The Independent National Electoral Commission has continued to engage relevant stakeholders including government agencies towards ensuring that the forthcoming polls hold as scheduled despite persistent attacks on its facilities, Adedayo Akinwale writes
With exactly 19 days to the commencement of the 2023 election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the body constitutionally saddled with the responsibility of conducting elections in the country, has continued to hold meetings with relevant stakeholders and government institutions to ensure that elections are held as scheduled.
Such meetings the Commission has had in recent past included the sensitisation meeting on the implementation of the commission’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), meeting with the management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), political parties and the Director General of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
Unlike previous elections, the Electoral Act 2022 allowed the electoral body ample opportunity to commence preparations for the 2023 election early enough and this has ensured that 12 out of 14 schedules of activities lined up by the commission have been successfully implemented.
To this end, tension associated with Nigerian politics have also reduced drastically.
However, despite the fact that the Commission is the only legal body saddled with the conduct of elections, there are critical government institutions that their contribution would ensure the forthcoming polls is a success.
Sadly, with a few days to the elections, attacks on INEC facilities have continued unabated. Although, with the collaboration between the Commission and security agencies, the attacks on the commission’s facilities appear to have reduced, there is, however, the need for relevant security agencies to up their games with elections coming up nationwide in less than three weeks.
Attack on INEC Facilities
Last Wednesday, INEC office in Idemili South Local Government Area (LGA) of Anambra State was attacked and set ablaze by unknown gunmen. The latest attack made it 51 attacks the commission has suffered in the last four years.
Items lost to the attack are 729 ballot boxes, 243 voting cubicles, 256 election bags, 11 megaphones, one electric power generator and large quantities of indelible ink and liquid gum.
The commission in a statement issued by its National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, said uncollected Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) kept in the fireproof cabinet were not affected by the inferno, while no sensitive materials have been delivered to the LGA office.
Despite this despicable incident, the Commission reassured the people of Idemili South LGA that contingency arrangements would be made to replace the materials and the Presidential and National Assembly elections would proceed on 25th February 2023 as scheduled, to be followed two weeks later by the State House of Assembly election.
Following the attack, there were already reports in the media that the commission might postpone the presidential election for two weeks. But the commission for the umpteenth time told whoever cared to listen that it was not contemplating the shifting, postponement or adjustment of the timelines for the forthcoming polls.
Okoye told THISDAY that on no account would it allow anti-democratic forces and fifth columnists confuse the Nigerian people on the plans and intentions of the Commission.
According to him: “There is no justifiable reason for the speculation relating to the postponement or rescheduling of the election. We must on no account allow anti-democratic forces and fifth columnists to confuse the Nigerian people on the plans and intentions of the Commission. The Commission is working hard for the Nigerian people and will deliver free, fair, credible, verifiable and inclusion elections.”
Moreover, he added that Sections 132 and 178 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) have circumscribed the period for the conduct of national and state elections. He further clarified that It was in the interest of the Nigerian people and in the interest of the country’s democracy to hold the elections on the dates and times set out by the Commission.
“We must continue to assure Nigerians that they will vote in a safe environment, that their votes will be safe and that their votes will count and be counted. We must not dignify fallacious speculations not grounded on facts and reality,” Okoye added.
Nevertheless, the commission, during the meeting with the NURTW and other transport unions, which also had in attendance the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC, warned that the lingering fuel scarcity might affect the arrangements of the commission negatively especially on election day.
Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said the meeting with the unions was aimed at achieving two objectives –first is to put finishing touches for the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the commission and the unions about two months ago and to conclude on the modalities for the certification of vehicles by the FRSC, in the light of the emphasis placed on the safety of election personnel and materials.
He explained that the issue of logistics had been a perennial problem in election administration in Nigeria, saying this was why for three electoral cycles, INEC has collaborated with the road transport unions to address the problem.
Yakubu explained that for the 2023 general election, the commission has included the Marine Workers Union of Nigeria for efficient maritime transportation. To him, the time has come to stop all excuses and provide effective logistics to ensure hitch-free arrangement for the 2023 general election.
The Chairman said this time around, Nigerians should not wait for the arrival of personnel and materials at the polling units, rather, INEC personnel should be there waiting for the arrival of voters. He was of the opinion that recent elections have shown that working in partnership with the unions and other stakeholders, could make the objectives achievable.
Yakubu noted that the commission was aware that the task was enormous, but said election is the largest deployment a nation periodically undertakes and mobilization of vehicles for election is a large and complex exercise.
He stated: “However, this comes only once in four years. What is critical here is forward planning. We have presented to the Union the number and specifications of the vehicles required for the election. We have also indicated to you the locations where the vehicles are needed.
