By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
The release of the guideline for the forthcoming Genera Election by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has raised tension here and there among political actors apprehensive about what the rules for the game mean for them.
The guideline according to the commission sets the template for the conduct of the General Election and all subsequent elections in the country until it is changed by the commission either through a Decision Extract or government gazette.
As the commission deposed, “The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) herein referred to as “the Commission” issues the following Regulations and Guidelines for the conduct of Elections (general election, by-elections, re-run elections and supplementary elections). These regulations and guidelines are issued as a Decision Extract of the Commission of the 21st day of the month of December 2018.”
The guideline is, however, laced with innovations, albeit, controversies foremost among which is the prohibition on the use of mobile telephones by election collation officers.
INEC in the order, said; “In order to remain focused on their assignment, Collation Officers are not allowed to make or receive telephone calls during collation.”
That inhibition may have followed concerns over developments in the recent governorship election in Osun State where it was alleged that a phone call received by the election collation officer helped to change the outcome of the election.
But beyond that, opposition political parties see few guarantees for a free and fair election as they alleged just before the guidelines were released.
The parties are especially peeved by the decision of INEC to hold on to the use of Incidence Forms during the election and to allow for continuous voting and accreditation throughout the Election Day.
According to the guideline as released “Where a voter’s PVC is read but his/her fingerprint is not authenticated, the APO I shall refer the voter to the APO II who shall request the voter to thumbprint the appropriate box in the Register of Voters; request the voter to provide his/her phone number in appropriate box in the Register of Voters; continue with the accreditation of the voter; and refer the voter to the PO or APO (VP) for issuance of ballot paper(s).
“Where a voter’s PVC is read and the SCR shows the details of another person, rather than the details of the cardholder as printed on the PVC, the APO I shall: Refer the voter to APO II to confirm that the details of the voter in the Register of Voters correspond to those on the PVC; APO II if satisfied that the holder of the card is on the Register of Voters, shall record the phone number of the voter in the appropriate box on the Register of Voters; and Proceed with the accreditation of the voter.”
This provision has been especially contested by opposition parties who prior to the release of the guideline last Monday called on INEC to redraft it.
The opposition parties are especially concerned that unlike its predecessor, that is the Attahiru Jega led INEC, that the present INEC leadership has not taken into consideration the views of political parties which are major stakeholders involved in the election.
The Jega led commission had prior to the release of the guidelines it set for election, had sought the views of political parties, took some and brought out guidelines to the satisfaction of all major contenders.
However, opposition parties contend that this time around that the INEC only sought consultation with the political parties after the deed had been done. Even after the consultation, they allege that the commission refused to take their views into consideration as the guideline churned out last Monday remained what the commission presented.
It was as such not surprising that opposition parties under the aegis of the Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, and
Inter-party Advisory Council, IPAC, unanimously rejected the draft guidelines presented to it by the electoral umpire.
The two groups in a statement on Sunday just before the release of the guideline on Sunday vowed to take the commission to court to reverse what they claim was an injustice aimed at deliberately rigging the forthcoming election.
Ikenga Ugochinyere, CUPP’s 1st National spokesperson, in the statement said that 61 aggrieved parties decided to file legal action against the commission “to stop INEC from releasing the guideline and also quash some sections of the draft guideline which are in conflict with the provisions of the 1999 constitution including the obnoxious provisions inserted into the guideline which will lead to massive rigging of the 2019 elections.”
Four of the 61 national chairmen of the 61 aggrieved political parties he said had agreed to file the action on behalf of the others. He did not give the details of the other political parties involved.
He added: “The playdate (Ikenga Ugochinyere, APP; Dr Sam Eke, GPN; Nsehe Nseobong, RP and Barr. Kenneth Udeze, AA), will be seeking for an exparte application for an injunction to restrain the INEC chairman from going ahead with the Monday planned release of the controversial guideline which majority of the nations political parties (Over 61) have rejected over non consultation, obnoxious clauses and the violation of the Constitution.”
The state read in full: “The chairmen of the political parties still insist that the only way to have free and fair election is for those obnoxious clauses contained in the gudileine which does not promote free and fair elections to be expunged and that the INEC chairmen summons an emergency meeting with political parties chairmen to finally address the grey areas contained in the guidelines to avoid the 2019 election running into a hitch and credibility crisis even before the day of election.
“The parties still insist that the chairman of INEC retains the 2011 and 2015 separate accreditation and separate voting system which Nigerian voters are fully familiar with and avoid creating confusion and loophole for massive tampering of result with the continuous/same time accreditation and voting. INEC recently tried the method in few re-runs but that is not enough to extend such voting method to all parts of the country few weeks to the election.
“The demand of party chairmen is for INEC to continue the separate accreditation and separate voting system and ensure that at the end of accreditation across the country on election day, that inec polling unit staff first announce the total polling unit accredited figures and sign and issue out to party agents at the polling unit before commencement of voting thereby protecting the sanctity of the votes by securing the accreditation figures which if announced before voting and given to agents it will make post election and voting manipulation difficult because the accreditation figures are already out and riggers cant tamper with the election outcome or increase the votes again.
“Other contentious issues are the flawed accreditation procedure which allows fake voters whose names are not on the voters register including people with fake PVC or voters not properly accredited been allowed to vote.
“The party chairmen are currently mobilising more party leaders to move against the INEC chairman in the event that he goes ahead to issue out the guideline without the input of the political parties and without removing the obnoxious clauses which will ruin free and fair election. The options on the table of the Political parties chairmen will not stop on tomorrow’s court action but will include a vote of no confidence on the INEC chairman and the commisson including a call to step down and a persona non grata declaration and mass protest to alert Nigerians that the 2019 election process have been manipulated.”
Indeed, the contention of some stakeholders is that though the continuous accreditation and voting pattern was used in some states in earlier elections, but that it has not been perfected for it to be used on a national scale.
Even more, it is the fear of the opposition that the time between when voting is finished and results are announced could allow all sorts of malpractices to happen.
Though the Mahmood Yakubu led INEC had regularly vowed to produce an election to surpass the 2015 standard, the commission’s seeming detachment from inputting the views of stakeholders could turn into its undoing.