INTERVIEW: Nigerian politicians greatest threat to national development — INEC Commissioner

Obo Effanga - Resident Electoral comissioner Edo State

Obo Effanga is the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Edo State. He recently called at PREMIUM TIMES’ head office in Abuja during which he sat with Festus Owete and Samuel Ogundipe.

Are you planning to hold any election in Edo State before 2019 general elections?

No, we’re not holding any elections before 2019. But there will be elections in Ekiti and Osun States later this year.

Are you likely to be deployed to either of the two to complement the efforts of your colleagues there?

I can’t tell for now, that would be decided at the headquarters in Abuja. But I was one of the resident electoral commissioners during the resident governorship elections in Anambra.

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Can you tell us exactly how the political atmosphere is in Edo State, especially the relationship between the two major political parties after the fallout from the governorship elections there.

Well, I know that after the Supreme Court judgment everyone has come to terms with the outcome of the elections and the two major political parties —APC and PDP— as you have mentioned, are working on the next election which is the general election coming up in the next 380 days especially the presidential elections.

So they have virtually a year to prepare for that and they are doing that. What we are concerned with now is for the members of the public who have not yet registered to go and get registered and also to those who have registered but have not collected their permanent voters’ cards should go and collect them.

When I assumed duties in Edo state last year, one of the things I found out from the last elections registration was that there were still more than 460,000 permanent voters’ cards in Edo State that had not been collected by the owners.

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So we are urging the people to go and collect theirs. They are also doing transfer whereby if you don’t want to vote in the place where you registered you can transfer to a nearby place. We also have people who have lost their PVCs, defaced or damaged their PVCs, should make request for new ones.

Are there peculiarities that you must be especially prepared for ahead of the 2019 elections in Edo State?

The only peculiarity I can immediately think of is the fact that we are not going to conduct the governorship election which has been conducted about a year and half ago.

So going into the elections in 2019 the people will only be concerned with presidential, National Assembly and state assembly elections.

So to that extent you could say that the intensity of what’s happening in the campaign and all that may not be as high as other states but we know that the presidential election is very important and also the parliamentary elections both at the federal and state levels.

Are there remote areas that you think require special attention where there may not be telephone signals now that INEC says election results would be transmitted electronically.

Well, that’s being handled by INEC at the national level. Yesterday, the chairman and the national commissioners had meetings with the National Communications Commission on looking at those issues.

So the much I know is that INEC will do everything to ensure that the locations where we need to transmit the results have connections to the Internet and where we don’t have there will be alternatives at the zones on how results will be transmitted.

I think that there will be very few locations across the country where you can not send text messages or have Internet access. So that’s being worked out and am sure that by the time we get there it would be well taken care of. I know that in Anambra State the electronic system was also used to transmit results from the wards.

Are you paying special attentions to Riverine areas?

Sure, we are doing that. Like I said, we are doing the registration now and in those locations — as you know — registration is happening at the INEC offices at the local government areas and other locations.

So we’re paying attention to other areas that are hard to reach.

Attention is also given to those places that are far away. I will like to show you some of our staff being deployed to rural communities where they have to go with boats, wear life jackets and all that.

Do you have challenges regarding staff inadequacies?

Yes, we have enough staff. But if there is need to fill new vacancies as a result of death, retirement, etc, we’ll do so.

But it’s still not so critical that elections cannot be conducted but the important thing is that the 2019 elections won’t be so demanding because it won’t include the governorship election.

What INEC is doing now is getting each state office to identify its specific needs — in terms of materials, human resources — for the elections.

This is because 2019 elections won’t be a standalone election like the last one held in Edo State.

This one, every state team would be conducting election so you cannot say you want to move resources from one state to another. That’s why each state has will have to identify all its needs ahead of the elections and let the headquarters know so as to make provisions for them.

Do you have some statistics on PVCs in Edo State that you’d like to give us?

For 2017, —three quarters of registration— we had a total of 87,704 new registrations; 7, 833 requests for transfer and 10,516 requests for reprint of PVCs on account of loss or damaged cards.

When I assumed office in Juy 2017, we had more than 460,000 PVCs not collected as at the end of 2016.

Within the period of the continuous voter registration (CVR) from April 2017 up to end of 2017, only 7,690 of those PVCs have been collected.

We are currently in the first quarter of CVR for 2018.

For this January alone, as at January 30, we had processed 10,807 new PVCs. There seems to be an increase in registration this year because we now have more centres and we are moving some of the centres from location to location to meet otherwise hard-to-reach population.

Do you have any message specifically for politicians?

The greatest obstacle to democracy in Nigeria remains the political class, mainly the politicians and the political parties, their attitudes and conducts.

If you observe many of the elections that have been cancelled by the tribunals or the courts have had to with the fact that the process for the nomination of the candidates by the political parties was flopped.

So when the political parties don’t allow an even-playing field to all members who want to stand for election then you’ll have trouble.

The Electoral Act requires that INEC cannot reject candidates presented by political parties even when we know that the person did not participate in the primaries or rather participated and loss.

