REMARKS BY BARR FESTUS OKOYE, NATIONAL COMMISSIONER AND CHAIRMAN INFORMATION AND VOTER EDUCATION COMMITTEE, INEC AT A TOWN HALL MEETING ORGANISED BY THE NIGERIAN GUILD OF EDITORS ON 3RD MARCH 2022 IN ABUJA, NIGERIA.
On behalf of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, we thank the President and the General Secretary of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) for inviting the Commission to this Town Hall Meeting with the theme: “Agenda Setting for Sustainable Democratic Culture”.
The Commission believes that this meeting is timely and germane considering the signing into law of the new electoral legal framework and the release of the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2023 general election.
It is instructive that editors and media managers are providing critical stakeholders with this platform to interrogate their sacred duties to the Nigerian people and the electoral process. It shows that the media is also open and accountable.
The Commission has enjoyed tremendous cooperation from the media in the reporting of the electoral process and offering critical and useful suggestions on how to improve the electoral environment and the regime of elections.
The Constitutional Role of the Media
Constitutionally speaking, the media is a constitutional and legal body with clearly defined constitutional roles, duties and obligations. Section 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999(as amended) (hereinafter referred to as the Constitution) clearly and comprehensively provides that “The press, radio and television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”. This no doubt is a huge responsibility. The implication is that the media must at all times uphold, defend and expand the frontiers of the sovereign rights of the people to free and unimpeded choice bearing in mind that sovereignty resides with the people through whom governments through the Constitution derives its powers and authority.
2023 and Beyond
The country is entering a critical and challenging phase in its electoral process. On the 25th day of February 2022, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria signed the new Electoral Act. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999(as amended), the Electoral Act, 2022 and the Regulations, Guidelines and Manuals of the Commission constitute the constitutive legal instruments for the conduct of the 2023 general election. The Independent National Electoral Commission has also released the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the conduct of the 2023 general election fixing Presidential and National Assembly elections to hold on the 25th of February 2023 and Governorship and State Assembly Elections to hold on the 11th of March 2023.
There are new, creative and progressive provisions and innovations in the new law. The law has tight timelines that must be carefully managed. Under the new law, the Commission shall issue the Notice of Election not later than 360 days before the date fixed for the conduct of elections. Political parties must submit the list and personal particulars of their nominated candidates not later than 180 days before the election. The Act also provides that new political association must apply for registration not later than 12 months before a general election while applications for merger must be filed not later than 9 months before election. The law also provides that the election funds due to the Commission for any general elections are to be released to the Commission not later than one year before the next general election.
The law contains new provisions relating to ballot boxes and voting devices; accreditation of voters; determination of over voting; visually impaired and incapacitated voters; post election procedure and collation of election results. It also contains power of the Commission to review declared results; nomination of candidates; limitation of election expenses and the jurisdiction of courts in pre-election matters among other provisions.
The media must isolate and analyze these provisions and thereafter treat the entire law as a compound package for the conduct of election in Nigeria. A good knowledge of the law and its provisions will assist in crafting good editorials and holding the Commission and the Political Parties accountable to their implementation.
The Challenge of Insecurity
The 2023 general elections will come with challenges and the Commission is determined to surmount these challenges and conduct free, fair, credible and inclusive election. Growing insecurity in several parts of the country and the increasing number of internally displaced persons will pose challenges to the conduct of the 2023 general election. So many of the internally displaced persons are in the houses of friends and relatives and have lost their Permanent Voters Cards and it is next to impossibility to recreate their constituencies and polling units. This is because section 47(1) of the Electoral Act clearly provides that “A person intending to vote in an election shall present himself with his voter’s card to a Presiding Officer for accreditation at the polling unit in the constituency in which his name is registered.” Some of these persons are no longer in their constituencies and can no longer access their polling units and so many of them have lost their Permanent Voters Cards.
While it is easy to recreate constituencies and polling units in clustered camps of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP camps), it is next to impossibility to do so for persons staying in scattered locations. For the internally displaced,the Commission will print new Permanent Voters Cards for them and recreate their polling units in their camps and they will be eligible to vote in some of the elections depending on their location and their proximity to their State and Federal Constituencies. This is in accord with section 24(1) of the Electoral Act, which provides that “In the event of an emergency affecting an election, the Commission shall, as far as practicable, ensure that persons displaced as a result of the emergency are not disenfranchised”.
Based on this, the Commission developed regulations and guidelines on IDP voting and will implement the intendment of the law and the Regulations and Guidelines.
As you are aware, the Commission is currently at the terminal phase of its Continuous Voters Registration Exercise (CVR). There are so many communities that are still inaccessible to our registration officers. In the next few weeks, the Commission will roll out modalities for the further devolution and rotation of the CVR to our registration areas and the security of our personnel and the registrants are fundamental to the success of the exercise.We are determined to register all eligible registrants but will not expose our staff to unnecessary danger. We will roll out and roll back depending on the security situation in different parts of the country.
