HOW prepared is INEC for the election in Ondo State?
INEC in Ondo State in conjunction with our national headquarters is forging ahead. The time table of various electoral processes is being followed religiously. So far, we have concluded the training of our own staff, I mean INEC staff, starting from the heads of departments at the state headquarters, the electoral officers at the local government councils, even assistant electoral officers 1, 2 and 3 have all completed their training as well as that of the security personnel. Also, almost 99 percent of the non-sensitive materials have so far been received from the national headquarters and they have been dispatched to the local government areas.
As you are preparing, there are also insinuations that the election may be postponed. How true is this?
Well, on the issue of postponement of election, I don’t think that is the business of INEC. The commission is not working towards postponement. As I always tell you, the media people, postponement of election is always a problem to the INEC. It means all we have been doing from March this year to this point we will have to start all over again. Even you journalists that are covering the whole process, it means that you are going to start covering us all over again. It is not part of our plan. We are working towards November 26, 2016 and to enhance security, we are also working with various security agents in the state. That is why we are working with ICCES, ICCES is an Inter-Agencies Consultative Committee on Election Security. We have met severally and we still going to meet next week before the election and we should be able to nip in the bud all areas where threats are likely to emanate ad hocand we have the belief that all the processes that we have put in place, we are going to have peaceful election.
You said everything has to start all over again if there is a postponement, but it happened in Edo State. Did they start all over again within the two weeks of postponement?
In Edo, there was an issue of security that was raised by security agencies and the commission apparently had no choice because there is no way we can go to the field without the security in place that is why they collaborate with us. But in Ondo for now, we do not see any threat in the security line that will warrant postponement. The normal threat we may have are threats which I believe the security agencies are coping with.
Are you under any pressure ahead of the election?
Usually, in a staggered election like this, there is focused attention on the state. If it is a general election, the focus will be spread across the 36 states and FCT. Because it is Ondo State now, there may be focus of attention now, even from you the media people, there will be a lot of attention. So, therefore it is natural to have attention focused on us. But we are not under any pressure.
You were alleged to be recruiting members of the ad hoc staff who are politicians from Lagos. What is your reaction?
It is laughable. I also read it in a newspaper. I don’t see how an electoral body will send a message to his office to start getting the people that are going to work with him from the chairmen of local governments of one of the parties that will contest the election. Just the same party said the INEC recruited staff from Lagos who are supporters of Olusola Oke, who I have never met before in my life. So, it doesn’t make sense to me that I will be recruiting and training somebody from Lagos. Lagos is supposed to be an APC state. So, why should APC be the one that will be alleging? Ordinarily that is their state and if I want to assist one party, I will go and do it in the APC-controlled state. So, the allegation is laughable to me. It is something that cannot be comprehended. I believe most of these things are meant to distract us. I have told my officers and the junior staff that everybody should focus and do what is assigned to them; those on voter education should continue to do their advocacy; those on party monitoring should continue to do their jobs; those on operation and ICT should continue to do their jobs. In believe in few days to come we should be through with that and in the next three days we are starting to distribute the PVCs we did in June this year. From 11th to 15th of this month, we will start distributing all over the state. So, we are doing our work to make sure that things work well. I have told you that over 99 per cent of non-sensitive materials have been received and the sensitive materials will be received on November 23, and on November 22, the chairman of the commission, Mahmud Yakubu, the Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Idris will be coming to address the stakeholders in Akure and also to talk to the generality of the people of the state to be getting ready for the election, that the election is going to be peaceful; that people should not entertain any fear, we are working very hard. The register will soon be ready and we are talking about all the PVCs for those who registered, transferred and those who have got the cards before.We got over 130,000 PVCs from Abuja last Friday and all had been sent to various local governments and by Friday (November 11) by 8:00 a.m., the distribution of the cards will commence at all local government areas of the state. So if the election is going to be postponed, we will not be doing all these. As we talk, my officers are rounding off their training on election management with the security agencies in the state capital. So, with these, we are very much sure that we are going to have the election and what we are assuring the people of Ondo is that we are going to have a very free, fair and acceptable and conclusive election by the grace of God and the collaboration of the people of Ondo who have their PVCs.
There is also an allegation that you are a close friend of Governor Olusegun Mimiko and that that may affect the fairness of the election. What do you have to say about this?
I am even happy that you media people in the state know me very well. You know my pedigree. Since I got to the state, I have only gone out about two or three times in the evening and my officers were with me where I went to. I don’t hobnob with politicians. When I see this kind of things, I laugh. It is a laughable thing. Even in Abuja and all over the country, people know me. There is no DSS office you enter in this country and mention Segun Agbaje, they will tell you who I am, even those who I have not met before have heard about me. So, it is not true and as I told you, this came from one of the parties. Before, the APC said we are romancing with AD; the AD said we are romancing the APC. Maybe tomorrow, the AD will say we are romancing with the SDP. This is not new. So if anybody alleges, he must have concrete evidence and should show it to the press so that the whole world will know. So, people should not just make untrue allegations. All these are just to cause distractions for INEC and also cause division among the various political parties in the state.
But the APC said they have no confidence in you. Don’t you think this may cause noise if the party fails to win the election?
