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Outcome of confab will not affect 2015 election – Jega

What’s the level of preparation for Ekiti and Osun elections?A lot has been said about the conduct of elections in Anambra State but frankly and…

What’s the level of preparation for Ekiti and Osun elections?
A lot has been said about the conduct of elections in Anambra State but frankly and honestly, there was a minor mistake which politicians capitalized on and literally made a mountain out of. We have learnt the lessons of Anambra and we have moved on and we factor all those lessons which are challenges related to logistics. It occurred in only one out of 21 local governments in Anambra State. Even in that one local government, only in one ward. But the way it was publicized, it was as if the entire exercise was faulty. There were very good things we did in Anambra which were also improvements in the previous elections but nobody heard of them because an official in one local government made a mistake, distributed materials wrongly, before those materials were retrieved and re-distributed, time had elapsed and the voters became agitated and prevented us from continuing with distribution of materials. We rectified it, but we couldn’t do the election in that particular ward until the following day. We made a mistake, an honest mistake which we regretted; we have penalised the official who did it, of course we have taken him to court; he is presently being prosecuted because of the negative impact that his actions and inactions have contributed to the Anambra election. So we are moving on and we believe that what happened in Anambra was too insignificant for it to be a basis to make judgment on the 2015 elections. Indeed as we prepare for both Osun and Ekiti elections, we would definitely do much better. And as you are no doubt aware in Osun and Ekiti, we had already distributed the permanent voters’ card and commencing today (Wednesday), we would start the continuous voters’ registration process so that all those who became 18 since 2011 when we did registration can use the opportunity to register now and also all those who have any challenge such that their details have not been appropriately captured in the register can now use the opportunity to come out and be registered. So by the time we do the Ekiti and Osun elections, the register would be much better than it has been and obviously we would have very few if any challenges such as the one that people talked about in Anambra State.
Campaigns have commenced, but according to the electoral laws, campaigns cannot start not until 90 days to the time of election, what’s your position?
It is a very good question which raises issues about the conduct of our politicians. I regret to say, yes there are honest politicians in our country, people who conduct politics with civility and integrity but regrettably they are very few. The general trend is that politicians act recklessly; they speak recklessly without guiding their utterances and they also do not operate within the framework of the rules regulating political activities. And as you have rightly observed, many politicians have commenced campaign and are jumping the gun. We have warned about the consequences of their actions and we are liaising with security agencies to take appropriate actions in order to deal with this. INEC by the Electoral Act provisions is supposed to prosecute electoral offenders but to prosecute electoral offenders, we have to work together with security agencies so that we can get the information, reports arising from investigations which are the bases for prosecution.
But let me also clarify it is not every campaign rally by a political party that can be interpreted as a campaign because what the electoral Act prohibits is for somebody to come out and say, “I’m the candidate in the oncoming election, vote me” either as a Senator, as a governor, as a President, as a member of the House of Assembly or House of Reps or to produce posters along that line and be pasting them or to now hold campaign rallies and to be asking, “vote for me”. That’s what the Electoral Act prohibits. If a party organises a rally to discuss other issues related to their party and there is no direct or implied categorical statement about ‘vote me as a candidate or vote my party for the next election,’ that really is not the kind of offence under the electoral law. But again our politicians are skilful and sometimes they blur the distinction on the line and by so doing obviously many of them breach the provisions of the Electoral Act. So the true challenge to us is documentation, “who said what, where and who have erected which poster, where”? Categorically, it is campaign which is prohibited by the Electoral Act and with that kind of documentation,  we liaise with the security agencies, we have already for example in both Ekiti and Osun states, asked our Resident Electoral Commissioners to identify these overt campaigns and to draw the attention of the parties and the candidates who have done this that they are liable to be prosecuted and we will do that nationwide as we move towards 2015. The key challenge is for our politicians to respect the rules of the game, to operate under those rules and unless and until they do that, they would by their own actions undermine the electoral process and in the end it is the INEC that is being blamed. People are saying why don’t you prosecute them? They are not telling the politicians, ‘why are you doing this? It is wrong’. So I think we all have a responsibility to keep on urging or demanding from our politicians to do the right thing in accordance with the law.
The North-Eastern part of the country is being threatened by terrorism, how do you see it not affecting the 2015 elections?
This has been generating a lot of controversy in the sense that I was said to have said certain things about elections not taking place in the North-East. I never said so. As an election management body, we are preparing to conduct elections everywhere in this country in 2015 and definitely there are security challenges in the North-Eastern region as well as other parts of the country. There are areas that are notorious for kidnapping or armed robbery or even militancy in addition to this very unfortunate and terrible acts of terrorism that are happening in the North-East.
There is a state of emergency declared in the North-East and we hope that before the general elections, things would have normalised and the state of emergency would have been lifted. But as far as we are concerned, we are prepared to conduct election anywhere in this country. We will cross the bridge when we get to it.
How did you arrive at the timetable recently released on the 2015 election?
