• INEC Should Investigate Allegations —TMG
• Nigerians Should Be Vigilant — CTA
• APC Chairman’s Comment On BVAS Unfortunate — Ex-INEC director
• INEC Obligated To Listen To Legitimate Complaints — Olurode
• Wild Allegations Are Already A Sign Of Fatigue — APC
Three months into the 2023 general elections, the persistent accusation by opposition political parties that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is strategising to rig the elections has continued to raise dust in the polity.
But the ruling party has consistently denied it plans to rig next year’s polls or employ underhand tactics to continue to stay in power. Rather, the APC accused those raising the alarm of just crying wolf.
Last month, Nigeria’s opposition political parties under the aegis of the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) alleged the APC was plotting to remove the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as well as tampering with the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).
Earlier in September, CUPP also claimed that there were schemes to compromise the INEC voter register. The body, at a press conference, in Abuja, claimed that the machinations were being perfected in 21 states where APC governors hold sway in the bid to favour the party.
Again, last Monday, CUPP claimed that the APC and its presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu had concluded plans to transfer cash to voters via harvested bank accounts, stating it is a digital vote-buying method, and an alternative to circumvent the new naira design policy.
Addressing a press conference, the spokesman of CUPP, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, claimed that information available to the coalition shows that agents of the ruling party nationwide have harvested bank details of over ten million voters, using different platforms.
This plot, the coalition said, which has allegedly received approval at the highest level of the APC and its Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) was designed in Imo State and exported to 21 other states of the federation.
According to him, the process requires the party’s agents to harvest names, account numbers, and Voters Identification Numbers, and Bank Verification Numbers of citizens for each polling unit on the understanding that money would be sent to each person by electronic means to purchase their votes.
Adding to the fears as raised by CUPP, was the statement credited to the National Chairman of the APC, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, when he received the Commonwealth delegation on the 2023 General Election at the party’s secretariat last Wednesday.
Adamu told his guests that he doubted if the introduction of BVAS for the transmission of election results would produce a fair outcome for the nation in the 2023 elections.
Adamu’s fear was also re-echoed by the party’s National Organising Secretary, Suleiman Argungu, who identified a stable power supply as one of the obstacles facing the innovation.
The APC national chairman disclaimed the reports, saying that he was misquoted, following the public outcry that trailed it.
As a result, the opposition parties threatened to petition the British High Commission and the United States Embassy to alert them of the alleged conspiracy, which would threaten the electoral process and regional stability. It, therefore, urged both embassies to keep vigilant eyes on the process as development partners.
While INEC has consistently told Nigerians that it was committed to conducting a free, fair, and credible poll that will usher in leaders that appeal to public sentiments, key stakeholders in the electoral system insisted that the concerns raised by CUPP and other well-meaning Nigerians cannot be dismissed.
The Chairman of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, told The Guardian that the concerns raised by CUPP were legitimate and must be thoroughly investigated by authorities.
According to him, the country’s electoral process had gone through phases of trouble and rigging in the past, adding, “we cannot afford to go back to the old ways of doing things.
“We cannot dismiss all these issues, because it is important we take the allegations very seriously and do the necessary investigation to make sure that they do not create avenues for people to undermine the elections. So, we can’t dismiss such an allegation unless it is investigated and found that it is not of any existence.
“But for now, we should take necessary action. The vote-buying allegation is not something anybody can dismiss because desperate politicians who have commercialised elections will definitely do everything possible to have their way. So instead of dismissing the alarm, we should be more proactive to prevent it from happening.”
He advised INEC to do whatever is within its capacity to protect the electoral process. He added: “For people collecting account numbers of prospective voters, there is little INEC can do about that because there are other institutions within the government that can detect that. If the government is determined to detect such transactions, it is possible to know the people who are responsible for them and the necessary actions taken against them.
“For now, based on the engagement INEC is having with critical stakeholders, we have no reason to believe that INEC is not ready for the 2023 elections. It is only when we get to the field, we will know the shortcomings. For now, we will continue to monitor, track and recommend positive suggestions.”
