Buhari, INEC differ on election funding, commission blames forex, inflation
The Independent National Electoral Commission has expressed a divergent view with the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on the impact of the attacks on the electoral body’s offices and facilities in different parts of the country and how this will impact on it.
While the President said the electoral body had no excuse not to conduct credible, free and fair elections despite the attacks as the funds it requested had been made available to it, INEC noted that its funds were overstretched by the attacks as it would have to rebuild and replace the destroyed facilities.
Buhari had on Friday assured the United States of America that the attacks on the offices would not stop the conduct of next year’s general elections.
The President spoke in Washington DC during a conversation co-hosted by the United States Institute for Peace, the International Republican Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.
The President attended the US-Africa Leaders Summit held between December 13 and 15, 2022.
In the session monitored by Sunday PUNCH, the President also described Nigerian politics as argumentative and rancorous.
Buhari said in his opening remarks, “Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the stage is now set for Nigeria to conduct another general election in February 2023. I am resolute in my determination to enable the conduct of free, fair and transparent national elections in the first quarter of 2023 whose outcome will be largely accepted by the contestants.
“Since 2015, the conduct of our election continues to steadily improve. From the 2019 general elections, the bye-elections and off-season elections in Edo, Ekiti, Anambra and Osun states were conducted largely in improved content to the satisfaction of contestants and voters. That is what we hope for in 2023. Nigeria and the United States of America share many attributes. Apart from being among the largest democracies in the world, the Nigerian constitutional framework and brand of democracy are patterned along the United States of America. The two countries are the largest economies as well as the most populous in their respective continents.”
Asked if INEC was ready and able to conduct the 2023 general elections to keep the democratic process forward, Buhari replied that the commission was fully prepared for the forthcoming polls.
He said, “Thank you very much. You asked whether INEC is prepared to conduct the elections next year, I will say they are because I made sure they were given all the resources they asked (for). I don’t want any excuse that they were denied funds by the government.
“Though some of their offices in one or two geo-political zones have been attacked, all the same, INEC has not complained. Exactly, they cannot complain that they were denied resources to make sure that their infrastructure is firmly in place.”
On whether the attacks on INEC offices could impede the election process, the President said it would not in any way, stating, “It will not. I think there were two incidents. Don’t forget that we have six geo-political zones. If two offices in one geo-political zone were affected, I think the security is good. The results of the elections in Anambra, Osun and Ekiti, through them, Nigerians have appreciated that this administration is defending them to choose their political parties. This is the fundamental thing about democracy. Let people have a choice. I think Nigerians are realising that.
“Politics in our country is generally an argumentative and rancorous business. These characteristics do not necessarily diminish the very way of democracy. Governance is a product of rancorous debate to ensure the bidding of the majority of the people or representatives. More importantly, such an outcome represents the will of the people and not only of the leadership. Our political journey over the last years has pretty much been guided by these attributes of democracy. This process does not endear itself to speedy decisions.
“The characteristic trade-offs in democracy necessarily makes governance an extremely slow process. I am sure that you are familiar with the reference to me as ‘Baba Go Slow’. My compatriots would rather prefer that every day new policy decisions or actions are reeled out by the government in a military administration. But we are in a democracy and a converted democrat like me must listen and or be guided by the majority of opinions and most importantly, must learn to understand the knock-on effects of actions before they are undertaken.”
However, INEC has called on the Federal Government to intensify efforts at protecting its facilities and property nationwide to ensure hitch-free polls.
The commission also lamented that from 2019 till date, it had recorded a total of 50 attacks in 15 states of the federation.
Speaking exclusively to Sunday PUNCH, the National Commissioner, Voter Education and Publicity, INEC, Festus Okoye, said the commission would go the whole hog to deliver credible polls next year.
Quoting the commission’s Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu. while making a presentation before the House of Representatives last week, Okoye said the attacks were worrisome and unfortunate.
