INEC must avoid inconclusive, staggered elections – Lawmaker

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BY BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, ABUJA

Uba Group

With 109 days to the 2023 general elections, a federal lawmaker, Dachung Musa Bagos, has charged the Independent National Electoral Commission to avoid conducting elections that will be inconclusive and create room for staggered polls if the outcome of the 2023 elections will be adjudged free, fair, transparent and credible.

Bagos representing Jos South/Jos East Federal Constituency of Plateau State on the ticket of Peoples Democratic Party, gave the charge in Abuja while having an overview of the forthcoming elections and the processes which the electoral umpire has taken so far to ensure it delivers not only a globally acclaimed credible elections but elections whose results must change the political history of Nigeria and Africa as a continent.

The House of Representatives member also called on the Federal Government to be supportive of the INEC in its bid to conduct free, fair, transparent and credible elections by releasing all the necessary funds for the conduct of the polls, especially the logistics that will ensure hitch-free processes.

“The INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu and his team must do everything to avoid inconclusive elections that will lead to staggered polls. One of the ways this can be achieved is making sure that all the logistics for the elections arrive at the venues as and when due without hitches. If one area received the election materials while another fails to receive for one reason or the other, then the tendency of having an inconclusive election is there and once there is an inconclusive election automatically there will be staggered election, then manipulation of results will creep in and all their efforts will be messed up,” he said.

He noted that delay in the arrival of logistics materials will definitely pave way for vote buying.

“This is because before the logistics materials arrive at certain areas for the election to begin, people may have waited for a long time in the queue from morning to evening. Politicians that have money to buy votes will have their way. So, any delay in deployment of essential materials will serve as a loophole for those who want the system to remain what it has been to have cause to celebrate. Another good omen is that the BVAS can serve for accreditation and voting at the same time because once the BVAS accredits a voter, he or she has automatically cast his or her vote which equally is transmitted automatically to the INEC Results Viewing portal. Before a politician and his agents can brainwash the voter, he or she has cast his or her vote. This is the importance of ensuring that the logistics are not delayed,” Bagos stressed.

He also hammered on the importance of the INEC true independence from all the tiers of government noting that it will give the electoral commission the freedom to employ the use of technology like the introduction of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, INEC Result Viewing portal and others that will definitely move the country on to a higher pedestal in the conduct of elections.

“It is very clear that INEC has truly improved the system and process technologically with the introduction of BVAS, IReV and others. This has created fears in politicians and has made them work hard because they now know that the era of ballot boxes snatching, over voting and writing of results that are unfounded is no more. So INEC must remain resolute to the decision to employ the services of technology in the 2023 elections regardless of pressures from any quarters to rescind the decision.

“Of course the Chairman has continually promised Nigerians and the entire world that accreditation of voters would be by BVAS and that the Commission will transmit results electronically. This is a plus for our election. Once we get it right in 2023, the country will return to her leadership position on the continent and that is the more reason people like us are throwing our weight behind the INEC to conduct a free, fair, transparent and credible elections at all levels,” he said.

The lawmaker however revealed that the Electoral Act 2022 as amended gave the Commission options as regards to the use of technology in the conduct of elections and as such those clamouring to stop it will hit a brick wall.

He said the INEC is at liberty by law to conduct any election using technology which is why Yakubu and his team tested these technologies in the elections in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun States and the outcome is praises upon praises on INEC because people’s governors were elected.

Bagos expressed fears that the good work by the 9th Assembly in passing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2022 which President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law may be rubbished by the judiciary. He said the courts have major roles to play in the forthcoming elections and to help INEC give Nigerians their desired election results where votes count by refusing to succumb to pressure piloted by any form of inducement.

“Like I have said, we have made laws in the National Assembly, it’s the responsibility of the judiciary to interpret the laws but my worry remains that when these laws are interpreted they seem to be different from the laws made by us. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that all tiers of the government will work together to take our democracy to greater heights”

“Besides the availability of logistics at the venues, the whole process can be rendered useless if the courts do not take a stand like INEC that the country must move on positively in elections and refuse any form of inducement to influence change of people’s choice through one law interpretation or another. The worrying thing is that during election petitions, the judiciary will begin to introduce tactical delay and even technical terms that will likely subvert the quality of the technology employed.