“Happily, your members are spread across the country. Therefore, vehicles conveying personnel and materials will not travel long distances. In fact, all movements should be within a state and preferably within local government areas. There should be no inter state movement.”
The chairman informed the Unions that the MOU covered both forward and reverse logistics, while there was also an obligation to return the personnel and materials to designated locations after the election.
According to him: “When you take election duty staff particularly those deployed to the polling units, pease don’t abandon these ad hoc staff, particularly the youth corpers. We have a responsibility to take them to locations in safety and to bring them back in safety to where you took them”.
He assured the unions that the commission was working with the security agencies to ensure the safety of their members and their vehicles during the elections.
Knowing fully well that various transport unions are on the payroll of state governors and some politicians in the country, the INEC boss stressed the need for them to subscribe to the oath of neutrality especially on election day.
He said, “I can’t conclude my remarks without reminding you of your obligation to neutrality. The work of INEC requires non-partisanship. Working in partnership with the Commission, you will be required to subscribe to the oath of neutrality and to demonstrate your non-partisanship in the work you do practically on election day.”
Furthermore, Yakubu noted that the Commission shared the concern of the unions concerning the lingering fuel crisis which he said could hamper the preparations of the elections.
His words: “The Commission shares your concern about the fuel situation in the country and its impact on transportation on election day. The truth is that our arrangements may be negatively affected by the non availability of products.”
Getting NNPCL’s buy-in
It was based on this that Yakubu led a delegation to the NNPCL management as part of the commission’s effort to engage every national institution for the success of the 2023 general election.
Without mincing words, the INEC Chairman told NNPCL management that the commission was determined to overcome the perennial challenge of late commencement of polls on grounds of logistics, but added the objective cannot be fully accomplished without the guaranteed supply of petroleum products to facilitate the movement of vehicles and boats.
Yakubu said the Commission would be mobilising about 100,000 vehicles and 4,000 boats for the deployment of personnel and materials to 176,846 polling units spread across 8,809 Registration Areas or electoral Wards in 774 Local Government Areas nationwide in the forthcoming elections.
The Chairman pointed out that the electoral body was aware of the efforts of the NNPC to ease the current situation in earnest, but still appealed to NNPC to consider the following proposals:
“The use of the NNPC land and floating mega stations nationwide to service our election duty vehicles and boats. We will bear the cost of the products. By doing so, there will be guaranteed supply for elections;
“A special arrangement with other marketers in locations where the NNPC may not have dedicated stations; and consider other options to support our seamless operations on Election Day.”
Responding, the GMD of NNPCL, Mele Kyari, said it was a known fact that logistics is a major component of electoral duties. He stated that NNPC had always supported the INEC, especially in making sure that fuel is made available to all vehicles that are involved in the electoral process.
According to him: “Needless to say that there was no formal framework for that, and there were no even exact formal requests for this. All the same, we are always conscious of the necessity to provide support to INEC whenever elections take place”.
Kyari said while the demand made by INEC was not only an honour but also a challenge to the company to come into the equation in making sure that the country has a stable political system.
He added: “We’re the largest downstream company in the country today. Six months ago, it was not so but today we have acquired huge assets since our incorporation into a limited liability company and we have spread across the country. That is not to say that we’re in every city and every town, it is possible that there may be some locations where we may not be present.
“We’ll work with your logistics team to identify those areas where we may not have a presence so that we can bring in other marketing companies into the conversation, so that the products are made available to all the 100,000 vehicles that you have indicated. There will be no difficulty doing this Mr Chairman, we have presence, we are everywhere.”
Kyari also disclosed that NNPCL is the only company that has floating mega stations in the country, while assuring that the request of the Commission would be considered in order to make it available for the purpose of the marine operations in the riverine areas of the country.
As preparation for the elections continues, the FRSC said it has developed a checklist for the certification of vehicles for the forthcoming general election. The Corps Marshal of FRSC, Dauda Biu, however, said the corps learnt that there were some reservations especially by the Unions regarding the checklist which was to ensure minimum safety standards of all vehicles of the Unions.
Biu, in a release by the the Corps spokesperson, Bisi Kazeem, said FRSC has agreed and approved the review of the checklist for certification of vehicles for selection.
He explained that the checklist certification which in time past were carried out in a day or two to the elections, will now be done two weeks or a week before the elections to enable all participants in the elections know the various roles they will play.
Biu informed the Unions that all vehicles inspected and certified would be sealed with tags from FRSC for proper identification that it has met minimum safety standards.
Conclusively, the forthcoming polls is more than just an election, it’s a revolution with PVCs. And with more Nigerians anxious to vote, INEC’s integrity would be out on the line once again as every vote must count.