Stakeholders in Oyo, Ogun, Kwara score INEC high on preparations for General Election

Independent National Electoral Commission

AS the general elections draw closer, stakeholders have expressed optimism over the commitment and preparations of Nigerians, the electoral body and political parties, not leaving out security agencies.

The respondents, who spoke individually with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Ibadan, Abeokuta and Ilorin on Thursday, particularly rated high the preparations of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), saying such was unprecedented.

A security scholar at the University of Ibadan (UI), Prof. Oyesoji Aremu, said INEC must be commended for showing signs of readiness to conduct the general election.

According to him, INEC has more than ever before, done much more in terms of logistics and preparations.

“Even the recently signed Electoral Bill is an indication that INEC is really preparing for this assignment. Also, INEC has also deployed more technology into the electoral processes.

“Although, one cannot say it is 100 per cent perfect, talking about the nature of man and even technology, which could fail in a way. Nevertheless, the commission is ready for hitch-free polls,” Aremu said.

Speaking on the recent upsurge in crime and criminal activities in the country, Aremu said:” it shows that we were back to what we used to have although there was a lull in criminal activities during the festive period.
“This is worrisome and people have to be very careful. In the Eastern part of the country, we are having INEC offices being burnt, but notwithstanding, what we need to do is to be proactive about things and this is where security agencies should come in and partner with INEC for us to have hitch-free elections that criminal activities will not mar.”

The security scholar, however, said the law enforcement agencies in the country were equal to the task.

“I think what they need is to be more proactive and sensitive. They should liaise more; I am talking about deploying intelligence and coordinated intelligence – a simultaneous proactive measures to tackle bandits and criminal activities, foiling their plans to mar the elections.

“This is, especially, in the northern part of the country where insurgents have taken over some local government areas. In such areas, people may not be able to cast their votes; even INEC officials may not be able to go to such places for electoral assignments.

“In such areas, we may have some problems. So, there may not be elections happening in all local government areas in Nigeria.

“Yes, Nigerians are ready for the elections. They are eager to have new sets of leadership in the country; especially the youths are ready; they are shouting about it.

“But much more than this, Nigerians should be very careful and watch out by asking salient questions as, ‘Who should rule and who will rule?’

“The politicians are also ready; they know how to go about it,” he said.

Also, Prof. Idowu Olayinka, a former Vice-Chancellor (VC), University of Ibadan, said there was ample evidence to suggest that INEC had put in place adequate preparations to ensure credible, free, fair and transparent elections.

“There has been a progressive improvement in the various measures put in place, in so far as election is more of a process rather than a single event.

“From the days of smart cards and incident forms to BVAS, technology is being mainstreamed into the national elections, and this is highly commendable.

“The National Assembly has done very well in producing the 2022 Electoral Law and this piece of legislation should help in ensuring credible elections in February and March,” Olayinka said.

Olayinka said the upsurge in crime, especially attacks on INEC facilities, was a most unfortunate development, but perhaps not new.

He said most of the major elections since 1999 had been preceded by such incidents.

“One can only hope that INEC will pull through, eventually, in spite of the hiccups,” he said.

The former VC, commending law enforcement agencies, said they had proven to be highly professional in the past.

“One has no doubt that they will again distinguish themselves in the forthcoming elections.

“The Federal Government (FG) should, however, provide necessary logistical support to them, given the vastness of the land mass of this country and access difficulties in riverine areas and the areas where there are security challenges with insurgents, bandits, and so on,” Olayinka said.

According to him, Nigerians are ready for the elections as we celebrate 24 years of uninterrupted democracy, with the people ready to exercise their franchise.

On the readiness of the politicians, he said they were ready for the forthcoming elections from what one could observe as an outsider.

“It would be to the credit of President Muhammadu Buhari to conduct a free and fair election as a major legacy project of his eight-year rule,” he said.

Also, Mr Sola Famakinwa, a political enthusiast, said INEC had shown enough drive to conduct the elections without fear or favour.

“According to INEC, it has all the resources like funds, manpower, equipment, materials and security. Furthermore, it recently stated that most of the voters have collected their PVCs and are ready to vote,” he said.

According to Famakinwa, the politicians have also shown their readiness for the elections.

“They have started their campaigns and rallies, travelling all over Nigeria to canvas people to vote for their political parties. I believe that they are ready for the elections,” he said.

Meanwhile, a legal practitioner, Mr Tobi Fatoki, said as independent as INEC could be, it still needed the support of the populace, individuals, relevant stakeholders and government to perform its duties effectively.

Fatoki urged state governments to work in synergy with stakeholders, including security agencies, to ensure free, fair and peaceful elections.

“Governments at all levels, especially the presidency, should ensure that elections are held at slated dates without being truncated.

