No One Can Intimidate Me – INEC Chairman
- For now, we’ll stick with our timetable
- Dino Melaye’s Recall Still On
In his first exhaustive interview in three years, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission,
Professor Mahmood Yakubu, fields wide-ranging questions from the inconclusive elections in his early days to the allegations of underage registrations and the Commission’s 2019 election timetable…
Is the cap on campaign spending in the Electoral Act realistic? And how does INEC monitor compliance?
Two things: One, is the limit realistic? That is what the law provides. And we go by the provisions of the law. Remember election is a process governed by the law. So, what is provided for in the Electoral Act is what we implement. We cannot go outside the provisions of the law. The second issue is enforcement. It has been a little difficult because there are two types of expenditures the commission is supposed to monitor. One is spending by political parties. The second one is expenditure by individual candidates, including the contributions made by friends of candidates. There are limits. We have a mechanism of monitoring the expenditure of political parties, in the sense that they are supposed to have bank accounts. We audit their accounts. We are supposed to publish for public information and submit a copy of the audited account to the National Assembly. We have been doing this as a matter of course. But expenditure by individuals is a trickier one in the sense that, sometimes you have support groups of candidates supporting them in elections and placing adverts on the pages of newspapers or placing television or radio adverts. Even if you know the cost of adverts and calculate it, you cannot ascribe it to expenditure by that individual. They are just support groups. So it is a little difficult to monitor. The reason why caps are put to campaign expenditure is to ensure democracy is not for sale in the open market or bought by people who have the means. The truth is that ours is a democracy, not a plutocracy for the rich. And that is why these caps are important and they are enforced. So recently, we had a discussion with the EFCC on this matter. And one of the concerns we raised was campaign spending by political parties and candidates.
What is the EFCC supposed to do?
The EFCC has the capacity to track and trace the flow of funds because they have the Financial Intelligence Unit. So we sought for support of the EFCC to help us trace some of this financing. Some may not go through the accounts of these political parties that we audit but we know obviously, money is spent anyway. But the second one which is also a big concern to the commission is the new phenomenon of vote buying at polling units on Election Day. I think to some extent, this is a credit, a plus to the maturity of the electoral process.
Vote does vote-buying work?
I will come to that. It is a plus to the maturity of our democracy that now politicians are unsure that if money changes hands before elections, on Election Day people will vote for the candidate. So they devised a mechanism of going to the polling unit with money. Somebody will stand strategically to watch when a person votes, the voter will then raise the ballot paper to confirm he has voted for that candidate. And then they settle. We saw it in some of the elections and this is a source of concern for us. We do not want elections to be monetized. There are responsibilities conferred on the commission by law. We are doing everything possible to ensure that we go by the provisions of the law and our guidelines and regulations. At the same time, we need the support of some other agencies like the EFCC to help us in that direction. Again we also need the support of Civil Society Organizations and others so that when people are caught doing what they are not supposed to be doing at the polling unit, they can be apprehended and prosecuted. Again, the role of the security agencies is key so that they can arrest and prosecute.
One area of public concern has been prosecution. Has INEC apprehended and prosecuted anyone for vote buying?
This is a trend we observed in more recent elections. But the law confers on INEC, the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders. We have been saying that this is a responsibility everyone knows INEC cannot effectively discharge for a number of reasons.
One, for you to successfully prosecute, you have to arrest. We have no power to arrest citizens. Secondly, you have to investigate so that you have the evidence that lead to successful prosecution. We simply have no capacity to investigate. But we are saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders. Some of the electoral offenders may be the commission’s own staff. So how do we prosecute ourselves? And it is for that reason that we support the recommendation of the Uwais Report and a similar recommendation made in the Lemu Report for the Electoral Offenses Commission and Tribunal. So whoever violates the laws of the land with respect to elections can be prosecuted whether they are staff of the commission or anybody else. So there are responsibilities conferred by law but the commission cannot effectively discharge those responsibilities. However, we have succeeded in arresting and prosecuting some electoral offenders. We conducted a state constituency election in Kano, in a local government called Minjibir. On the first day we fixed for the election, it was so disrupted by violence that we had to suspend the processes under Section 26 of the Electoral Act, which empowers the commission to suspend an election on account of violence or natural disaster. But jointly with the Nigeria Police, we were able to prosecute 44 electoral offenders. The highest number of successful electoral offenders in the history of the commission. That in June/July 2016.
