How Prepared is INEC?
James Sowole, in Akure, looks at the readiness of the Independent National Electoral Commission for the October 20 governorship election in Ondo State
Going by the smaller number of petitions filed before the electoral courts across the country after last year’s general elections, compared with the 2007 election, analysts have said that the Independent National Electoral Commission has set the minimum standard for the conduct of free and fair elections in the country.
Since the general election last year, there has been improvements on subsequent polls conducted in the various states, particularly, the court-ordered elections. The affected states include Bayelsa and Edo, with the Edo State governorship election of July 14 being widely adjudged as the best the country has seen so far.
Observers say the success recorded in the staggered exercises was due to the fact that much resources and personnel were concentrated in a particular area, unlike the situation during the general elections when elections are held all over the country at the same time.
With all eyes now on Ondo State ahead of the October 20 governorship election, the INEC headquarters in the state says it is doing its best to ensure an outstanding poll.
To ensure the success of the Ondo State election, INEC has been organising series of meetings and dialogues with the various stakeholders. To date, the commission has organised about eight meetings, which were attended by stakeholders, including political parties, security agencies, civil society organisations, and the media.
At the meetings, issues relating to the conduct of the election; such as voter registration; voter education; security, before, during and after election; recruitment of election officials; logistics and the election proper were always the subjects of deliberation.
Though, each of the meetings was usually targeted at discussing one major issue, it also provided opportunity for the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state, Mr Akin Orebiyi, to discuss the level of preparation of the commission for the election.
On Thursday, INEC presented soft copies of the voter register to the 13 political parties that have fielded candidates for the October 20 election. The document presented at a public forum in Akure by INEC’s Director of Voter Registry, Mr. Emmanuel Akem, contained the names and particulars of 1, 654, 205 registered voters.
Having realised the importance of a credible voter register in any election, INEC says it would leave no stone unturned in rectifying anomalies noticed during the last exercise in the state in order to ensure a credible voter register before the October election.
The REC has said eligible voters whose data could not be retrieved in the INEC machine during the last election would be able to exercise their voting right this time as the commission would make use of the manual register usually refers to as “Addendum”, which contains the data of the affected voters, except their photographs.
He said the affected voters should present their voter cards used during the last general election.
He said though the commission was aware that some politicians might want to play a smart game by producing fake voter cards for the purpose of manipulating the process, such situation would be dealt with because of the special security features of the real voter card that can only be identified by officials of the commission.
“It is better that such cards are not presented at all because if presented, the INEC officials would detect this and whoever presented such would be arrested and prosecuted,” Orebiyi warned. He said INEC had approved inter-state transfer of voters for only 30 citizens and 25 intra-state transfers for those who applied and presented genuine reason for the transfer in line with the relevant provisions of the Electoral Act.
In line with the directive of the commission’s national headquarters, Orebiyi said INEC officials had identified some difficult terrains, including the riverine areas, and had toured the areas of Ilaje and Ese-Odo local governments to actually know the special arrangement to be made for the election. He said the INEC officials toured these areas to really identify the special logistics and security arrangement based on the experiences gathered during previous exercises. Orebiyi, who did not disclose the actual number of vehicles, speedboats, canoes and motorcycles that would be deployed for the exercise, said adequate arrangement would be made to take care of the peculiarities of every polling unit. He added that the commission had designed measures to ensure that materials, both sensitive and non-sensitive, get to all the units early.
The REC said the commission does not need the assistance of any political party and would not seek any assistance for vehicles and other logistics from any politician or political party. He said all that the commission required from them was cooperation to ensure that their agents act according to the rules, particularly, on the movement of materials to the difficult units, which the commission would still tour before the election day.
Orebiyi said electoral officers would leave for Ilaje and Ese-Odo on Thursday, October 18, with materials that would be stored at the Forward Operation Base of the Nigeria Navy, Igbokoda, for onward transmission to wards and units under tight security. He also said that the commission had purchased more than 200 electricity generators that would be used for illumination at collation centres.
Orebiyi said four categories of personnel – ad-hoc staff – would be involved in the election, apart from some regular staff of INEC. The categories are Presiding Officers, Assistant Presiding Officers, Supervisors and Collation Officers. He said the commission would make use of the National Youth Service Corps members in line with the Memorandum of Understanding between the commission and NYSC.
The REC said the commission had visited the NYSC state coordinator on the matter, saying those that would be recruited will be contacted by phone directly by the commission to prevent impersonation. He added that about 8,000 ad-hoc staff would be recruited for the exercise that would take place in 3,007 of the 3,009 polling units across the 203 wards and 18 local government areas of the state.
Orebiyi said for the presiding and assistant presiding officers, the commission would recruit final year students of federal tertiary institutions in the state, in case the NYSC members are not enough. The federal institutions are the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), the Federal College of Agriculture, Akure (FECA), and the Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo.
He added that the supervisors would be senior members of staff of federal ministries and would be selected after a rigorous selection process while the Collation Officers would be selected by the INEC headquarters, saying the Ondo State office would not know these people.
He said after the recruitment and training, the presiding officers and the assistant presiding officers selected would not know until about 48 hours to the election day, to avoid infiltration. In addition, those selected would also not know where they will be deployed until very few hours to the poll, he said.
Apart from those that would be recruited solely for the election, Orebiyi said substantial senior INEC officials from the national headquarters and some states would be in the state to supervise the election.
On security, Orebiyi disclosed that security agents, including the police, army, State Security Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, and the immigration, would be coming to the state from about 11 states of the federation for the election. The INEC boss said vehicular movement would be restricted from 7.00am till 4.00pm, except those permitted to move by the provisions of the Electoral Act. He said the order would be strictly enforced and, therefore, advised that political parties to select their agents from within the vicinities of the polling units.
Buttressing the position of the REC, the Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of operations in the Ondo State Command, Mr. Mohammed Garba, said not less than four policemen would be deployed to each polling unit. He said to ensure neutrality, Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) would be moved from their original divisions to supervise the election in other areas and the movement would be done few hours to the election.
On his part, the Sate Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, MrIsah Shuaibu, said about 3,000 personnel of the organisation would be deployed for the October 20 election, adding that some of the men would be armed for the exercise.
Shuaibu said the officers who will carry arms while on duty for the election were currently on weapon-handling training under the auspices of the Nigerian Army, assuring that with the measures in place, there would not be any form of violence during and after the election.
For the purpose of the October 20 election, he also disclosed, about 500 newly recruited officers of the corps were recently sent to work in the state, with the state getting the highest number of newly recruited officers in the county.
To ensure that agents behave according to the guidelines of the Electoral Act, Orebiyi said INEC would issue forms to parties for distribution to their agents, who would complete same with their passport photographs before the commission will issue them tags. He said INEC would organise seminars for party agents in collaboration with International Republican Institute (IRI) of the United States of America, adding that seminars have been organised for campaign managers.
The REC said the commission had printed 200,000 copies of posters and 5,000 fliers to educate voters on the election process and teach them what to do on the election day and how they should thumbprint the ballot. Orebiyi said INEC would hire trucks and go from one local government to the other to educate voters on the exercise. He said civil society organisations would participate in the education of voters.
The REC called on various stakeholders to support the commission in order to ensure the success of the exercise, saying the commission cannot go below the standard set in previous elections in the country.
The record of preparedness posted by INEC ahead of the October 20 governorship election in Ondo State seems definitely auspicious. But the test of its effective will be on the election day.