Nigeria: General Elections 2019
Countdown to Saturday, 23 February 2019, 08:00:00 (Lagos time)

Press Release
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu speaks at a meeting with stakeholders at the Abuja International Conference Centre on Saturday 16th February.

 

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu in a session with International Observers

 

  1. About thirteen hours ago, I conveyed to Nigerians the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to reschedule the 2019 general elections by one week. Presidential and National Assembly earlier scheduled for 16th February 2019 will now hold on Saturday 23rd February 2019 while Governorship, State Assembly and FCT Area Council elections scheduled for 2nd March 2019 will now hold on Saturday 9th March 2019. The one-week adjustment was a painful one for INEC but necessary in the overall interest of our democracy.

 

  1. Nigerians will recall that when this Commission was appointed in November 2015, we promised two cardinal things. First, we shall work hard to consolidate the improvements made in the management of elections in Nigeria since 2011. Secondly, we shall always be open, transparent and responsive. We have strived diligently to keep these promises in very trying circumstances.

 

  1. In keeping with our promise to consolidate the gains of the last two electoral cycles, the Commission has conducted 195 re-run and off-season elections across the country since the last general elections. Most of these elections have been generally adjudged to show progressive improvements in planning, execution and outcomes.

 

  1. This commitment to continue to improve on election administration has informed our preparations for the 2019 general elections. Our goal is to plan carefully, execute meticulously and bring stability into election management in Nigeria. Consequently, we announced fixed dates for elections in Nigeria to the effect that Presidential and National Assembly elections will always hold on the third Saturday in February of an election year, while the Governorship and State Assembly elections follow two weeks later. Having settled this, we began the planning quite early, with a Strategic Plan (SP), a Strategic Programme of Action (SPA) and an Election Project Plan (EPP). In fact, the plan for the 2019 general elections was ready in November 2017 and we subsequently issued the timetable and schedule of activities for the elections over one year ago on 9th January 2018. We carefully followed the timetable and implemented 13 of the 14 activities as scheduled. We kept to the timeframe and have not missed the date fixed for any single activity.

 

  1. In preparing for the 2019 general elections, we have come face-to-face with the realities of conducting such an extensive national deployment of men and materials in a developing country like ours. It is said that elections constitute the most extensive mobilization of men and materials that any country could undertake in peacetime. The challenges of doing so, even under the best of circumstances, are enormous. Within a period of 16 months, we registered over 14 million Nigerians as new voters, collecting their names, addresses, photographs and their entire ten fingerprints. Beyond that, we prepared, printed and delivered their permanent voter’s cards for collection. I should note that of the 14.28 million Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) made available for collection, about 10.87 million or 76.12% have been collected.

 

  1. It is often not appreciated the magnitude of activities that the Commission undertakes during general elections. Not only we have recruited and trained about 1 million young people to serve as ad hoc staff, the magnitude of materials mobilized for our elections is enormous. For instance, the Commission has printed 421.7 million ballot papers for six scheduled elections, as well as 13.6 million leaves of result forms for the Presidential election alone. Indeed, managing 91 political parties and 23,316 candidates for whom votes will be cast in 119,973 polling units by over 84 million voters is certainly astounding. No doubt, preparations for the 2019 general elections have been extremely tasking for the Commission.

 

  1. It is therefore not unexpected that such a tremendous national mobilization of men and materials will encounter operational challenges and we have had our own fair share of such challenges. There has been delays in delivering ballot papers and result sheets for the elections which is not unusual. However, I must emphasize that all the ballot papers and result sheets were ready before the elections despite the very tight legal timeframe for finalizing nomination of candidates and dealing with the spate of legal challenges that accompany it. In this regard, the Commission has been sued or joined in over 640 court cases arising from the nomination of candidates. As at today, there are 40 different court orders against the Commission on whether to add or drop candidates. The net effect of these is that there is usually roughly a one-month window for the Commission to print ballot papers and result sheets and either fly or transport them to several destinations until they finally get to each polling unit. Unfortunately, in the last one week, flights within the country have been adversely affected by bad weather. For instance, three days ago, we were unable to deliver materials to some locations due to bad weather. We therefore had to rely on slow-moving long haulage vehicles to locations that can be serviced by air in spite of the fact that we created five zonal airport hubs – Abuja (North Central), Port Harcourt (South South and South East), Kano (North West), Maiduguri and Yola (North East) and Lagos (South West) to facilitate the delivery of electoral logistics.

