Ade Alade, Romanus Ugwu and Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
With barely six weeks to the February 16, 2019 presidential election, there are strong indications that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may run into a hitch as the electoral body is yet to award the contract for the printing of ballot papers that would be used to conduct the election.
Saturday Sun gathered that even if the ballot papers printing is contracted out today, the firm to handle such would need about six weeks to print the required number of ballot, which won’t be less than 80million. This has therefore raised fears among stakeholders about the preparedness of the Commission to conduct the poll as scheduled in its released timetable.
Sources within INEC told one of our reporters that though a management team from the Commission recently visited one of the preferred firms selected to handle the printing job in Europe, there is however no significant sign that the contract will be awarded within the time frame that will allow the foreign based company deliver on schedule. “The concerns are genuine because the company that printed the ballot papers for the 2015 general elections took a minimum of forty days to handle the job. Now, we have higher figures of ballot papers to be printed with more complex security features that will require diligence and more weeks to handle, yet we have not even started”, one of the sources told Saturday Sun in Abuja on Friday.
The electoral body has however said it should not be blamed for the delay in the award of contract for the printing job saying political parties should be held responsible. It said though it is too sensitive to reveal whether it has awarded the printing of the ballot papers for the 2019 general elections, it is however certain that it has concluded the graphic designs of the ballot papers.
National Commissioner and Chairman Electoral Operations and Logistics Committee, Prof Okechukwu Ibeanu, who responded to enquiries by Saturday Sun stated that only the actual printing, and not the design is usually awarded.
He further blamed the delay in concluding preparations about the ballot papers on the long process of submission of candidates by the political parties, assuring that the Commission is at verge of finalizing the process.
“My response on whether INEC has awarded the printing of ballot papers for 2019 general elections is a straightforward one. INEC is in the process of procuring the ballot papers for the elections already.
“We have made the designs by ourselves at the Graphic Design Centre. Part of what has delayed us is the long process of submission of candidates by the political parties but that has been finished because substitutions and withdrawals has ended. We now have a clear sense of who is contesting or what and this is the only time we can finalise the printing of the ballot and we are on course in doing that.
“But in terms of award of the contract, you know that that is very sensitive in terms of ballot papers but we have identified the people and the process is far far developed and we are definitely on time. The issue of contract in terms of ballot papers is a very sensitive one.
“What we award is the actual printing of the ballot while the design is done at our graphic centre and all printing job for INEC is awarded to Nigerian printers that may of course have foreign technical partners. This is not unusual, but we don’t award contract to foreigners especially for something as sensitive as ballot papers,” he emphasised
Amidst the anxiety and fears, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has challenged the electoral body to come out clean over the matter.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, told Saturday Sun , yesterday, that it is imperative for INEC to confirm, if actually it is yet to award contract for the printing of the ballot papers.
According to Ologbondyan, “We charge INEC to speak out on that situation. Is it true? And if it is true, what is responsible for the delay. You must also not forget that President Muhammadu Buhari mirred the INEC budget in unnecessary controversy, which took a period of time before it was resolved. However, we are not justifying this on the side of INEC. So, we want INEC to speak out on this allegation. “
Responding to concerns in certain quarters that the delay in the award of contract for the printing of the ballot papers may be geared towards postponing the polls or canceling it out rightly, the PDP spokesman stated that his party is prepared for the February 16 presidential poll.
He added that the opposition party is aware that a lot of Nigerians have resolved to vote out President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) on that day. Consequently, Ologbondiyan noted that Nigerians will insist that the polls hold as scheduled.
“As far we are concerned, we are working towards the election scheduled for February 16. The party is ready for the presidential election scheduled for February 16, 2019. We are also aware that majority of Nigerians have resolved to vote out President Muhammadu Buhari. So, out of that fear, they might be plotting all manner of shenanigans. But we want to assure them that Nigerians by their will power will insist that elections hold as scheduled,” he stated.
Expressing shock about the development, Lagos based lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Gabriel Giwa-Amu said by now most of the logistics required to make 2019 general elections hitch-free including ballot papers should have been put in place by INEC.
While saying that INEC has question to answer on the matter, he said: “If by now, contract for printing ballot papers has not been awarded then INEC has some explanations to give to Nigerians. INEC has no excuse not to deliver on 2019 because the executive has released all funds required to conduct the election to INEC. Even members of the National Assembly have to be recalled from recess in order to pass INEC supplementary budget. INEC owes Nigerians an explanation on this issue’’.
Warning INEC against any act capable of threatening smooth conduct of the election, Giwa-Amu said Nigerians would not tolerate any idea of a shift in date of the polls like it was done in 2015.
‘’It is unfortunate that in this country we like fire-brigade approach in doing things, and I won’t be shocked if that is what INEC may be planning to do if it is true that the contract for printing of ballot papers has not been awarded by now . However, whatever may be the case, INEC is an independent body, and it has not been starved of funds by the executive, so Nigerians should hold INEC accountable for success or otherwise of 2019 general elections’’, Giwa-Amu declared.