Our narrow escape during deadly ambush in Anambra ― INEC chief

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In this interview, the National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter’s Education Committee of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Festus Okoye, addresses the allegation of irregularities that trailed the just concluded governorship election in Anambra State, among other issues.

DESPITE assurances by the commission, complaints trailed the malfunctioning of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System. Why did this occur on a large scale? Secondly, what are the lesson learnt, going forward? 

The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) performed well in a substantial number of the Polling Units in Anambra State. We had glitches in a few of the Polling Units and we quickly mobilized our Registration Area Technical Assistants (RATECS) to the affected Polling Units and using the information being reported by the devices, they made adjustments and deployed updates to devices on the field.

With every new technology rollout, there are bound to be challenges – foreseen and unforeseen. This is the first widespread use of the BVAS. From our preliminary investigations; the challenges were not widespread across the state.

We identified challenges with operations and training and the quality of pictures for facial authentication. We polled data from the activities on Saturday, 6th November 2021 and made adjustments to improve the matching process and this accounts for the huge improvements and near seamless operations during the supplementary election in Ihiala Local Government on the 9th November 2021.

Our technical staff will carry out extensive analysis on the operations of the BVAS and make the necessary improvements and adjustments. The BVAS is now an integral and fundamental component of the accreditation system.

We will perfect the technology and run multiple voters and identity thieves out of business. Only voters that have genuine registration and meet constitutional and legal requirements will be allowed to vote in any election.

Adversaries of technology in elections must brace up for more and robust technological solutions in the electoral process. The commission will continue its drive towards reducing pernicious human interference in the electoral process through targeted and strategic deployment of technology.

The apprehension over violence turned out to be an anti-climax. There was relative peace but low turnout. What reasons would you advance for this? 

The commission conducted the 2021 Anambra governorship election in difficult circumstances. Palpable fear, anxiety and trepidation hung round the entire state and indeed all over the country.

So many individuals, groups and organizations insisted that the commission must call off, reschedule or postpone the election. Some of the parents who had [children] serving in Anambra State recalled them and insisted that they must not participate in the election.

Some of the corps members reported sick on Election Day but a substantial number of them displayed tremendous courage and resilience and reported for duty.

The commission contended with some unknown individuals making voice notes and threatening hoteliers and directing them to eject all their guests on or before the day of the election. So, the challenge of violence was real and the security agencies acted professionally and ethically in neutralizing pockets of violence.

Yes, we had slight delay in deploying [materials] for the supplementary election in Ihiala.

Unknown gunmen ambushed two sets of our electoral operations and ICT staff somewhere in Isseke and shot one of our drivers.

The driver is still battling for his life at the Nnewi Teaching Hospital.

The high command of the security agencies also deployed Special Forces from the military, Police and the Department of State Services to rescue the rest that were held hostage.

We delayed deployment of our Supervisory Presiding Officers, Monitors, Local Government Supervisors, Support Resident Electoral Commissioners and Electoral Officers from Awka to Ihiala to the day of the election to enable the security agencies to secure the deployment corridor and neutralize threats on the highway.

The people of Anambra State displayed uncommon courage in turning up to vote despite the fear and anxiety that trailed the exercise. Some of the people feared the day after and some that could not muster courage stayed away. On the whole, Anambra was a good outing and a huge success. Electoral democracy would have suffered huge reverses if the Commission buckled under pressure from non-state actors.

Vote buyers appear to be unrelenting. Is it an unwholesome development that can’t be obliterated? Has INEC given up? 

The commission is charged with the responsibility of organizing, undertaking and supervising elections. The commission does not have responsibility for maintaining law and order.

Vote buying is an electoral offence and there are penalties in the law for those who violate the law. We don’t have the resources to move from one house to the other chasing vote buyers and it is not part of our mandate.

We reengineered and redesigned our polling units to protect the secrecy of the vote. We banned the use of cameras and phones at the voting compartments. We brought in the ICPC, NDLEA and the EFCC into the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security and they deploy to some of the Polling Units on Election Day. The media must focus attention on the vote buyers.

The media must name and shame them and assist in their arrest, investigation and prosecution.

Out of 18 political parties that participated, only the dominant three put up a good show: APC, PDP, APGA. There is the suggestion that INEC should use performance at off-season elections like this to weed out idle and non-performing political parties. What is your take? 

The 18 registered political parties enjoy the same incidents and ingredients of registration. In the commission. There are no big and small parties.

Parties are registered on fulfillment of sections 221- 225 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) as well as sections 78-83 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).

The commission deregisters political parties in strict compliance with section 225A of the Constitution. The commission can only deregister political parties for breach of any of the requirements for registration; failure to win at least 25 per cent of votes cast in-one state of the federation in a presidential election; or one local government of the state in a governorship election.

The Commission can also deregister a political party for failure to win at least one ward in a chairmanship election; one seat in the National or State House of Assembly election; or one seat in the councillorship election.

Deregistration of parties is a continuous exercise and the commission will continue to monitor the performance of the parties.

Candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Senator Andy Uba, has faulted the outcome of the election. He accused INEC of giving undue advantage to the APGA candidate, Charles Soludo, which ensured the latter’s victory. He further alleged that in areas where the BVAS didn’t work, the commission allowed manual accreditation, that votes announced by INEC at polling units exceeded the number of accredited voters. What is your take? 

The commission created 1,112 new Polling Units in Anambra State bringing the total number of Polling Units to 5,720. Out of this number, the commission did not print ballot papers and result sheets for 86 Polling Units that had zero number of voters.

The commission did not deploy BVAS to these Polling Units. The commission provided a level playing field for all political parties in the election.

As far as the commission is concerned, Anambra State is one constituency in a governorship election. We don’t know whether any party has comparative advantage in any Local Government Area.

We are only interested in using the instrumentality of the law and the constitution in making a determination of the winner of any election.

Our election is based on processes and procedures and the Presiding Officers cancelled elections in places of over voting. We deployed over 26,000 ad hoc staff and we trained them. We ensured transparency in all over activities.

Culled from Sunday Tribune
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