Election postponement may lead to constitutional challenges — INEC commissioner, Okoye


The National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Independent National Electoral Commission, Festus Okoye, shares views with GIFT HABIB on INEC’s preparation ahead of the 2023 polls and other issues

What is the level of INEC’s preparation for the 2023 polls?

The commission has gone far in its preparations for the conduct of the 2023 general election. If you recall, on February 26, 2022, the commission released the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the Conduct of the 2023 General Election and listed 14 critical items, timelines and schedules that must be accomplished. Out of the listed 14 items, the commission has implemented nine and is on schedule. The political parties have submitted the names and personal particulars of their validly-nominated candidates. The political parties and their candidates have flagged off their rallies, processions, and campaigns.

The commission is carrying out minor and major repairs and renovations of its state and local government offices in readiness for the election. The zonal stores of the commission are taking deliveries of non-sensitive materials required for the election and the commission has taken delivery of, and warehoused the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System for at least 23 states of the federation. The commission has launched the INEC press for the recruitment of ad-hoc staff and, as pointed out by the Chairman of the commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, the commission will recruit and deploy not less than one million and four hundred thousand ad-hoc staff for the election. The training of trainers for the operation of the BVAS has started. The trainers will train at least 8,809 Registration Area Technical Assistants for the various registration areas, and they will then train the ad-hoc staff that will conduct elections in the 176,846 polling units.

You will also recall that the commission expanded access to polling units through the conversion of voting points and voting point settlements to new polling units. Since 1996, Nigeria has operated based on 119, 974 polling units and conducted the 2019 election with a total registered voter population of 84, 004, 084. The commission converted 56,872 voting points and voting point settlements to full-fledged polling units, bringing the total number of polling units in Nigeria to 176,846. The commission relocated polling units, which were not properly sited or situated, to public and accessible locations.

Presently, the commission is improving, enhancing, and deploying its Election Monitoring and Support System. These are tools that provide monitoring, implementation, early warning, field support, and coordination for all electoral activities for the general elections. The commission will monitor key election events and track critical election activities, functions, and processes as well as key performance indicators and timelines. No activity is too small to be planned.

The commission will audit the various Registration Area Centres and Super RACS ahead of the election. These are public facilities used for the housing of ad-hoc staff before the election. The local and state governments own these facilities, and most of them are not in good condition and lack the basic amenities required to house the ad-hoc staff.

The commission provides municipal facilities in these locations, including power generating sets and wiring, GP tanks and buckets for water, and sleeping mats. The commission is brainstorming and designing creative and innovative strategies to meet its logistics requirements. A high-level logistics-planning meeting has taken place, and new mechanisms are being designed to meet the logistics requirements of the commission.

The commission is also in discussion with the security agencies to harmonise their deployment plans and strategies and deploy early to the registration centres and escort ad-hoc staff carrying sensitive materials to the polling units rather than proceeding directly to the polling units.

 Last week, the INEC chairman feared the high rate of insecurity in the North West and South East elections. Will this not affect the election outcome, leading to legal issues?

The core responsibility of the commission is the conduct and supervision of elections. This is what the commission is focused on. The Nigerian Police Force is the lead agency on election security and they work with different security agencies to actualise their mandate. It is a matter of common knowledge that there are security challenges in several states of the federation and the security agencies and those saddled with the responsibility of protecting Nigerians and the country have assured the commission and Nigerians that they will reduce the challenges ahead of the election and neutralise threats to the conduct of the election.

 Moreover, there is no alternative to the conduct of elections at the periods and times stated in the constitution. Our elections are constitutionally and legally circumscribed. Section 134 (2) of the Constitution makes it mandatory that an election to the office of the President be held on a date not earlier than 180 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office.

 Constitutionally and legally, no one, not even a court of law has the right or the vice to extend the time assigned by the constitution. Time cannot be extended, expanded, elongated, or otherwise enlarged. The time fixed by the Constitution is like the rock of Gibraltar or Mount Zion, which cannot be moved. If what is to be done is not done within the time fixed, it lapses as the court is thereby robbed of the jurisdiction to continue to entertain the matter. Any suggestion relating to the postponement of elections, rescheduling of elections or tampering with the constitutional timelines may lead to constitutional challenges. We must all work assiduously to ensure that the election holds at the time and period designated by the constitution.

  What challenges do you envisage during the polls? How will you sort it out?

The conduct and delivery of elections is a multi-stakeholder venture and requires the cooperation, coordination, and harmonious involvement of the political parties, the security agencies, the media, and all the critical stakeholders in the electoral process. It is next to impossible for one agency to cover the field without the active cooperation of the others. We expect the security agencies to prepare and prepare well.

 We expect the political parties to prepare and prepare well. The candidates in the election must develop a democratic spirit and conduct their campaigns and rallies in a manner that elevates rather than diminishes the electoral process. Nigerians expect a good election and the commission is determined to deliver it. Yes, there are serious concerns and challenges in different parts of the country. These are significant challenges. Nigerians want to vote and need a secure environment to make their free choice.

Based on this, political parties and candidates in the election must, as a matter of national security, tone down their rhetoric and create a democratic ambience that gives confidence to the people rather than compounds the existing security challenges in the country through unguarded utterances.

When will the sensitive materials be printed? How much will it cost INEC?

The sensitive materials are what they are sensitive to. These are ballot papers and result sheets. We can only print the ballot papers when we ascertain the number of registered voters that will participate in the 2023 general election. We estimate that the figure may hover around 95 million.

 So, it is too early to ascertain the number of ballot papers and result sheets that will be printed and their cost. We must conclude the printing of the Permanent Voters Cards, carry out the display of the register for claims and objections, and make available the Permanent Voters Cards for collection before a determination will be made on the number of ballot papers and result sheets that will be printed.

Has the procurement of equipment for the 2023 polls commenced?

The commission has gone far in procuring sensitive and non-sensitive materials required for the conduct of the 2023 general election. These materials are being delivered to various locations in preparation for the election. The ballot boxes and voting cubicles are being delivered to the location. Mats, generating sets, and GP tanks required for our Registration Area Centres are being delivered. Observers’ kits, media paraphernalia, stamps, stamp pads, tamper-proof jackets and other things needed for the election are being delivered. We are confident that we will complete the procurement of materials based on our timelines. The commission is brainstorming and designing creative and innovative strategies to procure intervention vehicles during the election.

What is your advice to Nigerians ahead of next year’s polls?

We must remain engaged and vigilant. The conduct of free, fair, and transparent elections requires an active citizenry ready and willing to engage in mandated protection. We must bear in mind that the 2023 general election must be a festival of democracy and the international community is watching because Nigeria matters and its democratic health matters. We must, as a people and as a nation, imbibe the democratic spirit and insist on the rule of law and due process. ,

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