Whoever the parties give to us as candidate we are bound to put the person on the ballot. So we have instances where after the elections the court says ‘No, this person ought not to have been the candidate’ and then it is substituted or fresh elections are called.

Therefore, it’s important for the politicians to ensure that there is a fair-playing field for everyone and also it is important for them to know that they can only win election if they are voted for by the people.

What they should be doing now is to encourage people to register.

People who have registered should go and regularise the registration because some people are registered in places where if elections are conducted now they cannot vote because they can’t travel to those places.

They should encourage them to do the transfer now to where they can vote. Those who have lost their PVC(s) should ask for new ones.

More importantly, let the people know why they should vote for them. Let them woo their voters to vote for them and that’s how they can win elections rather than mounting pressure on the electoral officials and trying to manipulate the system.

We are gradually getting to a stage that one can only be declared winner because you won the election by getting people to vote for you.

They should focus all their energy in wooing the voters and not to put pressure on INEC officials.

National Assembly recently passed a bill to reschedule the sequence of elections by fixing national and state assembly election first, followed by the governorship and lastly the presidential. Is INEC comfortable with this arrangement?

Let me say just say that the commission, based on the existing law, had come up with the time to go for the election and that’s what we are working towards.

What the National Assembly is doing has not yet been incorporated into the Electoral Act.

But if the rearrangement is signed into law, INEC’s duty is to implement what the law says.

So INEC is bracing itself for this eventuality?

Well, I wouldn’t know because I’m only a resident electoral commissioner, so I’m concerned with what is happening in my state.

Perhaps the chairman and the national commissioners might be doing something.

In your own expert opinion, will it affect the election if, say, the law comes into effect like three to four months to the general elections?

It might affect the timetable. It would then mean that INEC would go back to its drawing board and reschedule this and I hope that it would not affect because time is always of the essence.

I’m also sure that even the members of the National Assembly are also conscious of the likely effect of trying to force INEC to change dates within a short notice.

We have about 67-68 political parties in the country, don’t you think this could have an adverse impact on the elections?

Well, that would certainly be an issue. But I’m sure that by the time we are planning the election the national commission would find a very possible means to address that.

Remember also that not necessarily all the parties may have candidates for the election. So it means that for each election the numbers of logos of political parties maybe different depending on how many candidates are in the election.

If up to 67 parties have been able to register, don’t you think it indicates INEC requirement is not so stringent?

Well, it is not INEC requirement; it is what the Constitution says.

If I may take us back in time in 1998-99 when political parties were registered by INEC. Originally, there were three political parties registered and recall also that the late Gani Fawemi went to court challenging why other political parties were not registered.

And the court said that based on the provisions of the Constitution, INEC could not really set up some of those stringent rules that would limit the number of political parties.

So it meant that whoever met the minimum threshold was allowed to be registered.

Are you not calling for the amendment of that particular provision?

If that is amended, I think it would be good because it means that it would be more manageable.

In your own opinion, do you think the numbers should be limited?

In my own opinion as a Nigerian who has followed elections over the years and now as a resident electoral commissioner in INEC, I think that it would be better if we have fewer political parties that we can manage and people would also know what the political parties are and what they stand for. It would help in the development of democracy in Nigeria.

As an expert as well, would you mind giving us an appropriate number? Five, 10, 15 or even two parties?

I can’t be too specific. I said manageable because we have seen elections in the country in the past that we even have two political parties like the SDP and the NRC and we knew how those elections came out and how solid their candidates were.

Even back in time when we had five political parties in 1979-1983 you could say this person is from this political party. This is the kind of things this stands for.

But now, when you have such a large number it’s so difficult. Even for the voters it would be quite confusing because they wouldn’t see the acronym of the political parties so close and people may not understand the logos of the political parties.

Less than 30 million people voted in the 2015 elections in a country of 180 million, do you think this number represents the will of the majority?

Why are you not allowing diasporan votes to encourage more participation that would reflect the plurality of Nigerians? For instance, in Germany’s last election, we learnt they made use of the postal voting.

I don’t think that the numbers are so low that they do not reflect what would have been the actual result.

To what extent do we trust the postal system? If we are going to do Diaspora voting we should have everything in place that wherever the Nigerian is he or she can vote.

We won’t start the Diaspora voting by saying ‘Okay,for now we can only do this with Nigerians in the UK, USA and UAE only.’ Are you now saying that those people are more Nigerian than maybe two Nigerians in one other country?

We have to make sure that all of them would have equal opportunities to vote if they wanted to. So we have to take care of all this and like I said our database has to be very functional.

How about enlightenment, what are you doing?

Yeah, we are doing that as INEC and we are also depending on other stakeholders including the media to help us with that.

More importantly, we expect the fact that the politicians and the political parties are immediate beneficiaries of citizens’ participation in elections, they should also take it as a mandate to try and let the citizens know why they should participate in the elections.

Thank you for your time this afternoon, Mr. Effanga.

It’s my pleasure.

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