“Already we have seen in most cases where what we at the legislature propound and pass into law turn out to mean another thing during court interpretations. No doubt, the judiciary has the sole right to interpret the laws but the courts must take into cognizance their responsibilities to through their judgments grow our democracy and not destroy it. You can be rest assured that some politicians are already working round the clock to see avenue to rubbish the use of technology in the conduct of the 2023 elections and since the INEC has declared that the use of technology in the forthcoming elections is sacrosanct, the only avenue these politicians would revert to is the judiciary and that’s why I am pleading with them to uphold their integrity,” he pleaded.

He argued that the credibility of the election is what brings out and ensures that the election is democratic and it’s free and it’s credible and it’s fair so that at the end of the day, the results will be well acceptable.

“You know that after the 2023 elections we are going to have less court cases due to the Electoral Act because the process will be free and fair and we are going to see less number of election petitions both pre-election and post- election petitions. Already a Chief Judge of a Federal High Court has instructed on how to go about the petitions. This is a good step. As much as the election has been concluded the judgement on the pre-election matters will go a long way to impact on the result which is quite confusing. How can a pre-election matter be a decider of the outcome of elections where people voted? It’s not the best.

“Like I have said, we have made laws in the National Assembly, it’s the responsibility of the judiciary to interpret the laws but my worry remains that when these laws are interpreted they seem to be different from the laws made by us. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that all tiers of the government will work together to take our democracy to greater heights,” Bagos noted.

“CBN"

Meanwhile, Yakubu, has repeatedly said the Commission, through its proactiveness and effective collaboration with relevant stakeholders, is determined to ensure that elections are not postponed at the 11th hour on account of election logistics.

The INEC boss gave the assurance at the inauguration of the Electoral Logistics Committee held at the INEC Headquarters, Abuja on Friday.

He explained that the Committee, which is an ad-hoc inter-agency committee established close to the general elections, was borne out of the Commission’s effort to ensure the speedy and safe delivery of huge quantities of sensitive and non-sensitive materials for the 2023 general elections.

His words, “the logistics for the clearance, handling, custody, delivery, and distribution of enormous quantities of election materials is the biggest operation Nigeria undertakes every four years and as such every national asset must be mobilized.”

The Chairman stressed that for the movement of election materials and protection of personnel nationwide, Section 27(3) of the Electoral Act 2022 empowers the Commission to seek the support of the Armed Forces.”

“Accordingly, the three-armed services (Army, Navy, and Air Force) are members of ELoC. Similarly, the Nigeria Police Force, being the lead agency in election security is also a member as well as the sister security agencies.

“The Nigeria Customs Service (NSC) and the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) are also members pursuant to their statutory responsibilities for the clearance and release of materials at seaports and other entry points.”

Assuring Nigerians and global observers on the composition and roles of member agencies, the INEC Chairman said, “At our various airports, aviation agencies such as the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) play important roles, including the facilitation of access to all airports nationwide for shuttle services for elections as the need arises.”

Yakubu urged the Committee to commence their meeting immediately and submit periodic reports through the Chairman of the Committee, Major General Modibo Alkali (Rtd), who is an INEC National Commissioner.

He said, “In this way, we will be tracking progress and knowing well in advance of potential weak links in the logistics chain. We will also be updating Nigerians on the progress we are making on a regular basis.”

Other members of the Committee include; staff of the Commission, heads of the Nigerian Immigration Service, the Federal Road Safety Service Corps, the Federal Fire Service, and various Aviation agencies. Others are the President of the Nigeria Union of Road Transport Workers, and heads of other transport unions in the country.

The committee has the following Terms of Reference; to develop a seamless strategic plan for airlift, receipt, and distribution of sensitive materials; to determine areas of challenges or inadequacies in material storage, vehicles, aircraft, cargo, and other material delivery modes in order to ensure timeous delivery of materials for the election; and to determine, source, and coordinate air cargo carriage and delivery to specified airport in Nigeria.

The Committee was also mandated to; determine, source and coordinate truck cargo carriage and delivery to specified States, Local Government Areas; to develop and define a workable template for the provision of security, transportation and deployment/distribution of materials for election; to Identify and map out difficult terrains, areas with security challenges, and crisis-prone areas; and identify the mode of transportation to those areas.

They were also given the mandate to co-opt any professional, person, or agency that will strengthen the work of the committee; to make recommendations that will assist the Commission for a successful 2023 general elections; and submit a comprehensive report detailing an actionable plan with timelines.