From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The reappointed Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu, on Thursday formerly resumed office, promising to hit the ground running for his second tenure.
Speaking after the handover from the Acting Chairman, AVM Mu’azu Ahmed (retd), Prof Yakubu said that he has resolved with his technical team to execute 1,508 activities.
The INEC Chairman had arrived at the Commission’s headquarters to a rousing reception by staff and guests at about 11:20 am, and went into a closed-door session with National Commissioners.
He had told the gathered audience at the brief formal take over ceremony that he would steadily strengthen the institutional capacity of the Commission to carry on with its mandate without bias.
In his brief remarks before handing over to Prof Yakubu, Muazu congratulated him on his reappointment, praying that God would see him through the difficult national assignment, and describing his period as Acting Chairman as the longest one month of his life.
Muazu further informed the Chairman that the Commission under him faced hostile geographical and political terrain, revealing that it deployed armed policemen and the military, including the Air Force in Borno.
Speaking earlier, AVM Mu’azu said: ‘I heartily congratulate you on your reappointment. On behalf of the management and staff, I warmly welcome you back and pray that the Almighty God will see you through in this weighty and difficult national assignment.
‘As you are aware, the Commission conducted election into legislative bye-elections into 15 constituencies across 11 states of the federation.
‘In fact, the last of the elections was concluded only on Wednesday in Zamfara. I am happy to note that the elections were conducted and concluded successfully in spite of the wide range of challenges,’ he said.
‘Bayelsa did not only have difficult geographical terrain but also difficult political terrain. Other constituencies like Imo North, Isi-Uzo in Enugu, Cross River North, Plateau South, Ibaji and Das in Bauchi State also have difficult political and geographical terrain.
‘In Lagos East, the case was the share size of the constituency, which was also a challenge. In other places, the challenges were compounded by the hostile security environment. Bakura in Zamfara and Baku in Katsina were examples of constituencies in bandit territory.
‘Another example in this category is the Ganduwa constituency in the war zone of Northern Borno. Our men and materials were deployed under the full escort of armed policemen and the military with full air cover of the Nigerian Air Force surveillance aircraft and helicopter gunships into Gaduwa and back to Maiduguri.
‘The staff and few electoral officers remained resolute and conducted the bye-elections successfully. We also want to put on record the total commitment of the entire INEC staff, Resident Electoral Commissioners and those states where the bye-elections were conducted.
‘We acknowledge everyone’s contributions and acknowledge the support we enjoyed from our stakeholders, that is the political parties, civil society organisations, the media and, most importantly, the security agencies that have the difficult task of securing our materials for us to conduct the elections,’ he said.
In his reply, the INEC Chairman said: ‘Let me thank Air Vice Marshall Mu’azu and the five National Commissioners for overseeing the affairs of the Commission over the last 31 days. During that period, the National Commissioners led by AVM Mu’azu were able to successfully conduct bye-elections for the 15 constituencies in 11 States of the Federation, including six Senatorial Districts.
‘Each state of the Federation has three Senatorial Districts; so when you conduct six senatorial bye-elections, it is like conducting governorship elections in two states of the Federation and that includes Lagos East, as AVM Mu’azu said, which has voter register population more than the combined register of voters for the republic of Gambia and Japan put together. So I want to thank you for holding forth.
‘The successful conduct of elections under Acting Chairman supported by National Commissioners is due to my policy over the last five years to nominate National Commissioner by rotation each time I was officially out of the country to oversee the affairs of the Commission. In that case, all the National Commissioners had at a point or another acted in my temporary absence.
‘Our work continues, the quick passage of the Electoral Act amendment is a top priority and you will recall that I appealed to the Senate Committee on INEC during my screening two weeks ago to conclude work for the passage of the Electoral Act amendment by the first quarter of next year.
‘I am glad that in his response, the Senate President has assured the nation only yesterday at the public hearing on the Electoral Act amendment that the National Assembly is committed to that target and is not only achievable but they will ensure that it is actualised.’
Setting a target for the Commission, Yakubu said: ‘The immediate area of attention for the Commission is the resumption of Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) in the first quarter of next year, and this will continue at least to six months to the 2023 general election. So, it will continue for well over one year until six months to the general election.
‘We will also use the opportunity as required by law to clean up the register of voters. We are happy with our register of voters, it is robust but we will continue to see ways by which we can improve the quality of the register. I am saying so because the credibility of any democratic election draws from the credibility of the register of voters. Without a clean register of voters, you can’t have a credible election and we are committed to cleaning up the register of voters. In doing so, we hope to introduce new technology for voters enrollment in 2021, drawing from the lessons we learnt in the last exercise in 2017 and 2018.
‘In due course, the Commission will give details of other activities going to the 2023 election. We have exactly 799 days to the next general election holding on February 18, 2023. We have identified 1,508 activities that we must accomplish between now and election in 2023. Some will be carried out simultaneously,’ he promised.