By Okey Ndiribe, Asst. Political Editor
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Attahiru Jega is optimistic that today would prove to the whole world that Nigeria can organize free and fair elections.
While recently reminiscing on measures the commission under his leadership has put in place to ensure that the feat is achieved, he declared the total readiness of INEC to conduct credible elections between today and April 16.
Prof. Jega made this declaration last Wednesday at a meeting he held with editors of major media houses in the country. Throwing more light on INEC’s preparations for the polls he said the Commission had already taken delivery of ballot boxes and papers and other sensitive electoral materials that would be used for the elections.
Giving further insight into novel measures that have been put in place by INEC to ensure that ills of past elections are avoided, Prof. Jega said that the Federal Road Safety Commission
(FRSC) would assist INEC to track movement of sensitive electoral materials nation-wide. He also stated that ballot papers that to be used for the polls would contain security features which would prevent them from being used in another polling unit if stolen.
The INEC Chairman further stated that the commission already had a credible voters register which is much better than what was used for the 2007 general elections adding that even though the register is not perfect, some persons who were involved in multiple registration have been detected and would soon be prosecuted.
He further said that adequate preparations have been made for delivery of electoral materials on time to ensure that voting begins on time on election days. The INEC boss also assured the nation that cases of late arrival of electoral materials would be reduced drastically and may only occur in very remote parts of the country.
According to him: “ Arrangements have been made with the Nigerian Air Force and Navy for delivery of electoral materials to different parts of the country.”
Commenting on the thorny issue of a final list of candidates vying for different positions, he said the Commission had concluded compilation of nominated candidates of different parties for all the elections adding that INEC faced serious legal challenges in compiling the final list.
A week earlier Prof. Jega had stated at a meeting he held with leaders of political parties at Abuja that the commission would deploy a minimum of 400,000 adhoc staff for the polls stressing that three of them would work in a polling unit alongside other field supervisory personnel .
He also said that the bulk of the adhoc personnel would be serving members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). He further stated that in places where NYSC adhoc personnel were inadequate, students from Federal Government owned tertiary institutions would be deployed alongside staff of the federal civil service working in such places.
The INEC boss had stated that the Commission had worked on changing the attitude of its staff from what it used to be in the past through sensitization programmes and sanctions where necessary.
The INEC Chairman has also disclosed that some of the senior officials of the commission across the states –especially the state Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) and the Electoral Officers (EOs)- would be redeployed. The INEC Chairman also said that the exercise would cut across all levels of electoral body.
Responding to the controversy over whether or not the direct data capture (DDC) machines could be used for the poll, he said this wasn’t possible because of the challenges their use would pose to the commission. He explained that that a section of the Electoral Act prohibits electronic voting.
Said he: “ There is a possibility that somebody could go to court to challenge us if we use DDC machines since there is an aspect of the law which prohibits electronic voting. Use of these machines even for the purpose of accrediting voters could attract such a legal action and we have to avoid anything that could be used by anybody to stall the election”. He also dismissed the insinuation in some quarters that INEC’s voters register was manually compiled stressing that the commission’s register was electronically generated.
Throwing more light on security arrangements that have been put in place for the poll Prof. Jega said that there would be a list of security agents accredited to cover every polling unit in the country.
He further explained that apart from the commission so far acquiring 500 pick-up vans and 60 boats for the delivery of electoral materials across the country, another 100 vans were still being expected.
He also said the commission had been assured by the leadership of both the Navy and Airforce that they
were prepared to assist the electoral body for the purpose of delivering electoral materials to any part of the country.
Commenting on the controversy that has trailed the list of candidates vying for various offices published by the commission so far, Prof Jega stated that the electoral body had never on its own substituted the names of candidates submitted by various political parties adding that what the commission had done so far was guided by the relevant laws and guidelines for party primaries.
Commenting further on measures that have been introduced for the purpose of ensuring the polls are free and fair, Prof. Jega explained that the period of four hours which was set aside for the purpose of voters accreditation on polling day is to forestall multiple voting and other electoral malpractices adding that voters could stay or go home after exercising their franchise.
The INEC Chairman had also pledged that the commission would surely investigate and prosecute political parties that were violating the law on the sources of their funding but urged politicians who had evidence of such violations to send them to him.
He further stated that INEC had also introduced a code of conduct for political parties in the country, as a way of regulating and restoring sanity among them.
“ The Code of conduct would be in place to serve as a guide to regulate the activities of political parties before and during the general elections” he said.
The INEC boss had earlier said there would be more redeployment of officers of the commission before the elections. Throwing more light on security arrangements that have been put in place for the poll, he said that there would be a list of security agents accredited to cover every polling unit in the country.
He further stated that INEC had established an inter-agency security consultative committee for the purpose of ensuring a hitch-free poll in the country adding that this had been extended to all the states of the federation.
In his own presentation at the meeting, INEC’s Director of Operations Mr Okey Ndeche said preparations had been completed for INEC staff to be camped at voting centres, nation-wide on April 1. He explained that the procedure that would be adopted on polling day would begin with a headcount of voters on queue before actual voting commences.
In his own remarks at the meeting, INEC’s Director of Logistics Alhaji Usman Farouk had said that ballot boxes that would be used for the election would be coded according to the voting centres across the nation adding that there would be cubicles for polling stations located in open places.
Investigations by Vanguard also indicated that security at the headquarters of the Commission was also recently beefed up with the deployment of officers and men of the Anti-terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Nigeria Police.
It was learnt that that the deployment of the squad to the commission’s headquarters became necessary following increased violence across the country since INEC offices could become targets of political thugs and other miscreants who did not want the elections to hold.
Since last week, members of the squad have been thoroughly screening all incoming and outgoing vehicles as well as staff and visitors to the commission’s headquarters.