Thirty days to the Presidential and National Assembly elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has vowed that the time table will not be changed, saying that the issue of postponement or rescheduling the election is not on the table.
Speaking on Thursday in Abuja at the 20th Daily Trust Dialogue with the theme, ” Interrogating the 2023 Presidential Agenda”, Commissioner for Information and Voter Education of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Festus Okoye said that as the Electoral umpire, it has the competence and the courage to go on with this election, just as he vowed that commission would going to go ahead with the election.
Okoye who urged all the other sectors especially the political parties that are complementary in the conduct of elections to also go and get ready because as a Commission, it will not postpone the election, adding that it has fixed the Presidential and National Assembly elections for the 25th of February, and governorship and State Assembly elections for the 11th day of March.
According to him, these dates are fixed and firm as INEC is going to go ahead with the conduct of the elections and if there was any sector of the Nigerian society that is not yet prepared, that sector should go and get ready against the backdrop that the Commission was going to proceed with the election.
Okoye said, “It’s also important for Nigerians to have clarity in relation to the issues of governance and also in relation to the type of Nigeria we want to build. So, it is only by interrogating the agenda of the presidential candidates, only by interrogating where we are where we intend to be that we can build a nation that everybody will be proud of
“This Commission is actually ready for the election. On the 26th of February 2022, we released the timetable and schedule of activities for the conduct of this election and in that particular schedule, we listed 14 critical items that must be accomplished before the election. Of those 14, we have already accomplished 11 and as today, over 70% of the most sensitive materials required for the conduct of these elections have already been delivered to site.
“Secondly, we are going to deploy the beavers to the 176,846 polling units. We have already tested the BVAs for these particular polling units. We’re also going to have redundancies in the 1809 registration areas electoral wards, all those ones are already in place. We are also going to deploy the BVAs to the 774 local government areas of Nigeria also as redundancies. We have already deployed, trainings are already ongoing, because we have already harvested the names and the list and particulars of all those who are going to serve as ad hoc staff, both as presiding officers assistant presiding officers, supervisory presiding officers, all that categories of staff training is already ongoing.
“So, in terms of this commission, in terms of our own preparations, we are getting ready. Some of our sensitive election materials like result sheets and ballot papers, some of them have already been printed and delivered to the Central Bank so, for us, we have prepared and we are preparing well.
“Now, you also realise that this Commission when we are preparing for the main election, when we are preparing for the Presidential election, we are also preparing for what we call possible second election or a possible presidential runoff. We also read it for that one.
“So, for us, the only sore point in this entire conversation now revolves around the issue of security and we have what we call the inter agency Consultative Committee on election security at the national level made up of all the heads of the security agencies. At the state level, we also have the same thing. At the local government level, we have the same thing and the security agencies have assured us and reassured us that they have the capacity and the competence and wherewithal to secure the electoral environment to make it possible for this election to go on.
” I want to tell you, I supervised the Anambra governorship election and even before we went to that election, even the major candidates in that election believed that the elections would not take place. But the commission assured Nigerians that we are going to conduct the election in Anambra and we went into Anambra State and conducted a very good election and Nigerians had judged it as one of the best elections ever conducted in this country.
“So, even as a Commission, we have capacity, we have competence and we have experience in conducting elections under very extreme and difficult circumstances and this one will not be an exception.
“This election, we have fixed Presidential and National Assembly elections for the 25th of February, and governorship and State Assembly elections for the 11th day of March. Those dates are fixed and firm and we are going to go ahead with the conduct of the elections. So, if there’s any sector of the Nigerian society that is not yet ready, that sector should go and get ready because this commission is going to proceed with the election.
“We take the safety of the ad hoc staff we deployed for the conduct of elections seriously, this is because some of them will also be deployed to very dangerous terrain. Some of them are going to go to the riverine areas where you have to be on the high seas for two or three hours. We have a pact with the various Naval commands who are going to provide security for them on the high seas.
“Secondly, we have an insurance package for all the corp members and all the ad hoc staff that we are going to deploy. We are going to do comprehensive insurance for them and we at presently at the various state commands or the various divisional police commands, they are already assigned in the various security agencies and that we will provide security to corp members and also provide security to all the places where we are going to deploy the corps members.
