By Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja
Going by the position expressed by National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mr. Festus Okoye, the electoral body has corrected all logistic issues that led to the postponement of last Saturday’s election and is not prepared for further extension of the election date.
Okoye, who was a guest on THISDAY sister television station, ARISE Television’s Morning Show Tuesday, when asked if stakeholders collectively agree to extend the election day further, said: “No! We are going ahead with the election. We are ready for this election.”
Answering a question on calls by President Muhammadu Buhari to the military to deal ruthlessly with electoral offenders and his statement that death awaits ballot box snatchers, Okoye said at the level of INEC, various issues relating to electoral offences, interference with electoral processes are handled within the framework of extant laws and the Electoral Act.
“Honestly, I cannot tell you offhandedly, the exact section of the law or the exact penalties for various categories of offence, but the issue of vote buying; there is nothing like vote buying in the Electoral Act. We call it inducement.
“There are various issues of electoral offences. There are issues relating to interfering with the electoral process, interfering with electoral officers doing his or her work, trying to induce an electoral officer, negligent conduct by electoral officer and disruption of the electoral process, so it depends on the particular one the Electoral Act adduce in terms of electoral offences, but there are also some offences committed even within the precinct of the polling unit that can be taken care of by the penal code and the criminal code. So, it depends on the specificity of the offence before you can make a determination of the penalty,” he said.
Noting that as a public institution, INEC had made it a point of responsibility to adequately update Nigerians on the circumstances that led to the postponement of the Saturday, February 16, 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections, Okoye noted that: “We have told Nigerians the truth and we never misrepresented anything about the issue.”
Calling on Nigerians to be circumspect in believing news on the social media, he specifically noted that the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, never pointed accusing fingers at the Nigerian Air Force for the failure in logistics that led to the postponement of the election.
“Chairman of INEC has never blamed Air Force for the logistic issues we had and no INEC commissioner has gone on air to say it was the Air Force. We never blamed Air Force,” he stated.
He said the attacks on INEC offices in Isiala Ngwa South Local Government office of the Commission in Abia State, in Qua’an Pan Local Government of Plateau State and Anambra State, where 4,695 card readers were burnt, precipitated the postponement, saying: “It was the combination of these things and other logistic issues that prevented us from conducting the election.”
On the allegation that INEC had been under pressure to conduct a staggered election, he said: “The issue of staggered election was never on the table. The issue on the table was going ahead with the election. If we went on with the election, some polls would have opened at 8am, 9am and 10am and 12am midnight. The only thing we had was differential opening of the poll. That was the only issue in the cart and we discountenanced it.”
Okoye also tendered apologies to member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) who were made to go through inhuman conditions due to their inability to move to their respective Registration Area Centres (RAC) due to uncertainty of whether the election would be held.
According to him, “We regret it. There was no premeditated plan to make them go through inhuman conditions.”
Assuring citizens that the overall objective of INEC in postponing the election was to prevent the country with a wishy-washy election, which consequences he said would be catastrophic, he pleaded with the electorate not to lose hope on INEC but instead they should come out next Saturday to participate in the election.
“We urge Nigerians to rekindle their faith in INEC and come out to carry out their democratic rights,” Okoye urged.