•Speaks on INEC’s approach to Edo poll •Explains why Ogah was given Certificate of Return
NATIONAL Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, on Thursday, said the crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) poses a very big challenge to the commission.
Yakubu, who was on a familiarisation visit to the Tribune headquarters, at Imalefalafia, Ibadan, Oyo State, said the commission received a total of 11 conflicting judgments and orders within the last three months.
Professor Yakubu, who came in company with other top functionaries of INEC, noted that the commission was particularly worried about judgments emanating from courts of coordinate jurisdiction across the country.
The PDP is currently divided into two factions, which are not only entangled in a litany of court cases, but are also separately laying claim to the leadership of the party.
Just like it happened on May 21, the national convention of the party slated for Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Wednesday, was again aborted principally by conflicting court judgments.
Professor Yakubu identified one of the core challenges confronting the commission as the issue of conflicting court judgments, stressing that within two days this month (August) alone, the commission received one judgment and three court orders relating to the PDP crisis.
He slammed politicians for wanting to exploit the courts, hence “they all operate at the level of the high courts,” as none of them had gone to the Court of Appeal.
“Courts of law and their judgments must be obeyed. Within three months, we received as of yesterday (Wednesday), 11 court judgments and orders, almost all of them conflicting. All of them were from courts of coordinate jurisdiction; all of them from the High Court.
“In fact, in two days, 15th and 16th of this month, we received one judgment and three court orders, from courts of coordinate jurisdiction from different parts of the country, two from Port Harcourt, two from Abuja.
“As we closed from work yesterday (Wednesday), a Federal High Court in Abuja came with another judgment. So, it is really a very big challenge. The politicians want to exploit the courts; that is why they all operate at the level of the High Court, none of them has gone to the Court of Appeal,” the INEC boss said.
He expressed concern that the crisis in the PDP was a setback to the mileage achieved by the nation in having strong political parties as a way of consolidating democracy in the country.
Yakubu said since the nation had yearned for two critical ingredients of democracy for a long time, namely strong political parties and strong candidates, it was in the nation’s interest for the parties to sort out whatever internal problems they might have.
“For the commission, strong political parties are very good for the country and nobody can be happy when you have these kinds of factions in political parties,” he said.
The INEC boss used the opportunity of his visit to reveal the level of preparations by the commission for the September 10 governorship election in Edo State, assuring that INEC was fully prepared and armed with the lessons it learnt in previous elections.
Giving a breakdown of statistics on the election, he said “the whole approach to Edo election, learning from the experience in Rivers, has actually considerably changed. There are 18 local governments, 192 wards, 2,627 polling units and 4,011 voting points.
“Total number of registered voters as we speak today is 1.9 million, specifically 1,925,105. In Edo, 48 per cent of registered voters are of the female gender, 52 per cent men.
“What we have been doing is to analyse the risk per local government. We are conscious of the possibility of infiltration from neighbouring states and we are also aware of all the antics of the politicians,” he said.
On the recent crisis in Abia State over the certificate of return issued by the commission to Dr Uchechukwu Ogah, while Dr Okezie Ikpeazu was still the incumbent governor, Professor Yakubu said the commission was bound to obey valid court orders.
“The case with Abia State was a pre-election matter and the judge said that we should issue certificate of return immediately.
“If the court has not granted a stay of execution, there is no cause for INEC to stay action on a court ruling. Two weeks before, there was a similar situation in a federal constituency in Enugu State, we went ahead and complied. As we speak today, the Court of Appeal has upheld the election of Ikpeazu. For as long as there are valid court judgments, we have to comply,” he said.
Yakubu also commented on the phenomenon of inconclusive elections, stating that the commission was not ready to declare winners in the face of gross violations of the Electoral Act.
The commission under his stewardship, he said, would never conclude any election for conclusion sake, but would ensure that the Electoral Act was followed to the letter.
This was just as he revealed that he was already in consultations with the Presidency on the constitution of national commissioners.
He identified violence by politicians as the major cause of inconclusive elections, restating his promise to consolidate the gains of his predecessor in office, Professor Attahiru Jega.
“I said at the Senate screening before confirmation as INEC chairman that my principal responsibility and duty is to consolidate on the gains of 2015. I don’t think we have time for needless experimentation; if something worked in 2015, it is our responsibility to deepen it. And to do so, we have to continue to use and deploy technology.
“For our democracy to work, every ballot must count; every polling unit is important. The new commission has made that commitment and that is why we will never, ever conclude any election for its own sake. If we are going to be called an inconclusive commission till the end of time, I think we should be called an inconclusive commission, but the truth is that our votes in this country must count.
“The most difficult elections are those conducted off-season. We need informed analysis and informed analysis can only come about with information, which we are always ready to provide for the media and Nigerians.
“The waters of politics in Nigeria are always murky. The major problem that INEC faces is the spectre of violence. For instance, in Southern Ijaw during the governorship election in Bayelsa State, as we were mobilising for election, the politicians were mobilising for war. That is why if the politicians decide today that there will be free and fair elections, there will be,” he said.
As part of moves to curb election violence, Professor Yakubu said INEC was already collaborating with the National Assembly to pass a bill establishing a National Electoral Offences Commission soon.
“Again, successful prosecution of electoral offenders begins with arrest. INEC has no power of arrest and cannot conduct investigations, but it is expected to prosecute electoral offenders.
“The last time we went to a summit on electoral reform, the Senate President assured us that before the end of the year, the Electoral Act will be amended to set up the Electoral Offences Commission,” he said.
The Bauchi-born professor of History, who lamented that the commission had become the “whipping boy” of commentators based on ignorance, urged the media to educate Nigerians on the provisions of the Electoral Act.
He explained that, as the commission strives hard to ensure credible elections, politicians were always trying to cheat the system by mobilising for war and unleashing violence on election day.
This, he said, had caused INEC to either cancel or postpone election in many parts of the country.
He said whenever the commission held briefings with political parties ahead of elections, the politicians would attend the briefing and listen attentively, but only with the purpose of finding ways to circumvent the electoral process.
He said in particular cases, INEC had engaged gunboats to secure election materials in riverine communities.
Yakubu added that the commission had conducted 137 elections since November last year, adding that 680 litigations arose out of the 2015 general election, while 80 of the elections had been nullified by the courts.
He lamented that despite over 1,000 souls lost to the 2011 general election in Kaduna State, not one arrest was made.
Responding, the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the Tribune titles, Mr Edward Dickson, said the management was excited by Yakubu’s visit because of his commitment to the cause of free and fair elections and his long-standing relationship with the paper.
(Read full interview on Sunday)