On his part, the Executive Director, Centre For Transparency Advocacy (CTA), Faith Nwadishi, said that Nigerians should be vigilant to ensure that the concerns raised by the opposition do not come to pass. She, nonetheless, said that INEC must be focused to give Nigerians free and fair elections.
Nwadishi said: “If the opposition parties have consistently raised alarm, there is a need for us to be vigilant to make sure that the concerns do not come to pass.
“It would be recalled that immediately after the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) elections, the Minister of State of the FCT asked INEC to do away with BVAS. They have seen how much progress we have had with BVAS, and desperate politicians are not happy with the development.
“So, if CUPP consistently raised fear, it is something we should worry about. Nigerians should be vigilant and ensure that the progress we have made with our electoral reforms stays.
“I call on INEC not to be distracted but to remain focused. On the issue of underage voters, this is the first time, that citizens are having unlimited access to the register and the needful has to be done with the worries raised.
“The underage voters should be removed so that we will know exactly how many people are on the voters’ register. Citizens should make objections lawfully.”
On the assemblage of account numbers for vote buying, Nwadishi said that the electoral act already criminalises vote buying.
“So, what we need to do is to get citizens whose account numbers have been collected to do a petition through a movement.
“The security agencies, especially the Department of State Security (DSS) must be proactive. They shouldn’t wait until the citizens are calling out these politicians. They should carry out an investigation to arrest the culprits. Let them be proactive enough so that citizens will know that they are carrying out their responsibility.”
The spokesperson of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, (NNPP), Agbo Major, said that Nigerians and INEC must not dismiss such allegations. He also alleged that the ruling party has been perfecting plans to rig the elections because Nigerians have rejected the party.
Berating the APC national chairman for speaking against the BVAS, Major said: “You know that we are under a government that anything is possible. Nigerians have never had it this bad. This APC government has actually shown that it can do anything to frustrate our democracy. CUPP fears shouldn’t be left to CUPP to talk about it.”
He, however, expressed confidence in INEC conducting a free and fair election. He added: “The INEC chairman is someone that is steadfast. So, he should stay focused, because as far as I am concerned, it is clear that the government is fighting him because he is doing things that are not in their interest. He should stay on the side of the people and continue to remain focused to ensure that he leaves his name on the positive side of history.
“APC does not want INEC to use the BVAS machine. I was part of those who insisted that technology should be deployed for voting. APC was also part of it and didn’t reject it then, but now that BVAS has demonstrated that it has the capacity to clean up the mess in the electoral system, the APC, because of its desperation and rejection, doesn’t want INEC to use BVAS.
“Let them continue to waste their time, but as far as we and other parties are concerned, the BVAS has come to stay. The fear of BVAS should be the beginning of discipline and accountability on the part of leaders”
Former INEC Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, said that INEC should go ahead to deploy innovations it thinks would help Nigeria have a good election in 2023.
Stressing the need for Nigerians to be vigilant, Osaze-Uzzi said that the concern by CUPP and other civil society organisations should be investigated.
He said: “The ruling party is not above the law. I wonder if the APC Chairman was not misquoted, but if it was rightly quoted, it is very unfortunate for the party and the chairman to make that statement, very unfortunate.
“First of all, the APC had the majority in the national assembly, which passed the electoral act that gave INEC the power to deploy BVAS and that has become part of the law. The appropriation act as approved by the national assembly dominated by the APC and signed by the president approved funds for INEC to purchase BVAS. So how can they kick against BVAS?
“The APC championed the use of smart card readers a few years back, and the BVAS is basically an improved version. The BVAS battery has a more extended life with backup capacity. The BVAS doesn’t need a network for accreditation but needs a network for the transmission of results. So, even if there is no network in a particular polling unit and locality, once election officials get to an area with a network, it will transmit the result. There is a 2G network in at least 97 percent area of the country’s landscape.”
On the assertions by CUPP, he said: “I don’t know the sources of the information but generally speaking, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. We should be vigilant at all times. All of us, including journalists, should interrogate some of these things.”
For the former INEC Commissioner, Prof. Lai Olurode, the electoral umpire should be concerned about the issues being raised. Noting that INEC had promised Nigerians that it would conduct a good election, he said that the INEC chairman should remain focused.
