By Emmanuel Oloniruha
Countdown to the presidential election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) , has insisted that it would conduct free, fair and credible polls.
The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, gave the assurance at an interactive meeting with the members of the Administrative Board of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria.
A statement by the Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, said that the meeting was part of the nationwide consultation with stakeholders on the Commission’s readiness for the general elections,
Yakubu said that the Commission was determined to improve on the gains recorded in the 2015 general elections, just as he affirmed that only the votes cast by citizens would determine the eventual winners at the polls.
Responding to questions, he debunked some media reports making the rounds about the alleged centralisation of the recruitment of Collation and Returning Officers for the elections.
He said there was no basis for the allegation in the first place, since Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) had never handled the recruitment of such officers.
He said that INEC took a decision in 2011 not to recruit Collation and Returning Officers from among its staff, but from senior lecturers and professorial cadre, in order to protect the sanctity of the electoral process.
“This is what the Commission has done consistently. The Chairman of the Commission handles this responsibility. He liaises with Vice-Chancellors under specific criteria.
“The Vice-Chancellors submit names directly to the INEC Chairman, the submitted names are further vetted, before we finally engage and post them to the states.
” It is after we have finished with the process of engagement that we liaise with the RECs, who then assign the Collation and Returning Officers to local government areas and constituencies where they are going to work.
“There was a reason why the Commission took that decision. There was a time in the past when, particularly in the recruitment of Collation Officers and most especially the Returning Officers, some people pandered to the wishes of politicians.
“The Commission then decided to centralise it and involve not only the universities, but also the Academic Staff Union of the Universities (ASUU).”
He explained that since 2015, INEC had conducted elections into 195 constituencies and not on one occasion did the headquarters ask the RECs to recruit Collation or Returning Officers.
According to him, this is what the Commission has been doing since 2011. I was surprised when I read the report.
On another allegation that the National Register of Voters contains names of under-age or ineligible persons, Yakubu said that while the current Register was, indeed, not perfect, “it is the largest and most current database of Nigerians with photographs and full biometrics.”
The INEC Chairman observed that each of the registered political parties got a copy of the Voters’ Register since 2011 and none of them had ever complained of the prevalence of under-age voters in the Register.
He also argued that the responsibility of cleaning the Voters’ Register was not that of INEC’s alone.
He said while the law requires the Commission to paste the Register at each polling unit nationwide before the general election for claims and objections, Nigerians and political parties also owe it a duty to draw the Commission’s attention to the names of ineligible persons for rectification.
On the National Collation Centre, Yakubu explained there is difference between the actual collation of the 2019 general elections results and the ad hoc committee established to put the Collation Centre in place.
He likened the Centre to an ordinary Event Centre that would house the Situation Room among others, for which the constituted ad hoc committee had been saddled with the responsibility to putting all the structures and amenities it needed to function effectively in place.
“Since the perception is that we might be up to something, which is why (according to the narratives), the Commission is unwilling to open up the place, we have decided to open up the situation room. We will give visitation rights.
“The Chairman of INEC is the Chief Returning Officer for the Presidential Election and I am not going to share that responsibility with anyone,” he said.