It is important for the media to continue to highlight and analyze the causes and possible solutions to the security challenges in the country and continue to hold government accountable. The various security agencies must try as much as possible to degrade if not neutralize the security threats and challenges in different parts of the country. Voting and the exercise of democratic mandate may not be the priority of persons enveloped in a climate and atmosphere of fear and anxiety.
The New Innovations in the Commission
As some of you are aware, the Commission has introduced new and creative changes in the enumeration of voters; the party nomination processes and the conduct of elections. The Commission is currently conducting the Continuous Voters Registration Exercise (CVR) both physically and online using the new INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED). The Commission has introduced an online nomination portal through which Political Parties upload the list and personal particulars of their nominated candidates. The Commission has also introduced an online portal through which international and domestic observers and the media apply for accreditation. The Commission has also introduced the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) for voter accreditation and authentication. The Commission introduced the INEC Result Viewing Portal (iRev) through which polling unit level results are uploaded to a result-viewing portal in real time.
The Commission is firmly of the view that greater use of technology in the electoral process will to a large extent reduce human interference in the voting, counting and collation process.
However, the Commission is conscious of the fact that technology does not operate itself and that the human element is ever present. The Commission will continue to learn from issues and challenges that arise from the deployment of technology and will continue to innovate and improve on them.
The Commission will expand the base of the training of its ad-hoc staff to acquaint them more with the workings of the BVAS and other technological innovations of the Commission.
We as a Commission acknowledge the fact that the BVAS did not perform optimally in the FCT Area Council election and we took all the criticisms on board and made necessary corrections and adjustments. This accounts for the optimal performance of the BVAS in the six bye-elections conducted by the Commission in four states of the Federation on the 26th of February 2022.
The Commission will continue to use the BVAS to verify, confirm or authenticate the particulars of an intending voter. The BVAS is the new enemy of those engaged in identity theft and multiple voting as it verifies either the fingerprint or facial of the intending voter. Those that warehoused Permanent Voters Cards and the Consultants and Middlemen that design how to undermine the electoral process and those that hawk and distribute Permanent Voters Cards are now canvassing for the return to incident forms and manual voting. The Commission will not travel backwards but will continue to improve on its technological base and innovations. We will continue to work with security agencies to protect our equipment and personnel. With the BVAS and the uploading of polling unit level results, violence is gradually leaving the Collation Centers and reverting back to the polling units and this is worrisome.
The Question of Logistics
The Commission is designing a new template on the issue of logistics. During the 2019 general election, the Commission deployed over a million ad-hoc staff. These ad-hoc staff and the Permanent Staff of the Commission must be moved from the State Offices to the Local Government Offices and to the Registration Area Centers and to the Polling Units. The Commission must also engage in reverse logistics. The Commission will engage the various transport unions and the security agencies on the issue of movement of personnel and materials to the various centers on Election Day. The Commission is determined to reverse the challenge of logistics and open the polls on time to enable Nigerians have a good voting experience.
2023, the Media and the Law
Media managers and editors have a huge role to play in the 2023 general election. The first challenge is to get media to understand the new issues and provisions in the constitutive electoral legal framework. There are fundamental and progressive issues and innovations in the new Electoral Act. The Commission will organize zonal trainings and workshops for the media on the new issues in the electoral legal framework and practical issues in their implementation. The media must have a working knowledge of the new law, the new innovations and issues in the electoral process to report and report well. Journalists, editors and media managers must also read and understand the new template for the conduct of elections. Without a good knowledge and understating of the law and its dynamics, the media may not be in a position to perform and perform well.
The Media and Public Enlightenment
The Commission does not have its own press. The Commission will continue to rely on the media to get its messages across to the Nigerian people. The Commission will continue to be open and transparent in the management of elections and upfront in the provision of information.
The Media and the New Media
The orthodox media must try as much as possible to filter information coming from the social media. Sometimes quality control is not adhered to in using information from the social media. We acknowledge that the social media has altered information dissemination and management but at the same time, the media must continue to verify information from such sources before using them. In an election year, persons with various and variegated interests will drop information of varied classes in the social and orthodox media. Some of them may have national security implications and their disseminationmay lead to breakdown of law and order.
The Media and Political Parties
The media should continue to monitor the organization and operations of the different political parties in Nigeria. The media must name and shame the vote buyers corrupting our electoral process. The media must name and shame those that deploy violence to the polling units and collation centers. The media must name and shame those that subvert the internal democratic processes in the various parties. We must not allow the current regime of electoral impunity to continue. Violence and electoral malfeasance pervade our electoral process because we do not name and shame the perpetrators and they are not brought to book.
The media and the Commission should in the interest of our democracy and the nation sustain its engagement and partnership. The Commission is conscious of its responsibility in the electoral process and will continually and continuously engages the Nigerian people in the electoral process.
I thank you for listening.