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Postponement or Rescheduling of Elections Not on Our Table – Okoye

Okoye
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Barrister Festus Okoye is the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman (Information and Voter Education Committee).

In this interview with AYO ESAN, Okoye speaks about INEC’s preparation for the forthcoming general elections slated for February and March this year, saying INEC is determined to organize free, fair and credible elections for Nigerians to choose their leaders. Excerpts:

People are surprised about the efforts being put in place by the INEC to ensure all registered voters get their PVCs. What is the motivating factor pushing INEC for success?

The Independent National Electoral Commission is a public trust and always strives to retain the trust of the Nigerian people. With every off – cycle or bye-election since the 2019 general election, the Commission continues to improve and enhance its strategic, logistics and operational capability and capacity.

The Commission is working assiduously to convince the Nigerian people that their votes will count in the 2023 general election. The Commission has invested energy, expertise, and resources in planning for the election and Nigerians are looking forward to a robust engagement in the electoral process.

The Commission is of the firm view that Nigerians must engage the electoral process and that it is a futile exercise to register without people collecting their Permanent Voters Cards. By section 471(1) of the Electoral Act, 2022 no individual can vote without a Permanent Voters Card (PVC). The PVC has power and potency and the sovereign right of the people to exercise their democratic franchise resides in the PVC.

The Commission wants to expand access to the polling units. The Commission wants to increase voter participation in the electoral process. The Commission wants to place ownership of the electoral process in the hands of Nigerians. The Commission wants the votes of the people to be the only source of truth on who gets elected.

Is the commission feeling the positive response to its activities since the introduction of BVAS?

The BVAS is the game changer in our electoral process. The BVAS is the democratic arbiter between legal registrants and chronic election riggers and identity thieves. Our elections are getting better, and Nigerians have faith in the process. The large number of Nigerians that registered during the Continuous Voter registration Exercise (CVR) attests to the reengagement of Nigerians with the electoral process. The 2023 general election will be technology driven and the Commission will continue to impute relevant technology in the electoral process.

What are you promising Nigeria electorate with less than 40 days to the presidential election? How hopeful is INEC for a successful election come February/ March this year?

The Commission is not making promises. The remit of the Commission is to organize, undertake and supervise elections. The Commission has been working hard and continues to work hard to deliver free, fair, credible, and inclusive elections. The commission has been coordinating its operations using important planning tools. The Commission developed the 2022 – 2026 Strategic Plan and the 2023 Election Project Plan. The Commission’s 2022 – 2026 SP and SPIP outlined five key strategic objectives that are considered as critical to the delivery of a free, fair, credible and inclusive 2023 general election and other off-cycle elections within the plan period. These include: (i) Revision of the Commission’s Regulations, Guidelines and Manuals in line with the Electoral Act 2022; (ii) Continuous improvement of operational logistics for the conduct of elections; (iii) Addressing human and organizational challenges in the conduct of elections; (iv) Focusing on the need for adequate and timely funding of electoral activities; and (v) Improving internal and external communication and engagement with stakeholders. We want to deliver on our mandate, and we will deliver.

Your advice to other stakeholders, – Security personnel, media, election observers among others as we are rounding up preparation for the election?

The delivery of a good election is a shared responsibility. The framers of the Nigerian Constitution and our laws assigned different roles and functions to different agencies and organs of government to make for smooth elections. Under the law, the Nigerian Police is the lead agency on election security and in carrying out their functions they can co opt other security agencies. The political parties organize primaries, sponsor candidates, and carry out campaigns and rallies. The media and civil society groups are also in the matrix of the electoral process. All the agencies, Commission and organs must work cooperatively to deliver a good election. We, as the election management body, have been meeting with and consulting all these groups and we are confident that working together, we can deliver a good election.

How will you react to continuing attacks on INEC facilities especially in the South East, the last being that of Enugu a few days ago.

The Commission is concerned about the attacks in our facilities. The Commission has recorded over 53 attacks in its facilities in 15 states since the conclusion of the 2019 general election. The Commission has taken proactive steps to ensure and guarantee electoral continuity. The Chairman of the Commission Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has assured the nation that the period assigned for the conduct of the 2023 general election is fixed and firm and the Commission is committed to those days. The issue of postponement or rescheduling of election is not on the table. The security agencies have assured the nation and the Commission that they will secure the nation and elections will hold and hold on schedule.

In spite of assurance from the commission that the election will still hold despite the attacks on the facilities, many Nigerians are skeptical. Do you share their skepticism?

Nigerians have come to see democracy as a way of life and want continuity in our democratic process. Nigerians have seen a steady improvement in our electoral process and the conduct of elections and do not want anything to disrupt the flow, the growth and sustenance of our democracy. Nigerians are therefore entitled to look forward to a good election and be concerned if there are signs of any potential disruption of the process. We assure the nation that elections will take place on the 25th of February 2023 and 11th of March 2023. The Commission has taken delivery of the full complement of the BVAS for the conduct of the election. Non-sensitive materials are daily moving to locations and training is ongoing. We are confident that we will get things right.

As a lawyer, what is the position of the law in case INEC found it difficult to conduct the elections on appointed dates?

The Commission is not in the business of pessimism. We have gone far with preparations for the conduct of elections. The Commission will not give room for doubt or anxiety. Section 132 and 178 of the Constitution have circumscribed the period for the conduct of elections in Nigeria. Sections 134 and 179 of the same Constitution have also delineated the periods for the conduct of a second election if no winner emerges on the first ballot. These periods are constitutionally and legally circumscribed and the Commission will not tamper with these periods.