Mr. Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi is the Chief Press Secretary to the Independent National Electoral Commission Chairman. He tells ‘NONYE BEN-NWANKWO about the commission’s current activities and other sundry issues
While some people have praised INEC for being professional in its handling of Sen. Dino Melaye’s matter, some others have accused the commission of taking the matter personal. How would you react to that?
The Independent National Electoral Commission derives its legitimacy from the powers conferred on it by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). Sections 69 and 110 of the Constitution and Section 116 of the Electoral Act empower INEC to conduct recall proceedings against a member of the National Assembly, State House of Assembly or the Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), once it receives a valid petition alleging a loss of confidence in the member by over 50 per cent of the registered voters in the member’s constituency.
So, it is very clear that both the Constitution and the Electoral Law did not have any particular individual as a target. And in any case, this is not the first time that INEC would conduct a recall process. We have done it before, not once, not twice.
With the governorship election in Anambra State holding in a few weeks time, what are the challenges that INEC foresees that it may confront there?
We do not foresee any serious challenges in Anambra. This is the fourth governorship election that the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led Commission would be conducting since its inauguration in November 2015. Recall that we have conducted the Kogi, Bayelsa, Edo and Ondo governorship elections, and each election has been better than the one before it. The Commission’s tradition is to prepare early. We released the timetable and Schedule of Activities for the Anambra governorshiop election on February 23, 2017. Fourteen activities were lined up in the schedule and about seven have already been done. A record of 37 candidates representing 37 political parties are taking part and we are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that everything goes well. Even as I speak, a lot of voter education seminars, election related training are going on in Anambra State. Over 6,000 card readers will be deployed and the over 2.4 million registered voters are in for an exciting time. We have also mapped out a good security arrangement with the cooperation of security agencies.
Thousands of Linux computers were used by INEC in the 2011 general elections, but they are no longer in use. We heard that some were being stolen at some point. What happened?
In preparation for the 2011 general elections, the commission purchased some 120,000 laptops for the 120,000 polling units across the country and an additional 32,000 units as a precaution against redundancies. Now, it is not impossible that a few of the commission’s equipment may have been stolen over the years, but they are not necessarily laptops alone. It is also possible that some of our old equipment that are no longer relevant may have been disposed off. However, there is an established process of doing these things and INEC follows the due process at all times.
It was also reported that INEC wanted to sell some or all of the computers and other equipment for N35bn but after a while, there was nothing on the matter again. What is the latest on the matter? Have they all been sold?
I am not aware of any plan to sell any equipment for N35 billion.
Some people in Anambra Central Senatorial zone have accused INEC of fanning the embers of hate and denying the zone of representation in the Senate and called on it to immediately conduct the election to fill the vacant seat. What is causing the delay?
The commission is not fanning the embers of hate. What for? It is unfortunate that those who are in the habit of spreading fake news do not always get their facts right. What happened was that some aggrieved persons went to court over the Anambra Senatorial matter and the commission cannot take any action until all legal issues have been resolved. We are a law-abiding commission and we will always comply with court orders and judgments.
There has been conflicting information as to whether or not INEC would deploy electronic voting machine for the 2019 election. What is the true situation; is INEC using electronic voting?
There has been no official decision yet by the commission on whether electronic voting will be fully deployed for the 2019 general elections or not. But if a final decision on that is taken, the commission will issue a formal statement. However, our actions are guided by the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act (2010 as amended) and any method to be adopted will take the provisions in the extant laws into consideration. You will recall that technology was deployed for the 2015 general elections, when the card reader and the Permanent Voter Card (PVC) were introduced. Again, after the present commission took over in November 2015, the concept of simultaneous accreditation and voting was deployed for the Bayelsa governorship election and subsequent ones.
There was a report that the National Agency of Science and Engineering Infrastructure produced a solar-powered machine but that INEC Chairman wasn’t disposed to use it for fear that it might fail during the exercise. Is that true?
In June this year, the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, led a team of officials from the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure to the INEC headquarters to demonstrate a device which they said could facilitate electronic voting and collate results. Our Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu and the National Commissioners received them and witnessed the demonstration. Thereafter, the INEC Chairman directed that an inter-agency technical committee comprising members from both INEC and NASENI be immediately set up to evaluate the requirements for the successful deployment of the device developed by NASENI.
That committee has since been inaugurated with specific terms of reference. In fact, the Director of our ICT Department is the Chairman of that committee, which also has 10 members from INEC’s side. There are also nine members from NASENI and the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology. They are currently working.
Can INEC say categorically if there would be Diaspora voting in 2019?
I am not sure there will be Diaspora voting in 2019. The starting point, in my view, is for the National Assembly to amend the constitution to allow it. The law as it stands at the moment, says that you can only vote where you are registered.
Also, prisoners who are in the country, have been disenfranchised for so long. What is INEC doing to make sure that those Nigerians are allowed to vote?
The INEC Chairman gave a directive in August 2016 that the Nigerian Prisons Service be invited for a consultative meeting to discuss voting rights for prison inmates. The NPS was subsequently invited and a meeting was held on September 30, 2016 at the INEC headquarters between our respective teams.
The import and applicability of the judgment delivered by Justice M.T. Liman on December 16, 2014 pertaining to the right of prison inmates to vote was discussed. It turned out that the judgment was specifically confined to the plaintiffs that instituted the action – Mr. Victor Emenuwe and four others awaiting trial persons – contrary to some stakeholders’ notion that the ruling conferred the legal right to vote on prison inmates.
But that notwithstanding, the meeting canvassed that irrespective of the court judgment, it is assumed that the provisions of Section 25 of the 1999 Constitution and Section 12 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) may be applicable to prison inmates, thus conferring the right to vote on such inmates, subject to extant legal strictures. To that extent, prison inmates are entitled to be registered and cast their vote at any election, but the right is only exercisable when asserted, given that the right to vote is a choice and not a duty.
Now, there are issues to consider. How and where will the prisoners who indicate interest vote? Will they, for instance, be taken out of prison by the prison authorities to the already designated registration centres and polling units or should new registration centres and polling units be created within the confines of the entire 211 federal prisons spread across the country? What about the costs and security implications? Obviously, there are no easy answers, but the matter is being looked into.
INEC has an online newspaper. What purpose does it serve the voting public?
The commission has the largest database of Nigerians – over 70 million registered voters – and as such, it has a duty to proactively provide information to all these people. Apart from its headquarters in Abuja, the commission also has offices in the 36 states, the federal capital territory and in the country’s 774 local government areas. Besides, it has over 16, 000 staff members and a lot of activities take place in all these offices on a daily basis that would essentially be of interest to Nigerians.
While it is true that we enjoy tremendous support from the media, it is practically impossible for all branches of the media – print, broadcast, online – to cover all our activities in real time. So you find that while some activities generate a lot of interest and enjoy wide reportage, several others are not reported.
In order to fill the gaps in a cost-effective manner, we felt that establishing an online newspaper (INECNEWS.com) will give us the latitude to seamlessly disseminate information in real time for the benefit of all our stakeholders, all Nigerians. We rolled it (INECNEWS) out in September. We still have other platforms, like our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages, but Nigeria is such a big country and we need as many platforms as possible to disseminate information. Let me proudly say, but with a sense of modesty, that INEC has now set the record of being the first government organisation in Nigeria and also the first Electoral Management Organisation in Africa to roll out an online newspaper. We intend to make a huge success of it.