There has been very little input from the commission on revising the 2010 Electoral Act and that probably why everything is happening late now. Why haven’t you made suggestions?
That is actually not correct. Consistently, the commission has submitted to the National Assembly, areas of constitutional and legal reforms to strengthen the electoral process. One of the first things we did early in 2016 was to submit our own proposals for the amendment of the Electoral Act and the constitution to the National Assembly, both the House and Senate committees. I remember there were two activities organized by the two committees separately. It was engagements with stakeholders. We participated in those activities in 2016 leading to public hearings on amendments to the Act. I remember, in one of the two chambers, the presiding officer assured us that amendment of the Electoral Act would be concluded by December 2016. We have engaged with the National Assembly on this. But unfortunately here we are, approaching the next general elections and we are talking of amendment to the Electoral Act. So we submitted a number of areas where we wanted some amendment including the one area where people have been talking about until recently. That is the section that restrains the commission from electronic voting and the deployment of technology in elections. These are parts of what the National Assembly have accepted and is actually in the bill that they are now harmonizing for submission to the executive for assent. We have been involved in this for a very long time. We sent two bulky documents to the two chambers of the National Assembly on the constitution as well as the Electoral Act.
If INEC has no powers to disqualify or sanction parties, how else can it enforce the law?
Under the law, there are responsibilities that the commission discharges and there responsibilities that other agencies of government discharge. For instance, the commission has no security forces and really no control over the deployment of security forces. So, who secures the environment for us to conduct the elections? It is the security forces and the lead agency is the Nigeria Police. The best we can do is to work in partnership the security agencies and that is what we have been doing. Then there are other stakeholders that play key roles in the electoral process. We have been engaging with them; the political parties, civil organizations and the media, even eminent persons. So it is not just a responsibility to be discharged by the election management body. We have our roles clearly spelt out and others also have their roles clearly cut out.
You have been in office for close to three years now. Heading towards your first major challenge, the 2019 general elections. What lessons do you think you can learn from the last elections?
A lot of lessons from the last general elections. The major task before us since the 2015 elections is actually consolidation and then the determination to make 2019 better than the 2015 general elections. But I have also been lucky in a way to have conducted so far, 178 elections. Or put it differently, elections into 178 constituencies since the 2015 general elections. When was the last elections? On February 10, in Katsina. When is the next election? Very soon in Taraba where a member of the state assembly recently lost his life. So we have learnt a lot. General elections are easier to handle in a way than off season elections. In a general election, everyone is back in his own constituency fighting for his own or her own election. In an off season election, there is a governorship in a particular state, it is the only state in Nigeria where an election is holding and the attention of the entire nation is on that particular constituency. The media will mobilize, civil society will mobilize and you see so many governors also coming to assist governors of their own party. Some even form campaign councils. In a general election, nobody supports another. Everyone is fighting his own battles. So we have learnt a lot of lessons from those elections, some of which relate to management of the security for the elections, the logistics for conducting the election, quite a number of areas and quite a number of challenges. So elections into 178 constituencies have prepared us for the challenge of conducting a general election in 2019. That’s one. Number two, we have a strategic plan of action similar to what the last commission developed to cover the last election cycle and beyond. We have concluded on the strategic plan and we are right now about to deploy the election project plan. And it is for that reason that we are all leaving for Lagos on February 15, for a retreat of the national and resident electoral commissioners to finalize on the election project plan. The election project plan will now give you a grand chart which guides you on daily basis, weekly basis, monthly basis of things to expect and things to do between now and the general elections. We have already started the countdown. I have been saying in meeting after meeting that today we have X number of days to the general elections. In fact by February 16, it will be exactly 365 days. Exactly one year. So it’s all part of the preparations. We started this early last year, that the processes and concluded by the middle of the year. And we have started the countdown. So I can confidently say for the last one year or so, the commission has been in an election mode. We are prepared for the 2019 general elections.
Your predecessor, Attahiru Jega, has set a high bar for you. He is perceived to have asserted some level of independence for INEC. In the few elections you have conducted, did you face political pressure from above and how did you respond?
Let me say never. I have never faced any pressure from any political party since assumption of office.
What about from the Presidency?
