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EXPOSED: How politicians plan to disrupt, rig 2019 polls

•Concerns security features of result sheets may be compromised
•Deployment of Electoral Officers comes under immense pressure 
•Chairman, Prof Yakubu, seeks  neutrality of security agencies 

By Jide Ajani

W hereas  Professor Mahmood Yakubu,  National Chairman of the  Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, appears upbeat about his innovations and moves to offer Nigerians free, fair and credible elections this year, the activities of politicians, activities that are way beyond his brief, may pour cold water on all his efforts if the multiple fronts of compromise being opened against INEC succeed. But by far the greatest concern for INEC is the role of security agencies.   Therefore, whether it be moves by politicians to compromise election materials, influence the deployment of staff or outright connivance with the INEC staff, none of these would succeed without the active participation of the personnel of security agencies. Which is why this report exposes some of the plots to disrupt and rig the general elections; but it also insists that the INEC Chairman deserves all the help and support he can get to deliver free, fair and credible polls.  But will he get all the help and support?

At about 12noon, on Saturday, December 5, 1987, then-National Electoral Commission, NEC, under the chairmanship of the late Professor Eme Onuoha Awa, could not believe the reports that were coming from the field.   It was the first, in a series of elections during the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida transition to civil rule – mere local government elections on no-party basis.   In spite of the meticulous plans of NEC to organise peaceful, free and fair elections, politicians ensured that every effort turned into a fool’s errand, a wasted effort.   From accreditation to voting and, in some rare instances, collation of results, it was total chaos, orchestrated by politicians.   At about 2pm that day, it was a somewhat concerned Tonnie Iredia, then- Commission’s  Director of Public Affairs, who was frantically trying to get NTA’s Rekiya Zubairu or Sani Mohammed to help push a bulletin for the 3pm Network News extending voting hours to 4pm.

INEC

That was in 1987.

During the 2011 general elections, organised by Professor Attahiru Jega, the plethora of instances where the elections witnessed some form of violence occurred at collation centres.   It was to be an improved situation during the 2015 general elections, which have since been adjudged as free, fair and relatively credible.   What these all point to is the need for better scrutiny of the processes of the  Independent National Electoral Commission,  INEC, as well as a determined commitment to free, fair and credible elections this year because, in the final analysis, there is a gulf between the desire to accomplish and the capacity to deliver.   Despite the best intentions of Professor Awa in the 1987 episode, politicians poured cold water on his efforts.   He was to later device better, more strategic ways of dealing with the politicians of that time.

Fast forward to 2019.

Now, yet considered

For the purposes of having credible elections, the incumbent Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, and members of the Commission have put in place some measures. Sunday Vanguard has been made to understand, from its usually reliable sources at the INEC headquarters in Abuja, that  security serial numbers have already been allocated for each state for the printing of result sheets.  The security serial numbers, in so far as they are not compromised, would protect the sanctity of the result sheets.   Colour codes, it was  learnt, would also come in as additional security features.

This is to ensure that only authorised personnel of the Commission are in possession of the information.

But there are fresh fears in the Commission that, as politicians perfect plans to infiltrate INEC, there is the  potential of a leak.

In the event that such a leak occurs, this would provide an opportunity for politicians who may have succeeded in having the security serial numbers to go ahead and print their own version of the result sheets which may then have similar security features as the original that INEC plans to use.

This is not limited to just one political party.

In fact, politicians on separate divides are alleged to be attempting to out-smart one another in this ignoble venture.

To succeed with the plan, especially at the collation centres, different scenario analyses may emerge.

One of such is a situation where sponsored party agents would foment chaos at collation centres and, in the ensuing commotion, Presiding Officers may be caused to disappear with Form EC8A, even without prejudice to the fact that Form EC60E evidence trail had been pasted at Polling Units, PUs.

This would give room for the pre-prepared fake results of polls on EC8B that looks exactly the same as the one produced and delivered by the Commission to be brought in as collated results of the wards in connivance with possibly compromised Collation Officers.

The pre-prepared fake EC8B may also have the same features like those of INEC such as colour, texture and serial numbers, a situation which could only have been possible with active connivance and collusion of insiders at the Commission.

Sunday Vanguard was informed that such had happened before in INEC regarding some of the elections conducted in Rivers and Bayelsa States when sensitive result sheets with security features similar to those of INEC were printed by politicians and deployed to the field.

