Elder Aniedi Ikoiwak is
the Resident Electoral Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Rivers State. In this interview with Opaka Dokubo in his office in Port Harcourt, the returnee REC bared his mind on a number of issues including the political atmosphere in the State and the re-run elections that took place last weekend. Excerpts:
Compare the Rivers State you left behind and the one you have come back to meet with regard to your work
There is more involvement of political actors and more division. Before now, it was like a one way movement when I was here.
I left here in 2014 and at that time, the political environment had changed from what it used to be in 2011 which was like a one way traffic but now you have traffic coming from many directions. So, there’s bound to be some level of disagreement, some level of interest here and there. It’s not new except that sometimes people capitalize on that to cause problem in the community. But the political tension is not something that is not supposed to be there, it’s supposed to be there but the situation is that you now have gladiators who in the past had been in one camp and now you have them in different camps. So, there’s bound to be some conflict.
Why Were You Brought Back?
I don’t determine where I go to. The Commission determines where officers are posted to. Incidentally, I have been posted, in my years in the Commission, to many places, sometimes on adhoc basis. I have been in Imo State for three months. I have also had situation where I had been posted along with every other person. I was in Bauchi in 2007. I had served in Edo still on general posting. I have served in Kwara still on general posting. I have been to Rivers on general posting. I have been to Delta on general posting. And my coming here now is on general posting too because I am not the only person who was posted. There are others who were posted. The person who took over from me was in Bayelsa.
So, different people are sent on assignment at different times may be because of your capacity and competence. But not because of, what somebody will say, vested interest. There is no other interest other than that of the Commission and I have gone on assignment at different times, still in the interest of the Commission.
Is The Situation Conducive Enough For Free, Fair And Credible Election In Rivers State?
I think that conducting a free, fair and credible election is not the responsibility of the Commission alone. Every other stakeholder need to contribute their quota to the making of a free, fair and credible election. And that takes me to the issue of security. Free and fair election does not consist of only having the materials, distributing the materials and so on. What happens if the environment does not allow the voters to come out?
Would you call it, a free and fair election here the voters was not even allowed to come out?
So, I think that as we approach the election, we should try as much as possible to douse tension. We in the Commission we are doing our best to douse tension. When I came in here, a lot of people were talking about adhoc staff and I made it clear that adhoc will only be recruited from where INEC has said they should be recruited from. That is why you don’t find anybody at the gate coming to submit a list.
The directive is for us to write to the heads of federal institutions, including universities to give us specified categories of persons and not we going to recruit by ourselves. This is because if any of them is found wanting, we hold the head responsible. The list I have from the University of Port Harcourt is signed by the Vice Chancellor; from the Federal College of Education, it is signed by the Rector; from the Federal University, Otuoke, it is signed by the Vice Chancellor. All the federal institutions from where we have recruited staff, their lists are signed by their heads of the institutions.
Of course, that has, indirectly, brought down some level of tension. So, we expect the political parties to follow suit.
What Number Are We Looking At?
We are looking at over 20,000. We are getting about 7,000 from the NYSC. We are getting another seven to eight thousand from the students. The students are not going to preside; they are going to be assistant presiding officers. In areas where we don’t have corps members like Emohua and some places in Etche, we will deploy INEC staff in those areas.
The Commission has also approved staff from neighbouring States. Staff will come from Delta, Edo, Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa who will also join in complementing the effort of other staff of federal agencies, universities and our staff.
What Strategy For Conducive Atmosphere?
The strategy is to work with the security agencies. I am not a security personnel. My duty is to conduct election. But I also think that the people of Rivers State should also give peace a chance. I mean the leaders of this State. It is not fair that there are reports of killings and so on in the State everyday in the media.
It’s not fair to the State because the State will need people to come, the State will need investment. A lot of things will come to the State. Port Harcourt is a first class city in Nigeria. It should not be brought down to a point where Port Harcourt is seen as a village.
When somebody comes to Nigeria, he looks at Lagos, Kano, Abuja, Port Harcourt. That is always the picture. We should not bring it to a point where when Port Harcourt is mentioned, they will push it aside and look at others. It should not be. We must realise that the growth of Port Harcourt is also the growth of the South – South region.
What Challenges Ahead?
When we talk about challenges we are talking about areas that we should focus on. You see, conduct of election entails the preparation which we have done, materials distribution. Now that INEC has said we should not distribute materials from our offices and that it should be at the RACs, the RACs are in the villages where we domicile materials and personnel. That is the area to focus on. Because they are in the communities, we need a lot of security to protect the people there; because, without being in the RACs, you cannot move into the polling units to actually conduct the election.
Elections will take eight hours or less because now accreditation and voting have been fused so you simultaneous do accreditation and voting, and election stops by 2.00pm. That means commencement of election should be at exactly 8 am so that we can accommodate every person who will come out to vote. That is why the materials are domiciled in those areas and that is why the Commission has chosen the RACs.
So, it becomes a challenge where somebody will now want to invade those places. But even if you invade the place, you will not benefit from anything because immediately you invade the place and collect materials, we will cancel the election in that area. We will not only cancel it, we will fix another day for the election.
Even at that, I don’t see it as a challenge because the people of Rivers State will rise up to the occasion and put a lie to all the negative reports that have been written about them. At the end of the day everyone will know that there are mature people in Rivers State who can handle issues.
Reasons For Vote Cancelation?
Cancelation of election, if you have followed the trend in recent times it has always been as a result of violence. Violence constitutes more than 80% of the reason for election cancelation. So, we think that if we have a conducive environment, that is devoid of violence, definitely, we will deliver. Violence is a major challenge to elections, people not being allowed to do the proper thing.
