Edo/Ondo guber: Reviewing INEC boss’ schedule in the last weeks

 

EMEKA NZE reviews the visit of the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to Edo and Ondo states in preparation for the governorship elections in the two states.

In the last two weeks, the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu and some members of his staff, had embarked on a tour of Edo and Ondo states for two reasons- to ascertain the level of preparedness for the governorship elections and to monitor the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), also in the two states.  

Recall that the commission is preparing for off-season governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states. For Edo state, the election was fixed for September 21 while Ondo state governorship election will hold on November 16, 2024.

To this end, the INEC boss was in the two states where he held meetings with the stakeholders – the political parties and the Inter Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES).

In Edo, after a closed door meeting, between the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and security agencies, the Commissioner of Police, Funsho Adeboye, declared that no individual or political party would be given special privilege to hijack any of the electoral processes in the governorship polls.

The CP said impartiality was paramount for the successful conduct of the state election and added that a level playing field would be provided for all political players.

“For example, on the issue of some exercise being hijacked, I want to assure you of this, that there will not be anything like hijack.

“There are also pockets of complaints regarding some security agencies, I want to assure you that people that are not supposed to man electoral processes will not be allowed to take part.

“So people should be rest assured. They should go for the registration without fear“, he said. 

He assured INEC that there would be appropriate synergy among security agencies to offer preparation for the election including riverine areas and terrains that are difficult, he said.

On his part, INEC chairman, Yakubu described the meeting as a routine engagement between INEC and security and intelligence agencies, as well as law enforcement and emergency services, in preparation for the state election.

“As we are aware, the collaboration that exists at the national level, where we have the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), co-chaired by the INEC chairman, and co-chaired by the National Security Adviser.

“That same arrangement is also replicated at state level, where we have the ICCES chaired by the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), with the Commissioner of Police as co-chair.”

On the deliberations, the INEC boss said a number of issues were discussed at the meeting, including the preparations for the election, and others issues that border on some of the complaints received from some of the parties.

“Again, it’s not a crisis meeting, it’s just a routine meeting with the political parties ahead of the election, so that we have a seamless process in Edo state,” he said

INEC chair assures flood can’t affect preparations for polls 

While conducting on-the-spot assessment of the damage(s) caused by torrential rain at the commission’s office in Edo, the INEC chairman assured that the setback would not affect the ongoing CVR exercise as INEC remained steadfast in its preparations for the September governorship polls.

Meeting with Edo staff

After assessing the extent of the damage, Prof. Yakubu met with the staff of the state INEC and expressed delight that their spirits were not dampened by the impact of the flood.

He said, “We are here basically to see for ourselves what happened to our facilities following the unexpected torrential rainfall and the flooding that occurred. It is equally important for us to come and meet with you who are the staff in the Edo office. 

“We thank God no life was lost and no injuries were sustained. But I want to assure you that in spite of the extensive damage, we have recovered to continue with the Continuous Voter Registration Exercise and we will recover to conduct the governorship election in September”.

 “We have three months and three weeks to the election, so; whatever we have lost in terms of critical equipment, whatever support facilities we need to replace, whatever office furniture we need to replace, we will do so,” Prof. Yakubu assured.

He further disclosed that the Commission would salvage and repair any equipment that can be fixed. Additionally, resources will be mobilized from neighboring states to address any shortfalls to ensure the successful conduct of the Governorship Election.

“It is only in a general election that each state office must be self-sufficient but here we will call for additional resources from the neighbouring states to ensure that there are no issues with the election. The present Commission has a lot of experience in handling the Edo governorship election. For me personally, this is going to be my third governorship election in Edo state”.

“We conducted the 2016 election, we conducted the September 2020 election and by God’s grace we are approaching the September 2024 election. So the CVR which is ongoing will not be affected.

 “Whatever issues and challenges there, we will listen to the REC and his team and we will continue to respond.

“So, let me reassure Edo voters that the CVR will continue in spite of the slight setback we have experienced and that the preparation for the governorship election is also going to continue”, Prof. Yakubu said. 

