INEC Chairman: Electoral processes have gone beyond capacity of our officials to manipulate

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ADDRESS BY THE HONOURABLE CHAIRMAN, INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION, PROFESSOR MAHMOOD YAKUBU, AT THE 2ND REGULAR QUARTERLY CONSULTATIVE MEETING WITH POLITICAL PARTIES HELD AT THE AUDITORIUM OF INEC ELECTORAL INSTITUTE, ABUJA
 
The National Chairman and other officials of political parties
Honourable National Commissioners INEC
Ladies and Gentlemen
 
It is my great pleasure to welcome the Chairman and other officials of political parties to the second of our regular quarterly consultative meeting for 2018. Today’s meeting is taking place only 10 days to the Ekiti State Governorship election holding on Saturday 14th July 2018, 80 days to the Osun State Governorship election to be held on Saturday 22nd September 2018 and 226 days to the 2019 General Elections. We also have five (5) pending bye-elections for which we are awaiting communication from the Taraba State House of Assembly in respect of Takum I State Constituency, Cross River State House of Assembly for Obudu I State Constituency and the National Assembly in respect of Bauchi South and Katsina North Senatorial Districts and the Lokoja/Koton Karfe Federal Constituency in Kogi State. I wish to inform the Chairmen and leaders of political parties that we have already instructed our Resident Electoral Commissioners in the five (5) States to begin the necessary preparations for the bye-elections ahead of the formal declaration of vacancies.

The focus of the Commission’s immediate attention is the Ekiti State Governorship election holding in 2,195 Polling Units spread across 177 Wards in 16 Local Government Areas, 35 political parties are contesting in the election. So far, the Commission has successfully implemented 12 out of the 14 activities outlined in the timetable and schedule of activities for the election released nine (9) months ago on 5th October 2017. The only outstanding activities are last day of campaign and election day scheduled for 12th and 14th July 2018 respectively. We shall continue to implement all activities on schedule according to our timetable. I wish to thank all political parties for your support. Many of you have approached the Commission with important suggestions and observations on how our processes and procedures can be strengthened. Under the auspices of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), political parties are embarking upon voter education and sensitization in Ekiti State in partnership with the Commission. This is very important to our electoral process in particular and our democracy in general, especially in view of the large number of political parties fielding candidates in the election. Through this collaborative effort, our national elections are getting better organised and the outcome reflective of the will of the people. I wish to reassure you that the Commission shall remain focused on the goal of delivering free, fair and credible elections.
However, it is unfortunate that in certain quarters, there is still the fixation that INEC officials are involved in deliberately perverting the processes and procedures for partisan considerations. Instead of approaching us with evidence of any potential or actual infractions for remedial action in the interest of our democracy, some prefer press conferences in which the Commission and a handful of its officials are criticised and maligned. We should stop seeing INEC as a political party or its officials as rival candidates. We are not a political party. We have no candidate in any election. We shall continue to maintain our integrity as election managers.
I wish to assure you that our electoral processes have gone beyond the capacity of our own officials to manipulate. The procedures are robust. The claim that the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) are cloned and Smart Card Readers pre-loaded is simply ludicrous. The Card Readers are only configured to specific polling units 72 hours or less before an election, set to operate only on election day from 8am and is manually shut down for accreditation after the last person on the queue has voted or automatically by 8pm. In Ekiti State, where we are deploying the enhanced Smart Card Readers (SCRs), this process has not even commenced. It is impossible to pre-load the Card Readers, let alone do so with cloned PVCs. In any case, electoral officials at polling units on election day cross check the voter’s name on the Register of Voters which includes the voter’s photograph. The voter must be personally present in order to vote. It cannot be done by proxy or prior to election day. Is the Voters’ Register, already given to each of the 35 political parties fielding candidates in the Ekiti Governorship election, also cloned? Is the bearer of the cloned card also going to have a cloned face to match the original photograph on the register printed from our database? We appeal to Nigerians to discountenance this unimaginative theory which is similar to the allegation of “scientific rigging” before a previous stand-alone Governorship election in which the Commission was accused of deploying a special ballot paper that altered the voter’s choice within minutes after it has been dropped into the ballot box in favour of another political party.
Similarly, the accusation that excess result sheets are being printed in order to surreptitiously alter results during collation is simply untrue. With lessons learnt from every election and the reports we receive from political parties, civil society organisations and other stakeholders, the Commission has been introducing new innovations to further protect the integrity of our processes. For instance, the most important level of the electoral process is the polling unit. Ballot papers are sorted out and counted at each polling unit after voting by citizens. The Commission has consistently been issuing copies of the result sheets to agents of political parties at that level. However, other stakeholders have demanded transparency of the process. The Commission responded by displaying the result for each polling unit immediately after the counting of ballot for public information. Having found this a useful way of enhancing citizens’ mandate protection, we took it a step further by introducing the EC60E which is a large poster reflecting the result in each polling unit as recorded on the EC8A shared with agents of political parties. The poster is pasted at each polling unit immediately after the counting of ballot papers. Consequently, citizens now know the outcome of voting in each polling unit and can track the processes of collation leading to the final declaration of results. These posters were effectively deployed in all elections since the Anambra State Governorship election in November 2017. We shall deploy them in all forthcoming elections.
The Commission is aware that as we approach the 2019 general elections, there will be a lot of interest in our activities for virtuous and malicious reasons. Only a few days ago, Nigerians were legitimately outraged by the image of a blank PVC advertised by an offshore Company for purchase in the open market. Within a few hours, we contacted the online platform responsible for the advert which promptly removed it. What Nigerians may not know is that it was not a single advertiser. A second company was forced to remove a similar advert and only this morning a third one was withdrawn. We have extracted a commitment from Alibaba.com to stop this unwholesome practice forthwith and will continue to work with the security agencies to track down those responsible for the advert as well as any prospective buyers of which there are none so far. We suspect that many dubious enterprises will keep trying openly and in the dark web.  We have anticipated these challenges and we are far ahead of the mischief makers. Our security source codes are not only robust but continuously enhanced. We wish to reassure Nigerians that our sensitive and non-sensitive materials, processes and procedures are secure.