 

  1. Apart from these logistical challenges, we also faced what may well be attempts to sabotage our preparations. In a space of two weeks, we had to deal with serious fire incidents in three of our offices in Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia State, Qu’an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State and our Anambra State Office at Awka. In all three cases, serious disruptions were occasioned by the fire, further diverting our attention from regular preparations to recovery from the impact of the incidents. In Isiala Ngwa South, hundreds of PVCs were burnt, necessitating the re-compiling of the affected cards and reprinting in time to ensure that the affected voters are not disenfranchised. I am glad that all the cards were quickly reprinted and made available for collection by their owners.

 

  1. In Qu’an Pan Local Government Area, our entire office was razed, destroying all the materials prepared for the elections – printed register of voters, ballot boxes, voting cubicles and several electricity generating sets. 11 Registration Areas and over 100 polling units were affected by the fire. We recovered quickly and have since replaced everything destroyed. In addition, we secured a suitable building from which to conduct the elections.

 

  1. Perhaps the most serious was the fire incident in our Anambra State Office at Awka, which destroyed over 4,600 Smart Card Readers being prepared for the elections. These Card Readers take at least six months to procure. Despite this setback, we have practically recovered from this by mopping up every available spare SCR across the country and within 24 hours delivered them for elections to hold in Anambra State.

 

  1. All these challenges mean that there have been differences in preparations from one State to another. Our overall assessment is that if the elections went on as planned, polls will not open at 8am in all polling units nationwide. Yet, we are determined that polls must hold at the same time everywhere in the country. In this way, elections will not be staggered. This is very important to public perception of elections as free, fair and credible. We promised Nigerians that we shall be open, transparent and responsive.

 

  1. Faced with these challenges, we initially thought that we only require a maximum of 24 hours to resolve the logistics issues involved and complete our deployment for the election. This would mean shifting the elections to commence on Sunday 17th February 2019. However, given the restriction of movement during elections, that could affect many voters who worship on Sundays. While the Commission was considering the following Monday 18th February 2019 as an option, our ICT Department advised us that it would require 5 – 6 days to reconfigure about 180,000 Smart Card Readers earlier programmed to work only on election day – Saturday 16th February 2019. It is for this reason that the Commission decided to adjust the election dates to Saturday 23rd February 2019 for Presidential and National Assembly elections and a consequential adjustment of the Governorship, State Assembly and FCT Area Council elections to Saturday 9th March 2019.

 

  1. Some sensitive materials have been distributed. However, all such materials have been retrieved and will be taken back to the custody of the Central Bank of Nigeria. I want to assure you that there will be proper audit to account for all materials.

 

  1. In the next few days, the Commission will work on the basis of the following plan:

 

  • Completion/confirmation of deployment of materials: Monday 18th February 2019

 

  • Configuration of the Smart Card Readers – Sunday 17th – Thursday 21st February 2019

 

  • Receipt and Deployment of sensitive materials to LGAs – Wednesday 20th and Thursday 21st February 2019

 

  • Refresher training for ad hoc staff – Thursday 21st February 2019

 

  • Deployment of personnel to RACs – Friday 22nd February 2019

 

  • Election Day – Saturday 23rd February 2019

 

  1. I want to appeal to Nigerians and all other stakeholders for their understanding in what has been a very difficult decision for the Commission. But we believe that ultimately this is for the good of our democracy and country. I wish to assure you of our commitment to free, fair and credible elections.

 

  1. As Chairman of INEC, and on behalf of the Commission, we take full responsibility for what happened and we regret any inconvenience our decision might have caused.

