By Chijioke Iremeka
There is alleged conspiracy to prevent the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from holding free, fair and credible 2023 general elections.
This scheming had provoked stakeholders, who have warned that Nigeria may be set on the path of political crisis.
The conspiracy skidded into top gear as politicians, who felt that the deployment of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), with its dual fingerprint and facial biometric accreditation process, would not allow them to perfect their fraudulent enterprise. They are scheming to suspend the technology and sack INEC chairman, Prof Yakubu Mahmood.
That the deployment of BVAS and other technology, described as vaccines to vote rigging, have shown the capacity and ability to curb or reduce election malpractices to barest minimum. Already this has been tested in previous elections in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states.
Stakeholders said this machination is bent on sneering the progress that the INEC has recorded, even as they have criticised the gambit, saying it’s antithetical to the development of the country’s democracy.
They also urged INEC to resist pressure, temptation, or some other negative antics by political parties and politicians, advising the electoral body to investigate the allegation that its members are being pressurised by politicians to do their bidding ahead of 2023 elections.
It was learnt that there were failed attempts by fraudulent people to hack into the INEC Results Viewing (iRev) Portal with a view to changing the polling units-level results in the previous elections in Ekiti and Osun states.
Sequel to these attacks, the Commission said it had taken steps to strengthen its digital assets to ensure foolproof security of all its web-based resources and technologies, confirming that INEC’s engineers reported several cyber attacks on the portal during the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections as far from Asia.
“I’m glad to note that all of them failed. For this reason, the Commission has introduced many innovations, supported by the deployment of appropriate technology to protect the sanctity of the choice made by Nigerians at the polls, ranging from voter registration to voter accreditation and result management,” INEC boss hinted.
A chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC) and Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr. Osita Okechukwu, in an interview with The Guardian, commended INEC’s performance in the recent elections, saying that technology has proved to be an antidote to vote rigging.
“My submission is that BVAS and the earlier smart card readers are vaccines against vote-rigging. I think that in no distant future, our electoral system will be one of the most credible, free and fair. Naturally, the credit goes to INEC. Yes, there were hitches as it’s always with the case in the early usage of any type of technology.
Okechukwu stated that technology has commenced the transformation of the psyche of politicians to be more loyal to the electorate than godfathers, saying, “It is a revolution, for if it is federal might, APC could have won Anambra and Osun squarely. This was the folly of those who continue to hope to rig elections at collation centres.”
More so, President Muhammadu Buhari had in different fora, said he wouldn’t interfere with the outcome of the 2023 elections, assuring Nigerians and international community of free and fair election, as well as peaceful transfer of power to winners in 2023.
Buhari, who said he was going to leave a legacy of free and fair election, made the pledge at a virtual summit for democracy organised by President Joe Biden of the United States, saying that necessary mechanisms would be strengthened to ensure Nigeria witnesses another peaceful transfer of power.
Besides, INEC has assured the electorate that only their votes would determine the winners among the 15, 322 candidates contesting various positions in next year’s general elections. It reiterated commitment to delivering credible, free and fair elections.
Yakubu gave the assurance in his keynote address at the yearly conference of the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers, held in Lagos. He said, “The 2023 general election is fast approaching. Polling units will open at 8.30am on Saturday, February 25, 2023, for national elections (presidential and national assembly), and at the same time on Saturday, March 11, 2023, for state elections (governorship and state assemblies).
“Campaign in public by political parties officially commenced on Wednesday, September 28, 2022. Therefore, the tempo of political activities has increased as parties; candidates and their supporters commenced campaigns, rallies, processions and media advertisements to canvass the support of the electorate.
“The Commission had published the final list of 15, 322 candidates contesting for 1, 491 seats (one presidential, 28 governorship, 109 senatorial, 360 house of representatives and 993 state assembly constituencies) in the general elections.”
He explained that the technological innovations would guarantee and protect the sanctity of the choice made by Nigerians at the polls.