As we approach the 2019 general elections, we need your support in many ways, especially voter education and sensitisation. With 68 political parties and 136 applications being processed, we need raise the awareness of citizens on the manifestos, logos and acronyms of political parties. Similarly, we need to find different ways of managing the ballot papers for the general elections. As a proactive step, the Commission has been working on a number of options regarding the design of the ballot paper and the management of the ballot box. We shall demonstrate a number of options to this meeting for consideration and suggestions.
Another important area is party finance. We have concluded work on the annual audit of the accounts of political parties for 2013, 2014 and 2015. The areas of focus are internal audit, internal control procedures, preparation of annual budgets and the maintenance of relevant books of account, fixed asset and membership register. At this meeting, we shall share the findings of the external auditors with you. We believe you will find them useful, especially in strengthening compliance with the legal requirements on party and campaign finance.
By way of a quick update, we are as at 3rd July 2018 processing 136 application from associations seeking registration as political parties. Out of this figure, 74 have failed the initial assessment of the suitability of their names and logos while 62 have passed the initial assessment. Nine (9) associations have undergone verification of their offices and proposed leadership while 16 are either awaiting verification or yet to supply supporting documents. We shall continue to operate within the ambit of the law in the registration of political parties.
With regard to the Continuous Voter Registration, a full report shall be presented at this meeting giving detailed breakdown of new registrants by gender, State and geo-political zones. However, the consolidated figures as at 22nd June 2018 are as follows:
 
i.               Fresh registration – 9,922,619
ii.             PVC Collection – 576,346
iii.           Request for transfer – 489,354
iv.           Request for replacement of PVCs – 766,435
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Before I conclude, I would like to express the Commission’s appreciation to all political parties for the continuing partnership. Recently, we had a number of interactive meetings within Abuja and in Kuru under the auspices of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS). In particular, we had a roundtable on the mainstreaming of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) into political parties here in Abuja at which it was unanimous agreed. The meeting unanimously agreed on seven (7) key resolutions to enhance the active engagement of PWDs in political parties. The Commission looks forward to the implementation of the resolutions. Similarly, the Commission is looking forward to greater involvement of women and youths in political party activities and nomination to elective positions in the 2019 general elections.

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