TNC: The Supreme Court has decided to review the case of Imo state. The result from the 388 polling units which Senator Uzodimma claimed were excluded was admitted in evidence and tilted the outcome of the election to his favour. INEC however, still stand by its position that it was not aware of those results from the 388 polling units. Nigerians are actually concerned whether the results were rejected, excluded or cancelled. Also, what implication does this have on the credibility of INEC as an electoral umpire?
FO- The constitution enjoins us as a public institution to give effect to the orders of superior courts of reckoning. It is immaterial whether we agree with the judgement of a Court of law or whether we know something that the court does not know. In Imo state, the Supreme Court went ahead and made its own declaration and asked the Commission to issue a Certificate of Return to Hope Uzodimma. In the case of Bayelsa, the Supreme Court gave us a specific mandate; firstly, to determine the person who scored the highest number of votes and secondly, to determine the person who has constitutional or geographical spread and that was exactly what we did. Now, in relation to the 388 polling units; for me, it is an academic exercise now. What the Commission does is that if for any reason we are unable to deploy to a particular polling unit because of violence, the Presiding Officer is required to fill what we call form EC40G which is an incident form describing the incident that led to the non-deployment. For example, if for any reason a community resists the use of a smart card reader, we fill form EC40G. The implication is that a particular polling unit would be given 0 votes. If for any reason, there is disruption of the process at the polling unit, we fill form EC40G. We also fill form EC40G if we are unable to deploy on account of our own fault or we want to deploy but there is organized violence or we deploy and the community resisted the use of smart card reader. The implication is that in those places, you will not see form EC8A which is the polling unit result. Because of what has happened, we believe and we know that in those places, we did not conduct elections or elections were disrupted in those 388 polling units; invariably, if we conducted elections, we will definitely have the form EC8A. If elections are not conducted, what we would have the form EC40G which is an incident report filled by a Presiding Officer. If for any reason, the Presiding Officer is nowhere to be found and he was never seen at the ward collation centre, there is no way you are going to have form EC8A. So, that is exactly what has happened. Based on that and going forward, what the Commission has decided is that one, we are going to have additional security features in our form EC8A; which is the polling unit result form. Secondly, we are going to make sure that if for any reason elections failed to take place in a particular polling unit, form EC8A must still be filled and form EC40G which is an incident report would be attached to it, so that we can account for each polling unit. But where the Commission stands now is that the Supreme Court as the final Court of the land has decided that a different person other than the person that was declared as the winner by the Commission, should be sworn in and we complied as a law abiding institution by issuing a certificate of return to whoever the Commission said we should issue a certificate of return to.
TNC: In Bayelsa, APC called for fresh elections after the Supreme Court judgment claiming that Senator Duoye Diri did not meet the mandatory requirement. Is there any loophole in the system, considering that INEC should know more about the eligibility of the candidates?
FO- There is no loophole in the Law! Section 31, Subsection 1 of the Electoral Act makes it clear that it is the function of a political party to submit the list of candidates it proposes to sponsor in any election. Secondly, Section 31, Subsection 3 mandates the Commission to within seven days of the submission of the personal particulars of the candidate; to publish those personal particulars in the constituency where the candidate intends to contest an election. In other words, when the candidate fills the form, there is an affidavit attached to it by the candidate saying that he or she has complied with all the constitutional requirements. Also, Subsection 5 of Section 31 says: any person whatsoever, who has reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by a candidate in the affidavit, or any document submitted by that candidate is false, may file a suit at the Federal High Court, High Court of a State or High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, against such a person seeking a declaration that information contained in the affidavit is false. Then Sub-section 6 of Section 31 says: if the court determines that any of the information contained in the affidavit or any document submitted by the candidate is false, the court shall issue an order disqualifying the candidate from contesting election. So the power is given to outsiders, political parties and to individuals to make this determination and not the Commission. Our role as a Commission is to receive the personal particulars of those candidates and not to scrutinize the personal particulars of those candidates. So, that was exactly what the PDP did. The PDP went to court saying that, the candidate of the APC submitted false information in his personal particulars and then on the 12 November, 2019, the Federal High Court in Yenogoa gave an order disqualifying the candidate of the APC from contesting the governorship election of November 16, 2019, on grounds that he submitted false information. A few days later, the APC went to the Court of Appeal and got a stay of that particular order. It was that stay that enabled them to contest the election. The Court of Appeal later set aside the Order of the Federal High Court. The PDP then appealed to the Supreme Court saying, the Court of Appeal was wrong. The Supreme Court delivered judgement saying the candidature of the deputy governorship candidate of the APC was vitiated by his non- qualification and that he shouldn’t have been on the ballot in the first place because both of them who have a joint candidature were not qualified to contest elections in the first place and went ahead to restore the order of the Federal High Court that was given before the election. And if you look at Section 187 subsection 1 of the constitution, it says that; In any election to which the foregoing provision of this chapter relates, a candidate for the office of governor, of a state shall not be deemed to be validly nominated for such office unless he nominates another candidate as his associate for his running for the office of the governor, who is to occupy the office of the deputy governor, and that candidate shall be deemed to have been duly elected to the office of the deputy governor if the candidate who nominated him is duly elected as governor in accordance with the said provisions. It went further to say in Sub-section 2 of 187 that: The provisions of this part of this chapter relating to qualification for election, tenure of office, disqualifications, declaration of assets and liabilities and oath of governor, shall apply in relation to the office of the deputy governor as if reference to the governor were reference to the deputy governor. So they run a joint candidature. What happens to one happens to the other. But after elections, if the deputy governor is not there, the governor would be there. If the governor is not there, the deputy governor would move in.
