INEC Boss Restates Commitment to Do What is Right for 2023 election

…Bares His Mind on a Range of Issues on 2023 Elections No Going Back on BVAS Tackling Vote Buying The Chairman Independent National Electoral Commission has assured the media that the commission is determined to do what is right for a successful 2023 elections and unperturbed by pressure from the political class to compromise the

…Bares His Mind on a Range of Issues on 2023 Elections

No Going Back on BVAS

Tackling Vote Buying

The Chairman Independent National Electoral Commission has assured the media that the commission is determined to do what is right for a successful 2023 elections and unperturbed by pressure from the political class to compromise the integrity of the election.

While sharing details of the commission’s preparedness for the election in a strategic consultative meeting with top media executives on Saturday, in Lagos, the election umpire, explained unambiguously to them that the commission has determined to do what is right and is not be bothered by pressures from politicians to compromise its sworn allegiance to Nigerians, promising its commitment to more media collaboration to keep people informed on the electioneering process.

INEC boss, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, who made the pledge also frowned at electoral violations like underage voting, multiple registrations, and impersonations at the poll, blaming the lack of proper legislation as the reason for the persistent violations of electoral laws. He disclosed that the commission is ready to prosecute any electoral violators at the polling units during the elections.

Stating that the coming elections will not be business as usual, Professor Mahmoud intimated the media on the Commission’s stance on other related electoral issues. “On underage voting, vote buying, and incendiary speech, all these are these violations of the laws. Remember it is not just the underage voters that is violation of the law, multiple registrations are also a violation, as multiple voting, and prevalence of the non-Nigerians are also part of voters.

“I think it goes back to what I said earlier, enforcement of the law. But what we intend to do on election day is to ensure that if after cleaning the register, there are ineligible persons who present themselves at the polling units, we must ensure that they are arrested and prosecuted whether they are underage or multiple registrants, they must be prosecuted. The INEC can arrest and prosecute ineligible voters on elections days”, he said.

On the multiple attacks on the commission’s facilities and violence across the country, the INEC boss expressed his dissatisfaction concerning the incidents. He stated that the electoral body is concerned about the incessant attacks, noting that there is a limit to what the body can bear in terms of the losses incurred. He called for the arrest and prosecution of the vandals, saying that impunity may serve as an encouragement to the perpetrators. He also charged the law enforcement agents, and media to take responsibility for the security and safety of society.

“We have been raising alarms, we have been working with security agencies, we have been working with other institutions that can help like the traditional rulers, communities, religious leaders, they have a role to play. So, it is a collective thing to stop attacks, it is everybody’s responsibility, and we should not leave it to the commission. If there are some people if for whatever reasons attacking INEC facilities, the community should tell them to stop.

“But we have consistently expressed our concerns about the incessant attacks on our facilities. You can do your part as the media by increasingly sensitising Nigerians about attacks on INEC facilities. But the best is the enforcement of the laws because as long as violators are not penalised under the law, it encourages impunity. And then, people begin to think that doing the wrong thing is rewarding and we continue to call for partners, and security agencies to work”, he noted.

He pointed out that the commission does not have the legislative power to prosecute electoral violators after election day, saying that implementing electoral reform is the best way to end electoral violations in the country. He however called on the National Assembly who have taken positive actions towards the bill for Electoral Offences.

“Another way I think we can achieve this better is the recommendation consistently made by committees appointed by the government to reform the electoral process in Nigeria. 2009, the Uwais committee recommended the establishment of the electoral offences commission and electoral offences tribunal, but it was not implemented. After the 2011 post-electoral violence, the Lewu committee made the same recommendation not implemented in 2017, and the Nnamani committee made the same recommendation, not implemented.

“But happily, some members of the National Assembly sponsored private members’ bills for the establishment of the electoral offences commission and electoral offences tribunal, it has passed the first and second readings in the Senate. Let me use the opportunity to appeal to the National Assembly to expeditiously consider this electoral offence commission and tribunal so that all violators of the electoral act in Nigeria will be subjected to the full provisions of the law.

