Omeiza Ajayi, Abuja
Thirty-Eight days to the February/March general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC is now faced with at least, 791 court cases, a geometric rise from the 600 cases it was confronted with as of November last year.
Although, the electoral umpire is only joined in the suits as a “nominal party”, it nonetheless declared that it would only obey “clear” orders of courts in the light of conflicting orders by courts of coordinate jurisdiction.
In spite of the development, the commission has expressed satisfaction with its preparations so far, saying it is determined to deliver a free, fair, credible and inclusive election to Nigerians.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu disclosed this on Tuesday in a paper he delivered at Chatham House, London.
The theme of the session was Nigeria’s 2023 Elections: Preparations and Priorities for Electoral Integrity and Inclusion.
‘We’ll conduct mock accreditation exercise nationwide ahead of elections’ – INEC
He said; “We have promised Nigerians and friends of Nigeria that the 2023 general election will be free, fair, credible and inclusive and we have left no stone unturned in preparing for it, despite several challenges.
“But all elections, especially those involving the type of extensive national deployment like we do in Nigeria, will naturally come with challenges. We have worked closely with stakeholders and development partners to confront these challenges and we are satisfied with our preparations so far.
“Our Commission does not take the pledge that we have repeatedly made to Nigerians lightly. We are leaving no stone unturned in our preparations. Our commitment remains ony to Nigerians and not to any political party or candidate. That is what the law requires of us. We cherish the institutional independence and integrity of the Commission.
“With the enthusiasm of Nigerians, the goodwill of stakeholders and partners, and the commitment of the Commission, we believe that the 2023 general election will be among the best conducted in Nigeria”.
791 court cases
“While the Commission has the core responsibility to conduct free, fair and credible elections based on the law, the Judiciary is responsible for the interpretation of the law and adjudication of electoral disputes.
“In the discharge of our responsibilities, few public institutions in Nigeria are
subjected to more litigations than INEC. In the 2019 general election, the Commission was involved in 1,689 cases, made up of 852 pre-election, 807 post-election and 30 electoral offences cases. The Commission is committed to the rule of law without which democracy cannot thrive.
“Towards the 2023 general election, the Commission has been joined in 791 Court cases as of Friday 6th January 2023 involving intra-party elections and nomination of candidates by political parties. These are not cases involving elections conducted by the Commission or litigations initiated by it, but purely intra-party matters involving candidates and their political parties mainly due to the absence of internal democracy within parties. In fact, the Commission is only a nominal party in these cases but nevertheless has to be represented by lawyers in court proceedings.
“The Commission will continue to obey clear orders of Courts because of the plethora of conflicting judgements from Courts of coordinate jurisdiction on the same subject matter, particularly those involving the leadership of political parties or the nomination of candidates for elections”, said Yakubu.
On the all-important issue of electoral operations, procurement and logistics, Yakubu said, “this is proceeding satisfactorily”.
He recalled that INEC had on 4th January 2023, received the final batch of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System BVAS to be used for the election.
“That puts us on course to perform functional and integrity tests on every BVAS to be deployed for the election, which has been concluded in many States nationwide. In addition, we plan to conduct a series of mock trials of the BVAS with actual voters in real-time in parts of the country to further ascertain their functioning in actual election situations.
“Other sensitive materials, such as the ballots and result forms, are being printed. The Commission is progressively taking delivery of them and deploying them to locations across the country”, he stated.
While noting that logistics has often been a major challenge during elections in Nigeria, he said the commission is determined to solve the puzzle.
“We have established a Logistics Management System, which uses an Android application and web dashboard to track election materials from procurement through storage to delivery.
“For the first time, we have a comprehensive Election Logistics Framework (ELF) to guide logistics for the general elections from planning, through deployment to retrieval. This is the first deployment of an end-to-end logistics framework for elections.
“The Commission is happy with the extent of preparations for the 2023 general election. This is borne out by
the timelines in our election timetable of which 11 of 14 activities have been accomplished”, he added.
Yakubu however conceded that despite INEC’s extensive preparations, there are still some outstanding issues and challenges of concern, some of which are beyond the remit of the Commission.
According to him, the perennial insecurity in many African countries remains a source of concern to election managers.
He lamented that in the North East, there is the longstanding Boko Haram insurgency, while in both the North West and the North Central, banditry, terrorism and the herder-farmer conflicts remain major challenges.
“In the South-South, the threat of renewed insurgency by groups demanding more share of petroleum revenue to the Niger Delta continues to simmer. In the South West, although an earlier surge by a group demanding independence for the region has considerably dissipated, recent violent attacks on places of worship, a rise in the activities of violent cults and kidnapping groups, as well as a history of violence involving groups seeking to control markets and motor parks remain strong.
“In the South-East, the lingering agitation for separatism championed by the Indigenous People of Biafra IPOB poses a major security threat. Not only have violent attacks by the number of armed groups increased, but the long-standing weekly lockdown of the five States in that geopolitical zone continues to disrupt social and economic activities.
“There is no doubt that violence and threat of violence are major challenges to the credible election in 2023. Violence makes deployment for elections difficult, particularly where some of the attacks are targeted at the electoral process and participants.
“However, the Commission has been working with security agencies and other stakeholders to establish mechanisms to understand, track and mitigate security challenges. We are working collaboratively in the context of ICCES, and we also have the Election Violence Mitigation and Advocacy Tool (EVMAT), which is a research and diagnostic tool for predicting and mitigating election violence prior to elections. In addition, there is the Election Risk Management Tool (ERM), which tracks and reports general risks to elections.
“In all, we feel assured by the actions we have taken and our collaboration with the security agencies. The 2023 general election will proceed as planned. There is no plan to postpone the election”, he added.
The INEC boss explained that the over two million voters who are internally displaced would be allowed to participate in the polls insofar as they are in the Internally Displaced Persons IDPs Camps and not in private homes where they cannot be tracked.
Noting that the Electoral Act has specified various limits to campaign spending and also empowers the
Commission to set other limits, the INEC boss said the experience has however shown that political parties and candidates often observe these limits in the breach.
Consequently, he said INEC is working on strengthening enforcement of these limits, including the use of a web-based application and dashboard for political parties to submit their expenditures for verification.
“Working with one of our development partners, we have developed the Political Parties Financial Reporting and Auditing System PFRAS for this purpose. We shall be deploying it soon and will train both our staff and political parties on its use. In the past, the reporting system had been tardy and unorganized, making it difficult to effectively oversight campaign finances”, he explained.
On the issue of ad hoc staff for the polls, Yakubu disclosed that the Commission requires at least 707, 384 Presiding and Assistant Presiding Officers, about 17, 685 Supervisory Presiding Officers, 9,620 Collation/Returning officers, as we as 530, 538 Polling Unit security officials.
“These are not staff of the Commission and must be painstakingly recruited and trained to ensure that they are both fit for purpose and non-partisan”, he stated.
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