“Security agents should be designated to polling units even before election dates; security should be tight at polling units from now, and not only on election dates,” he said.

On its part, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Oyo State Command, says it has mapped out strategies of policing before, during and after the general elections.

The NSCDC Commandant in Oyo State, Micheal Adaralewa, said that the corps would soon commence the training of personnel to participant in the 2023 general elections.

Adaralewa said the success of the general elections was one of the priorities of the command and it would leave no stone unturned untill the aim was achieved.

He said the command was prepared for the elections and assured Nigerians of the committement of his officers to uphold the fundamental human rights of Nigerians before, during and after the polls.

The security boss further assured of adequate protection of INEC’s facilities, personnel and electoral materials.

He enjoined residents to join hands with security agencies in the state, through the provision of timely information that would help in protecting them better.

Also, the Commissioner of Police (CP) in Oyo State, Adebowale Williams, said that sustained efforts to comprehensively secure INEC and other critical infrastructure across the state had been put in place.

“As we navigate toward the shores of the 2023 general elections and beyond, the Oyo State Police Command, once again, appeals to political stakeholders and their loyalists to be guided by INEC’s guidelines on election procedures and other relevant laws of the land and shun actions inimical to the peaceful atmosphere, being enjoyed by residents in Oyo State,” he said.

Adebowale said that political parties and their candidates in the state had since pledged to abide by all INEC’s guidelines, especially the 2023 Electoral Act, in order to maintain the peace of the state.

From the angle of a politician, Alhaji Kehinde Olaosebikan, a former local government chairman and APC chieftain in Oyo state, described INEC as prepared for the elections with daily assurances from its chairman.

Olaosebikan, who is also the Chairman, Media and Publicity Committee of APC Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) in Oyo State, expressed optimism that the recent upsurge in crime, especially attacks on INEC facilities, would not affect the elections.

“The upsurge preceding this particular general elections is not unprecedented; as there has always been tensions before elections.

“The late Sikiru Ayinde Barrister raised an alarm over what he referred to as “impending doom” (dugbe dugbe to n mi loke) in 1979 and same in 1983; yet, the elections took place. It has always been like that.

“The pockets of attacks should not, in anyway, affect the conduct of the elections. I am certain that the Nigerian security system is capable and all the agencies and the military have assured us of their capabilities and readiness,” he said.

According to Olaosebikan, the military know what to do, particularly in the South-East where there has been concentration of attacks, adding that law enforcement agencies in the country are equal to the task.

He said he believed in Buhari, who had repeatedly guaranteed Nigerians as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

“I also believe that Nigerians and politicians are ready for the elections, as they have started counting days.

“The candidates are already getting wearied and exhausted; they are eager to have it.

“The period between the emergence of candidates and dates for elections is too wide. The next review on the Electoral Act must address the long gap,” he said.

Meanwhile, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Oyo State, Dr Adeniran Tella, says the commission is fully prepared to conduct transparent and credible general elections.

“Preparations started since the conclusion of the 2019 general elections with conversion of Voting Points to Polling Units, having a total number of 6,380 polling units in the state.

“The essence is for voters to have easy access to polling units on election days.

“Unfortunately, some are not fully populated as expected with the threshold number of 750 per polling unit.

“That was why we embarked on stakeholders’ meeting at the three senatorial districts of Oyo State.

“The commission will have to migrate some voters to the less-populated polling units, as it has power to do that under the new Electoral Act 2022.

“It is expected that the display of register will allow those moved from one polling unit to another to be aware and should be able to identify the same easily on election day,” he said.

The REC also confirmed that the training of staff had been ongoing and that very soon, the training of ad-hoc staff ahead of the polls will commence.

On issues surrounding the collection of PVCs, he noted that the number of uncollected cards presently is 947, 462,

“”Guidelines for collection of voter cards were published from Dec. 12, 2022. Presently, we are at the 351 RA/Ward Collation Centres from Jan.6 to end on Jan. 22, before reverting to 33 INEC LGAs from Jan. 23 to Jan. 29, respectively from 9.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. daily, including Saturdays and Sundays,” he said.

On security, the REC said INEC had been meeting periodically with members of security agencies in the state to look at flash areas ahead of the polls.

“Security personnel have been adequately deployed to both the state and the 33 INEC LGAs in the state.

“They have assured us of absolute protection of both staff and property,” he said.

The electoral boss said that engagement had been an ongoing one.

“We have had series of collaboration meetings and seminars ahead of the general elections in the state, especially with the key stakeholders in the electioneering process.

“We had a Peace Accord meeting with all the 18 political parties/candidates in collaboration with the police just of recent.

“At the meeting, all promised to give peace a chance in the coming elections, as no election is to be seen as a ‘do-or-die’ affair.” Tella explained.