He said: “The deployment of BVAS has ensured that only genuine voters are accredited to vote during the elections. This has curtailed the incidence of multiple voting and other sharp practices associated with voter accreditation during elections.
“The BVAS has come to stay and will be the only means by which voters will be accredited in the 2023 general election. Furthermore, the introduction of the INEC IReV Portal has made the result management procedure more transparent. Polling Unit results are now uploaded in real-time to the IReV portal for public view.”
But few weeks after these promises were made, there are fears that certain people who felt that the technologies would not allow them hatch plots against people’s will are strategising to sack INEC chairman if they did not succeed in their plans to stop deployment of BVAS.
A strategist and historian, Vincent Ezeme is scared that if situation is not properly handled, it could lead to untoward consequences.
He cautioned that the burning of the INEC offices across the country is a deliberate plot to destabilise the Commission ahead of 2023 and urged INEC to be resolute in its resolve to conduct credible elections, irrespective of threats from some politicians.
INEC has also expressed concerns about deliberate attacks on its facilities in some states where materials meant for the elections were burnt. “Within the space of three weeks, three attacks were carried out on INEC facilities in Ogun, Osun and Ebonyi states,” the electoral body said. Another one happened in Imo State last week.
The Commission lamented that incessant attacks on it facilities might cause hitches in operations, saying, though there are no casualties, quite a number of the materials acquired and delivered for the election have been lost.
“The good thing is that so far, we can recover from all the losses but it is a source of concern which should not be allowed to continue.”
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, warned that the 2023 election might be marred by violence, expressing fears that elections may not hold in many parts of Nigeria given the activities of criminals in some parts of the country.
Falana, while on Channels television recently, said based on security reports, criminals have taken control of about 616 local governments, expressing worries about the inability of the law enforcement agencies to prosecute electoral offenders.
Falana said: “You can’t talk of elections in those places. The members of the political class and the government will have to sit instead of jumping all over the place and deal with this situation. Can we really hold election under an atmosphere of violence and lawlessness as we are currently witnessing? If this trend continues, the credibility of the elections will be questioned because candidates, who fail would say he or she would have won in places where elections were not conducted, and that would be problematic.”
On INEC’s commitment to conducting credible election, he said: “The Electoral Act 2022 has introduced the use of technology to a great extent in the conduct of the elections. But the enemies of democracy are trying to frustrate INEC from realising the objective of the law.
“It is the duty of Nigerians to frustrate such anti-democratic forces. As you witness in Osun and Ekiti states, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), was among the security agencies that arrested those who were buying and selling votes.
“Those who were involved in Osun have been charged before the court. When I asked why the criminal elements in Ekiti were not charged, I was told that a member of the ruling party accompanied by thugs invaded the temporary office of the EFCC and carted away all the materials that were seized and thereby destroyed the evidence.”
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State is one of the prominent politicians who expressed worry over Buhari and INEC’s commitment to keeping their promises of free and fair elections come 2023.
Wike, who spoke during the flag-off of a state project for construction of Igwuruta internal roads in Ikwerre Local Government Area, said, “I thank Mr. President that he wants to leave a legacy of conducting a free and fair election. Thank God for Mr. President for saying he would not interfere or intimidate anybody. My problem is the INEC, whether it would do what it said it was going to do.
“They are making promises now. I don’t know whether they will keep to it. If INEC will keep to the promises that Nigeria will get a better election, I will be so happy. Everybody will see that Abuja does not vote. It is the people here that will vote.”
Also, in a quick succession, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) raised two strident alarms over the electoral process. It alleged, and for the second time, plots to remove the Chairman of the INEC and frustrate deployment of BVAS.
CUPP said it uncovered a suit to stop the use of the BVAS machine for the 2023 general elections, saying it was filed against the INEC at the Federal High Court, Owerri, in August. Without mentioning the plaintiff, the CUPP spokesperson, Barrister Ikenga Ugochinyere said the suit was on a secret report by the Nigerian Technology Development Agency (NITDA).