Okoye stated, “In four years (2019 to 2022), the commission has suffered 50 attacks in 15 states of the federation. These are malicious attacks and do not include damages to facilities as a result of fire accidents, natural disasters such as flooding or rain windstorms, the snatching and destruction of materials during elections, theft and attacks on election duty officials.
“However, the commission is deeply concerned about the most recent attacks. This is so not only because they are increasingly happening closer to the 2023 general elections, but some of them seem to be rather coordinated. So far, there have been eight attacks in 2022 in Enugu, Ogun, Osun, Ebonyi and Imo states. Two of the attacks happened in Abeokuta. It appears that these attacks are coordinated and ostensibly targeted at disrupting the forthcoming general elections.”
On the impact of the attacks on the preparations for the polls, he said, “The facilities that are destroyed, especially offices, will take time to rebuild. In the alternative, the commission must rent suitable accommodation. Second, several materials lost in the attacks have to be replaced. In some of the recent attacks, Permanent Voter Cards in the offices were destroyed.
“The commission will have to reprint them in time for collection by their owners, who must be given the opportunity to vote in the coming elections. Further, the commission and security agencies must have to increase security around the facilities. This may be very challenging for security agencies that are already over-stretched trying to protect the public and other national assets.
“These attacks on election facilities are certainly additional problems they can do without. Above all, these attacks mean that the commission will have to rebuild facilities and replace destroyed materials.”
Another area of concern, according to Okoye, is funding given the low value of the naira.
“Our funds are already overstretched by inflation, exchange rate and other additional incidental responsibilities. In fact, in five states, the commission’s facilities were attacked twice, in some cases when they were still under construction as was the case in the Orlu Local Government Area of Imo State or within a few days after staff members moved to the reconstructed renovated facilities as in the case of the Izzi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State,” he added.
Should the attacks continue at the current pace, Okoye warned that the commission “may find it increasingly difficult to recover in time for the elections.”
Buhari on corruption
Buhari noted that his administration’s efforts on corruption continued to yield results as relevant agencies soldiered on by making impressive recoveries and securing convictions of those sabotaging the country’s efforts at sustaining development and growth.
“The major cash recoveries will be deployed in a transparent way to fund the infrastructure debts,” he promised.
The President also noted that global terrorism, banditry and trans-national crimes continued to pose enormous challenges not only to Nigeria, but to global peace and security.
“These acts have become perennial threats to sustaining economic development and growth, which ought to be the dividends of democracy,” he added.
He further said that Nigeria and other regional bodies in Africa and the rest of the world were working assiduously to deal with the existential threats to the existence of humanity.
He stated that Nigeria had continued to engage bilaterally and multilaterally to comprehensively win the war against Boko Haram and related terror groups, and overcome evidence of banditry and kidnapping.
The President said, “Recall that when I assumed power, Boko Haram held about two-thirds of Borno State, half of Yobe State and a couple of local government areas in Adamawa State. Today, this is no longer the case. As a country and sub-region, we continue to be negatively impacted by the events in Libya, the Central Africa Republic, the Sahel and the war in Ukraine. Our region is awash with small and light weapons that continue to freely circulate as well as cope with the influx of foreign fighters.”
According to him, the country’s armed forces and those of its partners in the multinational joint task force consisting of Chad, Niger and Cameroon continue to demonstrate great bravery while paying the ultimate price in securing the region’s collective freedom.
He added, “Despite the difficult times we face, we continue to spend scarce and dwindling resources to ensure that we have a well-resourced military force to tackle the tasks. Ideally, these are resources that could be spent on education, or healthcare and other social services. But without peace, we have learnt the hard way that our children cannot go to school or seek good healthcare.
“We are nonetheless winning the war and making significant progress in dealing with the threats to Nigeria and the sub-region’s safety and survival. This steady progress is in spite of the negative reports of the international media as well as the nonchalant actions and attitudes of some of our friends and allies to sufficiently appreciate our efforts in the fight against terrorism. Rather, they focus on negativity which the travel advisories have become.”
