We thank the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room (Situation Room) for inviting the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to this Dialogue Session with Resident Electoral Commissioners of Bayelsa and Kogi States ahead of the Governorship elections holding on November 16, 2019.
We understand that this Dialogue Session will provide an opportunity for civil society groups and organizations preparing to observe the elections to interact with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) and Security Agencies on their preparedness and strategies for achieving a peaceful governorship election in each of the states.
This Dialogue Session follows in the footsteps of previous Dialogue Sessions ahead of other major and off-season elections organized by the Commission and is gradually being institutionalized within the matrix of civil society and INEC consultative framework on elections. We commend the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room for its robust engagement with the electoral process and role in deepening Nigerias democracy and assure you of the Commissions continued partnership.
As has been pointed out, the Commission will hold 5 elections in the month of November 2019. These are 2 off season governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States; the court ordered Senatorial Election in Kogi West Senatorial District of Kogi State, the State Constituency election in Sabuwa State Constituency of Katsina State occasioned by the death of the member representing the State Constituency and the Court ordered supplementary election in 6 polling units in the Brass 1 Constituency of Bayelsa State.
The Commission is fully mobilized and is steadily firming up and implementing mapped out programs and policies leading to these elections. We have so far implemented 10 of the 14 activities in our Revised Timetable and Schedule of Activities for Bayelsa and Kogi Governorship elections released on the 16th day of May 2019.
A total of 1,646,350 voters will be on the register for the Governorship election in Kogi State. The election will take place in 2, 548 Polling Units and Collated in 239 Registration Areas; while 23 Political Parties will be on the ballot for the governorship election and 24 Political Parties will be on the ballot for the Kogi West Senatorial District Election. Of the total number of registered voters, 1, 485, 828 representing 90.2% have collected their Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) while 160,522 representing 9.8% are yet to collect their Permanent Voters Cards.
On the other hand, Bayelsa State has a total of 923,182 registered voters, 105 Registration Areas and 1,804 Polling Units. Out of the total number of registered voters, a total of 889,308 representing 96.3% have collected their Permanent Voters Cards while a total of 33,874 representing 3.7% are yet to collect their PVCs. Overall, a total of 45 Political Parties will be on the ballot.
As at today, the two States of Bayelsa and Kogi State have received the full complement of non-sensitive materials which have already been deployed and batched in accordance with the Commissions schedule.
We have trained Supervisory Presiding Officers, Presiding Officers and Assistant Presiding Officers in the two (2) States. We trained them on handling of electoral materials, polling day procedures, operating the Smart Card Readers, sorting and counting/ recording votes etc.
We urge all categories of ad-hoc staff including Collation and Returning Officers to pay close attention to their trainers. The sorting, collation, declaration and returns in election are simple and at the same time complex. Innocuous mistakes and alterations that may be overlooked in certain and normal circumstances sometimes lead to fatal consequences in the electoral process.
Majority of our ad-hoc staff performed creditably in the last general elections and other previous elections and we commend their commitment and patriotism. However, the Commission has banned some ad-hoc staff who abused the trust reposed on them during the 2019 general elections.
On election security and given the challenges of topography in the two states and their unfortunate history of electoral violence, we have mapped out strategies of degrading threats to the conduct of elections and ensuring the safety of materials and personnel. We are also in consultation and partnership with the Nigerian Navy and Airforce for the purposes of providing security for our personnel and materials.
As part of its preparations for both governorship elections, the Commission has embarked on sustained and targeted voter education, stakeholder engagements and peace building initiatives. To this end it has through its Alternative Dispute Resolution Directorate met with Traditional Rulers, Religious Leaders and Youth groups in the states who have committed to ensuring peaceful elections. Meetings with candidates are scheduled for next week.
The Voter Education Department of the Commission has also engaged Women and Youth groups, the Traditional Institutions, PWD groups and held sensitization forums for volunteer sign language interpreters to assist hearing impaired voters. In addition, assistive aids such as magnifying glasses have also been procured.
The Honourable Chairman of the Commission and some members have met traditional rulers in Bayelsa and personally engaged other stakeholders in both States. The Chairman and the Commission will in the next few days pay another visit to again engage the principal stakeholders. Also, in attendance will be the Inspector General of Police and the Director General of the NYSC.
Our previous assessment visits have offered us the opportunity of assessing our preparedness for the election and what we saw on ground was indeed re-assuring. We are indeed prepared. Further details will in the course of this meeting be presented by both RECs.
We urge all Political Parties, the Candidates in the election and all the major stakeholders to respect and protect the right of the registered voters to free choice. Voters must be allowed to go to the polling units unmolested, without fear, without intimidation and without being harmed. Our young men and women that have volunteered to serve as ad-hoc must be allowed to serve without harassment, intimidation or threat of losing their lives. To this end, the Commission will not accept or tolerate any form of harm on its ad-hoc electoral personnel and will on no account tolerate siege on its Collation Centers or the declaration and returns made under dubious circumstances.
While the Commission will move for greater clarity relating to the powers of its Collation/ Returning Officers, it has put in place better processes and procedures that will prevent the violation of the powers to make declarations and return under the provisions of section 68 and 75 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).
Furthermore, by the 1st Quarter of 2020, the Commission will consult critical stakeholders and take bold and courageous steps and decisions on the creation of additional polling units and alterations and or adjustment of Constituencies. The Commission can no longer continue with the ad-hoc procedure of creating Voting Points and Voting Point Settlements which in the main are stop-gap measures to ease the voting process and create opportunities for people in new settlements not covered by previous polling units.
The Commission will also work collaboratively with the National Assembly and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation in effecting reforms to the electoral legal framework. Regression are ever present in reforms and civil society groups and organizations must constantly and continuously push the frontiers of reform, husband incremental gains and sustain gains already made. This can only be done through rational and knowledge-based interventions in the electoral process.
There are no alternatives to facts and civil society-initiated bills or those initiated by the Executive or members of the National Assembly must be monitored closely in terms of what was initiated and what was passed and assented to by the President. Senor Lawyers and some Political Parties made fundamental mistakes in the determination of when the cause of action arose in some pre-election matters and some Political Parties filed the nomination of under aged candidates because they did not pay close attention to or were not aware of the fine details of the 4th Alteration to the Constitution.
We urge the Nigerian people to have faith in the electoral process and work towards democratic consolidation. Courts and the Tribunals are only democratic mechanisms of electoral conflict resolution. The Courts and the Tribunals are handmaids of the electoral process and exist to correct mistakes and allow genuinely aggrieved litigants and petitioners have their day in Court. The Courts and Tribunals are not suited for “electoral blackmail” or “extortionist settlement” or “political grandstanding”.
At the conclusion of the 2019 general elections, aggrieved parties and candidates filed and served the Commission with a total of 807 petitions and some people regarded this as huge and a sign of regression in the electoral process.
However as at the 25th day of October 2019; the petitioners withdrew a total of 190 petitions while 570 were dismissed, 4 are still pending while 42 of the petitions were determined in favour of the petitioners. It is important to take genuine and serious matters to court while professional litigants and other “meddlesome interlopers” should find alternative mechanisms and avenues of ventilating whatever grievance they have.
We urge civil society groups and organizations to train their observers well. The observers must conform to the code of conduct and exhibit a high sense of patriotism in carrying out their observations.
The Commission will harness and take away the positives from this Dialogue Session and implement actionable ones.
Let me once again express the Commissions appreciation for the work you do and the sacrifices you make in educating and informing the Nigerian people of their rights and duties in the electoral process.
I wish you a successful Session.