“It is difficult now to rig… We are hoping that soon, when the reviewed Electoral Act comes in place, we will be high and high.”
Magnus Eze, Enugu
The Resident Electoral Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Enugu State, Emeka Ononamadu speaks on preparations for the 2019 elections; electoral malpractices and violence among other issues.
2019 is around the corner; how prepared is INEC in Enugu state for the elections?
I think INEC has in the last three months been saying that it’s ready; the chairman has announced to Nigerians and to all stakeholders that INEC is ready for the election by the release of the timetable for the election on February 16 and that of March for the gubernatorial election. The release of the timetable is a way of being ready and our clear way of telling Nigerians that we are ready and equally telling Nigerians to get ready. We have prepared in so many ways and we have appraised all our online equipment and all our tools for conducting credible election; of course you see we are continuing the voters’ registration exercise up to August when we are to suspend the exercise in preparation for 2019 election and you have to print the ones you have registered and you have to distribute to those registered so that they can collect it; get prepared for the election day and the Continuous Voters Registration (CVR) exercise will continue immediately after the election.
If you zero it down to Enugu what is the situation?
It’s been spectacular, Enugu has been among the most successful states in terms of this continuous voters registration exercise in the country and we have collected all the printed PVCs for 2017 and we are moving from ward to ward to distribute it. We have also done appraisal of all our equipment; the smart card readers, our ballot boxes and everything to make sure that we have adequate number that are required to conduct credible elections in Enugu State. So far, the citizens are responding and they are registering in their numbers. I think we have registered a considerable number of people and begging people to use the last period of registration before it is suspended to register because; it is in our interest to ensure that every eligible Nigerian is involved in this election.
There is this challenge of technology failing during the election; like the case of card readers. I don’t know whether there is going to be any improvement on what we saw in 2015?
There are a whole lot of improvements and I can assure you that in 2019; the smartcard reader will work much better than it has ever been. We have done a lot of expansions around it and they have been protested on three aspects, that is three steps and so many other tests have been conducted to ensure that they are effective and the ones that are not effective have been isolated. I think we are ready.
We have large number of registered voters?
Yes, quite large; we have less than two million registered voters in Enugu State. Caught across the country in the continuous voters’ registration, we have something above ten million and in all we are looking at about 80 million Nigerians on the ballot.
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Regarding Enugu, before I came; it was 1.4 million registered voters and we have about 1.85 registered voters now, though it’s not concluded because we have not turned in the last exercise.
Registered voters could be high but when it comes to voting, apathy sets in. How are you addressing the issue of apathy?
I think it is a collective responsibility. Election is a collective responsibility, multistakeholders business where INEC is only one leg of it. We have been doing our bit to encourage Nigerians to be part and parcel of the electioneering, if political parties are helping to educate Nigerians,
if they are helping to educate Ndi-Enugu and I hope the traditional rulers and community leaders are helping to educate the people so that they participate in the election cycle; it is only when that is done that you will see the more impact of what INEC is doing because INEC saying it alone sometimes you know it will become monotony.
You need to hear it from the political parties; you need to hear it from the religious leaders. You need to also hear it from the traditional rulers and to hear it from so many sources and we will be saying the same thing. You know it depends on the principle of communication; say it constantly and allow it simmer and if they are saying it constantly and allow it from different media, from different organisations, and different agencies; I am sure that Nigerians will begin to renew their faith, renew their trust in the system and participation will become higher because what we are suffering now is in my own opinion what I refer to as political illiteracy. Political illiteracy in the sense that people don’t seem to take their time to understand the implication of not participating at all and people rely on the past; it’s not being free and fair; it’s not this or that, but what contributions have you made to make it free and fair since election is multistakeholders business?
What is INEC in Enugu State doing with other stakeholders to address issues of violence; rigging which in some cases are in connivance with INEC staff?
It is difficult now to rig. Our elections are improving and as it improves, it becomes extremely difficult for somebody to rig. And that is why if you watch, the main problem now is not with rigging at voting point; we are handling area of collation. And that is why we are hoping that soon, when the reviewed Electoral Act comes in place, we will be high and high. The smartcard reader checks the excess of what people try to make and it’s obvious that overtime you will see that there is less speculation of snatching of ballot boxes, or stuffing of ballot or thumbprint in any form because people know that no matter what you do; it is useless; you cannot use it to win elections.
And I am also optimistic that giving the success that INEC has recorded in few previous elections early this year and late last year, the issue of connivance is not a thing of issue, the issue of rigging is also becoming out of fashion. What we have now is an INEC that is determined to ensure that those who are contesting for positions win according to the rule of law and that is what we ensure without mincing words and that is why they say we have inconclusive elections because we are an organisation that respects the law. When you do not meet up the requirements of the law nobody will declare you and that shows that INEC has greatly improved. You check what happened in Anambra last year and also see what will happen in Osun and in other places; you discover that INEC is increasingly improving by every election it conducted.
Are you saying that there won’t be ballot stuffing in 2019?
In 2019, it will be extremely difficult for somebody to stuff ballot and get away with. It will be extremely difficult for somebody to rig and get away with it because we have improved in all departments and baring the law that will be in place in terms of review of the Electoral Act; we will become stronger. The introduction of electronic equipment to do accreditation will make it an official instrument of accreditation because you have your fingerprint, you have your PVC, you have your name and you have your photograph it is difficult to rig. Our chairman has also said that incidence form might not have any place in the 2019 elections.
What challenges are you having in Enugu?
It is more external than internal; one is apathy of the citizens. I still believe that there are too many people who have not made out time to go and register and it is not good for us; for instance we are now trying to go and locate the bankers to ensure that they register to vote because during election day, banks don’t work and they cannot vote because they don’t have Permanent Voters Card. So, we made it easier for them. Another one is the issue of security for our field staff although it has been sorted out, sometimes they face a lot intimidation and challenges and they had to run back.
You just mentioned going to look for bankers to register; how are you doing that?
There are so many of them; special groups, I just mentioned this as an example. We have teachers who teach from Monday till Friday. We have been able to sort those ones out. We have been able to sort out the traders who trade from morning to night and from Monday till Saturday and we don’t operate on weekends. We have taken 17 machines to Ogbete main market for two weeks and we made sure that every trader has no reason whatsoever except the person who decided with his God that he is not going to be part and parcel of the election process and of course you know that it is a voluntary responsibility, it is not a compulsory thing.
In case of the bankers, we are using their unions; Central Bank of Nigeria locations so that they can leave their office and get registered within five minutes and go back to their work; this is ongoing.
We took the mobile registration centre to them. We are also moving to the military and security agencies that may not have time to come out. We have done that of secular churches like the convent, monasteries that wouldn’t come out generally in the open to come and register; we are done with that. We are done with private school teachers who don’t have time. We are done with the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) staff where we registered considerable number of staff and we discovered that they go to work from Monday till Friday and we discovered that on Saturday when some of them are free we are not open. We opened a mobile centre there for three weeks and mopped up all of them.