Yakubu on Anambra governorship election: Trained ad-hoc staff, vehicle owners withdrew eleventh hour

  

 The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Thursday said the challenges the commission had during the November 6 Anambra state governorship election were more with system operators than the machines.

The commission also underscored the huge task before it, saying as the second largest presidential democracy, Nigeria’s 84 million registered voters were 11 million more than voters from 15 West African countries put together.

INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu made this known at an interactive session with media executives in Lagos.

Speaking against the backdrop of issues raised about the performance of BVAS-a new technology deployed by INEC during the poll, he said the glitches were more with system operators and other logistics than the machines.

Yakubu said: “The deployment of the BVAS in the Anambra Governorship election was the second pilot test. It was intended to achieve two objectives. First is voter accreditation to replace the Smart Card Reader. The second is the uploading of polling unit result to the IReV portal to replace the z-pad.  The BVAS performed optimally in uploading results to the IReV portal, but there were the usual challenges associated with the pilot of a new technology in a major election. 

“From our assessment so far, much of the glitches encountered on Election Day in Anambra State had little to do with the machines but more with the operators of the system. The extraordinarily difficult circumstances under which the election was held meant that some of the better trained ad-hoc staff withdrew at the 11th hour. Similarly, some critical service providers such as vehicle owners also withdrew thereby severely affecting our plans for rapid response by our technicians-the Registration Area Technical (RATECH) staff.”

He said “in spite of the glitches, BVAS has justified our determination to deepen the deployment of technology in the electoral process. Given the credible conclusion of the election, it has strengthened our belief that even the minimal introduction of technology in voter accreditation is better than the best manual process. We want to thank the voters in Anambra State for their patience and faith in the new technology. This has also justified the hope of citizens across the country that the deployment of more appropriate technology is essential to electoral integrity in Nigeria.

“Our response to the glitches encountered started right from Anambra State. This explains why there were no challenges reported during the supplementary election in Ihiala Local Government Area held on Tuesday, 9th November 2022. I want to reassure Nigerians that we have learnt vital lessons from the Anambra pilot. There will be remarkable improvement in the next major election which is the end-of-tenure Area Council election in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) scheduled to hold in three months on 12th February 2022.”

Country’s size/voter base

On the voter population, related issues and the challenges therein, Yakubu said: “Nigeria’s size and population make it one of the biggest democracies in the world. It is certainly the second largest presidential democracy after the United States of America. The size of our voter population and elective institutions make elections in Nigeria a huge undertaking.

“This fact is better appreciated within our regional context. There are 15 countries in West Africa today, including Nigeria. However, with the current voter population of over 84 million, Nigeria has about 11 million more registered voters than the other 14 countries put together which have 73.6 million registered voters. Conducting a General Election in Nigeria is like holding election in West Africa and beyond.”

Although the INEC boss said he wasn’t complaining, but said the commission was into many tasks and therefore called for a review of the constitution with a view to giving such tasks to other outfits.

The INEC boss said “the statutory responsibilities of INEC make it both an Election Management Body and Electoral Commission. Section 53 (f) of Part 1 to the Third Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) requires the Commission to organize, undertake and supervise all elections to the offices of the President and Vice-president, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a state, and to the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each State of the Federation.”

To effectively do this, he listed  other extensive responsibilities undertaken by the Commission  to include among others, “registration and regulation of political parties, including the monitoring of party and campaign finance as well as their primaries, congresses, meetings and conventions.

“Voters registration, updating of the register and the maintenance the national data base of voters; prosecution of electoral offenders; creation of polling units and delimitation of electoral constituencies.”

Direct primaries

On the direct primary which is one of the items in the Electoral Bill currently with President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent, he said the commission would hit the ground running and commence its process towards the 2023 polls as soon as the bill becomes law.

“Since it emerged that the Direct Primary clause was included in the Electoral Act amendment Bill, many of you have been asking the Commission for its position. But the issue is not about our position, but the process.

“In the exercise of its constitutional power, the National Assembly has passed the Bill into law awaiting presidential assent. Once the process is concluded, the Bill becomes law and every person and authority in Nigeria, including the Commission, must obey. The Commission will give expeditious consideration to the law, including the detailed regulations and guidelines for its implementation where necessary,” he said.

Media

While commending the media for the cordial relationship it had with the commission, he said: “Your support in the extensive coverage, publication and airing of our programmes, activities, elections, and special briefings has contributed in many ways to the successes that we have recorded in the last five years. One major area where we need your help is in containing fake news.”

“Quite often, those who try to undermine the electoral system and their sympathisers take advantage of the free social media space and sometimes even the traditional media to advance their interests and spread falsehood. This can take various forms.

“They can, for instance, cook up wild allegations against the Commission and/or its officials to frustrate a good policy which they perceive as inimical to their selfish interest. When such allegations get to you, please thoroughly investigate. After all, one of the tenets of your noble profession is “fairness’ and “objectivity.” I implore you to always balance your stories.”  

Warns against contractors

Earlier, INEC National Commissioner/Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee Festus Okoye had called on the media to name and shame those wanting to corrupt the electoral process.   

“As the country moves steadily towards the 2023 general election, it is important for the media to join in naming and shaming the contractors, consultants and middlemen that corrupt the electoral process, undermine the value and quality of the vote and dissipate the sovereign right of the people to free choice.

“The Commission and the media must be ad-idem in restoring the primacy of the people as the custodian and dispenser of political mandate. In other words, a robust partnership between the media and the Commission will reduce the use of extraneous and unorthodox means in the determination of winners of election,” Okoye said.

Also in his remarks, President Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) Mustapha Issah, recalled the sacrifice by the media in the making of the democracy the nation currently enjoys.

He said the criticism of the commission by the media was not personal, but rather to ensure INEC and the people get the best from the nation’s electoral process.

Also in their separate remarks, Director International Press Centre Lanre Arogundade and Executive Director Institute for Media and Society, Dr. Akin Akingbulu underscored the need for a strong collaboration between the media and the electoral body.

Arogundade said INEC’s endeavour under the present leadership to up the scale was not in doubt, even as he urged the media to ask President Buhari to sign the Electoral Act Bill currently before him.

On his part, Akingbulu said the media had invested heavily in the return of the nation to democratic rule and can’t afford to watch the process go awry.

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