Insecurity: 2023 General Election will hold as scheduled, INEC defies fear


…Says no adjustment to timetable, postponement of polls

…We have been assured by security forces — Yakubu

…As Ortom appeals for extension in collection of PVCs

Titus Atondu, Saka Jeleel Olawale, Saka Alaaro

Summoning courage against possible cancellation or postponement of 2023 polls, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has declared its resolve to defy fears over insecurity threats and proceed with the conduct of the February/March general election as scheduled.

The new development is a show of courage and a deviation expressed earlier by the Commission on possible cancellation or postponement of the polls should  insecurity threats across the country, be left unaddressed.

Although the Federal Government and security agencies had promised to endure adequate security, the Commission had expressed fear, particularly as attacks on the Commission’s offices across States in the Country kept on taking a toll, with the Commission expressing fear that the ugly trend could precipitate a constitutional crisis by way of forcing cancellation of election results or outright postponement of polls.

However, presenting the register of voters to chairmen and secretaries of Nigeria’s 18 registered political parties on Wednesday in Abuja, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said the Commission has been encouraged by assurances from Nigeria’s defence, security and intelligence architecture that it would ensure a conducive environment for the polls.

He disclosed that with the assurance, it has commenced the airlift of sensitive and non-sensitive materials to states.

Yakubu noted that with just 44 days to the General Election, and with the presentation of the register of voters to political parties, the Commission has now successfully implemented 11 out of the 14 activities on the timetable and schedule for the polls.

According to him, the implementation of other activities has proceeded in earnest.

Yakubu added that at no time in the recent history of the Commission has so much of the forward planning and implementation been accomplished 44 days ahead of a General Election.

“Therefore, the Commission is not contemplating any adjustment to the election timetable, let alone the postponement of the General Election,” he declared.

He said, for the avoidance of doubt, the Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on Saturday 25th February 2023, while Governorship and State Assembly elections will hold two weeks later on Saturday 11th March 2023.

“The repeated assurances by the security agencies for the adequate protection of our personnel, materials and processes also reinforces our determination to proceed. The 2023 General Election will hold as scheduled. Any report to the contrary is not the official position of the Commission.

“As a further affirmation of the Commission’s readiness to conduct the 2023 General Election as scheduled, the final register of voters has been compiled.

“You would recall that for the 2019 General Election, Nigeria had a voter population of 84,004,084. After the cleaning up of the data from the last Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise (June 2021 – July 2022), 9,518,188 new voters were added to the previous register resulting in the preliminary register of 93,522,272 which was presented to Nigerians for claims and objections as required by law.

“At the end of the period for claims and objections by citizens, the Commission received 53,264 objections from Nigerians to the prevalence of ineligible persons on the register by virtue of age, citizenship or death. These names have been verified and removed from the register.

“Consequently, the register of voters for the 2023 General Election stands at 93,469,008. Of this cumulative figure, 49,054,162 (52.5 per cent) are male while 44,414,846 (47.5 per cent) are female. The distribution by age group shows that 37,060,399 (39.65 per cent) are youth between the ages of 18 and 34; 33,413,591 (35.75 per cent) are middle-aged persons between the ages of 35 and 49; 17,700,270 (18.94 per cent) are elderly voters between the ages of 50 and 69 while 5,294,748 (5.66 per cent) are senior citizens aged 70 and above. In terms of occupational distribution, students constitute the largest category with 26,027,481 (27.8 per cent) of all voters, followed by 14,742,554 (15.8 per cent) Farmers/Fishermen and 13,006,939 (13.9 per cent) housewives.

“The data on disability was not collected for previous registration. However, the cumulative figure of 85,362 persons from the recent CVR indicates that there are 21,150 (24.5 per cent) persons with Albinism; 13,387 (15.7 per cent) with physical impediment and 8,103 (9.5 per cent) are blind,” he added.

On the deployment of materials, the INEC Chairman said that already, substantial quantities of sensitive and non-sensitive materials have been deployed to various locations across the country.

According to him, the last batch of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) has been received, while the ongoing configuration of the critical technology in readiness for elections will soon be completed.

“In the last two days, we commenced the airlifting of other sensitive materials to States across the country. Already, some of the materials for 17 States in three geo-political zones have been delivered.

“Furthermore, 13,868,441 Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) have been printed, delivered to States and are being collected by citizens as new voters or by existing voters who applied for transfer or replacement of cards as provided by law.

“Similarly, following the display of the voters’ register nationwide and the conclusion of claims and objections by citizens, a new national register of voters has been compiled.

“I would like to reiterate our commitment to a transparent, credible and inclusive 2023 General Election. We will continue to take every step to protect the sanctity of the votes cast by citizens and to deal with infractions, including the arrest and prosecution of persons that attempt to perpetuate illegality at Polling Units on Election Day, be they underaged voters or vote buyers.