He reaffirmed the Commission’s commitment to the welfare of its staff, assured them that INEC will continue to provide a decent working environment for staff in Edo and all INEC offices across the country.

In an interview, Prof. Yakubu stated that the Commission is not considering relocation of the state office at this time adding that the plan was to find a permanent solution to the flooding issue.

Edo REC’s remark 

In his remarks, the Resident Electoral Commissioner Edo state, Dr. Anugbum Onuoha commended the prompt measures taken by the Commission to address the flooding at the state office, pledging the commitment of the Edo state INEC staff to ensure a credible and successful election.

The REC said, “We had an incident that happened on the 24th of this month and when I reported the matter, you took a proactive decision that led to the relocation of the registration center to our office in Ikpoba Okha. That decision and the position of the Commission helped us. Many people thought that the registration exercise would not continue, but to the glory of God, we are on course, we cannot afford to fail the Commission. 

All the assurances we are giving you here is that the mandate and the vision of the Commission will be maintained in Edo,” Dr. Onuoha said.

The INEC Chairman later visited some of the registration centres to assess the ongoing CVR in the state. The visit afforded him the opportunity to interact with the people. 

The registration centres visited included Ward 2, Western Boys Secondary School, Ikpoba Okha LGA, INEC Ikpoba Okha LGA Office and Ward 3, Eweka Primary School in Use, Egor LGA.

Yakubu to parties: Violence won’t give you undue advantage

The INEC boss, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu,  told political party leaders in Edo state to avoid violence and play by the rules. He emphasised that Nigeria’s electoral process has evolved, stressing that resorting to violence will not benefit any party or candidate in leveraging the electoral process.

He commended the political parties for their peaceful conduct since the campaign ban was lifted on 24th April 2024. However, he expressed concern over the reported incidents of shootings at some Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) Centers in the state.

Prof. Yakubu said, “I wouldn’t be tired of advising Political Parties to obey the rules of the game. Violence doesn’t pay anybody anywhere, and in this day and age, there is no way you can take advantage of the process through violence. We have demonstrated it before in 2016 when there was tension towards the election, also; in 2020 there was tension but the elections were conducted peacefully.”

“It appears to me that the political parties in Edo state have taken it a notch higher that the build-up to 2024 will be peaceful. The conduct of the election will be peaceful and the conclusion of the election will be peaceful.

“I want to remind you that this Commission in particular has had a long-standing experience in handling governorship elections in Edo state. This is going to be our third governorship election in Edo state. I was here in 2016 ahead of the governorship election, I was here nearly 4 years ago in 2020 ahead of the last governorship election, and I’m here again ahead of the forthcoming governorship election” 

 “I must commend political parties so far, that the build-up to the 2024 governorship election in Edo state has so far been the most peaceful. I know what we went through in 2016 when the election had to be postponed, and I also know what happened in 2020, it was as if the world was coming to an end in Edo state.

“But you will also agree with me that in the aftermath of the governorship election, citizens of Nigeria in Edo State started dancing on the streets over the professional manner with which the election was conducted.”

Prof. Yakubu reiterated INEC’s neutrality in the electoral process. “INEC has no candidate in this election, we are not a political party. The last two elections were actually won by two different political parties, so the next election will actually be won by one of you sitting there. Only the people of Edo can determine who becomes their next governor and we will make sure that their choices are protected,” he added. 

The INEC Chairman encouraged the party leaders to keep the peace. “We have done it before, let’s continue to keep the peace and do it peacefully. I must tell you that I am encouraged by the atmosphere so far. The ban on campaigns was lifted on the 24th of April 2024 and we are now going into June, and so far; so good, but let us maintain the peace. “

Addressing the instances of violence recorded during the ongoing CVR and the steps taken so far, the INEC Chairman stated, “We are not happy with the reports we got from Idiya College of Oredo Ward 4 nor with the complaints from Owan West. We are aware of that.”

