By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Clifford Ndujihe, Henry Umoru, & Olayinka Ajayi
•Says it’ll conduct free, fair polls, new Electoral Act or not
•Smart phones to be banned at polling cubicles
•Says it’s working with Immigration to recover PVCs from foreigners
•Rigging of 2019 polls will cause disintegration of Nigeria—Clark
ABUJA—DISTURBED by the incidents of vote-buying that tainted recent elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has declared its readiness to collaborate with the security agencies to stop the emerging trend.
Speaking in an interactive session with the commission’s youth ambassadors and celebrities in Lagos, on Saturday night, the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, said “to check mate corrupt politicians on the issue of vote-buying, electorates will not be allowed to bring in their cell phones into the polling cubicle.
“The Commission will partner with the Economicand Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and other security agencies because we are determined to conduct an election Nigerians will be proud of, he said.”
This came as the commission, weekend rolled out measures to ensure hitch-free elections despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
The opposition and some observers had alleged that the president’s action was part of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, plot to railroad itself to power. INEC, however, in a desperate bid to ensure the credibility of the forthcoming election, listed measures it intends to implement to ensure free and fair polls.
Meanwhile, INEC has said that it is aware of the possession of Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs by foreigners and declared its readiness to work with the Immigration Service to check them. The commission has also declared its readiness to collaborate with security agencies to stop the trend of vote buying that has marred recent elections. It said smartphones would be banned from voting cubicles across the country in 2019.
These came as elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark warned at the weekend that rigging of the forthcoming 2019 general election could undermine the unity of the nation.
Speaking on how it intends to check election rigging despite the failure to push through the Electoral Act, (Amendment Bill) 2018, a high-level official of the commission told Vanguard that INEC would still rely on the use of the card reader upon the constitutional powers given it to regulate elections in the country.
He, however, confessed that the card reader would not be used for automatic transmission of results.
“If political parties understand what we are trying to do, they will praise us. The card reader is to ensure that the person who presents the PVC is the owner of the PVC and it is not going to be used for any other thing.
“When the law says INEC should organise elections, this deployment of technology is part of our efforts to organise elections properly.
“Some people as you may have read today in a newspaper are plotting to clone our PVCs, and that is what makes it imperative for us to use the card readers.
“We have the manual register everywhere, and if for a reason we cannot authenticate your card, we now discover that your details are in the manual register, you will vote and what will be done is that you will put your phone number to your name, and it is part of the credibility process that we are projecting so that if any issue arises in the court you can be called and that is why we cancelled the Incident Form.
“There will be no issue of over-voting this time and what our officials will be told to do is to observe very strictly all the protocols we have listed to them.
“The results of every polling unit will be pasted there for everyone to see so that when it is announced in Abuja you can match it to what is being announced and that is why we are calling it Peoples Result Sheet,” the senior INEC official who spoke off the record said.
No cell phones
Meanwhile, the commission’s national chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu speaking during an interactive session with the commission’s youth ambassadors and celebrities in Lagos, on Saturday night, said “to checkmate corrupt politicians on the issue of vote-buying, voters will not be allowed to bring in their cell phones into the polling cubicle.
“The Commission will partner with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and other security agencies because we are determined to conduct an election Nigerians will be proud of.”
The INEC boss, who was represented by the National Commissioner, and Chairman of Outreach and Partnership, Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola reiterated that the essence of the meeting with celebrities was to leverage on their followership to ensure non-violent elections in 2019.
“The forum seeks to leverage on the large followers of INEC ambassadors in order to improve young voters’ awareness and information of the electoral process; encourage youth inclusion and non-violence participation and advance conversation around Permanent Voters Cards, PVCs collection and the menace of vote-buying.”
At the event, INEC National Commissioner, Festus Okoye debunked the allegation of the commission taking polling units to Internally Displaced Persons IDP camps outside the border areas of Nigeria and disclosed that the electoral umpire would continue to distribute PVCs till early February 2019. The Presidential poll will be held on February 16, 2019.
While responding to questions about non-Nigerians caught with PVCs, the INEC Chairman revealed: “There are fears more foreigners are with PVCs, and that is why we are working with Immigration and other security agencies to identify them. However, PVC distribution will continue until early February 2019.
“Those who will be allowed to vote are those Internally Displaced Persons within Nigeria, as no polling unit will be established outside Nigeria. We need the collaboration of everybody to run a credible election. We are ready; we also challenge political parties to be ready by training their agents ahead of the polls.”
Anybody who rigs the election is rigging Nigeria out of existence — Clark
Also, former Federal Commissioner for Information and South-South Leader, Chief Edwin Clark warned against the rigging of the 2019 polls, which he said could lead to the disintegration of the country, alleging that politicians were using the army and police to manipulate the elections.
Speaking at his Asokoro residence, Abuja, when he received members of Christian Campaigners of Nigeria, led by the Coordinator, Reverend Ayuba Kantiok, Chief Clark noted that next year’s election would determine the future of Nigeria as a country, and warned that rigging the election would amount to rigging the country out of existence.
The Elder statesman, who tagged his presentation to his guests as, “restructuring, religion, ethnicity and politics/elections,” said the country was at cross roads at the moment, just as he stressed that next year’s elections are very important because Nigeria’s National economy has suffered what he described as the most negative downturn in recent years.
On the use of the Army and Police by politicians to rig elections, he said: “I am also very worried at the increasing trend of desecrating our national institutions, particularly the Nigeria Army and the Nigeria Police Force in using them for political gains. More and more, certain persons in the political class have continued to drag the Police to become surrogates in achieving their nefarious political ends.
“This is the reason I support the restructuring of this country and will support any presidential candidate that has the restructuring of this country genuinely at heart and sees it as one of the cardinal things he will do if elected into office. This is because restructuring will check this inequality, this injustice. Restructuring will make or force states to be viable because they will begin to think outside the box if they must survive.”
Earlier in his remarks, the Coordinator, Christian Campaigners of Nigeria, Reverend Ayuba Kantiok, who noted that they were at his residence to consult with him on their support for the Peoples democratic Party, PDP Presidential Candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, said: “This is a mandate of restoring Nigeria, it is about reorientation of Nigerians on the need to move the nation forward.”