He reiterated that despite pressures the commission is facing to break away from its path to conduct free and fair elections, it remains firm, noting that no pressure from the politicians can deviate the commission from serving the country in truth and credibility.

“There is no pressure to conduct elections because we are operating under the law. But if we are talking about the pressure to do what is not right, this skin is very thick because our pledge and our commitment are to the people of Nigeria, so our loyalty and allegiance are to Nigerians. So, we will continue to do what is right and consistent with the provision of the election
Framework”, he assured.

On the Inclusion of Media into Voter Education Campaign

Professor Yakubu noted that the electoral commission has been working actively with the media to reach across the country. He pointed out that the commission is currently working with 86 broadcast media platforms already. He noted that the commission will devote more of its resource to media inclusion and support.

“On the need to support media organisations on voter education and publicity, you can do your best, but you need to be encouraged. So, within the limit of the available resources, we have been encouraging media organisations. Right now, the commission is sponsoring 86 weekly programmes on FM stations across the country, and this will continue till March 2023.

“There is criteria for selection, distribution cuts across the whole federation. We have been telling our Resident Electoral Commissioners that sometimes the best publicity is not the one you do on major networks nationwide, is the one you do with radio stations that are broadcasting in a language of wider communication in a locality.

On IDPs Enfranchisement

The INEC boss restated that the commission would ensure that Internally Displaced Persons are included in the voting process. Identifying the mass displacement that occurred this year from insecurity and flood, he noted that the commission has expanded its framework to cover the electorates in such conditions. He added that the commission has the largest database in the country.

“We had election for people in IDPs in 2019 from our IDP frameworks, but now the displacement is more nation widespread across the country. So, we have reviewed the framework and policy for IDP voting and we say that people who are displaced by emergency or because of insecurity, will still vote in IDP camps. Our voters’ registration is easily the largest database in “Nigeria and Africa. The core of the voters’ register is solid but like other databases, it may not be perfect. So, the challenge is for us to clean up the numbers of data. With 95 million entries, there is no database like INEC’s in Nigeria”.

On BVAS Operations

Insisting that the use Biomodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) is non-negotiable, Professor Mahmoud explained that contrary to the worries of some Nigerians, the BVAS does not need network to function on election day. He said that the accreditation by BVAS will only be done based on the data uploaded on it before the election day. He announced that the commission will work together with NCC and mobile network providers to work on the uploading of the election results.

“One thing I know about the BVAS is that it is not an electronic voting machine, in other words, you cannot use BVAS to vote. What BVAS does is authenticate the voter by way of accreditation and at the end of the process, it has a camera that takes a snapshot of the results and uploads the same to the IREV portal. But BVAS on election day does not operate based on the network, it operates offline.

“Once you have a database on BVAS, the BVAS does need any network to operate under any circumstances in Nigeria. So, it is not an online system and that is why as an additional protection to the system, it is not susceptible to hacking.

“So, after the voting process at the polling unit, that is when you are talking about the network to transmit the result at the polling unit. But when there is no connectivity in a polling unit, it is a blind spot, you just take the snapshot of the polling unit result and move on, and immediately on your way to the, even if there is a freak wave of any network, it just uploads on the portal.

“And we have done so even in Borno state, we did it in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean, we did it in Ilaje and Ese Odo during the Ondo governorship election we had no issues. We have tested this system in over 105 constituencies and the results are there on the portal.

“But if your point is protecting the process when is there is no connectivity, we are talking about our intention to work with every national institution in Nigeria to make sure that this system works. And for that reason, next Tuesday, we are going to meet NCC and the mobile network operators”, he said.

On the Personnel Who Operate the BVAS

Professor Mahmoud explained that the INEC is working around the clock to provide competent personnel who will operate the Bimodal Voters Accreditations System (BVAS) during the elections. He noted that the commission will ensure the operators are monitored to avoid manipulation that may affect the credibility of the 2023 election.

