Before every election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) draws up set of rules to guide the conduct of the election.
And by last Monday, it released the guidelines for the February and March presidential, National Assembly elections and the governorship, state Assemblies’ elections, respectively.
According to INEC, the guidelines set the template for the conduct of the 2019 set of elections and all other subsequent elections in the country, unless it is changed, either by the commission through a “Decision Extract” or government gazette.
But the released guidelines appear to be generating controversy, with opposition parties already up in arms over INEC’s prohibition of the use of mobile telephones by election collation officers and a few other provisions as contained in the guidelines.
Releasing the document, the commission noted that “The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) herein referred to as ‘the Commission’ issues the following Regulations and Guidelines for the conduct of Elections (general election, by-elections, re-run elections and supplementary elections). These regulations and guidelines are issued as a Decision Extract of the Commission of the 21st day of the month of December 2018.”
It went further to say that “In order to remain focused on their assignment, Collation Officers are not allowed to make or receive telephone calls during collation.”
Sources close to INEC, suggest that the commission may have taken the decision to ban use of telephone by Collation Officers owing to the allegation by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other political commentators that a certain phone call received by the election collation officer in Osun during the September 2018 governorship, may have allegedly helped to change the outcome of the election, which led to the exercise being declared inconclusive.
Away from the above however, opposition parties are of the view that there are little or nothing in the guidelines as released by INEC to guarantee a free, fair and credible poll.
For instance, the opposition parties contend that under Professor Attahiru Jega- led INEC (immediate past chairman) the commission, before releasing guidelines it set for election, would sought the views of political parties and that whatever was agreed upon would form part of the guidelines.
But the opposition parties argue that INEC only sought consultation with them after it had prepared the guidelines, insisting that, their views were not taking into consideration even after the consultation held, as the guidelines released last Monday remained what the commission had earlier presented to them during the consultation.
According to the guideline released “Where a voter’s PVC is read but his/her fingerprint is not authenticated, the APO I shall refer the voter to the APO II who shall request the voter to thumbprint the appropriate box in the Register of Voters; request the voter to provide his/her phone number in appropriate box in the Register of Voters; continue with the accreditation of the voter; and refer the voter to the PO or APO (VP) for issuance of ballot paper(s).
“Where a voter’s PVC is read and the SCR shows the details of another person, rather than the details of the cardholder as printed on the PVC, the APO I shall: Refer the voter to APO II to confirm that the details of the voter in the Register of Voters correspond to those on the PVC; APO II if satisfied that the holder of the card is on the Register of Voters, shall record the phone number of the voter in the appropriate box on the Register of Voters; and Proceed with the accreditation of the voter.”
But the opposition parties are contesting the above provision. In fact, long before the release of the guidelines last Monday, the opposition parties had called on INEC to redraft it.
The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) and Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC) have unanimously kicked against the draft guidelines presented to it by the commission.
In a statement on Sunday, barely 24 hours before the commission released the guidelines, the two bodies vowed to approach the court to compel the commission to reverse what they argue was a bias against the opposition parties, with the sole aim of allegedly rigging the elections.
Ikenga Ugochinyere, CUPP’s National spokesperson, noted that 61 aggrieved opposition parties have decided to file a legal action against the commission “to stop INEC from releasing the guideline and also quash some sections of the draft guideline which are in conflict with the provisions of the 1999 constitution including the obnoxious provisions inserted into the guideline which will lead to massive rigging of the 2019 elections.”
He added: “(Ikenga Ugochinyere, APP; Dr Sam Eke, GPN; Nsehe Nseobong, RP and Barr. Kenneth Udeze, AA), will be seeking for an ex-parte application for an injunction to restrain the INEC chairman from going ahead with the Monday planned release of the controversial guideline which majority of the nation’s political parties (Over 61) have rejected over non consultation, obnoxious clauses and the violation of the Constitution.
“The chairmen of the political parties still insist that the only way to have free and fair election is for those obnoxious clauses contained in the guideline which does not promote free and fair elections to be expunged and that the INEC chairmen summons an emergency meeting with political parties chairmen to finally address the grey areas contained in the guidelines to avoid the 2019 election running into a hitch and credibility crisis even before the day of election.
“The parties still insist that the chairman of INEC retains the 2011 and 2015 separate accreditation and separate voting system which Nigerian voters are fully familiar with and avoid creating confusion and loophole for massive tampering of result with the continuous/same time accreditation and voting. INEC recently tried the method in few re-runs but that is not enough to extend such voting method to all parts of the country few weeks to the election.
“The demand of party chairmen is for INEC to continue the separate accreditation and separate voting system and ensure that at the end of accreditation across the country on election day, that INEC polling unit staff first announce the total polling unit accredited figures and sign and issue out to party agents at the polling unit before commencement of voting thereby protecting the sanctity of the votes by securing the accreditation figures which if announced before voting and given to agents it will make post election and voting manipulation difficult because the accreditation figures are already out and riggers cant tamper with the election outcome or increase the votes again.
“Other contentious issues are the flawed accreditation procedure which allows fake voters whose names are not on the voters register including people with fake PVC or voters not properly accredited been allowed to vote,” Ugochinyere said.
He further said that the opposition parties’ chairmen were currently mobilising more party leaders ”to move against the INEC chairman in the event that he goes ahead to issue out the guideline without the input of the political parties and without removing the obnoxious clauses which will ruin free and fair election.
“The options on the table of the political parties chairmen will not stop at the court action but will include a vote of no confidence on the INEC chairman and the commission including a call to step down and a persona non grata declaration and mass protest to alert Nigerians that the 2019 election process have been manipulated.”
Although Professor Mahmood Yakubu- led INEC have vowed to conduct an election that would surpass the 2015 standard, it remained to be seen how he hopes to achieve that without carrying along the critical stakeholders, some of whom are already up in arms against the commission.