Anambra 2021: No going back, we have fully recovered from  attacks, ready for elections — INEC Commissioner, Festus Okoye


How will you rate the level of achievements of INEC so far, under the leadership of Professor Mahmood Yakubu?

Well, the Chairman has been giving directions and also making a determination of the compass of activities in relation to this Commission. One of our guiding principles is how to deepen democracy and the electoral process and also how to maximize and use technology for the purposes of conducting free, fair and credible elections and that’s exactly the focus of the commission and we are not looking back on that.

You just made mention of using technology in the conduct of elections. Recently, there was this particular issue that became a topic for debate between INEC and the legislative arm of government, and that’s the electronic transmission of election results. The INEC and the good majority of the public are of the opinion that we have all it takes to transmit our election results electronically. Is it going to be adopted in the forthcoming Anambra State election?

What we have done is to achieve some levels of technological convergence, in terms of putting in some of the technological solutions we’ve been using in the past into one. Now, we have an equipment that we are using presently for voters enrollment and it’s called Voter Enrollment Device. We are using that particular equipment for the purpose of registering voters. Now, for the purpose of the Anambra governorship election, we are going to also use the same equipment for voters accreditation and it is called the beefers, by modern voter accreditation system. What it’s going to do is to capture, not only the fingerprint but also the faces of prospective voters. The implication is that we have effectively retired the smart card reader because we have more effective, more modern and more functional equipment. After the voting process, we are going to use the same equipment for the purposes of uploading polling unit results into our INEC results viewing portal. In other words, it’s going to replace the old system that we have been using for the purposes of uploading polling unit results. So, it’s a multifunctional device that can perform three distinct functions for the Commission – voters’ enrollment, voters’ accreditation and uploading of polling unit results. We will continue to do all these and we’ll do them in the Anambra governorship election.

Is that more or less electronic transmission of election results?

I’m not going to call it electronic transmission of results. What we have been doing is to upload from EC8A, which is the polling unit level results into our INEC results viewing portal, for purpose of accountability and also for the purpose of making sure that people get to understand what we are doing and key into it

Does this device depend on telecommunication networks for its operation?

Oh yes, it depends on telecommunication networks and as you are aware, we have conducted 27 off season and bye elections since 2019 and in all these places, we uploaded polling unit results into our INEC results viewing portal. I supervised the election in Gwaram Federal Constituency of Jigawa state, and we uploaded polling unit results into our INEC results viewing portal. I also conducted the State Assembly Constituency election in Kafin Hausa State Constituency in Jigawa state and we did the same thing. I supervised the Cross River North Senatorial bye election, we uploaded polling unit results even from remote areas. We don’t have any challenge in terms of uploading polling unit results. So we are going to continue to do that.

Professor Mahmood Yakubu recently said and I quote “We have recovered from the series of attacks on our facilities…” Now, what measures have been put in place to avoid the recurrence of such attacks in this coming election and in the future, going by the fact that threats from IPOB is still very active?

Well, you know some of the attacks on the facilities of INEC occurred at different periods throughout the Federation. Some of them were on account of bandit challenges; some on account of #ENDSARS protests; some of them were on account of election related matters and some of them were on account of the activities of the non-state actors. In relation to Anambra, on the 23rd day of May 2021, our office in Awka, the state capital, was attacked, our pavilion and collation centre were burnt, the store housing 326 generating sets was burnt and we lost all the generating sets. We lost six utility vehicles and the main office was also touched. We also lost our office in Idemili North  Local Government and also in Nnewi North Local Government but we have reconstructed all these offices for the purpose of the November 6 governorship election. We have also replaced the generating sets that were burnt. Over 60 percent of the non sensitive materials already deployed were burnt. We have also moved all the non sensitive materials afresh to Anambra state. So, we have truly fully recovered from these attacks in Anambra. In other parts of the Country, in some of the places, the community came together, wrote to the commission, and decided to reconstruct the local government offices. But there are so many of the  local government offices that have not been reconstructed. However, we are hopeful and confident that we will recover from all these attacks and measures are also being put in place to prevent some of these attacks. In a place like Anambra and in other places, what we did was to move out all the sensitive equipments in all our local government offices, we moved them to the central bank and to other safe locations to make sure that those equipments that you  can not get off the shelf are protected. For the purposes of the Anambra governorship election, the security agencies have  beefed up the security in the 21 local government offices of the commission in Anambra State and also in the state office of the commission. And we are hopeful and confident that with measures in place, our equipments will be safe, the ad-hoc staff will be safe and the voters will have confidence that their security will be taken into account and they will be safe in terms of coming out to vote.