“And as you know, the Nigerian police is the lead agency in terms of election security, but they don’t have the full complement of personnel that can move around the whole country, supervise elections in the whole country and also protect all the categories of staff and the voters. So, they are also drawing from the complement of the other security agencies. So, we are confident that this election will go on well, there are security challenges, all right. There is no nation in the world that does not have security challenges. What we are talking about now is the magnitude of the challenges we have and also the colour and complexion of the security challenges in the different parts of the country.
“But, I want to assure you that Nigerians want this election. Nigerians are looking forward to this election and the conduct of a good election is a shared responsibility is a multi stakeholder venture. All Nigerians must be convinced that we must hold this election because the consequences of not holding this election can be very, very grave. It can throw the country into a constitutional crisis from which we may not recover. So, why not we want to be bound together as a people and as a nation and convince ourselves that we have the capacity.
“We have the competence and we have the courage to go on with this election. This commission is going to go ahead with this election. All the other sectors that are complementary in the conduct of elections should also go and get ready because we are not going to postpone this election.
“In fact, the issue of postponement, the issue of rescheduling of this election is not on the table and we’re not going to put it on the table.”
In his opening remarks, the Chairman of the occasion, His Eminence, Emeritus Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyeka who noted that the 2023 agenda should be the one that would change the minds of Nigeria, said that one of the problems with Nigeria is that we are very nice people doing very terrible things.
Onaiyekan said, “One of the problems with Nigeria is that we are very nice people doing very terrible things. Some people are good, they will tell you I have never stolen a kobo but will steal billions without winking an eye.
“We must find a way to bridge that gap between what we say they are and what they say they really are. This is where religion should come in, if religion does not do its task, of making people good, it is useless.
“Religion is not about making noise, shouting in the church and mosques, is about changing peoples hearts. Without that it is waste of time.
“On 2023 agenda, he said ‘’The agenda is to change our minds.”
In her remarks on the need for free, fair and credible election, Former Chairman, First Bank of Nigeria, Ibunkun Awosika said, “It is the responsibility of every government in power to ensure that at this moment, the country is in a state in which we can actually have an election, and at the end, we will. And Nigeria will not burn, Nigeria will not be consumed, no matter how much people try to scare us. Because instead of giving the hope and encouragement to the people, whether you are in power or not, the interest of all of us is that the election holds and Nigeria wax.
“And then, whether you are the government in power or not, you should be working with those in power so that anyways, we are ensured that we have a free and fair election and that every area of Nigeria works to the best that we can, within the context of where we are right now.”
On his part, the Senator who represented Kaduna Central in the 8th Upper Chamber, Senator Shehu Sani urged Nigerians, Nigeria to vote for good Leadership and not Structure in next month’s election as what thsle nation requires at the moment is a leader that can embrace all part of the country as we do not want one section of the country to dominate others.
According to him, Nigeria needs a knowledgeable leader who can unite the country using the resources of the country to address the numerous problems of the country, who will give a sense of direction to this country, adding, ‘‘Nigeria political space this time supposed to be dominated by political issues because it is toxic, many people are going to the poll without understanding what the candidates stand for, what they stand for in aviation, health, tourism , education. It is all about mudslinging, throwing jabs at each other.
‘’We need a platform like this to shape the thinking of Nigerians because there is a buffe of candidates. We need a leader that can embrace all part of the country, we don’t want one section of the country to dominate the others.
‘’We need to tell ourselves the truth, we need a leader that will unite this country, can address the problem of terrorism in Nigeria, that has the knowledge and intellect that will address our problems in Nigeria.
‘’Look at the value of naira has degenerated to all time low in the history of Nigeria, we have a high debt profile of N77 trillion and the nation has not been more divided than we have it today. So, any person who will come to take over the leadership of the country must be someone who has the knowledge to address these problems.
‘’Again, Nigerians should vote their conscience and they should know that any tragic mistake they make this time around is another life time tragedy for Nigeria.’’
On the qualities that is needed in the incoming President, he said, ‘‘It is not about office you held before but about competence, we should vote as Nigerians and let this election be peaceful and fair and those who lost will know that they lost a credible election.’’
