By Emmanuel Oloniruha
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has uncovered plans by some political actors to use food vendors around polling units for vote-buying in the forthcoming general elections.
The Chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, disclosed this when he received a delegation European Union (EU) Observation Team, led by Chief Observer, Mrs Maria Arena, on a visit to INEC on Monday, in Abuja.
Yakubu said that in INEC’s determination to improve elections and ensure that votes counted, the commission had taken steps to address the disturbing trend of vote-buying by politicians.
He said that the steps included modification of the administration of polling units to make it difficult for voters to expose their marked ballot papers on day of election.
He said that the commission had also introduced partial ban on the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices by voters while in the voting cubicles.
“We are also introducing the rolling and flattening of ballot papers by voters on day of election.
“We are training our election duty staff, in addition to voter education and sensitization, on this new innovation. We will leave no stone unturned in ensuring the sanctity of the ballot.’’
The chairman explained that political actors planned to use food vendors “around polling units with large voter populations as collection points for cash-for-votes as well as other forms of material inducement to voters on election day’’.
“We are aware of this trick. It will not work,” he, however, said.
Yakubu also denied the claim that INEC had outsourced the recruitment of election duty staff to partisan actors.
He said that the Commission had established clear criteria for recruiting its ad hoc staff and Collation and Returning Officers, which, according to him, has been the practice over several electoral cycles.
“In addition, there is a clearly established system of vetting all election duty staff before they are engaged.
“Therefore, the claim that the Commission has outsourced the recruitment of election duty staff to partisan actors is the usual allegation on the eve of elections and should be disregarded.
“With 25 days to the 2019 General Elections, the Commission’s attention is firmly focused on the conduct of credible elections. We will not be distracted into a fatuous debate.’’
Yakubu stated that complaints arising from the collection of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) were being addressed.
“We are committed to ensuring that all voter cards are made available for collection by registered voters who should collect the cards in person.
“There will be no collection by proxy.”
He said that the commission had enhanced the functionality of the Smart Card Reader that would be used for the elections.
“Clause 10 of the Regulations and Guidelines recently released by the Commission make the use of Card Readers mandatory. It is an offence to accredit a voter by any other means.”
Yakubu described the EU as one of the long-standing partners of INEC in deepening Nigeria’s electoral democracy, through the EU-Support for Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN).
“We have implemented all the recommendations made by the EU Mission in 2015 that are within the powers of the Commission to do.
“These include simultaneous accreditation and voting system which we introduced on Jan. 9, 2016 and used it to seamlessly conduct off-season elections into 194 constituencies.
“We have similarly introduced the continuous registration of voters. Over a period of 16 months, from April 27, 2017 to Aug. 3, 2018, over 14 million new voters were registered,” he said.
He assured the EU that INEC preparation for the 2019 general election was on course.
Earlier, the leader of the delegation, Arena, had said that EU would deploy 40 observers to all states of the federation during the elections.
Arena added that the EU would also have its Parliamentary observation mission on ground during the exercise.
“We will issue two preliminary reports after the elections. We will work strongly with all the stakeholders of this country.
“We will also have the final reports two months after the elections, with recommendations.
“We really appreciate the work that INEC has done with the previous recommendations after the 2015 elections,” Arena said.
Yakubu also received a delegation of the ECOWAS Observers Mission led by former Chairperson of Electoral Commission, Ghana, Ms Charlotte Osei.
Osei said that the mission was to let INEC know that ECOWAS would be deploying long-term and short-term observer missions for the elections.
She added that the mission would focus on legal, media, operations, gender and disabilities during the elections. (NAN)