 

  1. Thank you and God bless.

Honourable National Commissioners
Resident Electoral Commissioners
Senior Officials of the Commission
Ladies and Gentlemen

1. It is my pleasure to welcome the Resident Electoral Commissioners to this meeting. I want to especially welcome our new Resident Electoral Commissioner for Bayelsa State, Monday Udoh Tom, who is attending the meeting for the first time.

2. Coming just a week to the General Elections, this meeting is convened essentially in order to have a final review of preparations. Yesterday, we had a crucial meeting with the security agencies and the national union representing the road transport workers. Issues of securing the environment for peaceful elections were discussed. Similarly, the issue of logistics, particularly transportation for the delivery of personnel and materials, was discussed.

3. At this meeting, we will undertake a comprehensive review of our preparations. Overall, the Commission is ready for the elections. Nevertheless, we are ever ready to fine-tune processes and procedures in order to serve Nigerians better. In the last couple of days, we have been inundated by calls from Nigerians to review the current process of collection of Permanent Voters’ Cards. In response, the Commission has taken the following decisions:

i. The collection of PVCs scheduled to end today Friday 8th February 2019 is hereby extended nationwide to Monday 11th February 2019. This will include Saturday and Sunday.

ii. The collection of PVCs will now take place from 9am to 6pm daily.

iii. All State offices are hereby directed to review the procedure for the collection of PVCs and dedicate all the staff of the Local Government offices to the collection process. Staff are enjoined to be civil in attending to citizens and to escalate issues that they cannot immediately resolve to their superiors.

4. The Commission wishes to reassure Nigerians that we will continue to take every necessary step to ensure that no registered voter is disenfranchised on account of non-collection of PVCs. Similarly, the Commission is taking urgent steps to address complaints of unavailability of the PVCs of some registered voters before the end the deadline for the collection.

5. We wish to reiterate that after the deadline of Monday 11th February 2019, all uncollected PVCs will be recalled and deposited with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for safe-keeping until after the General Elections when the collection of cards and the continuous registration of voters will resume.

6. Once again, I welcome RECs to this meeting.

Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has assured members of the Administrative Board of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria on the Commission’s resolve to conduct free, fair and credible 2019 general elections.

Speaking at an interactive meeting with the Catholic Bishops on Wednesday evening in Abuja, as part of the nationwide consultation with stakeholders on the Commission’s readiness for the general elections, Prof. Yakubu gave a detailed background of the measures already put in place to ensure a successful outing.

He said the Commission was determined to improve on the gains recorded in the 2015 general elections, just as he affirmed that only the votes cast by citizens would determine the eventual winners at the polls.

Responding to questions, he debunked some media reports making the rounds about the alleged centralisation of the recruitment of Collation and Returning Officers for the elections. He said there was no basis for the allegation in the first place, since Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) had never handled the recruitment of such officers.

Explaining the background, he said: “in order to protect the sanctity of the electoral process, INEC took a decision in 2011 not to recruit Collation and Returning Officers from among its staff, but from senior lecturers and professorial cadre in our Universities. This is what the Commission has done consistently. The Chairman of the Commission handles this responsibility. He liaises with Vice Chancellors under specific criteria.The Vice Chancellors submits names directly to the INEC Chairman, the submitted names are further vetted, before we finally engage and post them to the states. It is after we have finished with the process of engagement that we liaise with the RECs who then assign the Collation and Returning Officers to local government areas and constituencies where they are going to work.

“There was a reason why the Commission took that decision. There was a time in the past when, particularly in the recruitment of Collation Officers and most especially the Returning Officers, some people pandered to the wishes of politicians. The Commission then decided to centralise it and involve not only the universities, but also the Academic Staff Union of the Universities (ASUU).

“Since 2015, we have conducted elections into 195 constituencies and not on one occasion did the headquarters ask the RECs to recruit Collation or Returning Officers. This is what the Commission has been doing since 2011. I was surprised when I read the report. However, RECs have the responsibility of recruiting Supervisory Presiding Officers, Presiding Officers and Assistant Presiding Officers, mainly from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members, and when we have a shortfall, we make it up with students of tertiary institutions. So, there is no change of policy and there is no new policy. There is no truth in the allegation.”

