2023 and INEC’s insistence on raising the bar of credible polls

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BY BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, ABUJA

Uba Group

With 95 days to go, the Independent National Electoral Commission has refused to backpedal on its promises to deliver free, fair, transparent and credible polls in the forthcoming general election thus giving hope of a growing democratic ethos to many Nigerians.

The elections begin with the Presidential and National Assembly elections on February 25, 2023.

The umpire has equally stated that the evil winds blowing against the electoral processes can only work if the Commission succumbs to the antics of politicians whose aims are to derail the process in order to return the country to her dark days of political brigandage when electoral exercises were merely observed just to fulfill all righteousness. Then they were rather characterized by violence, hijacking of voting materials and mass thumb printing including forceful declaration of fake results by electoral officials due to threats by unscrupulous politicians bent on winning elections at all cost.

However, the Commission under the leadership of Professor Mahmood Yakubu has not shifted grounds from its resolve to rewrite the country’s elections history by ensuring that votes count and that winners must emerge from the polls. This is the reason the INEC Chairman has continued to sound as a broken record with a view to giving the citizens the confidence that would encourage them to troop out en masse to cast their votes for the candidates of their choices on election day.

Yakubu and his team has not left any stone unturned in their bid to enshrine a workable solution to the ailing country’s election process by embarking on posting of staff from one location to another, one office to another and equally making public every of its move towards the conduct of the 2023 elections.

While the clamour for a return to the old path by some politicians persists, the INEC Boss rather embarked on innovations across board in the preparations for the elections many, locally and internationally have described as make or break for Nigeria’s existence.

Few months back, the Commission took the political watchers and analysts by surprise with a major shakeup which many criticised while some, particularly the Commission’s partner and major stakeholders, Intra Party Advisory Council supported fully.

“By the Commission’s information, several double, multiple and ineligible registrants have also been detected and invalidated… The Commission takes this responsibility seriously because a credible register is at the heart of electoral integrity”

Speaking on the matter, the Chairman of IPAC, the umbrella body of all the political parties in Nigeria, Yabagi Sani, said there is no cause for alarm over the changes in INEC.

He maintained that there can’t be anything wrong with that adding that it is a normal managerial activity. “The management of INEC has the right to move their staff from one office to another to improve their work in the commission. One cannot question the decision of INEC to effect changes in their offices because it is not against their rules and the constitution. It is in order; they have the right to always reshuffle,” Sani said.

The IPAC Chairman further noted that nobody is indispensable while speaking on the issue raised concerning the change in the office of the Director of ICT, a department overseeing the electronic voting and transmission of election results.

According to him, “Is there anyone that cannot be changed? Nobody is indispensable. Even though everybody’s contribution is required, nobody is indispensable. INEC as an organisation is alive to its activities. As you know, anything can happen. Individuals can die, or resign from office. What will you do in that case? IPAC commends the effort of INEC which shows that it is alive to its responsibilities.”

In furtherance to walking their talk in conducting free, fair, transparent and credible elections, INEC commenced the cleaning up of the register of voters promising to add valid registrants to existing register after clean-up.

Making the commencement known to the public, the National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye said in a statement that the cleaning up of the register of voters has begun, using the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS).

The Commission informed Nigerians that out of the 2, 523,458 (Two million, five hundred and twenty-three thousand, four hundred and fifty-eight) fresh registrants that registered between 28th June 2021 and 14th January 2022, 1,126,359 (One million, one hundred and twenty-six thousand, three hundred and fifty-nine) records were found to be invalid and consequently delisted.

By the Commission’s information, several double, multiple and ineligible registrants have also been detected and invalidated. These include entries that fail to meet the Commission’s business rules. The Commission takes this responsibility seriously because a credible register is at the heart of electoral integrity.

The INEC reassured Nigerians that a thorough process was being undertaken to clean up the registration data and added that Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) for all valid registrants will be available for collection by the end of October/early November as promised.

How far this aspect of INEC’s promise has been fulfilled remains un-ascertained. However, the electoral umpires said they will not want to distribute the cards in piece meals rather the cards will be conveyed in bulk to the various states and local government areas for easy collections by the owners.

“CBN"

DISPLAY OF VOTER’S REGISTER

Saturday 12th November 2022, the Commission published the preliminary national register of voters in its 8,809 Registration Areas (Wards) and 774 Local Government Area offices nationwide. Similarly, the entire register has been published on the Commission’s website for the first time in the nation’s electoral history.

The purpose of the display is to enable Nigerians to scrutinise the preliminary register and make claims about misspellings of names, personal details or missing names on the register so that the errors can be corrected. In addition, citizens can raise objections about the presence of ineligible persons, for example, those below the age of 18 years, dead persons, foreigners, or those making false claims so that they can be deleted from the register in line with the Commission’s established rules.

The law mandates the Commission to display the register for seven days. The Commission’s website has been flooded with a barrage of complaints and the INEC, through its Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, has assured Nigerians that it will harvest the complaints and make the necessary corrections.

As earlier announced, the Commission displayed the physical copies of the register for claims and objections at two levels. First, at the Registration Area level from 12th to 18th November 2022, and came to an end last Friday. As at the time of filing this report, it is hoped that the next level at the Local Government Area from 19th to 25th November 2022 would have also begun. The display will be followed by hearing of claims and objections by citizens for disposal action. In addition to the physical display at the Registration Areas and Local Governments, the register is also displayed on the Commission’s website so that citizens can simultaneously make both claims and objections online throughout the duration of the exercise.