I don’t have any role to play in the election. Ad hoc staff members are going to do it from the polling units to registration areas and so on. All the processes have been more or less given out to outsiders to do. There is no way I will be involved. Will I tell the ad hoc staff to work with a particular person? It is not possible. That is why we asked the political parties to bring their agents to the polling units to show the credibility of the commission. The party agents will be there; the security officers will be there. So there is no role for me to play than to oversee the whole process. So, the idea of somebody saying he has no confidence in INEC because of me is just laughable. The election will be conducted whether they like it or not. We have assured every party that we are going to maintain neutrality. All my officers and I have signed the oath of neutrality. Even the ad hoc staff aregoing to sign the oath of neutrality, which means everybody is on his own. Whoever does anything wrong is going to face the music.
Recently, there was protest in some parts of the state on the declaration of Jimoh Ibrahim as the candidate of the PDP by the INEC. The INEC was accused of not obeying a court order that ruled that Eyitayo Jegede’s name must not be removed. What is your reaction to this?
The first court order was received on Wednesday October 26 from Ondo State High Court which we sent to our national headquarters in Abuja. But by October 27, there was another court order from Abuja High Court and that one was the latest order that we obeyed. I think the politicians should help the commission. They are distracting us. This order will come today, another one will come tomorrow. People are just confused about which one to follow because they are not helping us to manage the system very well. The politicians should be able to manage their internal crisis and resolved their differences. If the politicians that are supposed to be our leaders are behaving like this, I don’t know how they want our tomorrow to be in Nigeria. Honestly, it gives me some thinking that somebody that has a wife and children at home will come out to say somebody that I have never met in my life would say I have arranged to meet him somewhere outside Nigeria when those who are in Akure I have not met them.
But Ibrahim has never denied it. He is still insisting that you arranged to meet him outside the country?
Let him bring his evidence of our conversation. Let him bring the call logs. Let him show the world. Somebody I have never met in my life, how will I be arranging to meet him somewhere? To me, it doesn’t show sense. It is strange to me.
Three prominent political parties- the PDP, the AD and the APC have cases in court on the issues of candidacy, if court delivers judgments before the election, what will be the action of the INEC?
That is why when we were declaring the candidates on the October 27, it was put there bodly in front of the name of Jimoh Ibrahim and his deputy that they were included because of court order. So, which means that if by tomorrow there is any Appeal Court judgment that says it is another person, definitely the commission would be bound to follow that Appeal Court order. That is the meaning of court order that is put in front of his name.
How many people have collected their PVCs in your record now?
As of October 31, 2016, about 1,201,553 people have collected their PVCs. We are going back to the registration areas again. As I told you, we still have about over 131,000 plus the 300,000 that have not been collected before. So in all, we have about 457,663 PVCs yet to be collected that is both the old ones and the new ones and we are taking all of them to the RA level (wards).
What are the things put in place to ensure the card readers for the election do not malfunction?
Following what we saw last year, we have improved on it. Now, we have got them serviced in readiness for this election. In the next one week, they will be configured to the various polling units across the state for the election. We have asked the chairman (INEC) for more smart card readers from neighboring states and he has magnanimously agreed. What we are planning is that for every four smart cards readers that we have, there will be one extra. We are going to have excess card readers more than what we used last year.
The coastal areas of the state are difficult terrains and are known to be haven of electoral malpractices. How is the commission going to tackle this?
I want to tell you that this is going to be a different scenario entirely, because in 2010, there was an election. In 2014, election could not hold there. Last year also, about 13 card readers were taken away and dumped into the ocean and because of that, both the army and the navy have agreed to support us there. The navy is going to be on patrol throughout the period of the election to ensure that nobody disturbs our people from going to their various poling units. So, security is going to be tighter this time than what we used to have before.
Some of your men are alleged to have been compromised. How are you going to tackle this?
How are they going to be compromised? They are in the polling units; the party agents are there. The security agents are there, the people will say INEC people are bad. How are they going to be compromised? INEC officials are not going to be engaged directly. So, they are just going to stand aloof. Right from the unit they will count the result and they will give the copy of the result sheets to the party agents and the security agents. They will move from there to the registration area where, again, they will do the counting and announcing. Then they will give the result sheets to the party and security agents from there to the local government and the final results will be brought for the Returning Officer to also aggregate. So, I don’t see how they will be compromised. I have told the politicians that they are wasting their time if they think they will give money to either REC or my senior and junior officers because nothing I can do. Even if you give me N10 billion, it cannot help you in the election. There is nothing I can do. I can’t alter the result that had been declared at the polling units, wards, local government that everybody has seen. The Returning Officer can’t also do anything. Nobody can help anybody. That era has gone.
How are you going to handle the issue of misrepresentation of fact concerning the result, especially on the social media?
That is why the law has given INEC the authority as the only body to declare results and that is why INEC ensures there is transparency at every level. At the polling units, the result sheets are given to the party agents and I don’t see how the agents will not take the results to party secretariat for them to collate. There is no way anything can be altered at any point. That is how INEC works now, but politicians don’t like it. They have their own ways, but it is now left for them to key into INEC agenda and there can’t be any illegality in this matter.