Buy, sell votes today, go to jail, INEC warns
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said all logistics for a successful conduct of the Ondo State governorship election have been put in place. Rotimi Oyekanmi, Chief Press Secretary to the Chairman of the Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu gave the assurance in an exclusive interview with Saturday Tribune. TAIWO AMODU brings excerpts:
Issues were raised by the governorship candidates of the two major political parties in last month governorship election over malfunctioning Card Readers. Has INEC addressed that as we approach Ondo election?
Since the introduction of the Smart Card Readers (SCRs) in the 2015 General Election, it has continued to play a prominent role in ensuring the credibility of elections. Nigerians have come to accept its importance and relevance.
However, eligible voters have a duty to ensure that their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) are kept in a safe place. This is because of the security chip embedded in the PVC which must remain unbroken to facilitate unhindered, seamless interaction with the SCR on election day. However, we have found that some voters have not been diligent in preserving their PVCs. If a PVC is damaged due to poor handling, it will affect its ability to interact successfully with the SCR on election day. Nevertheless, our Regulations and Guidelines have prescribed the conditions under which a voter that fails to complete the biometric accreditation protocols may or may not be allowed to vote.
With regard to the Ondo governorship election and in order to adequately address any unforeseen challenge that may arise with the Smart Card Reader (SCRs) on election day, the Commission has engaged additional 104 Registration Area Technical Support (RATECHS) staff to be on standby and respond to any problem that may arise, although, we don’t envisage any major problem on 10th October.
The security challenge. Edo turned round to be an anticlimax in terms of fears expressed over violence. The signals coming from Ondo is worrisome. What is the Commission doing to assure the electorate that all will be well?
As you rightly acknowledged, the Edo Governorship election was largely peaceful despite the persistent fears and worries that were expressed in several quarters about the security situation before the election. But to God be the glory, the bloodbath that some had predicted did not happen. This was due to the cooperation that INEC received from critical stakeholders, especially the security agencies, the respected Oba of Benin, the National Peace Committee chaired by the former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and the voters themselves. Civil Society Organisations, religious leaders and development partners also played commendable roles through voter education and sensitization.
With regard to Ondo, the Commission is adopting the same approach of involving critical stakeholders in our quest for a free, fair, credible and peaceful process. The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has met with and asked for the assistance of the Ondo State Council of Traditional Rulers in this regard. We have continued to meet with security agencies under the auspices of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security at national and state levels.
The Inspector General of Police was at the INEC Stakeholders’ Meeting with political gladiators held in Akure on October 5. He made it abundantly clear that nobody will be allowed to flout the extant electoral laws. He also sent a clear message to potential trouble makers to have a change of heart, desist from carrying out any planned nefarious activity or face the wrath of the law. We are confident that with this level of assurances, Ondo will be as peaceful as Edo.
Still on violence, what are the flashpoints areas identified ahead of the election?
There is what we call a Risk Assessment Report which the Commission prepared based on our own observations. The Police have also carried out their Risk Assessment. But the details cannot be shared for obvious reasons.
The issue of vote buying was rife in Edo, despite INEC vow that it won’t tolerate it. When will you walk the talk to deal decisively with masterminds of vote buying?
I don’t agree with the notion that vote-buying was rife in Edo across all the 18 local government areas and over 2,600 polling units on Election Day. We should be careful not to generalise what happened in a few places. The Commission had, before now, taken several deliberate steps against vote buying and selling. We have since reconfigured our polling booths and voters are not allowed to go into them on Election Day with smart phones or any other photographic equipment. Again, we have since enlisted the support of the EFCC and they have been deploying their officers to our elections. Vote buying is an electoral offence, and anyone found engaging in it during the Ondo Governorship election will be arrested and prosecuted.
Finally, can you give us update on logistics, both sensitive and non sensitive materials ahead of the election?
All non-sensitive materials have already been received, batched and deployed to all the 18 local governments in Ondo State. This morning, (Thursday) sensitive materials were distributed to electoral officers and their assistants from all the local government areas at the Central Bank office in Akure and conveyed to their respective destinations, with party agents, civil society groups and security agents as witnesses. INEC is ready for the election.
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