He also said that the commission had received both sensitive and non-sensitive materials, just as more were still being awaited.

“The commission is planning to embark on a Voting Mock Exercise in two of each of the three denatorial districts in the state.

“The essence is to sensitise eligible voters on the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) technology on the election days,” he said.

In Ogun, Mr Akindele Johnson, a political scientist, said he had observed a marked improvement in INEC’s preparations and commitment toward the elections compared to the preceeding polls.

Johnson commended the commission for the 2022 Electoral Act, which was signed to law early enough to enable stakeholders to fully acquaint themselves with the changes in their responsibilities and functions.

He noted that the Act also addressed some of the challenges faced during the previous general elections.

“The introduction and deployment of additional election technologies like the BVAS and the INEC Results Viewing (IReV) portal at by-elections, showed that INEC is really committed to conducting free and fair elections,” he said.

Commenting, Mr Sina Adefolahan, the South-West Coordinator of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), said the group had closely monitored the electoral processes, particularly, within the region.

“This time around, we are witnessing a much more rapid improvement in the build-up to the polls, compared to the previous elections we have had in Nigeria.

“Judging by the way INEC had tidied up and cleaned up the records, particularly, the voter register as well as other logistics, we are convinced that we are getting it right,” he said.

According to him, there has been a growing confidence among the voting public in INEC’s commitment toward the polls, adding that the situation has generated much public interest and enthusiasm in the electoral process.

Adefolahan, however, expressed concern over repeated cases of attacks on the commission’s facilities in parts of the country in recent times.

He, therefore, called for improved security around the facilities to check the development.

Also, Mr Emmanuel Bankole, the Chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Ogun, condemned the rising rate of attack on INEC’s facilities across the nation.

Bankole, however, opined that the attacks were not significant enough to derail the 2023 general elections.

“We believe in the assurances that the security agencies had given to us and we are aware that they are on top of the situation.

“We all must, however, own the process and assist INEC and the security agencies by providing useful information concerning suspicious moves around such facilities,” he said.

According to him, the level of voter apathy witnessed in the previous elections is expected to reduce drastically with the politicians on the field canvassing for votes and the electorate eager and determined to perform their civic duties.

“We have continued to monitor different political rallies, town hall meetings and the electoral process in general.

“We can say that arrangements are in top gear for a credible general elections,” he said.

In his view, Mr Jamiu Folarin, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Crescent University, Abeokuta, said that the recent attacks on INEC facilities were allegedly ochestrated by some politicians to derail elections in areas where they are not popular.

Folarin, therefore, enjoined the electorate to be resolute and take advantage of frameworks provided by INEC to ensure hitch-free elections.

He called on relevant agencies to step up activities in educating the electorate and instilling confidence in them to sustain the cooperation and goodwill enjoyed by the commission from the electorate.

Mr Dyke Ogbonwya, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of NSCDC in Ogun, assured that the corps would leave no stone unturned in ensuring safety of lives and property during and after the poll.

According to Ogbonaya, NSCDC has deployed some of its men in INEC offices and facilities across the state.

He added that the command had also stepped up measures to avert any further attack on all INEC’s facilities in the state, during and after the elections.

” It is our duty to ensure we have a free and fair credible election across the country, which we are not doing alone but in collaboration with other security agencies.

” The Commandant-General of NSCDC, Ahmed Audi, had asked all state commandants to ensure adequate deployment of personnel in INEC facilities.

“We have also continued to train and re-train our officers on how to tackle emergencies when such occasions arise.

“The NSCDC will be deploying 3,500 personnel for the 2023 elections in the state and also collaborating with other sister agencies to ensure smooth and credible elections,” he said.

In his reactions, the state Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Sikirulai Ogundele, commended INEC for putting in place mechanisms that would ensure credible elections.

Ogundele expressed optimism that the 2023 elections would be different from the previous polls, saying that, “we are encouraged by the sincerity of INEC and the transparent electoral process.

“With all sense of responsibility, I think INEC is trying its best to make it work with all the measures they’re putting in place.

“We, hereby, pledge our support for the commission and we also promise to play by the rules for smooth and credible general elections,” he said.

Meanwhile, INEC says it is 90 per cent ready for the forthcoming general elections in the state

Its Director of Administration in Ogun, Mr Stephen Ojewande, disclosed that the commission had begun to receive non-sensitive materials, while its staff members had continued to undergo series of trainings ahead of the polls.

Ojewande added that the commission had started to compile the list of ad-hoc staff, adding that their training would soon commence.

According to him, INEC is now pre-occupued with ensuring that PVCs are distributed to the owners.

He, however, assured that INEC had continued to partner with traditional rulers as well as religious and community leaders to fast-track the process of the distribution.

