Contentious areas of the Election Guidelines




Zakari

EMEKA NZE x-rays the contentious issues in the INEC’s newly released Elections Regulation and Guidelines and relates it with the demands of the Inter-Party Advisory Council to mitigate the loopholes of rigging in the 2019 general elections. 

Ingredients for controversies

The relative serenity in the political landscape has further been thwarted when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the Elections Guidelines and Regulations penultimate, Monday.  Firstly, the leaders of political parties then followed by other stakeholders, the civil society groups, the media and the security agencies have all expressed serious reservations.

Consequently, it has thrown open the latent division within the ranks of the Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) and further polarised the populace along pro- Buhari group on one side and the opposition, especially, the Atiku supporters on the other.

At the forefront of the challengers are of the changes in the electoral guidelines is the Coalition for United Political Parties (CUPP), which has since the release of the guidelines been vehemently opposed to the import of changes made therein, while the Coalition of Progressive Political Parties (CPPP) has equally been making serious case for new guidelines.

This, coupled with the appointment of two Northerners, Amina Zakari and AVM Mua’zu, into two high-powered election committees – the National Collation Centre and the Elections Logistics Committee, generated controversies that have taken the centre stage of election discourse.

While the argument questioning the appointment of Hajiya Zakari, a blood relation of President Muhammadu Buhari, was yet to simmer down, many Nigerians especially from the opposition stock were further irked by what they termed “smuggled clauses” into the electoral guidelines which exacerbated the controversy.

Surprise mixed with anger

Majority of the political parties at the quarterly consultative meeting with INEC last Monday expressed surprise and anger that the INEC without consulting them as major stakeholders single-handedly prepared and issued the electoral guidelines, a move which they argued left grounds of suspicion on the intention of the INEC in the conduct of the 2019 general elections.

The party officials also argued that the INEC had lied when it claimed that it had sent copies of the guidelines to all the political parties via their emails a week before the parley for their study and subsequent discussion at the meeting.

Chairman of IPAC, Chief Peter Ameh’s in an interview with Blueprint stated that he had consulted with over 68 parties who confirmed to him that INEC did not send any mails to them prior to the meeting.

Ameh said: “That’s what I am saying now; INEC said they sent email, people said they did not receive any mail. My email is there. If they want investigation, let them open their email, let people come and see if the email got to me. Our party email is: [email protected], my personal email is [email protected]

“So if they want to check, let them check to see if there was any email sent to us. I speak to you authoritatively, I can list the parties who said they did not receive the email and we only met those guidelines on the day of the meeting, last Monday.

CAVS controversy

A major source of disagreement between INEC and the political parties and thus generating heated debate is the number 8 (a) of the guidelines which states: Voting shall be in accordance with the Continuous Accreditation and Voting System (CAVS) procedures as specified in these Regulations and Guidelines, the Election Manual and any other Guide issued by the Commission.

Whereas the INEC held that the order of accreditation before voting was changed due to complaints received by the Commission from both the citizenry and in the media because, according to the INEC chairman, in previous elections it led to a situation where some accredited voters went home without returning to the polling unit to cast their votes. This, he said, led to worsening voters’ apathy.

The majority of the parties were of the view that the procedure of simultaneous accreditation and voting is a springboard for rigging as it does not first show the number of accredited voters before voting begins. The parties believe that this current method of simultaneous accreditation and voting makes for uncertain and unspecified number of voters and lacks transparency and will become a loophole for certain persons to manipulate the figures.  

The parties favoured the use of the 2015 accreditation method which allows separate accreditation and separate voting but rejected the new clause which provides for simultaneous accreditation and voting. However, the parties said the later method will give room for a scanty polling unit that will aid rigging instead of the accreditation and voting separately which will keep the people behind as shield to resist rigging.

The political parties also insisted that the commission must provide a form to record and announce accreditation and issue it out to the political parties before voting starts, to deter tampering with the results since accreditation has been known.