While not being impossible, the decision by  Yakubu to ensure the pasting of Form EC60E, after it had been duly signed by party agents and INEC official, would make the above scenario a bit more difficult because of the result trail from the PU.

READ ALSO: 2019: Don’t succumb to pressure from politicians, Maku urges INEC

Enter security agencies

Without the possible connivance of security agencies, this plan may be difficult to hatch.

Mind you, no one single political party has a franchise for the intention to disrupt and rig this year’s elections as the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections have demonstrated.

Therefore, for this plan to succeed, security agents are to be brought in.   It may not even matter any longer that the All Progressives Congress, APC, is the ruling party, because politicians on the separate divides are out to out-do one another – including the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as well as other parties in their respective strongholds.

In the premeditated chaos ignited at the collation centre by sponsored persons when lives are threatened, security agents on ground would make effort to control the situation by teargassing the environment.

No arrests may be made in such situation as there are no intentions to leave traces of unfolding events.

Then in a choreographed fashion, security agents would intervene with steps to “secure” the lives of Collation and Electoral Officers, sometimes evacuating each in different vehicles protected by the concerned force.

Thereafter, the real result is switched with the fake one and both the Collation Officer and the Electoral Officer are “rescued” and brought safely to the next level of collation.   Party agents from the chaotic collation centres may be deliberately prevented by security operatives from accessing the next level of collation.

Sometimes, impersonators are arranged to enter the next level of collation with the Collation Officer as agents of other parties are quickly discharged to leave the premises following the delivery of the result.

Note that the fake result is fully signed by impostors in place of other party agents.

Professor Yakubu’s brave move

Last week, the INEC Chairman met with security chiefs in Abuja.   He needed to meet with them.

The meeting   was an opportunity to hear from the security agencies on their plans and preparations for the 2019 elections.

Yakubu  let it be known at that meeting that “learning from past experiences of some of the 195 off-season elections since 2015, it is pertinent to draw our attention to the need for a difference in the deployment of security agencies during the elections”.

He went on, “The NPF remains the lead agency for election security.   Other security agencies will play a supportive role to the NPF.   However, we need a new security architecture for 2019, consistent with the provisions of Section 29(3) of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended which provides and I quote,  ‘Not withstanding other provisions of any other law, and for purposes of securing the vote, the Commission shall be responsible for requesting for the deployment of relevant security personnel necessary for elections or registration of voters   and shall  sign them in a manner to be determined by the Commission in consultation with the relevant security agencies, provided that the Commission shall   only request for the deployment of the Nigeria Armed Forces for the purpose of securing the distribution and delivery of election materials and protection of election  officials’”.

This new reality became necessary to be ventilated by Yakubu in the light of the embarrassing and shameful role played by security agencies in the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections.

INEC
INEC boss

Ignoble role of  EOs

As of the time of going to press, politicians were believed to be already perfecting plans to populate the lists of ad-hoc officials with partisan supporters and causing National Electoral Commissioners to influence the posting of Electoral Officers, EOs, and Assistant Electoral Officers, AEOs, in specific local governments.  This is not new.

These EOs and AEOs are, in turn, expected to facilitate the partisan use of the partisan ad-hoc staff. That pathetic history of electoral infamy was largely mitigated by the Professor Attahiru Jega-led INEC in 2011 when the former INEC Chairman adopted a stricter regime that allowed Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, who understood their local personnel, the latitude to determine and vet the postings of these affected cadres of electoral managers.

To illustrate instances where real or implied partisan collusion using such field officers can be problematic during elections and why people may feel concerned for the current allegations that politicians are trying to take-over such process, the Osun example becomes apt.

In the governorship election in the state, there was an instance where an INEC Presiding Officer, PO, Mutiu Salawu, was spotted in a video at St. Patrick Grammar School, Gbongan, tearing the polls result for Ayedaade Local Government Area. The PO was harassed by voters and supporters of a political group. Explaining the video, which went viral, Salawu said he had been sent by the EO for the LGA, Aderinoye Olukemi, to tear the result on the notice board at the collation centre of the LGA.

However, the REC in Osun State, Segun Agbaje, in a statement, explained that Salawu was acting on a directive to replace the Form EC60, which had erroneous result figures, with the correct one. He said the directive was given to Salawu by Mrs Olukemi after she received information from the local government security chief of an error on the form pasted at the collation centre.