With regards to the two days for the election, again, many people have criticised INEC. They allege that we have brought the presidential election first and is to the disadvantage of other political parties. In fact, we have been accused of altering the sequence of election. And frankly again this is not true. If you ask yourself, what was the sequence of election in 2011? The sequence was that we did National Assembly election first; that’s Senate and House of Representatives, then we did presidential election and we did governorship and the State Assembly election. That was the sequence in 2011. Nobody, we have no record of any party or any candidate writing to us at that time to say that, that sequence was not correct or it should be changed. So when we now came to prepare the timetable for 2015 elections, we took into consideration that Nigerians are calling for us to do elections in one day. And we said at the stage we are  given infrastructural challenges, logistics challenges, enormity of the works that need to be done to ensure successful elections on one day; we said it is not possible to do it in 2015. But we said, “Okay rather than doing it on three days like we did in 2011, let’s see if we can do it on two days”. So once we agreed to do it on two days, we said, Ok, let us collapse the same sequence of 2011 but let us collapse the National Assembly elections with the Presidential election and they come on one day and then let us retain the governorship and the State Assembly elections to be done the other day. So it is the same sequence, we have not altered and we are not bringing presidential election first and there are allegations that if you do presidential election first, there would be what they call a bandwagon effect. Did a bandwagon effect take place in 2011? And a bandwagon effect if it is to happen is because of the attitude and preference of voters. So even if you do governorship election first, is it not conceivable that if one party wins all the governorship elections, there would also be a bandwagon effect for the presidential election. People are picking quarrel where there is no justification for it. So I think people should accept what we have done in good faith. We did not design this time-table to favour any political party or any candidate and we did not design it in order to disadvantage any party or any candidate. We did it rationally, logically and consistent with what we have done in the past.
Delegates have been appointed for the forthcoming national conference, don’t you think the outcome of the conference would affect the already planned schedule of INEC?
Definitely no resolution can affect the plan of INEC until and unless that resolution has been turned into a law. So unless either the Constitution or the Electoral Act are amended as a result of whatever resolution may emerge from the conference, you know it will not affect our work. Our work is based on the Constitution and the Electoral Act and it only changes to the Constitution and the Electoral Act that can affect our work. So frankly as of now, I don’t see how any resolution from the conference would affect our preparation for the 2015 general elections.
As a political scientist and the man in charge of INEC, what has been the driving process towards credibility of election since you assumed office?
The privilege I have of being a political scientist is that I have studied Nigerian politics and I have written about Nigerian politics, about elections also. In fact I was also privileged to be a member of Hon. Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais Electoral Reform Committee. So I came to INEC with a lot of knowledge about what was good in our election processes and what is bad and what needs to be changed and what needs to be done in order to bring tremendous integrity to the electoral process. I came with a recognition that things have been so bad for so long that we are not magicians. We cannot just snap our fingers and all the problems will disappear.
Since 2011 elections, we have three years to do a lot of review, a lot of planning and policies and reorganisation and even recruitment that we now feel confident that things are much, much better as we prepare for the 2015 election.
When I say this I normally have a caveat and the caveat is simple. Earlier on we discussed about how politicians are jumping the gun, how they are not respecting due process and how we know in the past many of them even have a predisposition to engage youths, to either drag them or to arm them on election days so that they act irresponsibly. That attitude has to change. So regardless of what we do in INEC, if our politicians do not come into the process with civility, decorum,  positive attitude of winning or losing gallantly; if they come with the mindset of do-or-die, we must win by hook or by crook, then obviously there will continue to be challenges in our electoral process, but I must say that we have been doing our best to sensitize the public, enlighten the voters and to engage politicians through regular meetings for example with political parties.
I will give you one example, all the registered political parties have signed a code of conduct which they voluntarily agreed to. It was drafted with their involvement and they agreed, “we will do this, we will do this, we will do that”. I understand obviously given as I said the history of elections in the past in our country, people are so dissatisfied with the way INEC had conducted elections in the past long before we came. But when we came in 2011, we did not make all the challenges disappear but we have improved upon the integrity of the electoral process. Unfortunately many people still view INEC with suspicion; if the INEC of present day is the same INEC of say 2007 which was considered internationally and domestically as the worst election that we have ever conducted. Things improved when you compare 2011 with other elections but we are not there yet; it is not yet uhuru; we still have to keep on improving but Rome was not built in one day, but if everybody now acts in such a manner that we are being held hostage to the past or to the perception of the commission of the past, then really the atmosphere would be very difficult as everything we do is suspect.
You talked about deploying card readers for the election, can you shed more light on that?
What we intend to do to further improve the credibility of the electoral process and minimise fraud in the 2015 general elections, the permanent voters’ card that we will give to all persons who have registered, we are going to introduce a card reader so that we can read these cards. And the idea is to help us authenticate whether the person who brought the card to the polling unit is actually the true legitimate holder of that card. If you review our electoral history, you would see that Nigerian politicians have developed a tendency to purchase voters’ card from voters. In one governorship election we conducted, they were even purchasing cards for about N10, 000 per card and people ignorantly are selling these cards and disenfranchising themselves and what the politicians were doing was that they would buy these cards and they would get other people who are not the true owners to, during election, attempt to fraudulently vote. So in 2015, we are going to deploy card readers; they are very simple devices. The permanent voters’ card is like your ATM card. It contains all the information that we have captured during the registration, the face, the details, the fingerprint. And the card reader is like a device just like your normal handset, maybe slightly bigger.  When voters come to the polling unit; the first thing which the law requires is to submit your voters’ card, then they will check the register to see whether your name is in the register. Once they have seen that your name is in the register, they will now verify or authenticate you as to whether you are the true owner of that card and it will be swiped.

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