Never. Nobody has ever approached the commission and told us to do what is not right directly or indirectly. There was no time we were approached to do what is inappropriate and we haven’t done what is inappropriate. All you need to do is look at the outcome of the election that we have conducted which would be an indicator, a marker for the independence of the commission. Not long ago, on January 13 this year, we conducted elections in three states; the Anambra central senatorial elections, a constituency election in Ardo kola in Taraba and Gwagwalada central councilor election in FCT. They were were won by different political parties. So we have been doing what we are supposed to do. The Anambra governorship election is another example, probably the first election in history where the sitting president attended the grand finale rally of his party and he lost in all the local government areas. And we will never buckle under any pressure. Our commitment is to Nigerians and we will do our best. We understand the responsibilities of conducting elections. In developing countries, credible elections make the difference between war and peace. A poorly conducted election is a recipe for disaster. We won’t tread that path. We will never tread that path.
PDP has expressed concern that you may not be able to withstand pressure from the Presidency or the ruling party.
I have said so. I have given my word right from the time I appeared at the Senate for confirmation. I think I have passed the stage where someone can intimidate me to do what is wrong. I have passed that stage with due respect, honestly. And the real test is in what we have done so far. Look at the outcome of the election that we have conducted in relation to that allegation. But as for political parties accusing the electoral commission of wrong intentions, it is in the nature of things. The most interesting thing for me is that both parties accuse us equally. So, that means we are doing something right.
The ruling APC has failed to hold any party convention to fill key party organs like its Board of Trustees. You seem to be turning a blind eye to this infraction?
I am not sure that the law says we must ensure parties hold their primaries and conventions but there is something that the law says, that there should be election of officers of political parties within a reasonable interval, lets say four years. I don’t think it’s a matter for the commission to dabble into at this point. The idea is that the parties must be democratic because democracy in hat we are practicing must start from the political parties themselves. We can only appeal but we cannot enforce the rule. Unfortunately, it is not even part of the criteria for disqualifying or deregistering political parties.
Even when members of the party (APC) are calling for the party to be deregistered?
It is a free country. It is a democracy, people can express their opinions. But I guess if a member of a party wants a party to be deregistered, such a person knows the right mechanism to follow through the organs of the party rather than calling a press conference and appealing to INEC to deregister a party.
At the early stages of your appointment, there were inconclusive elections. The commission was, in fact, branded the Inconclusive National Electoral Commission. What happened?
It is not the first time that elections were inconclusive in Nigeria. But our memory tends to be very short. Election is a process governed by law. The law defines the threshold for making declarations. If the threshold is not met, INEC cannot make a declaration. And the law also provides remedy about what to do. You cannot declare a governorship election conclusive in a situation where no candidate has emerged clearly with the majority of votes and the required spread in two-thirds of the local government areas. You can’t declare an election concluded if it is so disrupted in a substantial part of the constituency where the total number of registered voters will make a difference to the outcome of the election. You can’t declare an election conclusive. But we said, no matter what the criticism maybe, we must do what is proper. So where elections were not properly concluded, we were courageous enough to declare the elections inconclusive and we concluded the elections. As a result, out of 178 elections we have conducted so far, only three were nullified by the courts. From the 2015 general elections alone, 80 elections were nullified by court orders. So, 80 out of the 178 elections were actually repeats of elections held previously. We tend to forget there were governorship elections that were inconclusive even in 2015. The Imo governorship election was inconclusive in 2015 and Taraba governorship was also inconclusive. The commission quickly mobilized to conduct and conclude those elections. What is most interesting for me, so far, in all the discussions about inconclusive elections, no one said that we have concluded an election or declared an inconclusive outside the provisions of the law. Nobody has said so. But you can see we have overcome that challenge because it is now clear that the commission is determined to do what is right. We have always said so, we will never work for any candidate, we will never work against any candidate. It is the votes that determine who wins.
Let me paint a scenario and it goes back to what could have happened in 2015. The elections were almost conducted without a number of states, Yobe, Borno and Adamawa. Under the law, would you have been able to declare a winner if the elections had not held in those places?
