The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday faulted former President Olusegun Obasanjo over claims on the outsourcing of election duty staff for the 2019 general elections.
Obasanjo had on Sunday said the transmission and collation of results were subject to interference, manipulation and meddling alleging that the commission has outsourced the recruitment of adhoc staff to partisan actors.
But speaking during a meeting with European Union (EU) Parliament observer mission, INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, said the Smart Card Readers would be deployed on election day for voter verification, confirmation and authentication.
He said the commission had enhanced and improved their functionality, and that clause 10 of the regulations and guidelines recently released by the commission makes the use of Card Readers mandatory, adding that it is an offence to accredit a voter by any other means.
While reacting to Obasanjo’s claim on adhoc staff and the sourcing of election duty staff, Yakubu said the bulk of adhoc staff for election duty would be drawn from the pool of young Nigerians serving in the National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC).
“The Commission has established clear criteria for drawing from students of tertiary institutions to make up for any shortfalls. This has been the practice over several electoral cycles. Similarly, collation and returning officers are drawn from senior academic staff of federal universities led by the vice chancellors.
“We have already commenced the process, following our meeting with the vice chancellors last week. In addition, there is a clearly established system of vetting all election duty staff before they are engaged.
“Therefore, the claim that the commission has outsourced the recruitment of election duty staff to partisan actors is the usual allegation on the eve of elections and should be disregarded,” he said.
Also responding to Obasanjo’s statement when he visited the newly appointed acting Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, Yakubu said: “This is to be expected in an election year when people make all sorts of insinuations, but I want to tell you that we, as a commission, have never been under any pressure to do what is wrong.
“We will never compromise our integrity to do what the law says that we shouldn’t, and for the 2019 general elections, I want to assure and reassure Nigerians that votes and nothing but votes will count.
“With this level of cooperation from the security agencies, I want to assure you that Nigerians will have a pleasant voting experience in 2019,” Yakubu said.
The INEC chairman added that with 24 to the 2019 general elections, the Commission’s attention was firmly focused on the conduct of credible elections.
“We will not be distracted into a fatuous debate,” he said apparently dismissing the allegations made by Obasanjo.
He asserted that INEC did not source for partisan persons as collation officers and urged the people to disregard the claim.
Yakubu further noted that the use of the card reader, accreditation of voters and allowing them to vote at the same time, continuing voter registration and the publication of the national register were all recommendations of the EU Observer Mission which the electoral body had implemented
“There is no doubt that our electoral processes are getting better and votes count. We will continue to progressively improve our elections and protect the sanctity of the vote. This calls for the support of all citizens and all stakeholders,” he said.
Meanwhile, INEC said it had uncovered plans by some political actors to use food vendors for vote buying.
According to the INEC chairman, Yakubu, the recent consultations with stakeholders across the six geo-political zones in Nigeria led to the discovery of a new plan by vote merchants to use food vendors in vote buying. “The attention of the Commission was drawn to a new plan by some political actors to use food vendors around polling units with large voter populations as collection points for cash-for-votes as well as other forms of material inducement to voters on election day. We are aware of this trick. It will not work.
“In our determination to do so, we have taken bold steps to address the disturbing trend of vote-buying by some political actors. For this reason, we have modified the administration of our polling units in order to make it difficult for voters to expose their marked ballot papers on election day.
“We have also introduced the partial ban on the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices by voters while in the voting cubicles. We are also introducing the rolling and flattening of ballot papers by voters on election day. We are training our election duty staff, in addition to voter education and sensitization, on this new innovation. We will leave no stone unturned in ensuring the sanctity of the ballot,” Yakubu said.
The INEC chairman, in separate meetings, told the EU and the observer mission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that a total of over 23,000 candidates were vying for various political offices in the 2019 general elections.
“The new registrants were integrated to the national register and displayed in all 119,973 polling units from 6th– 12th November 2019 for claims and objections by citizens as required by law.
“The final national register now stands at 84,004,084 voters. Each of the 91 political parties in Nigeria has been given a copy of the entire national register of voters which is the foundation for conducting credible elections. Any person whose name is not on the voters’ register will not be allowed to vote,” Yakubu added.
The head of the EU delegation, European Union ( EU), Mrs Maria Arena, said they were in Nigeria for observation mission.
According to her, 40 observers had been deployed to Nigerian, and they would work with the national and international observer missions, including ECOWAS and others that would be willing to work with them.
Also, the ECOWAS delegation said they would deploy 200 observers from the other 14 member countries as observers. The delegation led by a team leader, Chinedu Chinedu, said that 32 observers were in the country for a long-term observation mission.
…Refutes PDP’s Bribery Allegation
Meanwhile, INEC has refuted the allegation by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that its chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu, was being induced to rig the next month’s presidential election in favour of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The PDP national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, had at a press conference yesterday in Abuja, raised the alarm over alleged moves to compromise the INEC chairman with juicy offers and appointments.
But the chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, in a statement, asked Nigerians to disregard the allegation by the PDP, adding that PDP and other political parties should channel their energy into supporting INEC in its desire to conduct free and fair elections.
The PDP had said, “The entire nation is worried and the palpable fear of every Nigerian today is whether Mahmood Yakubu can conduct an election which will indeed be free, fair, credible and transparent.
“This is particularly as allegations are rife in the public space, that the INEC chairman is being compromised by the APC and the Buhari Presidency with offers of huge sums of money, choice property within and outside Nigeria, as well as juicy appointments to his relations as bribes, in return for the rigging of the elections in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC.”
The PDP urged Yakubu to resist any such pressure, pointing out that this had become necessary because “Nigerians now fear that this is the reason behind the compromising insistence by INEC to lump together the accreditation of voters and voting, a situation that will muddle up the process and pave the way for participation by aliens, underage and unregistered voters and the allocation of fictitious figures in favour of President Buhari and the APC.”
But in his reaction, INEC boss’ spokesman, Oyekanmi, noted that this accusation followed the pattern of other baseless and unsubstantiated allegations levelled by the spokesman of PDP against the INEC chairman in the recent past.
“Please ask him, where is the concrete evidence to support these new allegations? And what does the country stand to benefit from this desperation to cause needless confusion?
“I wish to implore Nigerians to henceforth disregard and ignore any unsubstantiated allegation by the PDP spokesman against the INEC chairman. Rather than work with the Commission to ensure that the general elections that are less than 30 days away are successfully conducted, it is very sad that all that some people are determined to do is to cast aspersions on the good work that INEC has been doing in the last three years for nothing other than their selfish interests,” he added.
Oyekanmi gave the assurance that the election cannot be rigged, noting that the commission would conduct free, fair and credible general elections.
“Let me assure Nigerians that nobody within or outside INEC can rig the 2019 general elections. Every voter must present his or her Permanent Voter’s Card and must be verified, confirmed and authenticated by the Smart Card Reader before voting.
“Accreditation and voting will be simultaneously done as had been the case since January 2016 when the commission conducted the Bayelsa governorship election. It is important to also state that the Commission adopted this method because it was recommended by all the local and international observers that covered the 2015 general elections after ascertaining that over two million voters did not return to cast their ballots after accreditation in that election for a number of reasons.
“Indeed, INEC is capable of and will conduct free, fair and credible general elections. All we ask is for all stakeholders to play by the rules” he added.