INEC is insisting on no going back, yet IPOB hasn’t stopped issuing threats. What’s your assessment of the cooperation of the security agencies with your Commission over this so far?

We are consulting with the security agencies. We are fanning up our relationship with them. We are involved in issues around deployment of security agencies. We are also telling them what we know in terms of the inner cordon for deployment, the middle cordon and outer cordon for deployment. Now, the issue of postponement of this election is not an option in the first place. It’s not an option at all. This is because our elections are constitutionally circumscribed; the moment you touch any aspect of the election, you create a trigger that may make it possible for you to fall off the radar. Now, the tenure of the incumbent governor of Anambra State will expire on the 17th day of March, 2022. On that day, he will leave the government house together with his deputy. Nobody is giving him any letter of disengagement, nobody is giving him any letter of termination, his tenure expires by a fruition of time. If you look at section 178 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the earliest date for the conduct of the Anambra governorship election is the 18th day of October, 2021 and we must conduct the election no later than 15th February, 2022. The implication is that there is a window, within which we have to operate. Considering section 179 of the constitution, it provides that before you can be declared as having won the governorship election in Anambra State, you must secure a quarter of the votes cast in two-third of all the 21 local government areas and you must also secure a majority of the lawful votes. If no candidate meets this constitutional threshold, the constitution obligates the commission to conduct a second election within the period of 21 days. So, the implication is that, in calculating the last day for the election which is 15th February, 2022, you have to also minus 21 days in order for you to be safe. If a candidate in the election dies before the election, you undermine the election and wait for them to be replaced. So, all these things can happen within that particular band of 18th October 2021 and 15th February, 2022. Therefore, talking about postponing the election is not an option at all. You postpone on the basis of what? Before you postpone, there must be cogent and verifiable reasons and for you to also postpone, you must be sure that the reason for the postponement will not reoccur when you postpone. And there is no guarantee that the activities of the non-state actors will cease if we postpone the election, and if you postpone the election, you may also invariably be emboldening the non-state actors to hold you to ransom and the moment you fall off this constitutional radar, the determination of what happens thereafter is completely outside the purview of the commission. There are only three things that may likely happen. One, if the commission is unable to conduct the election, the President may rely on section 180 of the constitution and make a determination that the country is at war and that a part of Nigeria has been attacked and that it is impossible to conduct election. He can now extend the tenure of the incumbent governor by an initial period of six months with the concurrence of the national assembly. On the other hand, if something happens in between this particular period, that is, before 17th of March, the speaker of the state assembly can take over and organise election within the period of three months or complete what we call unexpired residue of the term of office of the incumbent governor, but it cannot extend beyond 17th of March. The other option is the declaration of the state of emergency, in which the president, through a proclamation, determines what will happen. The people of Anambra do not need this, and they do not want this. They want a situation, where they can vote and take their destiny into their own hands, because, not conducting the Anambra governorship election will have far reaching implications on the conduct of the FCT Area Council Elections, slated for February next year, and the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, slated for June and July next year respectively. So, I think it’s in INEC self-interest that we should proceed with this particular election and make sure that the security agencies do the needful, in terms of securing the electoral environment and the critical stakeholders give the people the assurance they need, that they can come out and vote in a safe and secure environment

A lot of qualified voters who are willing to vote might not come out due to the IPOB threat. What’s INEC doing in order to sensitise the grassroots and assure them of their safety, so that they can come out and exercise their franchise?