Meanwhile, opposition parties have called on the President to go beyond verbal commitment to free, transparent polls to actions capable of engendering confidence in the electoral process.
The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Ibrahim Abdullahi, said, “There must be sincere commitment and renewed determination in the democratic space. And this goes beyond lip service or mere rhetoric. Express and fiat instructions backed by exemplary sanctions must be demonstrated by the APC-led government and particularly President Buhari.”
On his part, the Director, Strategic Communications of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, Chief Dele Momodu, maintained that “everything must be done to protect the sanctity of INEC. Security is key.”
Joining the conversation, the National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Chief Victor Oye, called on all Nigerians to join hands with the commission to ensure hitch-free elections.
He also called on the Federal Government to consider recruiting local security agencies to complement the police, army and other relevant security bodies.
Oye stated, “There should be concerted efforts on the part of all Nigerians to protect our national assets. Destroying these assets will remain counterproductive as public funds will be ploughed back to get them back to life. Giving INEC all the money they need is one thing, providing adequate security for INEC property, staff and facilities is another.
“APGA expects to work with security agencies to devise a more functional and effective strategy to deal with the recurring issue of burning INEC assets. It will not be a bad idea to recruit vigilance groups to man these assets.”
Groups reply IG
Representatives of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra and the Yoruba Nation agitators have warned the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, to stop blaming them for attacks on the facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
The IG had on Friday said self-determination agitators in the South-West and the South-East were responsible for the attacks on INEC offices in different parts of the country.
Baba, who was represented by the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Department of Operations, Dandaura Mustapha, stated this when he appeared before the House of Representatives ad hoc committee investigating attacks on INEC assets across the country.
He had said, “We now come to the immediate attacks on INEC facilities. Of recent, the ones that took place in Osun and Ogun, then last week in Ebonyi, Imo and Enugu; it is a well-known fact that in the South-East geopolitical zone, we have issues of secessionists – the IPOB and ESN.
“These groups are bent on stopping elections from taking place in the South-East. They have been attacking our personnel; they have been retrieving arms from members of the security agencies, not only the police, but the military and other paramilitary organisations that are there. They have been doing it, especially now that the embargo on campaigns has been lifted.
“In the South-West, we equally have the pro-Yoruba secessionists that are equally bent on seceding and not allowing the elections to take place in their areas, hence the attack on INEC in Osun and Ogun of recent. Those ones are also sponsored by politicians and other stakeholders.”
Reacting, one of the legal advisers to the Yoruba Nation agitators, Mr Olasupo Ojo, said the IG should go and fish out people responsible for the attacks and stop blaming members of the self-determination group.
This is as he said the group was opposed to violence in its agitation and would not deviate from that.
“Our struggle is non-violent; so, we deny such allegations totally,” Ojo said.
He urged the IG to stop “jumping into conclusion from his office and move to the field and conduct his own investigation.”
Ojo stated, “He (IG) should move out of his seat and go to the field to conduct investigations. He should stop depending on hearsay or beer parlour rumours. He should go and do his work thoroughly.
“He cannot label us anarchists. Yoruba Nation agitators are not anarchists. We are civilised and educated. We are pursuing our agitation legitimately and lawfully in accordance with the norms of international laws.
“We are not criminals; we don’t engage in any crime. They should go and look for whoever is burning their offices.
“They should screen all their politician friends, including fellow officers of the Nigeria Police Force. They should screen themselves first.”
He also noted that members of the group were not interested in the elections or their outcome, adding that the Yoruba Nation agitators had filed a lawsuit stopping the conduct of the polls.
The lawyer stated, “We won’t fight our people. We cannot fight out fellow Yoruba. We have a few who are contesting for various positions; they are still our brothers.
“After all, those offices were built with our money. We are not going to destroy what belongs to us. By the time the Yoruba Nation comes alive, we are going to be using those facilities for our governance. If we burn them now; what are we going to use then?”