“We have also received complaints made by one of the political parties about a security network. Yesterday we had a closed-door security meeting in the office of the Commissioner of Police, and he assured us that he has spoken to the leadership of that security network and will continue to speak to them.”

“The responsibility for election security, just like internal security, rests with the Nigerian Police. They are the lead agencies in internal security, but where need be, they will call for support from other security agencies which is why they are all working in synergy. There is no difference between one security agency and another. They are all working together for a secure electoral environment in Edo State. “

Charging the party Leaders to mobilise their supporters to collect their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), the INEC Chairman said, “Beyond the CVR, I want to appeal to Political Parties in Edo State, please just as you are mobilizing your supporters to register, mobilise your supporters to collect their PVCs.”

“We have over two hundred thousand (200,000) uncollected PVCs in Edo State. These are for persons who have already registered. What is standing between them and voting is just to pick up the PVCs. So, please mobilise them to go and pick up their PVCs. The real challenge is for people who have registered to go and collect their PVCs and vote.”  

Edo state CP

The Commissioner of Police for Edo state, Funsho Adeboye in his remarks, assured the parties of a level playing field for all. He also refuted claims that security agencies were providing undue advantage to certain parties, emphasizing that such insinuations were unfounded.

He said, “We have an enabling and a level playing ground for all political parties to operate, and I’m speaking on behalf of all security agencies. Some of you said that we have been planted here. I don’t know by whom, and for what. I want to say it again, nobody has planted anybody to do something or anything that is against the law.”

He appealed to the parties to make the job of the security agencies easy. In his words, “Please play the game according to the rules. INEC which is the umpire has set the rules, we all know it. There is no need for police officers to be carrying guns on Election Day, I feel bad each time we do that, but we have to do it. I wish we could do without arms during the campaigns, during the election, and after the elections.”

“Please assist us, Nigeria is a great country, we can make it greater together. Please make it problem-free for us. We are ready to do our work conscientiously without any bias. I am speaking the minds of all security agencies,” the CP added.

In his welcome remarks, the Resident Electoral Commissioner Edo State, Dr. Anugbum Onuoha explained that the meeting was convened in response to recent security developments in the State.

He said, “This meeting was called because of the happenings, especially security matters, some of our centers have been affected by the shootings and some of our staff have been affected by these unfortunate incidents. It is important that we interact with the security agencies to see how we can provide a solution to this.”

INEC prays for sustained peace in Ondo

Prof Mahmood Yakubu, who later proceeded to Ondo state expressed delight in the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), said it had been hitch-free and prayed for sustained peace throughout the exercise.

At a meeting in Akure with the state chapter of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Elections Security (ICCES), Prof Yakubu reiterated that the purpose of his visit to Ondo state was twofold – to observe the ongoing CVR as well as observe the preparations being made for the November 24 governorship election in the state.

Urging the people to go for their voter cards, he said over 200,000 PVCs were still uncollected in the state.

“As you are aware, we have exactly 165 days before the governorship election, the election is holding on the 16th of November. 

“Let me once again appreciate the members of ICCES. INEC does not only conducts elections, INEC also conducts electoral activities. The CVR is an electoral activity, and in November we will conduct the election.

“We can’t succeed in delivering electoral activities and the elections, unless the electoral environment is secured for us and until critical stakeholders a sensitised. 

“That is why in ICCES you have not only the traditional security agencies, but we have the intelligence agencies, we have the law enforcement agencies, we have emergency services, and other members of ICCES such as the NYSC, the NOA and others. 

“This is going to be the third governorship election conducted by the present Commission in Ondo state. 

“I was here in 2016 for the same purpose, I was here in 2020 for the governorship election, and by God’s grace we’ll be here again in November 2024 for yet another governorship election. 

“I must say that the build up to this governorship election has so far, I underscore the word so far, been very peaceful, and we hope that working together with the security agencies, we will sustain the peace. 