If you are talking of 2015, I wasn’t responsible for elections in 2015. I am not the best person to respond. But take the scenario in 2015, it was a situation in which quite a number of local governments in three states of the federation were literally taken over by insurgence. And people were living in IDP camps. But the commission devised an ingenious way ensuring that people are not disenfranchised through a mechanism called IDP. It was so successful in 2015, that in February 2016 when the neighboring Niger Republic conducted its own general elections, they came to understudy the processes for IDP voting because they also have a problem in one of their states that share a common border with Borno and Yobe. But I am glad to say that the situation has considerably stabilized. Most of the IDPs have returned to their homes and villages. The IDP camps have been emptied in three states substantially. We may still have pockets of IDPs here and there. So, what have we done? Two things. The first one relates to the ongoing continuous voter registration exercise. Because of displacement in these states, we asked our officials to go to those registration in the affected local governments with PDF copies of the existing voter register. If someone’s name is on the voter register, there is no need to re-register. The problem for most of them is that they lost their PVCs or TVCs. When the trouble started, I guess the last thing they would have remembered is where their PVCs or TVCs were. So, we will now re-issue them with the PVCs to enable them vote. But secondly, as a marker of how the system has stabilized, we have conducted two elections in Yobe. Remember a serving member of the National Assembly was appointed a minister under the present administration and therefore, there was a vacancy created in a federal constituency. One of the three or four local governments in the constituency is Bara, that is the headquarters of the local government. It is called Gulani Local Government. We conducted elected in the headquarters which Bara. It is an indication of what I am saying about the restoration of peace. And not only that. Shortly after we concluded the federal constituency elections, we told that we had to go back to that same local government to conduct elections. The reason was the person who won the federal constituency elections was a member of the state assembly representing that local government. So we had to go to that local government specifically to conduct elections and conducted it without incident. Even in Borno for instance, quite a number of internally displaced persons have returned to their local governments. So in 2019, I am not sure we are going to face the kind of challenge that was faced in 2015. But for those who are in the camps, there is a mechanism for registering them.
You didn’t answer the question. It is not a situation we have faced. But by law, if elections don’t hold in three or four states, would you be able to declare a winner?
The threshold for making declaration is as follows; to declare a winner in a presidential election, he or she must win a majority of votes nationwide and then must secure a quarter of the votes in two-thirds of the states of the federation. Is that possible without a number of states? I am unsure because it is a matter of conjecture and we do not know which states and the number of register voters and what have you. But apart from the provisions of the law, our responsibility as a commission is to ensure that irrespective of the criteria for making a declaration; no Nigerian is disenfranchised. Every citizen must have the right to vote including creating the necessary security environment for people to cast their votes irrespective of who they vote for? So for us, the absence of one or two states is not a matter of concern for making a declaration. It is a matter of concern when Nigerians are not given the opportunity to vote they way they wish to vote.
During the recent local government elections in Kano, some videos went viral alleging wide spread thumb-printing by underage voters. A number of people have said INEC is turning a blind eye to what is obviously an infraction on the electoral law. It is the duty of INEC to apprehend these people and to prosecute them.
As I said earlier, elections are conducted on the basis of law. These are elections that are not the legal and constitutional responsibilities of INEC. There are legal entities that conduct local government elections in this country. So, on what basis are we going to prosecute electoral offenders in an election INEC is not legally responsible for?