“Once again, the Commission appreciates the patience of Nigerians who have been queuing up at the designated centres to collect the PVCs.

“To make it easier, we devolved the collection to the 8,809 Registration Areas/Wards nationwide. We have also uploaded the comprehensive list of the Ward collection centres nationwide to our website.

“The locations can also be identified by sending a short text message to any of the two dedicated telephone lines. The details are also available on the Commission’s website,” the INEC Boss said.

…State chapters declare readiness for schedule; stakeholders call for peace, civic responsibility

Meanwhile State Chapters of the Commission have begun to confirm readiness to go on with the polls as declared by the INEC Boss.

The Resident Electoral Commisioner in charge of Kwara State, Mal Attahiru Madami while speaking at the 2023 annual lecture of the National League of Veteran Journalists (NALVEJ), Kwara state council in Ilorin, the state capital, said the election would go on as scheduled.

He charged Nigerians to be responsible and avoid violence to ensure peaceful polls.

Madami, who said that the Commission is prepared to sustain peaceful conduct of elections in the State, added that the State had been recognised for achieving peaceful conduct of elections over the years, especially in 2019.

While assuring political parties of unbiased process in the elections in the State, Madami said that one of the reasons for violence during any election is when the umpire is biased.

He also identified presence of adequate security; involving all law enforcement agencies, as measures to achieve peaceful conduct of the elections.

“Let’s sustain the peace in the state. Elections can be violent when the umpire is biased. Adequate security should be provided and be civil.

“INEC has assured that election will hold despite the doubts by some Nigerians. Youths should be admonished to shun violence. Women should do that, especially mothers. We should all preach unity. Violence will take us no where,” he said.

Chairman of the occasion, Prof Olu Obafemi who described the theme of the lecture as very apt, said democracy could not thrive if there are no free and fair elections.

He urged Nigerians not to vote along ethnic and religious lines to safeguard the unity and development of the country.

Delivering his lecture, titled: “Towards A  Peaceful 2023 General Elections,” Mal.  Yusuf Ali (SAN), said that election is very important and constitutional in the nation’s democratic governance.

He said that the Electoral Act has stipulated processes and laws governing elections, unlike what obtained in the olden days when people had to fight to win positions.

Represented by a senior lawyer in his chamber, Mr Haruna Mahmud, Ali  urged Nigerians to get copies of the Electoral Act, saying that one does not need to fight over elections dispute, but to approach tribunal, “as laws are adequate to take care of all grievances.”

In his goodwill message,the Emir of Ilorin, Alh Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, who was represented by the district head of Owode, Alh Sidiq Kayode, admonished Nigerians to peaceful before, during and after the elections.

Earlier, the Chairman of NALVEJ, Alh Tunde Akanbi, had appealed to the political class to play politics according to the laid down rules and regulations.

“Since we still have 44 days to go to the polls, precisely on the 25th, February, 2023, politicians and their supporters can have a change of mind. I mean positively for those that still hold the erroneous belief that it is either them or the elections will not hold. I also plead with the youths not to allow themselves to be used as weapons to truncate the elections, while social media/online handlers should guide against any act that can set the nation on fire before, during and after the polls.

“To the umpire of the election, INEC and security agencies as well as the judiciary, including the media, we urge you all to maintain neutrality and allow the will of God and that of the electorate to prevail,” Akanbi added.

…Every vote will count — Osun REC assures

The INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Osun, Dr Mutiu Agboke on his part has assured that each vote will count in the forthcoming 2023 General Elections.

He said that despite apprehension about security, the Commission is determined to go ahead with the general elections calling on all stakeholders to work for a free, fair and transparent election.

Agboke stated this during a sensitisation visit to the Ogunsua of Modakeke, Oba Joseph Olubiyi Toriola on Wednesday.

The Osun INEC boss also maintained that the Commission has decided to carry along traditional rulers and chiefs in their locality.

According to him, “With the coming election, INEC has decided to include the kings and chiefs. We want the traditional institution to talk to the people and educate them on the election. Majority of the electorates still believe it is business as usual.”

He affirmed, “INEC is assuring that each vote will count. INEC wants all people to come out and vote and they must have their PVCs. With BVAS each vote is assured of being counted.

“All the news about cancellation and postponement of the vote is not an issue. We want all stakeholders to work for a free, fair and transparent election. The uncollected PVCs must be collected as part of requirements for voting.”

Responding, the Ogunsua of Modakeke, Oba Joseph Olubiyi Toriola urged the Commission to ensure its machines are in working order to avoid complaints common among the electorate.