On another allegation emanating from certain quarters that the National Register of Voters contains names of under-age or ineligible persons, Prof. Yakubu said that while the current Register was, indeed, not perfect, “it is the largest and most current database of Nigerians with photographs and full biometrics.”

According to him, before previous elections, citizens were required to register afresh. But the Commission stopped the practice since 2010. Since then, he stated, the Voters’ Register was updated in 2014 for the 2015 general elections, and also in 2017 and 2018 for the 2019 general elections. He said: “It is robust and easily the largest database of citizens in the country with photographs and full biometrics. We believe that we should continue to clean it up instead of throwing it away and starting a new registration process.”

Prof Yakubu also told the Catholic Bishops that the allegations about the existence of under-age persons in the Voters’ Register gained currency after the Local Government election conducted by the Kano State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC), when the social media was awash with stories, pictures and clips of under-age persons either registering to vote or actually voting during elections.

His words: “there was a composite picture on the social media. When we saw it, we were surprised because before the local government election, the Commission had conducted a bye election in the Minjibir State Constituency in Kano. In that election conducted by INEC, there was no single allegation of the prevalence of underage persons.”

Besides, the INEC Chairman observed that each of the registered political parties got a copy of the Voters’ Register since 2011 and none of them had ever complained of the prevalence of under-age voters in the Register.

He wondered: “So, what happened in the local government election conducted by a different election management body, the Kano State Independent Election Commissions (SIEC)?”

Prof. Yakubu continued: “We set up a committee to investigate it. We asked the committee to decompose the composite picture that circulated on the social media and then, we saw surprises. All the pictures (on social media) had nothing to do with the Kano local government election. Some were pictures of events that happened 11 years ago. The most interesting for me, was the queue of young small boys at an Internally Displaced Camp (IDP) in Bornu state. They were given handouts. They cut the head and tail of the queue and it was presented as young persons voting in the Kano local government elections from the INEC register. Now, even if you have underage persons, you cannot have a polling unit of exclusively for underage persons. We saw this and we responded. I addressed a press conference, and when the agitation continued that we should publish the entire report of the committee, we published it online in March 2018 and since then, we have not heard a single comment.”

He also argued that the responsibility of cleaning the Voters’ Register was not INEC’s alone. He said while the law requires the Commission to paste the Register at each polling unit nationwide before the general election for claims and objections, Nigerians and political parties also owe it a duty to draw the Commission’s attention to the names of ineligible persons for rectification.

He said: “We have been doing so consistently. After the last one, we received only a few comments from the states, I think 48,000 out of 84 million registered voters. Part of the difficulty is that we are very careful if someone says that one person is dead, because of the experience the Commission had in 2015. We received a letter from one particular political party that a candidate was dead and they submitted a Death Certificate obtained from a government hospital. They also went to court, swore to an affidavit and his family also attested to the fact that the candidate was dead. They filed all these documents at the Commission. A week later, the supposedly dead candidate turned up and said he was alive.”

On the National Collation Centre, Prof Yakubu reiterated the difference between the actual collation of the 2019 general elections results and the ad-hoc committee established to put the Collation Centre in place. He likened the Centre to an ordinary Event Centre that would house the Situation Room among others, for which the constituted ad-hoc committee has been saddled with the responsibility to putting all the structures and amenities it needs to function effectively in place.

His words: “What is a Situation Room? It is a place where we have our social media platforms, call centres where we take calls to listen to complaints people might have, details of the situation on the field and so on. It is a very boring place.

“Since the perception is that we might be up to something, which is why (according to the narratives), the Commission is unwilling to open up the place, we have decided to open up the situation room. We will give visitation rights.

“The Chairman of INEC is the Chief Returning Officer for the Presidential Election and I am not going to share that responsibility with anyone.”

 

ISSUED BY:

Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi,

Chief Press Secretary to Hon Chairman,
Independent National Electoral Commission,
Plot 436 Zambezi Crescent,
Maitama, Abuja,
Federal Capital Territory.
Cell: +234 803 791 2525
Twitter: @rot1930
URL: www.inecnews.com

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