Festus Okoye is a National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of the Independent National Electoral Commission. In this interview with AUGUSTINE AVWODE, the former Executive Director at Human Rights Monitor, reviews the just concluded Anambra State governorship election and submits that the electoral umpire displayed rare courage and determination to ensure the state and country do not slip into constitutional crises. While admitting there were initial glitches that were rectified by the Commission’s technicians, he dismissed the allegation that a staff of the Commission attempted to sabotage the process. He says INEC will approach the National Assembly if there are serious and challenging issues in the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill whenever it is signed into law. Excerpts:
The Anambra State gubernatorial election has come and gone. In retrospect, what is your general impression?
Generally, the Nigerian people have applauded the Commission for going ahead with and conducting the 2021 Anambra governorship election. The Commission conducted the 2021 Anambra governorship election in difficult circumstances. There was so much uncertainty on whether the election will hold considering the difficult political and security situation in the state. There was fear, apprehension, and palpable violence in the state. The election has come and gone and the Commission mobilized and conducted an election that has generally been termed free, fair and peaceful.
The fear of it not holding was rife and palpable. To the glory of God, it held with minimal disturbances. What would you attribute this to?
The Commission did not want to consciously or unconsciously allow the state and indeed the country to slip into a constitutional and political crisis.
Section 178 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria circumscribes the conduct of governorship elections within a tight compass and anything done outside that constitutional circumference is null and void and the alternative may result in the breakdown of law and order and constitutional crisis.
The Commission displayed courage, determination, and resilience in the face of the daunting challenges before and during the election.
The new innovation by INEC has yet some rave reviews, notwithstanding initial hiccups. Can we say INEC has found the magic wand for free, fair and credible elections?
The Commission will continue to be innovative and use technology to obviate pernicious human interference in the electoral process. We have an electronic voters register and we will continue to use advanced technology in the registration of voters. We have the current Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) that authenticates the fingerprint and facial of voters.
We upload Polling Unit results into a dedicated portal for public viewing. We plan to introduce electronic voting machines in the electoral process.
Presently, political parties, civil society groups and the media upload information regarding nominated candidates into our political parties’ nomination portal. The media apply for accreditation online and the same thing applies to civil society groups and organizations. The Commission will continue to use the BVAS to detect identity theft and chase away multiple voters from the polling units.
“The Electoral Act Amendment Bill is still inchoate and can only become law on presidential assent. The Commission will study the law when passed and will approach the National Assembly if there are serious and challenging issues with any of the provisions”
An unconfirmed report alleged that a staff of INEC actually tried to sabotage the system. Can you throw more light on it?
The Commission operates on the basis of concrete facts and evidence and not on the basis of speculation, rumours and innuendoes. There are bound to be a few glitches and challenges with the rollout of new technology on a massive scale. There were slight glitches in a few polling units in Anambra but our technicians rectified the challenge and the election proceeded. We are not aware of any attempt to sabotage the device.
Generally, many of the 18 parties that partook in the election have congratulated the winner. The only known exception, for now, is APC’s Andy Uba who is raising some dust contrary to his party’s position at the central. What would you say is the thinking of INEC on this?
The Commission is a creation of the Constitution and the law. The Commission is the umpire and the regulator. Any candidate in an election that feels aggrieved has the constitutional and legal right to approach an election petitions tribunal to ventilate his or her grievances. The Commission has no right to set aside the constitutional and legal rights of any candidate or political party in an election.
Ekiti and Osun States are prominent in your calendar. What other elections are on the table for the Commission now?
The national and state assemblies have declared vacancies in some federal and state constituencies and the Commission is bound to conduct these elections before the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections. We also have the Area Council elections in the Federal Capital Territory that will take place in February 2022. Political parties in the Area Council election have submitted the names and personal particulars of their nominated candidates and the Commission is proceeding with preparations for the election. The Commission has also released the timetable and schedule of activities for both elections that will take place in June and July 2022.
Lastly, the National Assembly has passed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill waiting for Presidential assent. Is there any provision the INEC is uncomfortable with?
The legislative powers of the federation reside with the National Assembly and the Commission is bound to give effect to laws passed by the National Assembly. The Electoral Act Amendment Bill is still inchoate and can only become law on presidential assent. The Commission will study the law when passed and will approach the National Assembly if there are serious and challenging issues with any of the provisions.