“I want to assure registered voters in Ondo state that they should continue to troop out in their numbers to register, and come out and collect their PVCs from the current registration, but we also have literarily over 200,000 uncollected PVCs from the last exercise. 

“So, we encourage people to come and collect their PVCs so they can cast their votes for whoever they wish to vote for on election day.

“Before I conclude, let me say what I consistently continue to say that INEC is not a political party, we don”t have a  candidate in the Ondo governorship election. The choice of who becomes the next governor in Ondo state is entirely in the hands of voters, and we’ll protect their choices, and the integrity of the process”, the INEC chair pledged. 

The Co chair of ICCES in Ondo state and the Commissioner of Police, Mr Abayomi Oladipo, said “In Ondo state, the seamless cooperation between the REC and the members of ICCES has been an advantage to us in the election security management. 

“At the moment, we don’t seem to have challenges relating to elections. Apart from the crimes that are being committed and are localised to the various senatorial districts. 

“On the side of the police, we realise that we cannot do it alone and that is why we have the support of every security agency and members of ICCES in the state, that we move together as a team and tackle budding election crisis. 

At the moment, we don’t have inter party crisis, what we have is internal crisis within the political parties, but as time goes on, we are equal to the task, and we assure you that on our own part, we will discharge our duties to ensure that the people, the staff of INEC and the materials are protected.

Ondo REC welcomes INEC chair 

Earlier, the Ondo State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mrs Toyin Babalola, said all the registration centres for the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) were adequately manned by security personnel and no negative report had been received.

Babalola said the commission had met with the security agencies three times in the last five months this year, pointing out that on 21st May 2024, they had met to review the security arrangement for the Continuous Voters Registration exercise. 

She noted that the chairman’s visit to the state “presents a unique opportunity for us to interact directly, discuss pressing issues, our challenges and highlight the state of our preparedness for the upcoming 2024 Governorship Election in the state.”

According to her, the chairman’s presence “will energize members of the committee and your guidance will also inspire us to strive for excellence and put in our best in ensuring that the 2024 Election is secured.

“Since security is critical in the protection of electoral personnel, locations and process; ensuring that voters exercise their civic duties without fear or hindrance; provision of level playing field for all political parties and campaign; protection of domestic and foreign observers while discharging their duties and obligations and maintaining the overall integrity of the democratic and electoral process.  

“Security of the electoral process build the confidence of the voters, political parties and the public on the credibility of the process. Prior to the CVR exercise, ICCES members were briefed on the activities, the importance of security and the need for adequate and early deployment to all registration centres in the state. 

“Hon. Chairman Sir, it is my pleasure to inform you that all the registration centres are adequately manned by security personnel and we have not received any negative report since the commencement of the CVR. May I seize this opportunity to appreciate ICCES members and also express my heartfelt gratitude to the Hon. Chairman for this timely visit to the state. 

“However, your presence will energize members of the committee and your guidance will also inspire us to strive for excellence and put in our best in ensuring that the 2024 Election is secured.”

Ondo CP assures of readiness

Also speaking, the Ondo state Commissioner of Police, Abayomi Oladipo, assured that security agencies were fully prepared for the election. 

Oladipo further stated, “You can be very assured that election security is not new to us as an agency of government that is charged with internal security operations.  

“We are fully prepared in conjunction with our sister security agencies you have seen around. At the moment we had deployed for the continues voter registration which is ongoing and that is the more reason why we appreciate the coming of the INEC chairman Prof Mahmood Yakubu who has come to interface with us to know our challenges and the level of our preparations. 

“You should be rest assured that the Inspector General of Police, IGP Kayode Egbetokun has mandated the deployment of personnel for this election that is coming up in November. The deployment had been done. 

“Those who are coming to the election are already known and be rest assured that with the synergy and support of security agencies as you have seen around, we are good to go.”

The INEC chairman took turns to visit many registration centres in Akure including St Stephens Anglican Primary School Ijomu Akure John Wesley Hall Methodist Cathedral Gbogi Akure as well as The Anglican Comprehensive High School Alagbaka Akure.