Similarly, the representative of the Ilana Omo Oodua, Maxwell Adeleye, said a stance would be taken by the group today (Sunday) and communicated to members of the public.
“We will meet and issue a stance tomorrow (Sunday) please and not today (Saturday),” he simply said.
Also reacting, the counsel for IPOB, Mr Ifeanyi Ejiofor, said the group had before now denied involvement in attacks on INEC facilities and should not be blamed for them.
“IPOB has denied these allegations before now. The IG should go and look for the people burning these facilities and bring them to justice,” he said.
Arrest attackers – Ohanaeze
The spokesperson for the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, urged the IG to go after the attackers and stop “blaming the Igbo and IPOB.”
He said, “Insecurity in the South-East cannot be blamed on the Igbo or on IPOB. This is what they call ‘blaming the victim’.
“When they orchestrated the Igbo out of the 15 security architecture in the country, we were not bothered about it. Now, they cannot prevail against insecurity. They have failed woefully. The security system appears to have collapsed and now they are blaming Igbo and IPOB for it. This is unfair.
“An efficient security system is supposed to nip all this in the bud and curtail it. If they said it is IPOB or the Igbo; let them arrest the persons responsible and deal with them within the ambit of the law.”
He, however, admitted that there were agitations and youth restiveness in the region “but this is as a result of how our people feel in respect to the government’s marginalisation and alienation.”
Ogbonnia stated, “It is convenient to say the people responsible for these attacks are ‘unknown gunmen’ because IPOB has often denied it. The onus lies on the security agents to establish the people doing this. If it is IPOB, let them display them as IPOB and let us know the identities of these masked men.
“It is simply because of the inability of the security officers to get the people arrested that they are conveniently saying it is IPOB. It is not true. They have said countless times that it is not their handiwork.”
No postponement – INEC
The Independent National Electoral Commission has ruled out a possible postponement of the 2023 general elections as it has the required resources for the smooth conduct of the polls.
INEC’s Head of Operations in Gombe State, Aminu Isah, made this disclosure during the discussion segment of an engagement with youth focused groups in the North-East with the theme; ‘Making your votes count…consolidating democracy’, which was held in Gombe on Saturday.
The engagement was part of the commission’s drive to sensitise youths, especially corps members, as well as religious and civil society groups.
Isah said unlike previously, INEC had received the needed resources that would make the electoral process smooth.
“The 2023 elections will be the best to be conducted; INEC has got all its funds ahead of the elections. There will not be any possible postponement of the 2023 elections, unlike 2019,” he stated.
On Permanent Voter Card collection, he said it had commenced in earnest adding, “All the states have received the last tranche of the printed PVCs for those that have registered.”
The Gombe State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Ibrahim Umar, who represented the National Commissioner in charge of Taraba, Gombe and Adamawa states, Dr Baba Bila, said the commission had received non-sensitive materials and some sensitive materials, including the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System machines, in readiness of the elections.
Bila stated that the youth population constituted over 50 per cent in the country, stressing that their involvement in the polls was important.
He said, “INEC is fully prepared to conduct free, fair, timely and all inclusive elections come 2023. The Head of Operations has already told you that we have already received most of the non-sensitive materials and among sensitive materials we have received full complement of the BVAS. By the grace of God, we are not going to have any hitches.”
Osun’s 5,306 BVAS
The Resident Electoral Commissioner in Osun State, Dr Mutiu Agboke, on Saturday said the commission had received a total of 5,306 BVAS machines for use during the 2023 elections.
Agboke, who spoke during an awareness campaign in Osogbo, which was organised in collaboration with the Power of PVC Ride, a non-governmental organisation, to create awareness for the collection of Permanent Voter Cards in the state, also said the commission had commenced the training of its employees ahead of the polls.
“We have received 5,306 BVAS and we are ready; we are charging and configuring them, and training our staff members and partnering stakeholders, and we have always been engaging our stakeholders,” he stated.
Adegoke called on residents of the state to collect their PVCs to enable them participate in the elections.