The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Mahmood Yakubu, on Monday in Benin addressed the concerns raised especially by the two frontline political parties participating in Saturday’s governorship election in Edo State alleging plots to rig the election. The ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and its major opponent, the All Progressives Congress, APC, had been trading accusations about plans to rig the election with the collusion by INEC and the security agencies. But allaying the fears of the political parties at an expanded Edo State governorship election stakeholders meeting at the Oba Akenzua 11 Cultural Centre, Yakubu assured that “The Commission shall not take any action to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate” stressing that “Our focus is on our processes and procedures. Nothing more”. Present at the meeting were the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, the Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps, Major-General Shuaibu Ibrahim who was represented by Omotade Benjamin Ayodele, Edo, Delta Coordinator of the Corps, representatives of the various political parties, representatives of the Oba of Benin, and civil society organisations.
Reiterating thatvotes would count and that only the choice made by the people of Edo State would determine the outcome of the election, Yakubu posited that” Our ultimate objective is to ensure that the choice of who becomes the next Governor of Edo State is entirely in the hands of the voters. The INEC boss stated that to underscore its commitment to a credible and transparent electoral process in Nigeria, the Commission was determined to deepen the deployment of technology in elections.
According to him, “It is for this reason that the Commission recently built portals for the nomination of candidates by political parties as well as the accreditation of election observers and the media. We have used the portals seamlessly in preparing for the Edo Governorship election. The same applies to the Ondo Governorship election. We will deploy the same platforms for all subsequent elections, including the forthcoming bye-elections in 15 constituencies across 11 States of the Federation scheduled for 31st October 2020. We are working to ensure that in future elections, even the accreditation of polling agents nominated by political parties will also be done online.
“Perhaps the most critical of the recent innovations introduced by the Commission is the use of a tablet now popularly called the z-pad. It is a new innovation introduced to serve as a secondary means of achieving full biometric accreditation using facial image of the voter in support of the fingerprint authentication by the Smart Card Reader. Secondly, the camera on the tablet will be used to take a picture of the polling unit result (EC8A) and to upload same on a dedicated portal (INEC RESULT VIEWING – IReV).
“This will enable all those interested in viewing the results to do so in real time. The Commission deployed the z-pad in the Nasarawa Central State Constituency bye-election in Nasarawa State on 8th August 2020. It was a test-run intended to assess the functionality of the technology before its deployment in major elections”.
The Commission however had a change of mind on the deployment of this technology for this Saturday’s election as a result of some challenges it was confronted with. Yakubu explained that “While the capture and upload of polling unit level result went on smoothly, the facial authentication did not. Without going into the technical details, let me say that the Commission encountered hardware and software issues which needed to be fixed.
“Our ICT Department worked on the new device and made a presentation to the Commission which decided that the system needs to be robust enough before it can be deployed in a major election”.
He expressed reservation that “Unlike the 44 polling units of the Nasarawa Central State Constituency, the Edo Governorship election involves 2,627 polling units. The Commission decided that since this technology is work in progress, we should carry out a further test-run in some of the smaller constituencies during the bye-elections scheduled for 31st October 2020 and thereafter engage with stakeholders before it can be deployed in major elections”.
Yakubu was concerned that “The atmosphere in Edo State ahead of the election this weekend is already charged. We cannot afford to complicate it further by introducing a new technology we are not yet fully satisfied with. However, the uploading of polling unit level results in the election on Saturday will proceed as planned. The z-pads have already been delivered, configured and ad hoc staff trained on its deployment on Election Day. Enough chargers have been provided to address the power problem identified during the Nasarawa test-run. We envisage that there will be a high traffic of persons interested in viewing the results in real time. Consequently, the Commission has dynamically expanded the result viewing portal to accommodate almost two million viewers at the same time without clogging. To view the uploaded results, please visit our website (www.inecelectionresults.com) to register and create an account”.