To exacerbate the situation, a northern group under the auspices of Arewa Citizens’ Watch for Good Governance (ACWGG) has called for the removal of the INEC boss. It threatened to petition President Buhari, National Assembly, US Embassy, European Union, for the failure of INEC chairman to either resign or be sacked, saying that the INEC Chairman with his team were deliberately working against the interest of the north to suppress voters in the region.
The group’s Chairman, Alhaji Mohammed Adamu said INEC and the team, must go because they have been morally compromised to deliver free, fair and credible polls in 2023.
Against this background, the ACWGG’s chairman called on government agencies to arrest and prosecute Yakubu for trying to use his office to effect leadership change in the country in a satanic manner, saying that Yakubu and members of his team should humbly resign to enable an independent probe into the allegation of insertion of foreigners’ names in the voter register.
“At the instance where we feel our demands are not being treated with needed gloves, we shall be forced to come out in our numbers and occupy all INEC offices in the region, including the national headquarters.”
The Chairman, Human Right and Constitutional Rights Committee, Africa Bar Association, Sonnie Ekwowusi, argued that BVAS is recognised by the Electoral Act 2022, saying that nobody has the right to suspend it or sack the INEC chairman based on deployment of technologies to better the country’s elections.
Confirming the apprehension of politicians in deploying the technology, former INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, under whose watch the Permanent Voter Card (PVC), and the Smart Card Reader (SCR), were introduced, which improved the electoral process attested to how scared politicians could be about technology, which engenders transparency in the electoral space.
Although Prof. Jega did not elaborate on this, the introduction of the SCR, met with stiff opposition by politicians.
Learning from the shenanigans of politicians and the shortcomings of the SCR, the Commission introduced BVAS. Earlier, where the SCR correctly read fingerprints but failed to accredit a voter, such a voter was allowed to fill an Incident Form. But soon, the politicians took advantage of this loophole to perpetrate identity fraud, making voters in some cases, to vote more than once.
The Chairman, Transitioning Monitoring Group (TMG), Auwal Musa (Rafsanjani) had called on Nigerians to be vigilant and ready to defend democracy, affirming that the threat to 2023 general election is real.
He cautioned while Nigerians are preparing to exercise their civic rights in electing leaders that would solve the myriad of challenges confronting the country, some politicians are scheming to stop the election or ensure the poll is not free, fair and credible.
The civil society leader, who expressed concerns about the election, accused some politicians of creating insecurity to justify looting of the nation’s resources, saying that Nigerians are tired of monumental rigging and bastardisation of the electoral process.
“As Nigerians continue to yearn for new leadership at local, state and national levels, some people are also determined and desperate to make sure that 2023 election will not hold and because of the new threat they created, some parties cannot campaign in some states because the governors have commandeered state assets and public buildings. In some instances, they beat up people.”
Also, Vice Chair, TMG, Miriam Mentiti said that the media has a critical role to play, especially by collaborating with the civil society to drive home the message.
On how to make the 2023 election free and fair, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) said the 2023 presidential election could only be adjudged popular, inclusive, violence free and credible if it is conducted by ensuring that citizens, of voting age, regardless of tribe, religion, class or gender, are issued with PVCs to participate in it.
The group stated that voters and candidates in the general elections must also be protected in an atmosphere devoid of fear, threats and violence, saying that with these, one could conclude that the electorate acted in their best interests and that of the country without fear of favour.
Stakeholders also warned against postponement of the election as being touted.
The Guardian learnt that the allegation and fear of postponement of election prompted the INEC’s clarification, re-assuring Nigerians that 2023 general elections would not be postponed on account of logistic challenges.
A human rights lawyer, Effiong Inihebe, said BVAS, an electronic means of reading PVCs and accreditation of voters, would guarantee free and fair elections in 2023, saying that the enemies of democracy and credible elections are unveiling themselves in the most shameful way.
He dismissed claims that the country is not ready for BVAS, disclosing that election riggers are terrified and would not want BVAS. He said. “If INEC succumbs to this evil agenda, we can kiss free and fair elections in 2023 goodbye.”