The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, has said insecurity may hamper elections in the North-West and South-East states
Yakubu said the insecurity in the country was concerning, noting that the security challenge which was hitherto restricted to the North-East region has now spread to other parts of the country.
For over two decades, Nigeria has battled the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East but this has evolved into banditry in the North-West and killings in the South-East allegedly perpetrated by Eastern Security Network, the militant arm of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra.
According to INEC, over 41 attacks, excluding have been carried out against its offices across 14 states since the 2019 general election, with the South-East recording 13 attacks.
The attacks which started in Abia on May 9, 2021, spread to Enugu and Ebonyi, with three incidents each; Imo, with two attacks; and Anambra and Abia with one each and in Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom states.
In all, the electoral body recorded nine attacks in 2019, 21 incidents in 2020 and over 12 as of May 2021. It also lost 9,836 smart card readers, 345 ballot boxes, and 135 voting cubicles, among other assets.
But speaking in Washington on Tuesday, the INEC chairman, however, said he has received assurances from the service chiefs that they would secure the voting environment during the 2023 polls.
Yakubu spoke at an event organised by the National Endowment for Democracy and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems at the NED Headquarters, Washington DC, United States of America.
He also acknowledged the issue of political thuggery which he said was organized by some of the political actors.
In his keynote address made available to journalists on Wednesday, the INEC chairman said, “Are there concerns about the 2023 general election? I’ll be the last to say there are no concerns. The first concern is the perennial issue of insecurity in different parts of the country, compounded by the traditional issues of thuggery during elections organized by some of the political actors.
“I say it is a perennial issue because, at the end of the day, it is nothing new. However, the dimension of the insecurity is concerning in the sense that in the past, it was localized or confined to a particular part of the country, the northeast. But now, it is more widespread and we are keeping our eyes, particularly on the northwest and the southeastern parts of the country.’’
Speaking further on other concerns, he stated, ‘’Elections are conducted by human beings. We worry about the security of our officials, voters and the materials to be deployed. Without them, we cannot conduct elections. We have spoken to the security agencies and they have assured us that the situation will improve before the elections.
“So, fingers crossed. Those who are supposed to secure the environment have assured us that they will secure the environment for us to conduct elections. Our responsibility is to conduct elections.”
Buttressing the significance of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, Yakubu noted that the machine has eliminated the flaws in previous elections, including identity theft and multiple accreditations.
According to him, the commission has dispatched the BVAS to over 23 states of the federation.
The electoral body also said that with the introduction of the BVAS, identity theft, multiple registrations and the use of incident forms during elections have been eliminated.
The deployment of technology in the nation’s electoral process, it added, had increased the citizens’ confidence.
INEC stated, “The BVAS has eliminated multiple accreditations that were observed in previous elections. Now, you are sure that the person who is accredited is the voter and the bearer of the card.
“It has increased public confidence in the outcome of elections as shown in the recent off-cycle elections. People tend to be more confident now with the protection of the process of accreditation using technology.’’
Speaking further on the benefits of the e-transmission machine, Yakubu noted, “It has eliminated the use of the Incident Form. For those of you who have been following our elections for a long time, when the Card Reader was introduced, the machine would read the card but it may not read the biometrics.
“So, when it fails to read the biometrics, they then say – give the voter the Incident Form. And through that, many people voted using identity theft. We have eliminated the Incident Form.
‘’So, every registered voter must go through the biometric and the facial, and we jokingly say that the only way the two processes can fail, particularly the facial, is when the voter forgets his or her face at home on election day. The system of using the BVAS for the conduct of elections has come to stay. There’s no going back.”
Parties raise fears over plans to dump BVAS
Yakubu disclosed that the Commission has printed over 50 per cent of the Permanent Voters’ Cards which will be available by November.
He stated “Nigerians have been asking the commission; when you finish registration and clean-up of the data, what about our Permanent Voters’ Cards? This will be available for new registrants by next month – November. We are looking at early to the middle of the month to make the cards available.