INEC’s voter register was used, that’s the basis
You can say INEC voter register was used; the polling units were those configured by INEC; the PVCs used were those issued by INEC; but you also say the election was policed by the Nigeria Police, which should be responsible for making arrests. But having said that, it is a matter of concern for us, the way elections are conducted at the foundation level in this country. I saw the video you are talking about. Not only in the state you mentioned but also other states as well. And it represents a pattern. What can the commission do? A number of things. The register is from the commission. We are responsible for registering voters. If I may add also that the registers political parties that participated in the all elections are the ones registered by INEC. It is a matter of concern for us, how these elections are conducted and how they are rubbing off negatively on INEC. So many undiscerning will think this an election conducted by INEC. They are not elections conducted by INEC. What we can do at best is to tidy up and strengthen our processes. Take the case of the voter register. The last time the commission registered voters before an election was in 2014 for the 2015 general elections, which means this is from the 2014 voter registration exercise. We started the current continuous voter registration exercise in April last year. So far, we haven’t added a single name to the register because of the processes. You register, you have to clean up the voter register and then print the PVCs before you then update the voter register. But going forward, having listened to what citizens have been saying about the voter register is to ensure that the register is properly scrutinized and cleaned up. For us, the current continuous voter registration exercise is entirely handled by INEC. It is in designated centers that are known. We are not doing the registration in 120,000 polling unit using ad hoc staff. We are not even doing the registration in 8,809 wards in the country, again using ad hoc staff. The registration at present is holding in 1,446 registration centers entirely manned by the commission’s staff. Secondly, there are mechanisms for cleaning up the register and again, it requires partnership between all stakeholders. By law, we are required and we have complied dutifully, to display the voter register for claims and objections after every registration exercise. So, at the end of this quarter, specifically between the 26th and 30th March this, the names of those registered in the current cycle will be displayed for claims and objections by citizens. It is that point, if people have objections to some of the faces that appear in the register or people who should not have been registered in the first instance for the reasons mentioned in the Electoral Act can now draw the attention of the commission. So we clean up the register. That is one. Secondly, we are required by law to give each political party in this country the total number of new registrants in the previous year, 60 days into the new year. For instance, all those registered in 2017, the law requires that we give copies of the register to political parties in the first 60 days of 2018 and we are committed to doing that. Each of the 68 registered political parties will get a copy of the register before the end of February. But before major elections like governorship elections, we physically give the PDF copies of the register political parties and before a general election, we display the register nationwide in all the polling units for citizens to check and help us with those whose not supposed to be on the register. I can only appeal to citizens to help us and ensure that this done. My responsibility and our responsibility in INEC is not to provide Nigerians with excuses. It is to ensure that what is proper is done, irrespective of the consequences. We appreciate the importance of the voter register because this is the basis for credible elections. We cannot have credible elections without the voter register. Now that leads me, before you ask me, a footnote to a question you asked; this is the first time in the history of Nigeria that voters are registered continuously as provided for by the Electoral Act. In past, it wasn’t continuous. It was either wholesale before elections or intermittently on the eve of elections at ward level. But we said we going to do the registration consistently through out the year. However, the law does not say this is the point at which you register citizens. What the law says is there should be continuous voter registration. It has left the level for the commission to determine. I am determined to ensure that Nigerians are registered . We asked ourselves a question. At what level can we best register citizens. We said the polling units because these are the closest points to the voters. They are literally at the doorsteps of citizens. With 120,000 polling units nationwide and on the basis of the four staff we deploy to each registration center, we came to the conclusion that we require 620, 000 ad hoc staff. Can we engage 620, 000 ad hoc staff all year round? Assuming that each one of them is payed N1,500 for transportation and feeding, that will cost the nation N1.2bn everyday in ad hoc staff allowances alone. By the time you add cost of the Direct Data Capture machines, your security, the generating sets and the fueling and servicing of the generating sets, the consumables from ink to paper, the cost for the take off of the exercise came to N131bn. Meanwhile, the budgetary provision in 2017 for all continuous voter registration related activities was N1.2bn, barely enough actually to pay for ad hoc staff for one day if the commission was deploy at the polling unit level. We said okay, our responsibility is not to provide Nigerians with excuses, we don’t have the money, but it is a job that must be done. What was our plan B? We said okay, can we devolve the registration to the ward level. We have 8,809 wards. By the time we calculated the cost for running the registration at ward level, it came to about N21bn for take off alone. Meanwhile the budgetary provision is N1.2bn not just for registration of voters but for all CVR related activities including the printing of voter registers for major elections. And we have had so many major elections. The last one was the governorship election in Anambra. So that option was also unavailable to the commission. But we are still determined not provide excuses, that we should do the voter registration. We said what is the best thing to do? Can we try the local governments? We have 774 local governments and we have an office in each of them. And we have staff deployed and paid monthly whether they do voter registration or they don’t. And we have the