*Insists on conducting elections in troubled spots nationwide
*Another INEC office set ablaze in Imo
Gboyega Akinsanmi in Lagos and Chuks Okocha in Abuja
Barely three months to the 2023 general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has blamed its failure to prosecute electoral offenders on the inability of the National Assembly to pass the National Electoral Offences Commission Bill, 2022.
This is coming as suspected arsonists have razed another office of the electoral body in Orlu Local Government Area of Imo State.
INEC has also revealed that it planned to conduct the 2023 elections in 176, 846 polling units across the federation, including the areas ravaged by terrorists and kidnappers.
The Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who made the clarification at a one-day strategic interactive meeting with line editors in Lagos weekend, called on the federal legislature to expedite action on the passage of the National Electoral Offences Commission Bill.
He addressed the meeting alongside INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye; Resident Electoral Commissioner in Lagos State, Mr. Olusegun Agbaje; INEC National Commissioner, Legal Services, Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu; and INEC National Commissioner, Outreach and Partnership, Prof. Kunle Ajayi, among others.
Speaking at the interactive meeting, Yakubu admitted that the power “to prosecute electoral offenders fully rests upon the INEC. But we are constrained to prosecute any electoral offender due to the deficit of legislation.”
He pointed out that the commission “is not responsible for the arrest of electoral offence suspects. Also, INEC does not have the power to investigate electoral offences. These are challenges we are facing in prosecuting suspects of electoral offences,” he added
Until the two chambers of the National Assembly pass the National Electoral Offences Commission Bill, Yakubu argued that there was nothing the INEC could do if certain issues were not resolved.
The INEC chairman, therefore, appealed to the National Assembly to pass the National Electoral Offences Bill into law, saying the country’s electoral process would remain ineffective without proper agency to deal with electoral offences.
Yakubu also emphasised the need to build a positive electoral culture in the country, noting that the INEC “is not happy that most electoral offenders are let off the hook because INEC lacks the legislative backing to prosecute electoral offenders.”
“Until a Bill for an Act to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission’’ becomes operational, INEC will not be able to expeditiously deal with electoral offenders,” Yakubu added.
He further disclosed that the commission had planned to conduct the 2023 elections in 176, 846 polling units across the federation, saying it ‘is the responsibility of the INEC to conduct election.”
He added that security agencies had the duty “to provide security across the federation. We have done it before. We did it in Anambra. Edo is even more difficult because of insecurity. Like we did in Anambra and Edo, we are equally determined to do it now.”
He noted that the commission “is working with security agencies under the auspices of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) to ensure elections are conducted across the federation in 2023.”
In his remarks, Okoye challenged the media to continue to assist the commission to fight misinformation.
Okoye said with 84 days to the general election, the spread of fake news and misinformation on the electoral process had become worrisome l.
According to him, there is a need for the media to assist in tackling the menace of false information for a successful general election in 2023.
Another INEC Office Set Ablaze in Imo
Meanwhile, suspected arsonists have razed another INEC office in Orlu Local Government Area of Imo State.
The attack brings to four the number of INEC facilities set ablaze in the last three weeks.
Similar attacks were carried out on the commission’s offices in Ogun and Osun states, on November 10.
A local office of the commission was last Sunday, set ablaze in Ebonyi State, by some unidentified persons. A yet-to-be-determined quantity of Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) was destroyed in the attack.
However, the latest incident occurred on Thursday.
The INEC spokesperson, Festus Okoye, disclosed this in a statement weekend.
Okoye said the Imo State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Prof Sylvia Agu, reported the incident to the commission.
“The building, which is undergoing extensive renovation following an earlier attack, was vandalised and partially set ablaze,” he said.
The INEC spokesperson said three of the construction workers renovating the facility were initially abducted by the attackers, but were later released.Description: Description: Description: EXEM Advert
“The damage would have been more extensive, but for the quick response of the Nigeria Police, which had deployed its personnel to the site,” he stated.
INEC Chairman, Yakubu said, last Monday, that the recent attacks on its facilities would not stop the conduct of the 2023 general elections.
But Okoye said the attacks on the INEC facilities have now become “too many” and expressed the commission’s concern over the spate of the attacks on its facilities and the negative consequences on its preparations for the 2023 general election.
Although the attacks on INEC offices have been happening across the country, the commission has become a target of gunmen across the South-east in recent times.
The attacks have raised fears about holding the 2023 general election in the region.
About four months ago, some suspected arsonists razed an INEC office in Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State.
Also, two offices of INEC, in May 2021, were set ablaze by gunmen in Ebonyi State. The offices are located at Ezza North and Izzi local government areas of the state.
Another building belonging to the INEC, in May 2021, was also set ablaze in Imo State.
Again, in September 2021, the commission’s office was set ablaze in Awgu Local Government Area office in Enugu State.