You see, the conduct of elections is a multi stakeholder venture. It is not the responsibility of INEC alone – every hand must be on deck. The political parties must also go out and carry out their campaigns; when they carry out their campaigns within the state, it will also give the people the confidence that all is well and they can come out to vote. But when a political party campaigns offshore, outside the state, it gives the impression that no political party can enter the state. If the Anambra election fails, more elections will fail, and we do not want that. The INEC has been carrying out sensitisation programmes in Anambra, on Radio, television, and town hall meetings but our ability to engage more people is limited on account of the activities of these non-state actors. So, we are using more innovative and creative means through social media and other traditional media to reach more people. The issue is that, the people of Anambra State are ready and willing to vote, but there are impediments, there are challenges, they need assurance that they can come out to vote and nothing untoward happens to them. So, we have liaised with security agencies and we insisted that: one, the security agencies must be very professional in their conducts, that they must be very civil with the people and that they must also be very patient with the people because if they are not professional, if they are not civil and if they are not patient with the people, they will scare them away from coming out to vote, but if they give the people hope and confidence, they will come out to exercise their democratic franchise

How many ad-hoc staff members are expected to oversee the election, and was there any special training given to them, considering the peculiarity of the election?

No, there was no special training. We project that we are going to be deploying at least  25,009 ad-hoc staff. But when we add the other categories of election workers that will be deployed to Anambra, it will come to around 26,000. What we have done is to train them on the use of the beefers because this is the first time they are going to be using the beefers for purposes of voters accreditation in any election. We used it in a smaller constituency during the Isoko South 1 state constituency election, so we didn’t give them any special training but where we also have a total of 138 polling units in 3 local government areas of Anambra State that are in the riverine areas,  we have made available at least forty boats and we are also in touch with the marine police who are going to use the boats to escort them to their various locations. So, we have trained them and we have trained them well and we are confident that they will imbibe the training properly.

Recently, INEC was in the news lamenting the issue of conflicting judgments and other issues considered pertinent in election litigation in Nigeria. Narrowing it down to Anambra Election, there were court cases after the conduct of the party primaries, two of the three major parties have concluded their cases in court while one is still in court. What do you think are the effects of such cases on our electoral process?

The issue of conflicting judgments, especially from courts of coordinate jurisdiction, has a confusing effect on the electoral process. This is because, courts of law, know their jurisdiction but in relation to Anambra governorship election, we got judgments from courts that do not have geographical and substantive jurisdiction to entertain some of these matters and it was very serious. That led to a lot of anxieties on the part of the Nigerian people and also on the part of the people of Anambra State but I think it is a cheerful news that the president of the Court of Appeal, stepped in, constituted a special panel to deal with all these conflicting judgments from different parts of the country and different jurisdictions and that brought some level of order and some level of calm in the process. The Chief Justice of the Federation also intervened decisively and that brought us to some level of calm and some level of order. But going forward, with the Bill before the National Assembly, there is a provision that pre-election matters will only be handled by Federal High Courts and we presume it will be the Federal High Court in the jurisdiction, where the course of action accrues, so there will be some level of discipline in terms of some of these issues. But the bar association must also be very circumspect in trying to use the judicial process to corrupt the electoral process or truncate the electoral process. It won’t be okay for all of us. So, I think that the bar association has taken up the matter, the judiciary has taken up the matter, political parties must also caution themselves, caution their candidates, caution their members against abusing the judicial process and also trying to use the judicial process to truncate our democratic process. All hands must be on deck to make sure that all organs of government operate within the circumference of the rule of law and due process, if they do that, there won’t be any problem.

What’s your message to the people of Anambra and Nigeria as a whole?

My message to the people of Anambra is that they should take their fate in their hands. They should come out and make a determination on who they want to govern them. The choice is theirs — sovereignty resides with them, and what they do and how the election turns out, will also have an impact on future elections in this country. So, I think that courage is required, perseverance is required, forward looking ventures are also required and the political parties must also not do anything that will undermine the electoral process. With the measures we are putting in place, in terms of this electoral management body, we are confident that very soon, it will be very difficult for anybody to corrupt the electoral process or for anybody to use a pernicious human interference in our electoral process. So, we are confident of the measures we have put in place.