Pandemoniun

IPAC spokesman Ikenga Ugochinyere told newsmen that the pandemonium which ensued at the meeting, between the INEC and the IPAC officials, was allegedly a diversionary ploy by the INEC to prevent discussion on the contentious areas of the guidelines issued by the commission.

Ugochinyere said: “You all know that the law to be used for 2019 election is same law used in 2015 elections because the President refused to sign the electoral bill into law. Equity demands that we go with the accreditation system of the 2015 election which stated that you accredit, you wait and you vote. Now all we are demanding is that let there be a certificate of accreditation.

“At the end of accreditation by 12 noon you give the political party agents the total number that has been accredited. This will save us of the possibility of the election being overrun by the security agencies and figures being turned in and he (INEC chairman) has refused all entreaties to discuss this guidelines till this moment that he brought in this doctored documents to ruin the 2019 general elections”  

Also the political parties demanded for the total number of the PVCs collected before the election and the removal of former corps members and federal civil servants from the list of INEC adhoc staff. On the issue of adhoc staff, the commission disowned the advert for recruitment saying that the INEC has not agreed on the criteria for Adhoc recruitment. The commission agreed to stop PVC collection one week to election and give out the numbers collected at the state level to the stakeholders. 

Booby-traps in the guidelines

Other controversial areas of the INEC’s guidelines includes: No 10 (g)”If the name of the (verified) voter is not in the Register of Voters, the Assistant Presiding Officer II (APO II) shall politely ask the voter to leave.”

The Guidelines on number 11(b) went further to stipulate that “Where a voter’s PVC is read but his or her fingerprint is not authenticated, the APO (I) shall refer the voter to the APO II who shall (I) request the voter to thumbprint the appropriate box in Register of Voters, (ii) request the voter to provide his/her phone number in the appropriate box in the Register of Voters, (iii) continue with the accreditation of the voter and (IV) Refer the voter to the Presiding Officer or Assistant Presiding Officer (APO) for the issuance of the ballot paper(s).

IPAC’s demands

Inter party advisory council (IPAC) National Spokesperson, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, demanded that they are ready to accept the 2019 General Election Minimum Standards/Safeguards Political Parties/Key Election Stakeholders from the INEC to help guarantee free and fair polls.

Quote

The political parties also insisted that the commission must provide a form to record and announce accreditation and issue it out to the political parties before voting starts, to deter tampering with the results since accreditation has been known.

Pls use pixs of INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu

Will INEC yield to pressure?

“In view of the refusal by President Buhari to sign the 2018 Amended Electoral Act which would have helped to strengthen the 2019 election (meaning we will be using the same laws used in 2015), the following minimum standard and safe guards become paramount to be adopted by the INEC to help make 2019 free/fair:

“The retention of the 2015 accreditation and voting PROCEDURE and rejection of the unilateral move by the INEC to tamper with the national guidelines to include simultaneous accreditation /voting instead of separate periods for accreditation and voting 

“In order to secure the credibility of the 2019 election in view of the non-signing of the electoral law and usage of the same law used for the 2015 election that INEC must reverse back and maintain the accreditation and voting procedure adopted during the 2015 election and enshrined under Section 8(a) of the 2015 election guideline which holds that there shall be separate periods for accreditation and voting.

“The advantages of the retention of the 2015 accreditation method is that it will reduce the physical manipulation of the results at the pulling unit level as all voters who have been accredited will all be waiting for the separate commencement of voting which is better than the simultaneous accreditation/voting which leaves a few people at the pulling unit thereby making it easy for manipulation and security intimidation

“Provide Separate forms for recording and announcing of total number of accredited voters by 12/1pm close of accreditations before voting starts. This addition is to secure the credibility of electoral process by ensuring that once accreditation ends by 12/1pm the electoral staff announces the total accredited votes, enters it into a form and all-party agents sign and copies are issued out to the party agents who will all sign before the voting process starts.

“This once is done secures the electoral foundation and blocks tampering of result and snatching of materials because the total accredited votes evidence is already issued out and no manipulation can alter that as it is already in possession of the agents even before voting starts, the worse that can happen is that even if anybody wants to rig, his rigging plans will be limited inside the already known total number of accredited votes.

