With BVAS, politicians can’t pressurise INEC – Oyo REC
Oyo State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr Adeniran Tella, shares his views with DANIEL AYANTOYE on the forthcoming general election and insecurity, among other issues
There are concerns about possible attacks on electoral officers during the elections. What is the Independent National Electoral Commission doing to ensure that its officials are protected during the elections?
The issue of insecurity is not peculiar to INEC alone; it is a national issue that is being fully attended to. Insecurity comes in diverse ways; some issues are security threats not to the electorate or electoral officials, but to members of the public that may not be partaking in any political activities. But on the issue you raised, we have seriously engaged with the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security and we have deliberated upon critical issues and they are coming up with solutions to address the issue of insecurity, so that adequate protection will be provided for the electorate, officials and the general public.
The commission has also begun advocacy against violence and hate speech and others. We are also identifying early signals and relaying this to security agencies and stakeholders for strategies to curb issues. On the level of security, all our facilities are well protected as I speak to you and we have not recorded any incident in any area of the state. Our people are well secure and the materials that we have got so far; both sensitive and non-sensitive materials are well protected. We have been able to attain adequate security to a level and we don’t have any fear as to the conduct of the elections.
Are you saying there are no worries on the capacity of security personnel and there are sufficient security agents for the polls in the state?
This is part of the issues that were raised during one of our meetings with the ICCES members. What we did is to look at the number of the electoral officials, which is more than 26,000, including INEC officials, corps members, parastatals and agencies. We equated it with the total number of security personnel who will be deplored so that we can adequately cover all the polling units. So far, all our materials, including cubicles, registration area centres, polling units, local government offices and state offices are all going to be adequately covered. Security agencies have got set and we have given them the necessary support. So, there is no fear. When we had the Ekiti State governorship election, there were insufficient security personnel on the ground, but there was deployment for the election. You discover that Ekiti State, in terms of population, is smaller than Oyo State, and with the population in Oyo State, there are more security personnel. So, we have sufficient personnel on the ground.
There are concerns that Resident Electoral Commissioners always come under intense pressure from politicians. How sure are you that you will not succumb to their pressure?
No, there has not been any form of pressure and there can’t be, especially with the new technology, BVAS, which has gone a long way to ease our tasks. My responsibility is to monitor the situation and be responding to any challenge that may likely arise from the field and ensure that we have solutions without hindering the election procedures. So, no politician can pressurise us.
The inability of some registered voters to collect their Permanent Voter Card has become a challenge. What progress have you made in the distribution of PVCs to the owners in the state?
The collection of PVCs started on December 12, 2022 and it has been on since then. We have about 351 registration area centres at the ward level. So, the PVC collection is at that level now so that the people can easily have access to the items. Also, the collection was extended by one week because it was supposed to come to an end on January 15, but now it will end on January 29 (today). People should endeavour to collect their PVCs before we now revert to our local government offices. And the collection has been quite impressive because two weeks ago, I discovered that we had volumes of PVCs at our offices, but as I speak now, they have collected over 210 PVCs and what we have left is about 900, which I am sure by the end of today, It will reduce. We are still expecting more PVCs to be collected. So, I will tell our people not to entertain any fear because as long as you register, you cannot be disenfranchised except you registered twice; and if you have registered twice, you can only make use of the original one.
How many PVCs in total have been collected and how many uncollected PVCs do you have?
We have about 900 uncollected PVCs currently and more than 210 have been collected for the newly printed PVCs. Before we started the CVR, we had almost two million PVCs. When we expanded the polling units, the existing polling units in Oyo State were more than 4,000 but with expansion of voting access points and the CVR, we have got additional 1,007 polling units, and currently we have a total of 6,330 polling units. Not until we collate all, we cannot ascertain the total number of PVCs, and that will mean between one or two weeks to the Election Day.
There are concerns on the quality of the PVC? What is the commission doing about this?
The PVC has good quality because it was well produced and we have not seen anyone that has collected it and complained. Except the owner is not maintaining or properly handling his PVC; the way you handle any printed card matters a lot if it will last long or not. So, all the PVCs are of good quality.
There are concerns that with the devolution of PVC collection to the ward level, politicians may hijack the process. What are you doing to avert such?
There has been nothing of such. We have not recorded such an issue.
What are you doing about the issue of the low number of staff members at the PVC collection centres? The situation is said to be causing slow collection of the cards?
Except there is no card at any of the locations, when we have cards, people come around en masse to collect their PVCs and we have sufficient numbers of staff members attending to the electorate. The centres are open for collection of the PVCs; no issue has been recorded in line with this and everything is going smoothly as expected.
In Akwa Ibom State, a former REC stood against a returning officer, who fell to the influence of corrupt politicians. The returning officer was tried and jailed. What is your advice to ad hoc officers who may want to rubbish the process of the election in Oyo State for pecuniary gains?