“We have already printed over 50 per cent of the cards but we haven’t delivered them to the states yet. As we clean the data, we also print the cards. Nigerians who have registered should be rest assured that they will have their cards ahead of the general election. We also need to do so in good time because the law now requires us to publish the number of cards collected per polling unit.”
INEC dispatches BVAS
Meanwhile, the INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, told The PUNCH on Wednesday, that the constitution gave backing for the use of BVAS for voter accreditation.
He also dismissed allegations by 17 political parties on Wednesday that the commission was under pressure to dump the BVAS in the 2023 polls.
The spokesperson of the Coalition of United Political Parties and Peoples Democratic Party House of Representatives candidate for Ideato Federal Constituency, Ikenga Ugochinyere and CUPP National Secretary and Labour Party candidate for Ankpa/Olamaboro/Omala Federal Constituency of Kogi State, Peter Ameh had alleged that there were plots to truncate the 2023 general elections through evil means, including stopping the electronic transmission of results.
But reacting to their allegations in a chat with The PUNCH, Okoye dismissed speculations relating to the electronic transmission as idle talks, describing the BVAS as a national asset.
He said, ‘’The use of the BVAS for the conduct of the 2023 general election is irreversible. The BVAS is the game-changer in the 2023 general election. Speculations and rumours relating to the abandonment of the BVAS are empty and without foundation.
‘’The constitution and the law give unalloyed backing and flavour to the use of the BVAS for voter accreditation and authentication. It is illegal not to deploy the BVAS for accreditation. The BVAS is now a national asset.
“The BVAS has been delivered to over 23 states of the federation and we are getting ready for the election. The electronic transmission of polling unit-level results is a foregone conclusion. It is part of our national asset and cannot be jettisoned. No individual or group can at this moment delegitimize the processes and procedures of the election. We are marching forward to 2023.”
CUPP raises alarm
Addressing journalists in Abuja, the CUPP spokesman, Ikenga alleged that some unnamed persons in the All Progressives Congress have perfected plans ‘’to create a crisis of confidence based on trumped-up charges that would lead to the removal of top officials of INEC, including its chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, and other National Commissioners.’’
The group claimed to have “intercepted intelligence of an alleged plot against the 2023 general elections, and this time being coordinated by leading figures of the ruling All Progressives Congress governors led by a South-East APC governor with a controversial past and another from the North West.’’
It insisted on BVAS and electronic transmission of results of the 2023 general election.
CUPP’s statement read in part, “Nigerian political parties’ chairmen and leaders will not accept any plan to stop the electronic transmission of results and use of BVAS. Those who think that they can manipulate institutions of state, both judicial and others to sneak into power should know that 2023 is the people’s turn, and we will defend it with all our hearts.
“We categorically state that any plan to destabilise INEC and force the top officials of the commission, including the INEC chairman out of office; whether with trumped-up charges, manipulated security report, instigated or coordinated parliamentary investigation, a hurriedly obtained injunction from the court, a Code of Conduct Bureau inquiry, or an arrest and hurried arraignment, will not be accepted. We repeat, these will not be accepted by Nigerian political parties, party leaders, civil societies, and the generality of Nigerians.’’
Calling for the investigation and trial of those involved in the alleged compromise of voters’ registration, the CUPP called on INEC to make its internal report public and redeploy the staff responsible as a way to rebuild public confidence.
APC denies allegation
But the spokesman of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo said there was no iota of truth in the allegations by CUPP, describing it as the rant of those who are already anticipating defeat ahead of the 2023 election.
The legal luminary said at no time did the members of the National Working Committee of the APC or those in positions of authority pile up any pressure on the commission.
He said, “That is nonsense talk. There has been absolutely no occasion where the APC either by the NWC or levels of leadership put any kind of pressure on INEC. Those who are sensing defeat are already looking for a reason to give.”