Senate, INEC parley for rancour-free elections in Bayelsa, Kogi states

[FILE PHOTO] INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

Lawmakers express concern for welfare of commission’s staff
With many Nigerians still unconvinced that the Ninth Senate, led by Senate President Ahmed Lawan, will not end up as ‘rubber stamp’ to the Executive, the upper chamber of the National Assembly appears to be starting on a good footing with a determination to ensure that free, fair and credible election is attainable in Nigeria, at least in the coming 2023 general elections, which is just a little over 1,240 days ahead.

It was such determination that probably made the senate to engage the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, who led other National Commissioners to brief the newly constituted Senator Kabiru Ibrahim Gaya-led Senate Committee on INEC on preparations for the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections, scheduled for November 16, 2019.

Other motives behind the legislators’ invitation to INEC included the need to understand the Commission’s commitment to doing its job of delivering credible elections in Nigeria, welfare of its staff and other critical logistics.

While many Nigerians considered the development, especially coming more than three years to the next general elections as a step in the right direction, others expressed the belief that if there is sincerity of purpose and commitment to implementing whatever comes thereafter, “it is possible for Nigeria to witness a better electoral process in 2023.”

In his presentation, Professor Yakubu told the Kabiru Ibrahim Gaya-led Committee about the proposed amendment to the Electoral Legal Framework, saying, “You will recall that when Certificates of Return were formally presented to Members-Elect of the National Assembly at the International Conference Centre after the 2019 general elections, it was one of the issues that I raised. I said that there is a lot of work to do, but very little time available for doing the job. Very little time, considering the fact that from now to the 2023 General Elections, it just a little over 1,240 days. So, the election is not too far away.”

Yakubu commended the senators for expressing concern over the welfare of the commission’s staff, saying, “We are committed to that and we will make specific proposals when we submit our 2020 budget proposals before the end of this month. I am sure our staff will be very happy to hear this that you have put smiles on the faces of all the staff of the Commission.”

Kogi/Bayelsa guber elections
Yakubu said the Kogi and Bayelsa gubernatorial elections are in the category of end-of-tenure off-season elections conducted by the Commission. “From this year until very close to the next general elections, there will be governorship elections every year in Nigeria. This year, we have Kogi and Bayelsa; next year 2020, we have Edo and Ondo governorship elections. Thereafter in 2021, we have the Anambra governorship elections and in 2022, we have Ekiti and Osun governorship elections. So, this is the first in the major off-season governorship elections that the Commission is going to conduct,” he said.

Yakubu reeled out the following statistics about the upcoming elections in the two states: In terms of the number of local governments, Bayelsa has eight local government areas while Kogi has 21. Bayelsa has 105 electoral wards as against Kogi’s 239. For the Polling Units, including the Voting Points, Bayelsa has 2,244 polling units and voting points while Kogi has 3508. In terms of the registered voters, Bayelsa has 923,182 registered voters, whereas Kogi has 1,646,350 registered voters.

The INEC chairman observed that since 2015, it had been the practice that where citizens have no PVCs (permanent Voters’ Cards), they can’t vote. “What therefore is the rate of collection of PVCs in the two states?”

Permanent Voters’ Cards
Yakubu disclosed that in Bayelsa, 889,308 PVCs had been collected, representing 96.3 per cent of the total number of registered voters while in Kogi, 1, 485,828 PVCs have been collected, representing 90.2 percent.

Uncollected PVCs in Bayelsa stands at 33, 874, representing 3.7 per cent of the total number of registered voters whereas in Kogi, it is 160, 522, representing 9.8 per cent of the total number of registered voters.

The INEC chairman noted that the Commission would require a lot of ad-hoc staff to conduct the two elections. According to him, “In Bayelsa, we’ll require 9,945 ad-hoc staff. In Kogi, we’ll require 15,868 ad-hoc staff. In all, for the two states, the commission will require about 26,000 ad-hoc staff to conduct the elections.

Party primaries and nomination of candidates
According to the INEC boss, there are 92 political parties in the country. They were 91 going into the 2019 general elections but since the general elections, the courts have ordered INEC to register another party. Some of the (existing) parties were actually registered by court order. The constitutional provision for registration of parties is very clear. But in addition, the Electoral Act 2010 says that if an association doesn’t hear from INEC within one month, it is deemed to be registered.