“What we do is to ensure we get the right people, train the right people, and keep our eyes on the process, the right people we trai them because even if they are the right people and they are not well trained, they may not handle the machines effectively. So, we keep our eyes on the process. I have not heard any Nigerian who says the manual process of accreditation is better than the electronic process. We must as well try as much as possible to deal with the human element”.

On vote buying
The INEC boss diagnosed the issue of vote buying as a challenge to the democratic practice in the country. He noted that the politicians now have vote buying as their only tool to manipulate election results to their favour. He called on the Nigerians to be aware of the disadvantage of vote buying and to eschew it. He, however, stated that the INEC will be working with antigraft agencies to combat the menace of vote buying in the country.

“You know people are increasingly aware now that votes count, and you have no guarantee that if you pay before the election, they will vote for you so they will say see and buy. Even when they give some money, they will be sure that you have voted for them because you are not increasing the vote counts. It is a multidimensional issue, and the solution has to be multi-dimensional.

“So, what can INEC do? Yes, enforcement by working with security agencies. Two, by changing the configuration of our polling units you know the process that it is an open secret ballot system. The other one, we will ban the use of smartphones and photographic devices in the voting cubicles.

But some of the vote buyers might be political parties’ agents who have legitimate reasons to be at the polling units. So, it becomes a difficult issue to deal with. But again, as I said earlier, we are going to mobilise every national institution, the antigraft agencies to ensure we address this issue”.

In his remarks at the occasion, the Executive Director of the International Press Centre, Mr Lanre Arogundade, applauded INEC for its collaboration with the media and its consistent engagement.
He charged the media executives to continue to demand enabling environment for reporting from the government to the security agencies and other stakeholders. He further enjoined the media to join hands with the INEC in beckoning on the National Assembly to sign the electoral offences commission bill into law. He also called the media to adopt the electoral code of conduct for a balance election

“The point of view of those of us who are partners with EUSDN, and also working in the media development sector, I think we have to realise that conducting a credible election, involves much more stakeholders and the enabling environment really has to be there. So, in our subsequent reportage, we need to take up the security agencies to the government who will be part of the logistics of conducting a very credible election. The second recommendation I will make is that as media executives, we should do everything we can to support INEC in establishing the Commission on the Electoral Offences, I think this will be important, particularly, given the fact that even before the elections we are having some embarrassing violence, including the killing of a female politician in Kaduna state,” Mr Arogundade noted.

In their reactions to the strategic consultative meeting organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission, some of the participants share their perspectives with the Nigeria Democratic Report (NDR).

Mrs Lilian Anele, the General Manager of Love FM, Abuja described the consultative meeting as remarkable for bringing media executives together to have insights about the activities of the electoral commission. “Today is remarkable because they deemed it fit to bring in media executives, these are people who will take a final decision, and these are people who will say this should go and this should not. So, for them to have this initiative is quite commendable and I wish they continued. And the information we have got today is quite enriching and we will take it back to our respective stations. You know if we have a credible election, it is going to reflect in every area of this country”, she said.

Also, Tunde Olawuwo, the General Manager of splash FM, Ibadan expressed his commendation for the elections umpire’s initiative. He noted that INEC has given the impression that the 2023 elections will not be business as usual. “I think generally, in my opinion, INEC has been the most improved public institution in Nigeria since 1999. They have evolved in terms of election management from the days when the numbers of votes would be more than the numbers of registered voters to the point when the level of confidence that people have in them is quite high. I think this is a very good one, the media is a key and strategic partner in the growth of democracy. So having this kind of interface will always be a fantastic idea,” he concluded.

Fatimah Yusuf from the General Manager, Radio Nigeria, Peace FM, Maiduguri tagged the event as an eye opener will take the electioneering process further in the country. “It was a very welcomed one, indeed it has come at a better time as we are expecting to go through the general elections in 2023. And INEC did very well not only to invite the media executives but other colleagues in the media.

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