With about 75 days to the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission says no amount of attacks or intimidation will deter it from leveraging the Electoral Act 2022 to conduct a free, fair and credible exercise.
It lamented what it called the poor understanding of the Electoral Act and the deliberate action by key political actors and stakeholders to mislead voters.
INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, spoke on Saturday in Abuja at a media/civil society organisations’ engagement with INEC on identifying and mitigating flashpoints of electoral misinformation and disinformation.
The programme was organised by the International Press Centre, supported by the European Union.
In his keynote address titled, ‘Issues, perspectives and flashpoints of electoral misinformation and disinformation’ Okoye said as the commission prepares for the elections, there were issues, processes and procedures of the commission that had been skewed to confuse Nigerians or delegitimise the commission and the electoral process.
He added, “Some of the critical stakeholders in the electoral process have not made the transition from the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) to the Electoral Act, 2022. Some of them are still quoting sections of the law that have been repealed or amended.
“Furthermore, some of the stakeholders are not comfortable with some of the provisions aimed at strengthening the electoral regime and will prefer a return to the old act. The reality is that the commission must conduct the 2023 general election based on the Electoral Act, 2022. Attacking the commission based on its resolve to conduct a law-based election will not change its resolve to organise, undertake and supervise elections in Nigeria.”
He said the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act, 2022 empowered the commission to make subsidiary legislation but that sometimes, “there is deliberate injection of confusion in our processes when some persons start circulating information that registered voters do not need their permanent voter cards to vote in any election.”
‘BVAS offline mode’
Okoye also said the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System could work offline and does not require a network for voter verification and authentication.
He added, “BVAS has come to stay and shall be used and deployed for the conduct of the 2023 general elections. Section 47(2) of the Electoral Act makes the use of the BVAS for voter authentication and verification mandatory and the commission is not vested with the discretionary authority to use or not to use the device.”
“Also, those with double and multiple PVCs are now unable to use them. Those that are masters in the use of Incident Forms have been taken out of business and they want to return to the old ways of conducting elections. Some of them are claiming that the BVAS uses a network and there is no network in their localities.”
E-transmission and collation
Meanwhile, the National Commissioner pointed out that the introduction of electronic transmission of results had been a game-changer in the electoral process, noting it had reduced the incidents of hijacking and hacking of results on the way to the collation centres.
“Sections 50 and 64 of the Electoral Act make the electronic transmission of polling unit level results mandatory. The commission will continue to improve on its processes but will not be drawn into a debate on settled issues,” he added.
On the pronouncement by the commission that it was prepared for a rerun should there be a need for it, Okoye said the commission had largely been misinterpreted, adding, “Some people even challenged the commission, saying, ‘why are you preparing for a rerun when we have already won.’” The comment drew laughter from the audience.
He added, “Section 134 of the constitution enjoins the commission to prepare for every possible scenario and eventuality relating to the outcome of presidential and governorship elections. Candidates for presidential and governorship elections must meet the numerical and geographical threshold in section 134(2) and 178(2) of the constitution to be declared the winners of the election.”
He said if there would be a rerun, it would be conducted within 21 days between the candidate with the highest votes and the one with the highest votes in the highest number of states. “We must resist the danger and temptation of rigid expectations aimed at preventing the commission from preparing for every possible scenario in accordance with constitutional dictates,” he added.
He reiterated that the provisional register had 93, 522, 272 voters, noting that the commission would continue to clean up the register to remove visibly under aged registrants.
Vote-buying, national embarrassment
On the menace of vote-buying, Okoye said the commission was concerned that politicians, on realising that every vote counts, either go to the polling units with bags of money to induce voters or deploy some digital means.
He said the country’s democracy should not be for sale but that the commission would continue to implement policies and collaborate with law enforcement and financial regulatory agencies to check the menace. “However, the commission is not vested with the power to go from house to house in search of vote-buyers and sellers,” he added. “This is a sad development which portrays our country in a very bad light. The commission has made it clear that open vote-buying will not be tolerated on Election Day.”
Earlier, the Executive Director, International Press Centre, Lanre Arogundade, said the role of the media was further complicated by politicians’ penchant to “tell blatant lies to score cheap political points.”
A Senior Fellow, Centre for Democracy and Development, Prof Jibrin Ibrahim, enjoined journalists not to allow fake news merchants to take over election narratives but to remain professional in the discharge of their constitutional role to the society.
Meanwhile, the Head of INEC’s Election and Party Monitoring in Katsina State, Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim-Umar, on Friday cautioned politicians and political parties against using provocative and abusive words during campaigns.
US visa restriction
Meanwhile, the United States Consular General in Lagos, Will Stevens, has said its plan to impose visa restriction on persons found to be complicit in violence during the elections remained in force.
When asked in an interview with one of our correspondents on Friday if the US had imposed such a restriction on anyone in the past, he said, “Yes, we have imposed visa restrictions in the past and against those responsible for or complicit in undermining the democratic process and we remain fully willing to do so again in the context of the upcoming elections.
“Anyone seeking to undermine the democratic process can be found to be ineligible for visas to the United States, and so it’s essential that people understand that and that we look to all Nigerians to reject the use of violence and inflammatory language before, during and after the elections.”
Asked how many of such persons have been denied visas in t, he said, “I can’t share with you the number or names, but I can tell you that it has definitely happened and we are willing to do it again.”
A former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, on Saturday urged Nigerians to shun violence and acts of vote-buying and selling.
Speaking at the 12th convocation and 15th anniversary of the Achievers University, Owo, Ondo State, on Saturday, Dogara, who is the chancellor of the institution, said, “This event is happening at a time Nigeria is getting ready for another round of elections. We cannot look away as stakeholders. It is therefore imperative that we have a voice in moving the nation forward. I wish to strongly appeal to you and other Nigerians to have faith in Nigeria.
“Remember, the power is your vote and vote is your future – don’t sell it and don’t keep it in your room. You must use it. Participate by coming out massively to vote for your conscience. Vote for unity, peace, justice and development.”
The pro-chancellor of the university, Dr Bode Ayorinde, said all the staff would be enlisted with pension administrators of their choice to enable them to be at par with workers in public universities.
The vice-chancellor, Prof Sam Aje, admonished the graduating students to make proper use of the skills and knowledge acquired in the school when they get to the outside world.
Borno IDPs prepared
The Resident Electoral Commissioner in Borno State, Mohammed Abubakar, has said internally displaced persons in the two remaining camps in Maiduguri metropolis will vote in the coming elections.
He spoke at a news conference on Friday.
Some IDPs at Muna Garage Camp and Customs IDP Camp expressed their readiness to vote as they did in the 2019 elections.
The INEC’s Head of Voter Education and Publicity in the state, Shuaibu Ibrahim, said IDPs who had returned home would not be disenfranchised. “Even when they were in camps in the Maiduguri metropolis, they were registered under their respective towns or villages of origin so their change of location from Maiduguri to their homes will not disenfranchise them at all,” he stated.