RIGHT OF REPLY
A three-page feature with the headline above, in the Sunday Vanguard newspaper of April 22, 2018 refers.
Not only did the story misrepresent the facts and intentions of INEC in its bid to respond to legitimate demands of the citizens of Nigeria, it also made unwarranted insinuations capable of creating confusion in the minds of the general public.
The story began with a red herring that the Commission had perfected plans to “re-introduce some 30,000 polling units that the previous Commission, led by Prof. Attahiru Jega, tried to introduce close to the 2015 general elections but failed.” The “secret,” according to the writer, was “let of out the bag when Prof Jega openly congratulated the new leadership on its reforms in the area of voting points.” The story did not say where and when Jega made the comments and at which occasion. It also did not say specifically that Jega had affirmed that the Commission was about to create 30,000 polling units.
If, indeed, the former INEC Chairman “congratulated” the Commission over “its reforms in the area of voting points”, he is entitled, as any other Nigerian, to comment on INEC’s activities. But there is absolutely no correlation between his supposed comments and the wild allegation about the creation of 30,000 polling units.
Leaked Internal Memo of the commission
The author also referred to a leaked Internal Memo the Commission had sent to its Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), asking for specific information related to the deluge of requests that the Commission had received from several Nigerians and interest groups, asking for the creation of new Polling Units in their areas.
Mr. Ajani did not correctly reflect its content in his report. There was nowhere in the Memo, for instance, to suggest that the Commission had concluded plans to create 30,000 polling units with their geographical spread. If Mr. Ajani had made an effort to contact the Commission for clarification, he would have been told in specific terms what the Commission was trying to do because it was not a secret move as the story suggests.
To be sure, at no time did the Commission make a decision to create any specific number of polling units in any part of the country. What happened was that the Commission had, for some time, been receiving many requests from across the country for new wards and polling units to be created in areas they claimed were new settlements or currently underserved.
Increasing population and eruption of conflicts
With the increasing population and eruption of conflicts in some parts of the country, which had forced many Nigerians to relocate from their places of abode to other areas they consider safe, it is quite understandable that new settlements would have sprung up since the 2015 general elections. In its bid to see how these issues could be addressed, the Commission asked its RECs to supply specific information to help it take a decision.
When such information is supplied, the Commission would have subjected it to further scrutiny and consult stakeholders as it normally does before a final decision is taken. There was no attempt to surreptitiously create new polling units. The Commission does not intend to create new polling units before the 2019 General Elections. Nevertheless, it will continue to study the submissions from the State offices towards the inevitability of creating additional polling units after the 2019 General Elections.
To that extent, we find all the allusions contained in Mr. Ajani’s story, such as the allegation that the Commission was planning to favour one section of the country against the other in the creation of polling units as unwarranted and misplaced. It, in fact, amounts to raising a false alarm.
Rotimi L. Oyekanmi is the Chief Press Secretary to the Hon. Chairman, INEC.