The Independent National Electoral Commission has said it will not issue Certificates of Return to candidates in places where its officials are held hostage or forced to declare winners under duress in the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections on Saturday (tomorrow).
The commission also threatened to record zero vote and cancel the results of polling units where its personnel deliberately failed to deploy the Smart Card Readers.
The Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said this on Thursday during the meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security held at the commission’s Conference Room in Abuja.
Yakubu said, “The commission is concerned that many of our materials, including ballot boxes, voting cubicles, voter registers and Smart Card Readers were lost to acts of hooliganism and thuggery in the elections held two weeks ago. Most worrisome is the attack on electoral officials.
“Some of our staff were abducted and taken hostage in an attempt to disrupt elections or influence the outcome. In fact, some of the supplementary elections were caused by such acts of thuggery.
“I am confident that working together with the security agencies, we will consolidate the largely peaceful conduct of the Presidential and National Assembly elections while also taking decisive steps to deal with the minority of violators’ intent on disrupting the conduct of peaceful elections.
“However, the commission will not tolerate the act of holding our officials hostage and forcing them to declare winners under duress. Where such occurs, the commission will not reward bad behaviour by issuing them Certificates of Return.
“We have once again reconfigured the Smart Card Readers for the elections on Saturday. The use of the card readers is mandatory and there will be no exemption to their deployment for accreditation of voters.
“Under our regulations and guidelines, there are clear penalties for the deliberate failure to deploy them on the part of our members of staff. Where such happens with the connivance of communities, the result of election in the polling unit(s) will be cancelled and zero vote will be recorded.”
According to him, governorship election would be conducted in 29 states, state assembly poll will elect 991 members of Houses of Assembly in all the states of the Federation, six Chairmen as well as 62 councillors for the Area Councils in the Federal Capital Territory.
The INEC chairman said that in addition to elections into 1,082 constituencies nationwide, the commission would conduct supplementary elections in 14 states of the federation covering seven Senatorial Districts and 24 federal constituencies.
The supplementary elections, he said, were necessitated by electoral fraud, violence and thuggery perpetrated by political thugs and politicians in the February 23 elections.
The INEC chairman also stated that materials for the polls on Saturday had been delivered to all states and the FCT.
With this arrangement, Yakubu said the commission was confident that all polling units would open at 8am nationwide.
INEC also hinted that Cs of R for governors and deputy-governors-elect, members of state Houses of Assembly-elect and chairmen and councillors for the FCT “shall be presented in each state of the federation by the Supervising National Commissioners and the Resident Electoral Commissioners on a date to be announced next week.
For Senatorial Districts and Federal Constituencies in which winners have already emerged, Yakubu said the commission would issue their Certificates of return next week.
He said, “On behalf of the commission, I extend our deepest condolence to the families of those who lost their lives, including personnel of the security agencies. We are glad that the police have made several arrests and investigation is ongoing.
“I wish to assure Nigerians that the commission will work closely with the police to ensure the diligent prosecution of all violators of our electoral laws. Citizens are asking for effective but non-intrusive protection before, during and immediately after the elections in which their rights are respected and their choices safeguarded.”
Campaigns end, 29 states to elect governors on Saturday
Meanwhile, campaigns for Saturday’s polls ended officially on Thursday.
According to the timetable released by INEC, the campaigns which started on December 1, 2018, would have ended on February 28 but for the postponement of the election from March 2 to March 9.
Seven states whose governors have yet to serve out their terms will not take part in the exercise.
The states are Anambra, Bayelsa, Ondo, Osun, Ekiti, Edo and Kogi.
But elections into the various seats in state Houses of Assembly will hold in the 36 states of the federation.
In all, 1,158 governorship candidates will contest the governorship positions in the 29 states, while 14, 643 candidates will contest 991 posts in the various state Houses of Assembly.
Although almost all registered political parties are taking part in the elections at the state level, the contest is a straight fight between the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party.
The states to look out for, however, include Ogun where the state governor, Ibikunle Amosun of the APC, is supporting the governorship candidate of the Allied People’s Movement, Adekunle Akinlade.
Akinlade will be slugging it out with the APC governorship candidate, Dapo Abiodun.
The PDP is in crisis in the state. While INEC recognises Buruji Kashamu as the party’s candidate based on court order, the national leadership of the party is backing Ladi Adebutu.
Similar scenario is playing out in Imo State where Governor Rochas Okorocha, though of the APC, is supporting the governorship candidate of Action Alliance, Uche Nwosu.
It is a straight contest among Nwosu; the candidate of the APC, Hope Uzodinma; and that of the PDP, Emeka Ihedioha.
Although the APC in the state had adopted the governorship candidate of Africa Action Congress, Awara Biokpomabo, for the election, it is yet to be seen if that can pose any serious challenge to Wike.
In Lagos State, the APC candidate, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; and PDP’s Jimi Agbaje, are the leading contestants.
In Oyo State, APC’s candidate, Adebayo Adelabu, has Seyi Makinde of the PDP as his main challenger.