“The town has been talking to its people to ensure the election is peaceful and free from violence,” he concluded.

In a visit to the INEC local government offices in Ife North, Ife South, Ife Central, Ife East and Ife East Area Office, Modakeke, Agboke maintained that the visit is aimed at reminding the staff and members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) that they have more work to do within this period.

He added that between now and February, INEC is going to be busy.

He warned, “Staff who don’t apply the rule will face the music. Staff should stick by the rules. The INEC Chairman will not be happy seeing any staff being liable.

“INEC staff should be organised. INEC is ready because it knows that its staff are ready. We also expect performance and delivery on the INEC mandate.

“We would not tolerate any negative report. With BVAS in place, no staff can assist anybody during the election. You are advised to be in tune with the training and discharge your responsibility on election day.”

…Don’t postpone election – Ortom urges INEC 

Meanwhile,  Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom has called on INEC not to postpone the general elections on claims of insecurity as speculated.

Ortom also appealed to the Commission to consider to extend  deadline for the collection of Permanent Voters Cards, (PVCs) to enable all  registered voters to obtain their cards to participate in the polls.

Ortom bared his mind Wednesday, Wednesday when he paid a courtesy call on the new  Resident Electoral Commissioner, (REC), in the State, Prof. Sam Egwu at the INEC headquarters in Makurdi, the capital of Benue State.

The Governor noted that, the  skepticism that has arisen following a statement, purported to have emanated from INEC about fears of insecurity ahead of the 2023 should be discountenanced.

“Our prayer is that whatever happens, let us go ahead and conduct the elections because Nigerians and Benue State people are eagerly waiting for it. Let us not create a situation where enemies of this country will take advantage,” stressing that, “this elections must be conducted.”

“In my own little way of suggesting and helping INEC and of course the Federal Government, if there are specific areas where insecurity is intense and there are problems, they should work towards shifting the elections not postponing the elections and when the other places are completed, they can go back and complete it and announce results,”  Ortom stated.

The Governor continued, “I understand the leg of collecting Permanent Voters Card, PVCs, at the ward level is terminating on Sunday and then the other ones at the Local Government. I want to appeal if it is possible, because this one is not about politics, it is not about partisanship, it is not about political parties, it is about everybody, but looking at what the result is for today, I want to appeal if that can be extended for one week.

“If it is possible, the Benue State Government will appreciate it so that everybody will have the right to collect his or her PVC. If it can be extended, that will be fine, but if not, we can still manage with the directive of INEC,” Ortom stated.

While congratulating the Resident Electoral Commissioner on his appointment and posting to the State, the Governor said “all that we seek and desire from you is to ensure the rules of your engagement, ensure fair play, ensure equity, ensure justice, ensure fairness for all. Don’t do anything to sympathise or to favour me or any other political party,” he emphasised.

Ortom told the REC that “on behalf of the Government and people of Benue State and our party, the PDP,  I want to welcome you and to wish you the very best and to assure you that for us, we are not going to do anything that will create challenges for you, but to cooperate for we know that power belongs to God.”

The Governor used the opportunity to appeal to Benue people and all the political parties to eschew violence stressing that “violence will not make anyone win any election. Let us be peaceful, INEC which is the umpire agency has given us the guidelines, let us keep to it.”

In his remarks, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Benue State, Prof. Sam Egwu stated that although the collection of PVC at the ward level would end on Sunday, the process would continue at the Local Government level till a few days to the elections.

Prof. Egwu, however, told Governor Ortom that his request for the extension would be forwarded to the Chairman of the Commission, pointing out that it was in the best interest of the Commission to give out all the PVCs.

He commended the Governor for ensuring a level playing field for all political parties in the State, noting that he has not heard any single incident of the opposition being denied the opportunity to reach out to their supporters.

The REC told the Governor that the Commission is working assiduously to ensure that people who have been displaced and were living in Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs camps across the state with their PVCs were allowed to participate in the elections.

The expression of possible postponement or cancellation of the 2023 election had generated wild reactions.

The Chairman, Board of The Electoral Institute (TEI), INEC’s training arm, Prof. Abdullahi Abdu Zuru raised an alarm over possible cancellation or postponement of polls on Monday in Abuja at the validation of election security training resources.

“Moreover, if the insecurity is not monitored and dealt with decisively, it could ultimately culminate in the cancellation and/or postponement of elections,” adding that it could “hinder declaration of elections results and precipitate constitutional crisis.”

“This must not be allowed to happen and shall not be allowed to happen. Therefore, Security Personnel in particular and all election officials in general must be security conscious and alert to unusual activities in their environment and must be fully equipped to deal with any challenge at all times,” he said.

Some members of the House of Representatives had fumed over the development.