The Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, has said the timetable for the 2015 general election recently announced by the Commission was informed by rational and logical considerations, not sentimental or ulterior motivations.
He said the Commission was mindful of its own operational effectiveness and global best practice in grouping national elections together on one day, and state elections together on another. The timetable announced two weeks ago by INEC schedules National Assembly and Presidential elections for February 14, 2015, and Governorship as well as State Assembly elections for February 28, 2015.
While fielding questions from that audience after a presentation he made at a well-attended forum at Chatham House, London, at the weekend, Professor Jega dismissed suggestions that INEC was under external pressure in designing the election timetable the way it did. “Nobody has put us under any pressure. We did these things logically and rationally, in terms of what we considered best for our country,” he said.
The Chatham House event was a public forum at the instance of Africa Programme unit of the organisation, which invited Professor Jega to make a presentation on ‘2015 Elections in Nigeria: Expectations and Challenges.’
Responding to an enquiry on the rationale for the election schedules, the INEC chairman explained that the country is not up to having all the elections in one day. He also disagreed with suggestions that the elections were drastically reordered, when compared to 2011. “As far as we are concerned, the presidential election is not positioned first. What we did is that we combined the National elections, so you can’t say that presidential election is placed first,” he said.
Professor Jega explained: “Some Nigerians wonder why we can’t have all the elections in one day. It is true that in some countries, they conduct all their elections in one day. From our own assessment, the enormity of challenges associated with that is such that we are not prepared in the electoral commission to do all the elections in one day. But then, we felt that instead of having three elections, let us have two. In 2011, we had three: we did the National Assembly elections first; then, the Presidential; and then, the Governorship as well as State Assembly elections. But we felt that (in 2015), let us have two elections rather than three. Then we said: what is the best combination in line with global best practice? The global best practice is that you do national elections separate from state elections, if you can’t do all together. So, rather than have the Presidential and Governorship elections together, or the National Assembly with State Assembly elections; we said, let us have all the national elections together, and then the state elections.
“That is the logic, that is the rationale; and it is defensible. But you hear politicians make all manners of allegations; because in their own calculation, some people want certain elections to come first, others want it to come later. If you do not satisfy what they want, then they would start accusing you as if there is an interest being served, or that we came under some pressure. Nobody has put us under any pressure.”
The INEC chairman added that the elections were slated for February 2014 to allow time for litigations before the commencement of new tenures. This schedule, he noted, perfectly conforms to legal provisions requiring elections to be conducted not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of relevant tenures. “In 2011, we did voter registration in January/February, that was why the elections had to wait till April. But since we are not doing a fresh registration in 2015, we said let’s have the elections early in the period permissible, so that there will be more time before swearing-in for litigation.”
Professor Jega assured that INEC is sparing no effort to ensure that the challenge of logistics which marred past elections is prevented in future elections, namely the Ekiti and Osun governorships, and the 2015 general election. He, however, regretted that reports of that challenge during the November 2013 Anambra State governorship election were overblown.
He said: “The issue of logistics is a major challenge for INEC, and we are doing our best to address it. But for Anambra, the state has 31 local government areas, and the challenge we faced was with regard to one local government – Idemili North. Since the Edo State governorship election, we started customising result sheets to specific wards and polling units. In the past, politicians would get result sheets and move them around. So, we started customised the result sheets. And so, if there was a mix-up in the distribution among polling units, you would have the kind of crisis we had in Anambra. Of course, there was no reason why there should be that kind of mix-up, and we were not satisfied by the explanation given by the Electoral Officer in charge of that local government. But the fact was: before we could retrieve and redistribute those result sheets, time had lapsed and the people had become agitated. Some even blocked our officials from proceeding with the process of redistribution, because they suspected that something funny was happening.
“What we have done is to have that officer arraigned in court. He has been charged, because it is a criminal offence to obstruct the electoral process or undermine elections. The matter is in court, and is being prosecuted. So, we are doing our best. You cannot stop people from interpreting what happened one way or the other, especially as it is true that Idemili is an area considered a stronghold of one of the candidates. Was it done deliberately? That is what the court case will be addressing. But we cannot allow this to continue to happen. And that is why we are paying a lot of attention to addressing the challenge. We have demonstrated a capacity to identify people who are responsible for failures, and to hold them accountable. And that is another thing that wasn’t the case in the past. It is a big challenge and we will continue to do our best in that regard.”
The INEC chairman is certain that the challenge of people not finding their names on the biometric register of voters on Election Day will not reoccur if every voter make the effort to ascertain their status during impending display of the register before the commencement of Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) nationwide. Besides, there are additional means being put in place by the Commission to facilitate voter enquiry about the register.
He said: “We have already provided a service in that regard, using the SMS platform. In fact, in Anambra – although it came a bit late before the election, and there was no massive publicity to get the people adequately aware – we deployed the use of SMS to enable the voter to interrogate the register. You could send an SMS to a particular number to know whether you are on the register, and in which polling unit you have registered. We hope to launch this facility nationwide by the end of this month, so that people can interrogate the register. And before the 2015 elections, we hope to have the register accessible on INEC website so that people can ascertain their status.”
The Chatham House forum in London was an extension of a similar event organised earlier in the week by the United States Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Professor Jega was invited to give a keynote speech on ‘2015 Elections in Nigeria: Preparations and Challenges,’ at a public event where leading Nigerian Civil Society activist were panellists. CSO leaders hosted at the event were Clement Nwankwo, Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) and Convener of the Civil Society Situation Room on Elections; Ayisha Oshori, Executive Director, Nigerian Women Trust Fund; Festus Okoye, Chairman of the Independent Election Monitors; Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi; Executive Director, WARD-C; Jude Ohanele, Chairman of South-east Governance Network; and Inemo Samiama, Director, Stakeholders Democracy Network.
The Washington event drew participation from senior United States policy makers, diplomats and development partners, among them former U. S. Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Johnnie Carson; former U. S. Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell; Senior Associate and Regional Director at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Christopher Fomunyoh; President, International Republican Institute, Ambassador Mark Green; Senior Advisor, Open Society Foundations, Morton H. Halperin; Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Karen J. Hanrahan; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, U. S. Department of State, Robert P. Jackson; Director of African Studies and Associate Professor, John Hopkins University, Peter M. Lewis; Senior Advisor to the President, United States Institute of Peace, Princeton N. Lyman; and Vice President, Programs, International Foundation for Electoral Systems, Michael Svetlik.