generating set, we have enough DDC machines. We quickly calculated the cost of deploying at local governments, it came to a little over N426m for a quarter, not even for take off. We said it was the best thing to do. We started at the local government level and Nigerians complained that they were removed from the centers or the places of domicile of citizens and we understand. After one or two months of the exercise, we had what we called a mid-quarter review of the exercise. And what we did in the review was a response to the demands by Nigerians and create more centers. We created over 300 additional centers. At the end of the first quarter, there then other complains that create more centers. We created additional 367 centers. And then there more complains that we should create more centers. We said no. We don’t have the resources to create more centers. But what some people then requested the commission to do was to rotate because in some of the centers, the numbers were actually dropping. But there were other centers unserved. Can we then relocate to those centers to register citizens like on a mobile basis. We said okay, very attractive proposition. We then decided to rotate. We were doing this between April and December, for eight months. But when we started the registration in January this year, we were so inundated, distance was no longer an object. We were inundated by a large number of people turning out, thanks to the mobilization of faith based organizations, civil society organizations and the media. It is very good for us. And the mischief on the social media also by so,e people that the CVR was going to end on the 31th January. Nigerians are masters of the last minute, they rushed. The law says we should continue the registration until 60 days to an election. So, it wasn’t going to end. What we have done now is in between the point we started the current continuous registration, we have taken delivery of additional new generation Direct Data Capturing machines, which we have deployed to the states. You can see, in the FCT, the queues have considerably eased. But we still have queues elsewhere. Let me use the example of Lagos, our most populous city. Last weekend, we deployed additional machines , the new generation machines and they deployed some of the machines to one of the most highly congested centers in Lagos, Eti-Osa LG. They deployed two of the new machines and the existing machines on Monday and I kept calling the REC to give me an update and the number of registered voters. Day One, on Monday, two days ago. They were able to register 349 persons as against 139 the previous week. And yesterday they were able to register 368 more. In two days they have registered 717 new voters. If we are able to register a million, which is our hope in Eti-Osa, I am sure in the next couple of weeks, the queues will ease up.
On the order of election which appears to be a current matter in the public domain now, the National Assembly is considering a bill to reorder the sequence of elections announced by INEC. Where do you stand?
As far as the commission is concerned, it is still a proposal. Remember it is a bill. And after that, there is another process. Before it becomes law. Before us now, there is no new law altering the sequence of elections. We have already issued a timetable and schedule for the elections under the law. So that is what the law is at present. When we get to the bridge, we will cross it. There is nothing that hasn’t been tried before on the sequence of elections. For now, our position is that we have issued our timetable and schedule of activities under the law and the commission sticking to its timetable and schedule of activity.
In the past, a number of elections have been held that put into question, the capacity of the electoral commission to ensure a free, fair and credible electoral process. Back in 2014, the Nigerian Army, in connivance with INEC officials and the then ruling party, was used to intimidate and disenfranchise voters during a governorship election in the southwest. Did INEC ever conduct an internal investigation?
I think it was more of a security issue rather than the process issue from INEC. It was before I became INEC chairman. I know that the military conducted its own investigation and I also know that in terms of some financial impropriety involving our staff, the EFCC conducted some investigation and they forwarded an interim report to the commission. As a result of the interim report we received from EFCC, the commission interdicted the highest number of staff ever interdicted, 205 staff in one fell swoop, which is an indication of our determination to put our act together. And we will continue to do so. If we have additional information to deal with certain situations, we will with them.
Back in 2015, do you think the security chiefs were right to forced the postponement of the general elections?
I think section 26 of the Electoral Act is very clear. INEC is empowered by law to suspend an election on account of insecurity but who determines the insecurity? The security chiefs advised the commission and the commission was duty bound to accept the advice of the security agencies. But as to whether they were right or wrong, I don’t think it is a matter for me to answer.
You do not think they were used by the Presidency for political reasons?
I cannot comment on that.
Where does the law come in here considering that the constitution or Electoral Act does not give the Army or any other institution except for INEC, a say on when, where and how elections conducted?
Again, you are taking us back to the year 2015. I think there has been enough clarification and explanation by the commission. I don’t think there is any life in that issue now. Moving forward, we will do what the law says we should do. We determined to do what the law requires of us to and we will never fail Nigerians.
Considering all that has happened, are still willing to use the military for election duties?
It is very clear. We have a mechanism called the inter-agency consultative committee on election security. The lead agency in election security is the Nigeria Police. But the Nigeria Police is also empowered where it deems it necessary call on the support of other security agencies. So we are operating on a concentric cycle sort of mechanism. We have the inner core around the polling units, we you have unarmed policemen. You have the central ring where you have armed policemen that can be called in to assist in the polling units when the need arises. And then you have the military in the outer cordon. I think that has been the mechanism that has worked. I have had no problem with that and will retain that. But the military will never be involved in election duty similar to what happened in elections before 2015.