TNC: Still on the issue of Bayelsa and a bit of Kogi; violence was anticipated in the Kogi and Bayelsa elections, but then INEC gave the excuse that it was not in charge of security. Do you think that was a reasonable alibi? Don’t you think that conducting violence-free elections should be one of the metrics for judging INEC’s success?
FO: The conduct of a free, fair and transparent election is a multi-stakeholder venture. It is a shared responsibility. The political parties have their role to play, the security agencies have their role to play, the Commission has its own role to play and the voters have their own role to play too. So, it was on this basis that we established what we call The Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security; made up of the police, Civil Defence, DSS, Immigration, Customs, Road Safety and so on; so that they can complement each other in terms of deployment. So, in relation to the spate of electoral violence that rocked some places during this period, I think that while the Commission will not shy away from taking responsibility in deserving matters, the Commission will also not take responsibility for the provision of security and for the maintenance of law and order to enable free, fair and transparent elections. We deployed over a million ad-hoc staff made up of students from federal tertiary institutions, corps members, lecturers from tertiary institutions; some of them had to cross seas inorder to go and conduct elections on behalf of the Commission. So what we are trying to do is to design a metrics that will enable security agencies to carry out their constitutional responsibilities so that we can conduct good elections. And I am telling you, when we go to our super racks, from where we deploy to the polling units, if the police do not provide security in the super racks, we don’t deploy. If we deploy and the elections are over, it is the security agencies that would provide security at the collation centres.
TNC: The idea of E-voting was muted long ago in Nigeria, how feasible is the idea in the foreseeable political future of the country?
FO: We are not ruling out any option. Technology has become part of our electoral process. What the Commission is doing is to improve on the use of technology for elections. Our responsibility is to find the formula for the conduct of elections, if that formula is in consonance with the law. If the National Assembly amends the law and says that the Commission should transmit results from the polling units and also engage in electronic collation of results, definitely we would not have any choice than to do that. But our own initiative and preference is that the National Assembly should leave the issue of the type of technology to be used in elections, very flexible. The Commission, based on its own processes and procedures, and based on what it knows of and the technology in the market, can introduce the technology that suits our environment, the literacy level in Nigeria and the technology that would not lead to the breakdown of law and order. So we are saying, we want technology in our electoral process but leave the determination of the technology to use to us, so that we would make a determination on the type of technology we want to use because, if you write-in the use of the smart card reader into law, I can assure you that in the next few years, the smart card reader will become an obsolete technology. This Commission is very creative, innovative and forward-looking. We have been piloting on different aspects of technology, waiting for the law to be amended and we are going to tell the National Assembly, when they begin proposals for the amendment of the Electoral Act, where we are in terms of our pilots; but you know Nigeria is slightly a very difficult country. The moment you begin to pilot one thing or the other, there is so much suspicion surrounding it but I believe that it is because of lack of trust in the system. But we are going to be more open, more transparent and more accountable so that Nigerians can trust us and give us that leeway to introduce relevant technology in our electoral process that will be to the benefit of everybody.
TNC: INEC has instructed candidates in the on-going recruitment to check their emails for instructions on how to complete the process, but several applicants out there complain of not receiving any mail. Already, people are beginning to view the entire process with suspicion. What is your take on that and what assurance can you give Nigerians that the recruitment process will be transparent and not end up like those of the past?
FO: As at today, over 700,000 persons have applied. When the portal was opened, there were initially a few glitches. Because of the heavy traffic coming in, yahoo thought those were scam mails coming in and decided to block the applicants with yahoo email addresses. But the ICT department has been able to resolve this. So those people using yahoo mail have started getting their mails and have proceeded with their registration. It is going to run up to the end of this week ( February 29), because we are obligated to run it for three weeks. The Commission is transparent and that was why we published in two national newspapers that we are the ones recruiting. Some federal government establishments, when they are recruiting, will just say a federal government agency is recruiting. A few persons who experienced glitches have called and we asked them to exercise patience. But people who use G-mails didn’t encounter any problem. I don’t see any challenge but if any one has any challenge, the ICT department will definitely deal with it and if towards the close of the process we feel some persons who ordinarily will want to apply, could not apply, we will have no option but to extend the deadline.
TNC: On the forthcoming Edo and Ondo elections, how prepared is the commission?
FO: Edo election will be in September while Ondo will be in October. We have experience in conducting elections and we have done some retreats and done post-mortems on some of the challenges with the last elections such as what happened in Imo and Bayelsa states. We are looking at re-jigging some of our processes to make sure that we don’t experience such challenges anymore