Issue Of The Card Reader
People misunderstand the issue of the card reader. The card reader is an instrument that was made to compliment the register in the process of accreditation. Because of the dishonesty that was involved in the accreditation process, we now introduced a device that will ascertain the number of persons at the polling unit.
People take authentication as a failure of the card reader. The card reader does not fail. The card reader is meant to do three major things; the first one is just the authentication which is minor. The major thing is that INEC recognises that there are cloned cards, so the card reader will only authenticate that this card is an INEC card. It will ascertain that the person standing before you is a registered voter in that unit. Thirdly, it will also authenticate that the person standing before you has not brought that card before. The authentication is secondary in that even those who are not authenticated but are established as registered voters will be allowed to vote.
Govs To Hold Virtual Meeting On Judicial, Legislative Autonomy
The Governors of the 36 states of the federation will hold a virtual meeting today to further discuss the issue of financial autonomy to judicial and legislative arms in states.
This is contained in a statement by NGF Head of Media and Public Affairs, Mr Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo on Monday in Abuja.
Bello-Barkindo said efforts were already being made in all states to either constitute State Accounts Allocation Committees (SAAC) or inaugurate them.
This, according to him, is preparatory to the granting of full autonomy to the two arms of government at the subnational level.
The Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) had since embarked on a nationwide strike on the issue.
He said the governors had been working day and night to establish modalities for the autonomy in conformity with the provisions of the Constitution.
He said that the governors would also be updated on the activities of the Presidential Steering Committee on Covid-19 by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta, who headed the governors’ interface with the committee.
Bello-Barkindo said that the meeting would also review the agenda of the National Executive Council (NEC), which would take place a day after.
“Other items on the agenda include the regular update on the States’ Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability for results (SFTAS) to provide states’ status on their DLI’s and upcoming deadlines.
The meeting would also receive presentation from the Director General, Bureau of Public Enterprises, regarding unlocking liquidity through sale/optimisation of state-owned redundant/sub-optimal assets,” he said.
He added that the Policy Development Facility (PDF) bridge programme would also discuss diversification and non-oil export opportunities for states in post Covid-19 era.
2023: PDP Flexes Muscle Over C’ River
Leading members of the main opposition PDP converged in Calabar, Cross River at the weekend to strategise on how to retain its grip on power in the state.
This is contained in a statement e-mailed to newsmen in Abuja, yesterday.
The Tide source reports that the PDP has been in power in Cross River since the return of democracy in the country 22 years ago but the defection of the current governor appears to mark a turning point.
Political pundits argue that the defection of the state Governor Ben Ayade from the PDP to the ruling APC may affect the fortunes of the PDP in the years ahead.
The governor’s departure is now seen as a major test for the PDP in what is now seen as a game of wits between the PDP and the APC.
Addressing the party’s chieftains, the National Chairman of the party, Mr Uche Secondus, declared that Cross River would “remain the stronghold of the PDP, in spite of Gov. Ayade’s defection.
“PDP will work to retain the confidence the people of Cross River State reposed in our party and retain its dominance in the state.
“Our party has governed since the return of party politics in 1999.
“Cross River will remain the stronghold of our party well after 2023,’’ said Secondus, flanked by other chieftains of the party, including Sen. Bukola Saraki and Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State.
Secondus told PDP members in the state to remain resolute to make the party retain power in the upcoming general elections.
Also speaking, a former governor of the state, Sen. Liyel Imoke, gave assurance that no other party would take the state from the PDP, “being the dominant party in the state.
“PDP is the only party known to our people. I assure the leadership of our party that we will deliver victory in 2023,’’ he stated.
Imoke governed the state from 2007 to 2015 when he handed over to Ayade now of the APC.
Other PDP chieftains, who were present at the event included former Governor Peter Obi of Anambra, former Gov. Donald Duke of Cross River and the Chairman of the party’s Caretaker Committee, Mr Efiok Cobham.
Also present were Hon. Daniel Asuquo, Hon. Etta Mbora and Hon. Essien Ayi, all serving members of the House of Representatives among other party’s chieftains.
…Vows To Take Over Anambra
The Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra, Chief Ndubuisi Nwobu, says the party remains focused to take over the state in the upcoming governorship poll.
Nwobu said this in an interview with newsmen in Awka yesterday, adding that he would not be distracted by those trying to destabilise the party in the state.
He lauded the National Executive Committee of the party for organising successful ward congresses in the state.
He described the success of the exercise as a sure step to the party’s free, fair and credible primary election.
“We want to conduct our primary election, where party people will freely vote and produce a candidate that will be acceptable to Anambra people at the November 6 poll.
“This is not time for distractions. We are focused on taking over government from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
“The party has shortchanged millions of Anambra people in terms of governance.
Nwobu said he remained the valid chairman of PDP in Anambra, having emerged from a valid process that was upheld by a Federal High Court in its May 24, 2018 judgment.
He said the judgment had not been reversed by any higher court and was “unfazed by any court judgment”, which purportedly removed him.
“My leadership is still subsisting, no superior court has set that judgment aside and a court of coordinate jurisdiction cannot do that.
“Our team of legal experts is taking care of that. The decision to appeal will be advised,” the PDP chairman said.
The Tide source reports that Chief Chukwudi Umeaba at the weekend announced that he had taken over the party in the state as the Acting Chairman of the Caretaker Committee.
Umeaba, who announced the suspension of the ward congresses, said his action was predicated on the judgment of an Abuja Federal High Court.
According to him, the judgment delivered on June 9, nullified the process that produced Nwobu’s leadership.
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