Desmond Mgboh, Kano
Kano State Independent Electoral Commission (KANSICE), chaired by Professor Garba Ibrahim Sheka, has just announced January 16th, 2020 as the date for the conduct of local government elections. Speaking to Daily Sun in his office, Garba who is also a renowned Economist insisted that the Commission was set to conduct a violent – free, fair, and transparent elections. He also spoke on the role of technology and other electronic devices as well as the efforts to get the support of all the stakeholders even as he ruled out the chances of under- aged voters participating in the exercise.
You have just announced a date for the conduct of local government elections in the state. In brief, could you share why you elected to go to polls on the elected date?
We arranged to have our elections on the 16th of January, 2021. And that is because the tenure of the incumbent Chairmen would expire on the 11th of February, 2020. If you remember, we had our previous elections on the 10th of February and they were sworn in on the 12th of February. So by 11th February, 2020, their tenure would expire. And there was this Supreme Court judgement that has disallowed the appointment of Caretaker Chairmen in any of the state- as was the case in the past. And so for that reason, we just have to organize an election for the elected Chairmen to take over from those that are going. There would be no gaps in-between. So for that reason, we decided that though our law provides for 21 days notice, but we felt we might not be ready within 21 days and even the political parties would not be ready too in 21 days. We decided to borrow from INEC’s law, which said that there must be 90 days notice . We gave the notice on Monday and between Monday and the date of the elections, will be 96 days. So we decided to fix the 16th and we have invited the political parties who are our major stakeholders to agree on the date and unanimously, they accepted that it is okay. Even the party who took us to court the last time, they have promised to all participate this time around. This is because we gave them our words. Maybe before you ask. You know what they were afraid is that most of the Local Government elections, it used to be that ruling party would win everything. But in Kano State, we are unique. There was a time when we had elections when about five Local Government Chairmen and many Councillors emerged from the opposition party.
But that was long ago, not in your time….?
Yes long ago. But the last time, during the conduct of the last elections, we had hoped to repeat the same exercise. We had the heart and the mind that we are going to do that. But unfortunately, the major party that was likely to have some of the seats, decided to withdraw because of a very flimsy excuse- the cost of form. They alleged that we were charging N250,000 for the position of the Chairman and N150,000 for Councilors. They held that that was too much. We told them that it was your government when it was in power that fixed the cost of forms since 2002 and we have conducted four elections with that amount or money. Honestly, then I felt ashamed as an Economist, not to have increased the rate because so many inflationary trends have impacted on the cost of conducting elections in the state. But we decided to leave it like that. For that reason, they took us to court, but the court ruled in our favour.
What are those confidence building mechanisms that we should expect, given that there is this strong feeling that the outcome of elections are often skewed in favour of the ruling party.
We told them, we said that unlike what they thought would happen. We told them that during the elections, our role is to get elections- to ensure that the complete materials are delivered on time. Don’t forget that the last time we had problems, the contractor we engaged took our things to China and though he finished everything, but unfortunately conveying here became a problem. He was only able to convey those items on the eve of the elections, around 12 midnight and we had problems getting them to some places. In fact in some places, up to 3pm, some places could not get their own materials. But this time around, we are going to patronize somebody from Nigeria, because there are many printing press that can do that work. We may go to the extreme South or extreme West and get somebody to do it for us. So what we are saying is that if they really want to participate, they should come. We give out the materials and before we give out the materials, we would invite the political parties to see what we are giving out and then to follow it to where it is going, from the headquarters down to the wards and they would keep vigil. After that, we do not receive results. We hear them in the radio also. Just like INEC is doing. After voting, counting the votes with their agents and then they move the votes to the headquarters of the Local Government and do the collation and announce the Chairman there- with the security agencies, with the political parties present . So, there is no room for one to manipulate the figures. We promise not to have anything to do with manipulative process.
You have just talked about collation, what would be the role of technology in the conduct of the next Local Government Election in the state?
We had wanted, even in the last election, to use the almighty card reader to conduct our elections, but unfortunately …we have a memorandum of understanding between us and INEC because if they do not help us with the register, we cannot conduct elections. They have by law the sole responsibility of registering voters. They are the only ones that have the voters register. They are the ones that give the register. We applied for card readers and they said sorry, we cannot give out the card readers because of so many reasons. They are costly, they can be spoiled and they have their engineers taking care of them and we don’t have the engineers here and they have a server which they have to pay heavily before the card readers can be activated and for a state conducting the election, they cannot make the payment on our behalf and probably we may not be ready to make the payment. So for that reason, we cannot use the card reader and we are not ready to use what Kaduna used because they used electronic voting system. They prepared that for about seven years. They were getting ready for that for this long and finally they got it. We even tried to find a way of either leasing or hiring those electronic devices, but they have been sort of customized. Kaduna has 33 local governments and Kano has 44 local governments and they may not be adequate for us. But the only thing is for us to use the manual exercise. The only technical thing that would be used is a form of scanner to guard against distortion of results like we had in Gama here in the last elections where somebody would scatter the results. It is so good that if you just have result recorded, even if the hard copy is destroyed, the soft copy will still be there. But honestly apart from that, every other is manual in the next elections.
Talking about Gama ward reminds one of how elections can easily become violent in the state. How are you preparing to check and address security issues, especially violence, during the forthcoming elections?
The issue is that we have just started. We have started sensitization visit today. We have gone to the Emir of Kano. The traditional institution is very strong in persuading their subjects on all matters. This evening too, we are going to the security agencies. The unique thing is that Local Government elections are not like the governorship elections taking place simultaneously in all states and in everywhere. In the last election, we used the office of the Assistant Inspector General in Kano. Apart from the force in Kano, he was able to deploy officers from Jigawa and Katsina and even from Kaduna State to the state for the purpose of the elections. So, we have a lot of security personnel to assist us – the Civil Defense is there, Immigration officers are there. But you know all these may not be necessary. The good thing is for you to be fair and just. If the people feel that they are being treated justly, there would be no need for any violence and that is what we are trying to do as much as possible. Once you fail, you should feel that you failed because you are supposed to fail and that there was no manipulation against you. We are trying on our side to make sure that we do things as transparent as possible. But also, we will not take any chance. In fact, we had to go to the Commandant of the Nigerian Army to say okay by law, you are not supposed to be there, but you should be ready because truly we don’t want a situation where lives and property would be lost. By Allah’s grace, we are going to do more to ensure a hitch -free exercise.