“We are also monitoring the campaigns by political parties just as we are also tracking their finances.

“You will recall that last week, the commission released soft copies of the list of registered voters to political parties.

“On the whole, I can assure that INEC is well prepared for the general elections and I must also acknowledge the goodwill and support we have continued to receive from members of the public,” he said

Meanwhile, Ogun Chairman of PDP, Alhaji Sikirulai Ogunde, commended INEC for putting in place mechanisms that would ensure credible elections.

According to him, the 2023 elections would be different from the past, because of the assurances that it would not be rigged.

“With all sense of responsibility, I think INEC is trying their best to make it work with all the measures they’re putting in place. We can see that this election is going to be different from all the elections we’ve had in the past.

“We’re likely going to have hitch-free elections and also going to have elections that would not be rigged.

*Let’s give it to INEC, because they’re doing their best to make sure the elections go hitch free and free from rigging based on the introduction of BVAS.

“Everyone is of the opinion that the elections will be free, fair and credible, based on what is on ground and what INEC is telling us,” he said.

Ogundele, however, decried the issue of insecurity currently plaguing the nation as it affects the forthcoming elections.

He advised the FG and INEC to heighten security in and around its facilities, so it won’t experience last-minute surprises.

“The problem we’re having is the problem of insecurity; attacks on INEC offices and destruction of some of their equipment.

“This shows that the security architecture has got to be in high place, so that elections will not be disrupted,” he said.

The PDP chairman expressed the readiness of politicians to abide by rules and regulations of the umpire for the elections.

He also said his party had taken upon itself to make sure people collect their PVCs in readiness for the elections, just as he commended INEC for taking the collection points closer to the people at their wards.

“We’ve taken it upon ourselves to talk to them to go and collect their PVCs and they’ve been doing that and they will continue to do so.

“The problem of poverty is what is making people not to want to go through the stress of collection,” he added.

From another angle, an Ilorin-based female lawyer, Christy Abayomi-Oluwole, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of Global Hope for Women and Children Foundation, faulted the low inclusion of women as candidates for the general elections.

Abayomi-Oluwole observed that the political terrain in Nigeria strongly favoured the men, relegating the women, though the men get elected to offices via the large contributions of women.

She lamented that the political space did not favour women, as many of the women found, for instance, the cost of the presidential form too exorbitant to afford.

Abayomi-Oluwole also observed the insecurity surrounding politics in the country, adding that such situations could not favour women, many of whom, she described as peace loving mothers and caregivers.

While appealing to law enforcement agencies to provide all that would be necessary to protect lives and property, she queried the readiness of politicians for the elections.

The lawyer, however, enjoined women to caution their children against allowimg politicians to use them to create mayhem before, during and after the general elections.

She also advised women to come out in their numbers to vote and continue to support fellow women in their quest for the rights to vote and be voted for.

Meanwhile, another legal practitioner, Mr Quadri Babatunde, commended the preparedness and readiness of most Nigerians for the general elections.

According to him, most Nigerians have collected their PVCs, which is a sign of readiness.

“If you can observe, most Nigerians have requested and collected their voter cards without being forced.

“Everyday you see people queueing to collect their PVCs; this is a sign of readiness, ” he said.

Affirming the readiness of Nigerians for the elections, another lawyer, Mr Kayode Olabode, said the curiosity of Nigerians, as noticed from the questions being asked on the social media, was there to prove the readiness of the citizens.

“Nigerians want to choose for themselves this time around. They want to select their own leadership by exercising their voting rights.

“You can see from their attitude and cooperation with INEC on what to do and not to do,” he said.

A resident of Abeokuta, Mrs Folusho Adewumi, however, warned the public against vandalising INEC’s facilities.

She said that such an act would not solve Nigeria’s problems, but would rather add to the woes on ground.

“Be a good citizen and stop destroying INEC’s facilities. Let us go out on the election days and vote our choice of candidates, ” she said.

Meanwhile, the electoral body in Kwara, through its REC, Mallam Attahiru Madami, said that INEC had, through its two-year plan, been in top shape for the elections aince two years ago.

He added that the manner at which Nigerians came out for their PVCs was commendable, showing a level of high preparedness on the part of the citizens.

On the part of the commission, the REC said nothing would be left undone to sustain the peaceful conduct of the elections in the state.

According to him, Kwara has been recognised for achieving peaceful conducts of elections over the years, especially in 2019.

While assuring the political parties of unbiased process during the elections in the state, the REC said that one of the reasons for violence during any election was when the umpire turned biased.

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

More on the issues of security, the state Commissioner of Police (CP), Paul Odama, assured of the readiness of security agencies, saying they had mapped out strategies to protect lives and property.

He, therefore, assured Nigerians of violent-free election. (NAN)