For the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections, only 52 parties nominated candidates for the Bayelsa governorship election, while 49 did in Kogi, making a total of 101 parties for the two elections. However, out of the 101 parties, only 46 in Bayelsa and 41 in Kogi, making a total of 87, made valid nominations.

In other words, the nominations complied with the constitutional requirements for qualification for election into the office of governor. The requirements are that: The candidate has to be a Nigerian citizen by birth; He or she has to be 35 years of age minimal; He or she must be sponsored by a political party as there are no provisions for independent candidacy; and The candidate must be educated to school certificate level.

Yakubu noted that, “In all, we have 45 parties contesting in Bayelsa and 23 in Kogi, making a total of 68. But three of the 14 parties that made invalid nominations have dragged the Commission to court. I can’t comment on the merit of these cases in court.”

The INEC boss assured the senate committee of its financial capacity to conduct the Bayelsa, and Kogi gubernatorial elections, saying, “We made provisions in the 2019 regular budget for the two governorship elections. We have also made provisions for some unforeseen off-season elections, like the Pengana State Constituency election caused by death and the pending bye-election in Katsina, again, caused by death. We have also made provision for recall and referendum. And yesterday (8th October) we received a letter from one of the states asking for the register of voters to initiate a recall of one of the members of the National Assembly. So, there is already a request for initiating recall. We made provision in the regular 2019 budget for this kind of situation and we are well within budget.”

He disclosed that there were 14 activities that the Commission has to implement for both elections, ranging from the publication of the Notice of Election to the Election Day proper. “So far, we have successfully accomplished nine out of the 14 activities. The 10th activity, which is the presentation of the register of voters to political parties, took place yesterday. The remaining four activities will be accomplished between the 2nd and 16th of November. So, in terms of the goals we set for ourselves, we are well on course.”

For logistics, INEC admitted the fact that the two states were difficult in terms of terrain but assured the senate committee that necessary arrangements were being concluded with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) for land transport based on the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between it and the union. “In Bayelsa, because five out of the eight local governments are riverine, we have also made arrangements with boat owners.”

He said that all non-sensitive materials for the elections for the two states had been delivered and INEC staff were batching the materials by local governments, by RAs (Registration Areas) and down to the level of Polling Units.

“As always, the Smart Card Readers (SCRs) will be deployed for the election for the purpose of voter accreditation and we have made arrangements for the configuration and deployment of the SCRs. The Manual Register will be printed. One will be pasted at the Polling Units, the other one will be held by the Presiding Officer and that is the one that will be ticked off on Election Day. We are well on course also on the production of the register,” he said.

Another fact Yakubu admitted before the Senator Gaya-led committee is that both Kogi and Bayelsa were politically volatile. He stressed: “We have seen the kind of situation that arose during the conduct of primaries by political parties and one or two incidents in Kogi with the commencement of campaigns by political parties. We have the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), which I co-chair with the National Security Adviser (NSA). The Police are the lead agency but all other security agencies are also involved. Yesterday (October 8), we had a consultative meeting with the Inspector General of Police and we are working on the deployment jointly with the security agencies for the security personnel needed for the two elections.”

He continued: “We conducted our own risk assessment for the two States and we share what we do with the security agencies that also conduct their own risk assessment on the basis of which the security agencies will be guided in their deployment. We’ll soon finalise on the deployment plan jointly with the security agencies, including the escort of personnel and materials as well as the protection of the processes throughout the period of the elections. In a place like Bayelsa, we not only hire boats, we also work with the security agencies – the Marine Police, the Navy and the Army to have gun-boats to escort the boats carrying personnel and materials for the election and we are working with the security agencies in that respect.”

Another step the commission has taken to address the issue of security, Yakubu said, was the engagement of necessary stakeholders in both states ahead of the polls. “Given the security situation in the two states, we realised that we have to be proactive in our engagements with all stakeholders at state level since this is the first major election after the 2019 general elections. We have taken the extra-ordinary step to start engaging with the stakeholders long before the elections,” he said.

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