cooperative Society, Mrs. Zainab Ndako, on behalf of her colleagues, presented a giant welcome card to Prof. Yakubu.
Thereafter, Mrs. Orianran-Anthony received and led him to the Conference Hall where scores of journalists were waiting.
Speaking before the impressive audience, AVM Mu’azu said it was exactly one month since Prof. Yakubu handed over the affairs of the Commission to him and his colleagues, pending his screening by the Senate and swearing-in by President Muhammadu Buhari for another term of five years as INEC Chairman.
“My colleagues and my humbly self heartily congratulate you, Mr. Chairman, over your re-appointment,” he said. “And on behalf of the Commission and staff of INEC, I warmly welcome you back. We pray that the Almighty will see you through this weighty and difficult national assignment.”
Giving an account of what transpired in the last 30 days, AVM Mu’azu said the Commission successfully conducted bye-elections into 15 Constituencies across 11 States. However, he regretted that six police officer lost their lives in Bayelsa State when the boat in which they were traveling capsized while escorting the Commission’s staff and materials to the riverine communities of Southern Ijaw.
“It is my singular honour and privilege to hand-over the reins of the Commission after what appears to me to be, perhaps, the longest one month of my life,” he concluded.
Responding, Prof. Yakubu said the successful conduct of the bye-elections under the acting chairman, supported by the five National Commissioners was a vindication of his policy over the last five years, to nominate a National Commissioner, by rotation, each time he was officially out of the country to oversee the affairs of the Commission. As a result, he noted, “we have steadily built institutional capacity that the Commission can discharge its constitutional responsibility at all times.”
He said the quick passage of the Electoral Act amendment would be the Commission’s top priority. His words: “You will recall that I appealed to the Senate Committee on INEC during my screening for confirmation two weeks ago, urging them to expedite action on the passage of the Electoral Act amendment by the first quarter of next year, meaning by the end of March 2021.
“I learnt that in response, the Senate President assured the nation only yesterday (9th December) at the public hearing for the amendment of the Electoral Act, that the National Assembly is committed to that target, and that it’s not only achievable, but they’ll ensure that it is actualized.”
Prof Yakubu also announced that the immediate area of attention for the Commission would be the resumption of the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, also planned for the first quarter of 2021. “And this will continue until at least six months to the 2023 general elections,” he said, adding, “we will also seize the opportunity as required by law to update and clean up the Register of Voters.
He quickly added: “We are happy with our Register of Voters. It is robust, but we’ll continue to seek ways by which we can improve it. The credibility of any democratic election draws from the credibility of the Register of Voters. Without a clean, credible Register of Voters, you cannot have a credible election. “
He further stated that the Commission would introduce a new technology for voter enrollment in 2021, arising from the lessons learnt from the previous exercise conducted in 2017 and 2018.
Prof. Yakubu also noted: “It is exactly 799 days to the 2023 general elections, billed to hold on the 18th of February 2023. I was just speaking to the Technical Team and we identified 1508 activities between now and election day.” He pledged that the Commission would do everything possible to carry out all activities necessary for the smooth conduct of the next general elections.
PHOTOS: BASIL NWAGUGU and DOMINIC JAMES