You see, it has become easier for us, given the fact that the Electoral Act, 2022 has captured all these issues. We are going to be guided by the electoral guidelines, which stipulate clearly the offences and process of the election. All officials are aware of the rules and regulation as well as policies that guide the conduct of the election. If anyone does contrary to the policy, then he or she will face the wrath of the law. However, I must say that we have law-abiding, proficient and competent staff members and I have absolute confidence in them because they have been performing well since I was deployed in the state.
Recently, a permanent voter card, which was allegedly issued to an underage person, circulated on social media. How is INEC guiding against such in Oyo State?
If one is told that an underage person was registered by INEC, how is it going to be possible for such a fellow to vote? At the point of accreditation, the person will be fished out because the age will reflect, the date he registered and when the election is being conducted. So, it’s impossible for any underage to vote. Again, we have criteria we subject potential registrants to before they can obtain a voter card.
Vote-buying has become a serious challenge during elections. What’s your take on the issue and is there any role INEC will play to curb this menace?
The issue of vote-buying is an age-long practice. Though it was not well pronounced as we have now, it has even been affecting the democratic process of the country in many ways. In the first place, it does not provide a level playing ground for contestants, who have genuine interest to serve, especially if he or she does not have money to compete with others, who are moneybags in the race. It is a mockery to our democratic process. However, like I said earlier, the Electoral Act has made provision to guard against this issue that vote-buying is one of the major offences, and if a person is caught, he will face the wrath of the law.
Prior to your assumption of office as REC in Oyo State, there were allegations by the All Progressives Congress that the commission was conniving with the Peoples Democratic Party to change the location of some polling units with a view to frustrating voters. Did you discover such when you resumed?
That’s not true and it’s not possible. This is the first time such an issue is coming to my knowledge.
What’s your reaction to attacks on campaign billboards by thugs allegedly hired by political parties?
There is a department in the commission responsible for monitoring the activities of all political parties in the state. So far, we have not recorded any attack and if we receive any report, it must be treated accordingly in line with the provision of the Electoral Act.
Some politicians have decided to engage in smear campaigns rather than issue-based messages; what is your advice to such politicians?
We have guided all the politicians in the state using the Electoral Act. There are penalties for all these infractions, especially for those who break the law; when the election will start and when it will end. It is simple; if you disobey the law, you get punished. This election is different from what we used to have before, and they must be aware of that.
In sensitising the public to the forthcoming elections, what are the efforts you have put in so far?
We have been having a very robust and intensive sensitisation and awareness across the state. We got to the stage of engaging market women to sensitise them to the process of voting and how to vote and make it count. This will go a long way because most of these people don’t understand this process before now, but with the sensitisation that we are carrying out, they are well informed and we are not stopping there. We sensitise the public to how to vote and how to use their PVC judiciously without being bought. We engage in radio jingles and TV programmes; we go to public places to inform the people. This is a continuous activity until after the election. The commission has committed specific funds to this and we are ensuring that this is done adequately.
How will INEC monitor the elections and prevent vote-buying?
That forms part of the issues discussed at the ICCES meeting and not everything can be revealed because this is a security matter. It is also important for voters to be willing to avoid selling their votes. If someone comes to you to buy your votes, the person is telling you to exchange your future with peanuts. You have to be determined not to allow immediate financial issues to create greater problems for you and your family through voting for people because of money. People should allow their conscience to determine who they will vote for.
The agitation by secessionist groups may threaten the conduct of elections in some areas, especially that of the Indigenous People of Biafra. Are there concerns about the elections in that regard?
When we had the 2019 elections, we had lessons that we learnt and we came up with some solutions. Part of it is the expansion of polling units to increase voter access, continuous voter registration as well as the migration of registrants and sensitisation. When decisions are taken at INEC, we always engage stakeholders so that they can have their own input even before it is taken to the National Assembly to be passed. There is this issue of voter apathy. Why is it that market women are not engaging in voter apathy? The local farmers in the villages are not, but why is it that the elite are the ones engaging in this? Is non-participation in elections the solution to their agitation? Even after the general election, they will still continue the agitation.
Are you saying there is no concern about the agitation?
There are enough security personnel on the ground and we are confident about the elections. There is nothing you do in life that will not have opposition. When we started preparation, we knew there would be challenges and the commission had prepared for those challenges together with the security agencies. This is why we are much involved with the committee established and what is happening now is that we are mapping out strategies by which the guideline on the Electoral Act will not be breached, and most importantly, the security of lives and property before, during and after the election is given the topmost priority.
The elections will be conducted; we have no fear and Nigerians should have no fear too. We will have the presidential and National Assembly elections as well as governorship and House of Assembly elections as stipulated. They will be conducted under a new electoral process with a new technology that guarantees transparency. All we are asking is that the electorate should come out en masse to collect their PVCs and vote because that is their power and strength to determine who will be occupying elective positions in the next four years, and those persons who will occupy these positions will be the determinant of their lives in the next four years.