This is the first time that the Commission would be doing so and further underscores their commitment to applying technology to improve the electoral process. So far, the Commission has been harvesting the online claims and objections and maintained that they will do the same for the manual process. Assuring that at the end of the exercise, all claims and objections made will be addressed.

In this way, it is believed that citizens are contributing to the strengthening of our electoral processes and democratic ethos.

The full display of all registrants speaks to the Commission’s commitment to transparency. The fact that these likely ineligible registrants are being identified means that the objectives of the display for claims and objections are being met.

INEC did implore the public to follow the procedures and report these objections for the necessary action of the Commission. In addition, the Commission stated clearly that it cannot rule out infractions by its registration officials in allowing these ineligible persons into the register in the first place. Therefore, each confirmed case of infraction can be thoroughly investigated and culpable officials will be disciplined.

INEC reassures Nigerians that the Commission is committed to transparency and accountability in all its activities hoping that at the end of the exercise, the Commission, with the involvement of citizens, would have improved the quality of the Register of Voters, which is the bedrock of a successful election.

According to Okoye, “Nigerians should note that perfecting the register is a continuous and painstaking process over time. Indeed, the presently displayed register contains all the voters dating back to the registration of 2011, not just the recent exercise. That some of these likely ineligible entries are being found presently confirms the Commission’s position that the best way to make the voters’ register more robust is for Nigerians to continue to scrutinise it and, more importantly, make their claims and objections for its improvement. We thank Nigerians for their sustained cooperation for the growth of our democracy.”

100 DAYS TO ELECTION

When it was exactly 100 days before polling units open at 8.30am on Saturday 25th February 2023 for national elections (Presidential and National Assembly) and two weeks later on Saturday 11th March 2023 for State elections (Governorship and State Houses of Assembly), the INEC Boss noted that over the last 23 years, the country has made a steady progress in the twin areas of electoral reform and election administration. He, nevertheless, acknowledged that a lot of work still lies ahead. He generally acknowledged that Nigeria’s elections are getting better and citizens’ confidence in the process have been growing.

Reiterating its resolve to give Nigerians the best come 2023, Yakubu said, “As I have said repeatedly, the Commission’s allegiance is to Nigeria. Our loyalty is to Nigerians who want free, fair, credible and verifiable elections supported by technology, which guarantees transparent accreditation and upload of polling unit results for citizens to view in real-time on Election Day. It is for these reasons that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) were introduced. There is no going back on the deployment of BVAS and IReV for the 2023 General Election.

“We will continue with our regular engagement with political parties, civil society organisations, the media and other critical stakeholders. Above all, Nigerians deserve the right to know about the progress we are making and the challenges (if any) we confront in our preparations for the General Election. Accordingly, in a couple of weeks, the Commission will start bi-weekly media briefings followed by weekly briefings as we get closer to the election. In the week leading to the election, there will be daily briefings.”

Yakubu seized the opportunity to call on all citizens to participate fully in all electoral activities, particularly the ongoing display of the Register of Voters for claims and objections, as well as collection of Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs). I also call on political parties and political leaders to conduct their campaigns peacefully, eschewing divisiveness, rancour and violence.

“As Nigerians are aware, elections are a multi-stakeholder activity. We wilL continue to play our part diligently and conscientiously.

We appeal to all stakeholders and, above all, citizens to play their own part so that working together, we can have the elections that Nigerians yearn for, and which the world expects from us. Those who still think they can manipulate the process are in for a disgrace of their life because the BVAS and IReV have come to stay in our elections and nothing can upturn it.”

“Nigerians need to understand that the forthcoming elections are their opportunity to decide who governs them. It is no longer business as usual. Those politicians who think they will rig to win will be totally disgraced. This is because INEC has acquired high technological innovations that will definitely make the difference”

LINGERING DOUBT

Nevertheless, Nigerians still have mutual distrust to the sincerity of INEC towards fulfilling its promise that their votes will count.

An Abuja based trader, Uche Kalu, dismissed the promises of INEC to conduct free and credible elections. He claimed that INEC staff are making it difficult for people to collect their Voter’s cards.

“How can INEC continue to promise us that they will conduct credible elections when even to collect our PVC is very difficult? I have been going to the INEC office to collect my PVC but till now, I have not been able to collect it. The other day I went there, only people from a section of the country were collecting their PVC and when I asked for mine, they said I should come back tomorrow; I went that day but did not meet anybody in their office. I don’t believe our votes will count.”

Kennedy Ogbo, a businessman debunked the claims of Kalu saying his case may be a special one. According to him, “I did not find it difficult to collect my PVC. I went to the INEC office and that same day I collected my PVC. I am sure INEC will conduct a credible election. I’m only waiting to cast my vote.”

Meanwhile, former Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mike Igini, has lent his voice in assuring the electorate that their votes will count in 2023 at all levels of the elections.

Igini called on Nigerians to support the Commission in its bid to conduct a globally acceptable election by collecting their Voters’ cards and coming out in their numbers to cast their votes. He said the 2023 general election will avail Nigerians the best opportunity to decide who their leaders will be moreso, when the INEC has remained resolute in conducting a free, fair, transparent and credible elections.

“Nigerians need to understand that the forthcoming elections are their opportunity to decide who governs them. It is no longer business as usual. Those politicians who think they will rig to win will be totally disgraced. This is because INEC has acquired high technological innovations that will definitely make the difference. It does not end at collecting your voter’s card. Your office on the days of elections is the polling station, so join the numerous Nigerians that will make Nigeria great again by casting your vote.

Your vote must count.”