On whether Nigerian problems lies in structure and constitution, Senator Sani said, ‘‘We are such a country where we have tried a parliamentary system and it failed, and whatever structure that is reconfigured for Nigeria is working in other countries. If it is monarchical, it is working in Saudi Arabia, if it is Parliamentary it is working in Australia, if it is Presidential, it is working in US, I think we have to tell ourselves the truth, we are goon in drafting good policies as a nation, but the implementation is the problem.
‘’It is tough to give LGA autonomy, it is tough to give judiciary autonomy, it is also tough to give the States Houses of Assembly autonomy. So, if we have that kind of situation, it will be difficult to restructure and even amend the constitution. The constitution had been amended several times and it has not changed anything.’’
On his stand on State Police, he said, ‘‘With state police there could be no problem, but a situation where some state Governors disallow political opponents to raise billboards, campaign in states without being prosecuted, I wonder what will happen if these kind of governors are in control of State police. Though, we can’t continue like this but what we want are institutions that will not be abused.’’
Also speaking, the National Director of Publicity and Advocacy of the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, Dr Hakeem Baba- Ahmed who noted that we cannot have a credible election in a chaotic and angry environment, especially with serious cases of insecurity, scandals around the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, the stress around the exchanges of money, fuel scarcity, among others which are very serious threats to the election, said, “Looking at what the candidates say they will do, what the dialogue has established is that they have basically said they will do the same thing. So, that’s already settled. What would they do after one of them gets power? That concerns us. Not what they say they will do, what will they do? But right now, as we speak, that is not even the issue. The challenge now is for Nigerians to raise their voices, there must be an election on the 28th of February and on the 5th, there must under any condition, Nigerians should not and will not accept any arrangement that is outside the constitution.
” It doesn’t matter what the cause is. There are people with responsibility for President Buhari’s governance and Security and in the military, they must improve the security environment in such a manner and they must relieve the public of some of the stresses that they are living under that are likely to provoke them. These are essential.
“You cannot have a credible election in a chaotic and angry environment. The government can improve this. It cannot just sit back and watch these problems accumulate in such a manner that they threaten the conduct of elections, this is not acceptable. And we will not, I repeat all Nigerians will not accept leave under any leadership unless it is democratically elected a free and fair election in February and March.
“We are seeing many things and insecurity is one of them. We can’t understand how you can have all these problems coming; the scandals around the CBN, the stresses around the exchanges of money, to fuel scarcity, the cost of living how on earth can a government allow close to an election, this very, very difficult situation that you’re placing the country under and we don’t see any effort to relieve them rather than the indifference of the government that is just simply to compound it. These are very serious threats to the elections.”
Earlier in his welcome address, the Chairman, Board of Directors, Media Trust Group, Malam Kabiru Yusuf said that if Nigerian citizens could ignore the provocations from the existential threats such as terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and other forms of attacks, Nigeria would be the ultimate winner at the polls.
Yusuf said, ‘‘This year’s Dialogue is extra special, five weeks from the 2023 general elections. It gives opportunity for some crystal gazing, for which I will seize a quick chance, before our panel of experts.
‘‘We going to have peaceful and credible elections? There are sober voices, warning, of flashing red lights ahead. The government and its security agencies must be aware, that in hundreds of towns and villages across the North West and North East of the country, banditry and kidnappings have made normal life impossible. It remains to be seen if people faced with such existential threats, can patiently queue to do their civic duty.
‘’In the South East, violent agitation by IPOB, mostly directed against Police and INEC facilities and personnel, might put off whole communities from voting. This deliberate disenfranchisement will feed into the separatist agenda and become self-fulfilling prophecy.
‘‘When you add this to the online and offline political vitriol, the dirty tricks campaign and the dirtier money making the rounds, it is hard to envisage an uncontested electoral outcome. But| know what Jibo will say; we must all grit our teeth and do our duty.
‘‘Indeed, if we the citizens ignore the provocations, Nigeria could be the ultimate winner at the polls. It is in our collective interest to give tnis poor, yet rich country, another chance, to rise from the ashes.
‘‘The Dialogue, is the Daily Trust’s own contribution to this effort. We are gratified to have a man, who personifies peace, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, to chair today’s Occasion,’’