Yakubu however warned that while Smart Card Readers would be used for voter verification and authentication, as it is a mandatory requirement, “where it is deliberately avoided to undermine the integrity of the electoral process, the result for the affected polling unit will be declared void in line with the Commission’s regulations and guidelines”.
Assuring of the good conduct of his officials, Yakubu said “The Commission is also aware of the concern expressed in some quarters about the neutrality of our staff, in particular the ad hoc staff engaged for election duty. We have heard allegations that some ad hoc staff were recruited in such a manner as to compromise the election. In response, the Commission deployed two National Commissioners who reviewed the process for strict compliance with the guidelines for such recruitment. I want to assure you that all categories of ad hoc staff have been vetted. The integrity of the process will not be compromised and there will be no partisan infiltration”.
Renewing his appeal to all political parties, candidates and their supporters for peaceful conduct, Yakubu issued a stern warning that should the process of the election be disrupted by violence or malpractices, “The Commission is determined that no one will benefit from impunity or rewarded for bad behaviour such as vote-buying, ballot box snatching and stuffing, multiple voting, hijacking and diversion of election materials, disruption of collation, falsification of results, attack on INEC officials or compelling them to declare unofficial results”.
Responding to specific issues raised by politicians, Yakubu said in reaction to the question raised by the governor, Godwin Obaseki insinuating that people were writing results, disclosed that result sheets and ballot papers had not been available in Benin but were expected later in the day, stressing however that there was no way anyone could write results.
In his words, “That some people are writing results long before the election; I’ve heard this. Now, are these result sheets available in Edo? The result sheets and the ballot papers must be on their way to Benin. We have introduced new security features on the Edo ballot papers and result sheets that have never been introduced in previous elections. You will see the type of result sheets that you have never seen in previous elections. You will see the kind of ballot papers when you are accredited to vote all in order to safeguard these processes. What assurance can I give you that the votes will count in Edo State? The people of Edo, be rest assured that the election on Saturday will be credible. We will never ever compromise the process”.
Also responding to the query raised by the chairman of the state PDP Campaign Council, Dan Osi Orbih why the Commission deliberately picked a Resident Electoral Commissioner in Kano State as one of those to conduct Edo election considering the fact that the chairman of the opposition party’s National Campaign Council is governor of the state, Yakubu clarified that the said the REC is not an indigene of Kano State.
According to the INEC boss “As a matter of policy, the Commission does not deploy RECs on the basis of their state of origin. That Commissioner is not from that state. And secondly, when we deploy RECs, having been appointed as honourable people, we deploy them wherever the need arises irrespective of who is where at any point in time. We don’t deploy them simply on account of partisan considerations”.
To buttress his position, Yakubu noted that “The supervising national electoral commissioner for Rivers State is also a supervising national commissioner for Bayelsa State and the governor of Rivers State I think is the chairman of the campaign council of the other party. We don’t look at all those things”. He advised that “If there are issues and challenges of integrity, please draw the attention of the Commission to it instead of just making insinuations”.
The INEC chairman insisted that “people of Edo State must be allowed to freely vote for their preferred candidate without inducement or harassment. We have been assured by the security agencies that thugs and their sponsors will not have the freedom to move around freely to disrupt the election or collation of results”.
On INEC’s readiness for the election, Yakubu enumerated the processes that had been undertaken, stating that it had dutifully carried out 12 out of 14 scheduled tasks contained in the timetable and schedule of activities for the election. The electoral umpire said “We held many meetings with political parties and their candidates. We had several engagements with the security agencies at national and State levels. We consulted with stakeholders. We sought for, and received, the blessings of Royal Fathers and religious leaders. We have recruited, trained and carefully screened all categories of ad hoc staff to be deployed to the field. We have delivered all non-sensitive materials for the election. Voter education and sensitisation is ongoing. We have made arrangements for the movement of personnel and materials to all polling units on Election Day. The Commission has taken every step and made every arrangement for the election holding this weekend”.