BY OKEY NDIRIBE
ABUJA—TOP echelons of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, appear to be divided over what constitutes credible elections, given the absence of a valid voter register in the country.
While Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, insists that the commission had achieved giant strides since his assumption of office, Mr. Austin Okojie, a re-appointed Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, faulted the claim, especially with regard to the voter register.
Speaking, yesterday, in Abuja, after being sworn in for another term, Okojie said INEC’s current voter register could never guarantee credible election.
Okojie (Edo State) had served as REC in six states. Okojie, who said he had served in Rivers, Benue, Bayelsa, Imo, Enugu and Abia states as REC, also faulted INEC on voter education.
He stated that the present democracy was not being threatened only by voters’ apathy, but also by invalid votes.
The REC called on INEC to do more on voter education and the process of up-dating the voter register.
He also expressed regrets over Nigerians’ attitude to election results, noting that the opposition had never seen anything good about election results.
Throwing more light on his statement as a representative of the five newly-sworn in RECs, he said: “You are aware that Nigerians hardly accept election results. Even if you conduct the best election in this country, you should know the outcome.”
Other RECs sworn in by Baba Inuwa, a Deputy Director in the commission, include Prof. Jacob Jatau, representing Nasarawa State; Baba Yusuf, Borno State; Segun Agbaje, Ekiti State and Nasir Ayilara, Kogi State.
On what it takes to change the attitude of Nigerians towards elections results, he said “we will start with the voters register; we will try and raise the standard of the voters register to international level.
“The international level of voters register is that the voters register has to be comprehensive; it has to be inclusive; it has to be accurate and above all it has to be up to date. The question now is: “Is the Nigerian voters register up to date?”
“Now as I speak with you, I cannot really agree that the Nigerian voters register is up to date. For a voter register to be up to date, there must be regular inclusion of eligible voters and also regular exclusion of illegible voters.
“So, until we have a process by which we can remove or include ineligible or eligible voters continuously our voters register cannot be said to be up to date.”
In his remarks, Chairman of INEC Prof. Attahiru Jega, congratulated the newly appointed RECs, adding that they were joining the commission at the most appropriate time when the electoral body had started preparations towards the 2015 general elections.
Said he: “You are coming in at a time when we need to draw from our various experiences in order to improve our performance. I am sure you must be aware that many Nigerians and international agencies have concluded that INEC has been able to raise the bar in terms of an improved electoral process.”
However, he admitted that the commission still faced enormous challenges, and that the electoral process was left in a very bad shape for too long and needed a lot of effort for the nation to get out of the woods.
He continued: “It has been a very difficult and challenging job trying to reform the electoral process. It is not an impossible job; it is a job we have began to do”.
He called on the new RECs to do the job with all the integrity, fairness and justice that is required.
“It is not easy because people would find fault. What we need to do is to remain focused and avoid giving the public the excuse to attack you” he said.
He urged the new RECs to maintain a decent relationship with their host communities and avoid becoming too demanding or outrageously dependent on them especially the state governments.
He continued: “Ensure you don’t give anybody any reason to rubbish your integrity or insult you so that at the end of your tenure, you would have a clear conscience”.
He further urged them to listen to those who may have complaints against the commission and explain the situation of things to them.
“But do not compromise on the processes and legal framework of the commission. You also have to be shining examples towards your staff. You must also be very serious in terms of discipline” he said.
He prayed that God should guide them in all their future assignments as they had taken on tough responsibility.
Other new RECs who were sworn in by Baba Inuwa, a Deputy Director in the commission include, Prof. Jacob Jatau, representing Nasarawa State; Baba Yusuf, representing Borno State; Austin Okogie, representing Edo State; Segun Agbaje, representing Ekiti State and Nasir Ayilara, representing Kogi State.