Gross violation

IPAC stated that “The move to tamper with the national guideline and procedure for accreditation as used in 2015 to a new one few weeks to election violates ARTICLE 2 AND 3 OF THE ECOWAS PROTOCOL ON DEMOCRACY AND GOOD GOVERNANCE which Nigeria is a signatory to and was also one of the reasons given by the Presidency for President Buhari not singing the amended Electoral Act. Article 2 of the protocol forbids Amendment to Electoral rules and guideline 6 months to election without consent of majority of political actors.

“Article 3 demands that the electoral body must be neutral, have confidence of the political parties/actors and consult political parties/actors to arrive at guidelines/structures and bodies for the election. Note here that political parties who are the major actors in the electoral process have not been consulted on any plan to change the method for accreditation.

“Also for the purposes of national election, the INEC have not issued any national election guideline within the 6 months’ time limit to change the method for accreditation which means that the last known national method of accreditation for election is the 2015 method of separate period for accreditation and voting and not the simultaneous accredit/vote method that the INEC is trying to experiment with at some failed bye-elections and for the first time in a national election.

“This form of accreditation is not of much burden as the INEC already have the format of the EC8A/EC8VP which can be tinkered with to reflect the demands but even if they don’t want, they can still design a single page document which printing and minting companies can roll out in less than 10 days.

“The INEC have surplus funds which would have been deployed into the e-voting/collation procedure assuming the Electoral Act amendment was signed and now the law was not signed all the expenses that would have been carried out based on that law will no longer be done thereby saving some funds.

“All the budget left over from ballot papers printing because the INEC will be working on total PVC collected and not on the total registered voters as not all registered voters can vote unless you have PVC. There are many subheads and miscellaneous provision funds in the INEC budget that can get the form printed.

“Above all, separate forms or not for entering accreditation, availability of money to print a separate form or not etc, a reversal to 2015 accredit separate and vote separate is non-negotiable and the only way to reduce polling units vote manipulation and safeguard the polling units from been overrun by thugs or compromised security agents and does not require any money to do so.

The council further demanded that “In order to reduce the possibility of desperate politicians conniving with compromised INEC staff to hijack uncollected PVC and give to their supporters to come and vote which is now possible with the re-introduction of the incidence form inside the voters register which allows all PVC holders to vote once their name is in the register even when the card reader cannot recognise their finger print and also to avoid falsification of results which will exceed the total number of PVC collected in a particular area.

“This makes it imperative that the INEC must agree on a date with political parties to release the final list of PVC collected and not collected on polling unit basis to help the parties have a total summary of the votes that is for the election since voting is on PVC possession alone, so that we know the number of people expected to vote which is not the same with the total number of registered voters.

“Also, a date for the close of the collection of the PVC must also be agreed and announced to Nigerians after which INEC issues the requested PVC collection data to the political parties.

“This window will be used to bring in people with allegiance to some vested political interests. All measures to monitor the manipulation of the selection process must be put in place to avoid the Rivers State past scenario where card carrying members of a Political party were deployed as INEC Ad Hoc Staffs

It further noted that “there is a breach of federal character in appointment of key sensitive committee for election. Logistics head is from the North and collation committee chaired by Amina Zakari is from North plus the INEC CHAIR and Police IGP which is doing policing for the election all from the North.

“The transport committee has an almost 100 percent northern membership because the heads of the security agencies which have membership are from the North. Note also the head of the para military agencies is Dambazzau, the Interior Minister, who is also the Head of APC Presidential campaign security committee.

“No membership or representative of the Political Parties platform/IPAC is in these committees.

“Also we demand for the re-jig of the two main committees headed by northerners especially the Amina Zakari committee which is supposed to be headed by the commissioner in charge of Operation Mr. Ibeanu because collation issues and its venue is operation issue.

On what they called “Secret polling unit, the IPAC demanded for the list of the newly created polling units called voting points settlement and their locations and total numbers”.

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