READ ALSO: Disqualification of Rivers APC from 2019 elections: One crisis, many interests

To further illustrate, the election results in the Form EC60 that was changed led to a difference of 1,000 votes in the scores of the two leading parties at the polls. Meanwhile, when the matter that occurred at the LGA collation centre was raised by Dele Adeleke, the PDP agent at the state collation centre, the original copies of the result sheets, Forms EC8A, EC8B and EC8C for the LGA were examined and found to be the correct reflection of the results as reported by the LGA Collation Officer, Prof. Ayotunde Adeagbo, a staff member of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA). Adeagbo was reported to have accepted the fact that there was an error in the EC60 (E) pasted at the LGA collation centre, especially the figure (10,836) recorded for the PDP on the poster which is different from the actual votes scored (9,836) by the party. In any event, despite the official explanations, the supporters of the PDP alleged that the case was merely one of the successful alterations executed through partisan collusion by election managers that cost the party 1, 000 votes.  Eventually the All Progressives Congress (APC) won the election after a re-run with less than 500 votes as it was declared the winner of the gubernatorial contest with a total of 255, 505 votes as against PDP’s 255,023 (a difference of 482 votes).

Further examples of how pernicious the influence of politicians over field officers can be is provided by INEC. The Commission fired over 30 of its officers for various election related misconducts arising principally from partisan collusion in 2014, when Jega used the instance to provide a normative and descriptive control for administrative irregularities in election management. During that exercise, then-INEC Chairman was quoted as stating: “My own assessment of what has happened is that in INEC, previously, certainly, there were a few bad eggs that had done things and things they had done had more or less damaged the image of the entire members of the Commission. It is really a terrible thing that has happened. And it was very, very clear that the majority of the staff of INEC were honest people doing honest job under very difficult circumstances. All they required was motivation and encouragement and inspiration from the conduct of those who are placed in positions of responsibility.” One of the officers from Edo State on Grade Level 15 was found guilty of wrongful recruitment and deployment of a Collation Officer.

These illustrations and others indicating how such partisan influence can alter the course and outcome of elections provide a background upon which many political groups are calling for closer scrutiny of the processes of recruiting the INEC ad-hoc staff and the deployment of EOs and AEOs during the 2019 elections, a process that is currently being threatened by intense political pressures.

Observers’ verdict

Based on but not even limited to the reports of observers during the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, INEC was disturbed by the role of personnel of security agencies in the electoral process.

Firstly, the charade that occurred in Rivers State, where a constituency election comprising 140 PUs witnessed the alleged connivance of the personnel of security agencies with thugs disrupting voting in 101 PUs while leaving normal voting to be carried out in just 39 PUs, created panic within INEC.

There were agitations for the announcement of the result of the 39 PUs where election held, as against the overwhelming 101 PUs where election did not hold.

In that instance, INEC stood firm, canceling the entire election.

Today, based on the seeming indifference of security agencies during re-run election in seven PUs in Osun State, an election described by a section of observers as conducted below acceptable global practices, INEC’s role preparatory to and during the election did not enjoy the full supportive complements of  the personnel of security agencies.

Whereas the reason for the cancellation of the election in the seven PUs in that election ranged from non-accreditation of voters to disruption by hoodlums, hijacking of materials by thugs and abscondment of presiding officers, the conduct of security personnel left much to be desired.

In fact, a very dependable source at the INEC headquarters in Abuja told Sunday Vanguard, “The leadership of the Commission, based on the broad observation of election monitors, is not particularly comfortable. The Commission did all that was expected of it in terms of preparing for that election.

“Unfortunately, those who still cannot wean themselves off this mentality of violence during election wreaked havoc that day. “Security agencies, in the observation of election monitors, let the Commission down.

“Delegations from the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States of America observed that, in contrast to the overall findings of the vote, it did not meet the irreducible minimum standards”.

Therefore, Sunday Vanguard was told that there are worries by a cadre of INEC’s leadership that a seeming vote of no confidence on the role of security agencies casts a pall over preparations for the 2019 general elections.

The general negative perception is the seeming helplessness of arms-bearing security agents in the face of hoodlums who may hijack the process, unleash mayhem and make it impossible to have free and fair elections, a development many observers frowned at during the Osun re-run election.

It is this helplessness that Yakubu sought to address when he met with security chiefs last week.

Tomorrow, INEC is expected to release the final guidelines that would be used to train its officials for the general elections.

And whereas there were objections to some of the provisions of the earlier guidelines, it is hoped that the document would address the concerns of stakeholders.

But the issue of guidelines would be a child’s play within the context of the moves to generally compromise the elections.

 


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