Rising attacks, vote-buying threaten polls, INEC cries out

•Electoral body plans supplementary budget to replace destroyed buildings, equipment, others

•IG, EFCC boss warn politicians against inducement, survey puts 33 states on vote-buying watchlist

The Independent National Electoral Commission on Monday expressed concern that persistent attacks on its facilities were threatening successful conduct of the 2023 elections.

The commission also lamented that its past efforts to curb vote-buying failed, adding that the vice could mar successful conduct of the elections.

The electoral commission expressed the concerns at two different events in Abuja on Monday as part of the preparations for the elections.

Speaking at a two-day workshop on political violence and election security organised by the National Defence College in collaboration with African Global Empowerment and Development Network, the INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, insisted that there must be an end to the attacks on its facilities as well as the insecurity ravaging parts of the country if the commission must conduct free, fair, and credible elections in 2023.

Yakubu added that if the attacks continued till next year, they could impede the successful conduct of the polls.

He also said if the insecurity in some parts of the country did not cease; it could affect candidates’ chances of having the required number of votes stipulated by the constitution to be declared the winner.

The chairman who was represented by INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, stated, “The commission is preparing well for the 2023 general elections. Although, we have recorded some reverses in some of the states of the federation in relation to attacks on some of our facilities leading to the destruction of ballot boxes, voting cubicles, and permanent voter cards. We have the capacity to recover from these attacks.’’

He noted, “Since the 2019 general elections up till 2022, we have recorded 50 attacks in 15 states of the federation. The ones we recorded in 2022 are the ones we considered systematic and coordinated. They are targeted at derailing our commission from conducting free and credible elections. We are recovering and will recover.

“But if these attacks continue to January and February next year, it will be difficult for us to recover. This is because if you look at section 134 of the constitution, there are thresholds that a candidate must meet before he/she can be declared a winner of any election.’’

Yakubu further stated, “For instance, if no winner emerges on February 25, the law says we have to conduct a second election within 21 days and only two candidates out of the 18 will participate in this second election. The candidate that records the highest number of votes in that election would be considered number one. The second will be the candidate that secures the majority of votes in the majority of the states.

‘’The constitution did not say it is the person who came second. Also, If for instance, we are unable to conduct elections in some of the local governments it will definitely affect the calculation of the threshold required to make a declaration. We also have a constitutionally prescribed window with which we must conduct elections, so if we have sustained insecurity in the country, it may be difficult for the country to achieve this mandate given to us.”

Security agencies

He stated that the commission had sought the help of the National Assembly as well as the security agencies to ensure that its offices and staff’s security were given priority.

Yakubu added that the commission had commenced the replacement of materials lost to the various attacks, assuring that the BVAS machines needed for the 2023 elections would be made available before the end of the year.

He said, “We don’t want distractions. That is why we have made it very clear to the National Assembly that all our offices must be declared as a high priority that needs adequate protection. We don’t want these attacks to continue although we have assurance from the security agencies to protect our staff and offices.

“Already, we are reprinting the PVC damaged in some of the attacks, we are also purchasing new cubicles and ballot boxes to replace the ones lost to the attacks. We are trying to rent offices for those we can’t repair. But I want to assure Nigerians that we are prepared for this election. The entire BVAS needed for this election will be on the ground before the end of the month. “

The INEC chairman also assured that the Bimodal Voter Registration System cannot be manipulated, adding that those buying up PVCs were doing so to oppress voters.

“There is no way anyone can bypass the BVAS machines. They can only oppress voters by buying their PVCs. It is not possible for a PVC to be used by another person,’’ he assured.

Yakubu also disclosed that the commission had updated its Memorandum of Understanding with the various transport unions and would co-opt their leaders in the commission’s situation rooms.

Also, at a stakeholders’ summit on ‘Addressing the influence of money on the 2023 general election,’ INEC  organised in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation, in Abuja, Yakubu said inducement of voters could mar the elections.

He said, “The negative role of money in elections goes to the very heart of our democracy. It destroys the very basis of democratic elections which is that citizens should freely choose those who exercise power on their behalf. It renders the emergence of the right candidates for positions extremely difficult, undermines fair electoral adjudication, and destroys the professional and independent conduct of INEC officials and other public agencies involved in elections.

“Even more worrisome is the high prospect that criminal money may find its way into our elections through money laundering. Above all, the pernicious use of money tremendously increases the likelihood of election violence due to a ‘win at all costs’ mentality among contestants who would have invested a fortune in the election.

‘’Surely, elections are not a business venture for profit. Instead, it is an application to serve the people with the understanding that they may prefer someone else on one occasion. But then, there would be an opportunity to reapply after four years.’’

According to him, the commission has over the years introduced a number of measures, including the slight reconfiguration of the polling units to bring the ballot boxes closer to the voting cubicles to discourage the exposure of the marked ballot papers by voters to vote buyers.

‘’We also banned the use of smart phones and photographic devices by voters in the voting cubicles. Yet, these measures have recorded limited success,’’ Yakubu lamented, adding that this informed the need to collaborate with relevant institutions to fight the menace of money influence in the electioneering process.

“We must mobilise every relevant national institution to support our effort. We must rely on the professional and other capacities of cognate agencies in our determination to improve electoral administration in Nigeria,” he said.

The INEC boss acknowledged that the EFCC, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, National Broadcasting Commission and the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria, ARCON  have all pledged their cooperation in this regard.

While admitting that there are lawful means of dealing with election traders as it were, Yakubu added that more still needed to be done to stamp out the menace of financial corruption in the system.

His words, “The commission is aware that legal provisions and the actions of the agencies are critical but will not be enough to completely root out the deep-seated cancer of corrupt money in our elections. The concerted actions of citizens are crucial. Citizens must reject inducements to sway their votes through vote buying.’’

“They must also engage effectively in stopping the negative use of money in our electoral process generally by reporting cases to INEC and other agencies. In addition, civil society organisations should make this a major plank of both their pre-election and election observation activities. Financial institutions, religious organisations, traditional institutions, the media, civic bodies and, above all, citizens must also join in this fight,” he stressed.

That said, the INEC boss said those bent on doing business as usual would expectedly fight back, noting, however, that the commission has resolved to run them out of their ignoble venture.

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