You are reportedly planning the transmission of election results in the next elections by electronic means. Do you have any reason to believe the Supreme Court will rule differently regarding electronic voting as against allowing every eligible voter whose name appears on the voter register to vote even if it is manually?
You have to understand the position taken by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled on the basis of a case brought before it alleging multiple voting in an election on the basis of information on the smart card reader. The Supreme Court said no. The voter register takes primacy over any other device introduced by the commission because it is the voter register that is recognized by law. Remember, the smart card reader is not a voting machine. It is not a device for voting. It is just a device for authenticating registered voters.
Are you lobbying for electronic voting?
Anything that will help the credibility of the elections, INEC stands by it. We support the deployment of technology in our elections. And we are saying even if the law is not amended, we can use some provisions of the law to do electronic transmission of results. I am happy that the proposals before the National Assembly, based on the submission we have made, this is being considered. What that means is we can now transmit results from the polling units to the collation centers. At the same time, we are not going to jettison the current practice of giving copies of what transpired at the polling unit to the political parties’ agents at those polling units. There must be a mechanism for which you can authenticate the electronically transferred results. And because of the size of the country, the difficulty we with 3G and 4G networks, we have opened discussions with the Nigerian Communications Commission. And through the NCC, with the telecommunications service providers. In addition, we have also opened discussions with the Nigerian Communication Satellite on this, how we can go round this challenge. Whatever the case, in addition to the manual transmission of results based on the forms from the polling unit to the process of collation, we are still determined to transmit, even if they are the raw figures to our central server. The commission has been piloting this since 2014. We are happy with the pilot that we have carried out. We can easily transit figure from the polling unit but it is more difficult to transmit images because you need greater bandwidth to be able to do so. It is like a operating your WhatsApp in a place where you have epileptic service. It is easier to send a text message. So we are working on this to see the way to transmit electronically to further protect the integrity of the current practice and processes. We are confident the law will amended so we will have more legitimate basis in law to do it.
Does INEC believe the PDP to be factionalized?
The constitution of Nigeria is very clear on the hierarchy of courts. I think it’s Section 287 subsection 1 of the constitution, the courts are creations of the constitution and they have hierarchy. Subsection 1 of that that section says that the judgement of the Supreme Court shall be obeyed by all persons and authorities in the federation of Nigeria and all subordinate courts. In July last year, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the current leadership of the PDP. And the commission as a law abiding organization will always go by the pronouncement of the apex court. And that remains as far as we are concerned.
It has been at least six months since the Supreme Court settled the leadership tussle of the PDP. Yet a number of elected officials at both the state and federal levels have decamped to the APC. Does the Electoral Act support this? Shouldn’t INEC declare the seats of these politicians vacant?
INEC has no powers under the law to declare any seat vacant. The powers of the commission ends from the pronouncement or declaration of a winner after an election by the returning officer. Once the returning officer makes the pronouncement, only a court of law can reverse the pronouncement. So we have finished our part. They are now members of respective assemblies and if they change from one party to another and the presiding officer declares a vacancy, the presiding officer will write the commission that there is a vacancy as it happens in the event of death. And then the Electoral Act says we should conduct by-elections within 30 days. If that vacancy is not declared, INEC has no powers to withdraw the Certificate of Return of any person under the law.
Is the Kogi State governor, Yahya Bello, a double registrant? What is INEC’s position on the status of his registration?
We have issued a statement. I have nothing more to say on the Kogi issue.
And Dino Melaye; are you pursuing his recall?
We will continue to. The matter is before the court. Remember, at the High Court, because of the timeframe provided for by the constitution for everything to happen, a period of 90 days, there was an argument that the time had elapsed. And therefore there was nothing the commission could do. But remember, the judgment of the High Court was that the time was actually frozen from the time the matter was filed in court. And therefore, it will start running after the judgement of the courts. So if the courts decided for instance, yes the time was actually frozen and we still have time to proceed with it, we will proceed with it. The matter is before the courts and we will allow the courts to determine.
As the chairman of the commission, do you vote?
I am a registered voter. I have a right to vote. But remember I am registered in Kaduna. I do not know where I will be on Election Day and the law says you can only vote where you are registered. If I happen to be in Kaduna, I will vote.