Olurode said: “From the body language of the president, he is committed to a free, fair, and credible election. Therefore, as long as that is the situation, anybody can raise an alarm, which should be investigated and if there is no justification for such an alarm, INEC should go ahead and do its job.
“If there are issues about voters register, with objections and claims made, it should be corrected. If there are some underage persons in the register, they should be removed and eliminated to the satisfaction of the stakeholders so that underage voters will not truncate the process.
“Whatever issues raised, INEC should look at it. The chairman, national commissioners, resident electoral commissioners, and other electoral officials must remain focused. They have a job to do and they should not be seen pandering to any class of politicians. Nigerians want a good election and votes should count.”
On the allegation that some politicians are collecting account numbers of prospective voters to buy votes, the professor of sociology advised the commission to look for evidence and prosecute such people.
According to him, politicians need votes to legitimise their ownership of the country, so they do whatever it takes to achieve that, but INEC and the public must counter any illegality.
“We shouldn’t just be onlookers, but take an active part to ensure that election is not corrupted by the moneybags,” he stated.
On the concerns raised by the APC national chairman on BVAS, Olurode said that those attacking the APC Chairman were not fair as there was nothing wrong with his position. He said: “If APC thinks that a part of the methodology of doing the 2023 elections is uncertain or likely to create confusion or create apprehension in the land, of course, the APC has a matter of right and as a critical stakeholder in the election enterprise can raise any issue because everybody committed to credible and transparent elections must know that the 2023 elections are very critical to Nigerians. Therefore, it is a legitimate concern.
“I have no problem with that, but at the end of the Day, INEC is an independent body under the constitution of Nigeria. INEC is under an obligation not just to conduct elections, but to do elections that will meet the minimum requirement of transparency, credibility, and accountability, which will guarantee competitiveness and reconciliation of making sure that preference aggregation is guaranteed.
“What elections do mainly is to give room for the competition of ideas, and policy and to affirm and make sure that the interest of the majority of Nigerians is realised without fear or favour.
“Anybody can raise questions, but the bucks stop on the table of INEC, as the body saddled with the responsibility of conducting elections. Anyone can raise an alarm, in fact, major players are not supposed to be comfortable with INEC decisions on the electoral process, because every party will want to sway INEC to its side. So, INEC is obligated to listen to legitimate complaints from any of the 18 political parties and from ordinary Nigerians who are bound to be affected by the outcome of the electoral process.
“But anything that will come on the way of INEC, not to conduct election should be shelved aside. However, INEC must listen and engage with parties. They should engage with the APC by reassuring them that the machines are not going to do any harm and that the elections will in fact be credible.
“A ruling party needs to be very careful because it was once in the opposition and it was the one that was crying, telling INEC to conduct credible elections, that was between 2011 and 2015.
“They were advocating and supporting INEC to the fullest. So, if now, the party that played that role prior to 2015 is singing another tune, INEC should listen, but it should remain focused to give Nigerians a good election that will undoubtedly give the mantle of leadership to the party that appeals to the sentiment of Nigerians.”
Though barely 24 hours after Adamu’s comments on BVAS, the party through its National Publicity Secretary Felix Morka, announced that the national chairman was misquoted
Morka described reports that APC chairman kicked against INEC’s decision to deploy BVAS and electronic transmission of results as patently false, and constitutes an unfair misrepresentation of the National Chairman’s comments.
“At a meeting with the Commonwealth pre-election delegation, Wednesday, November 23, 2022, in response to a question regarding the country’s preparations for next year’s election, the National Chairman noted that, while preparations were in top gear, he tasked INEC to take effective steps to bridge any gaps that may be created by electricity and telecommunications network challenges in certain outlying voting districts in the country in order to ensure a smooth and successful deployment of BVAS and other technologies to ensure free and transparent elections,” he stated.
Morka argued that the APC administration of the President Muhammadu Buhari midwifed the successful reform of the Electoral Act, and BVAS, among other technological innovation and has superintended the conduct of credible, free, fair and transparent elections in Edo, Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states. “Our Party and government remain committed to the highest levels of electoral transparency and democratic consolidation in our country,” he said.
When contacted by The Guardian in response to the allegation that the ruling party was collecting citizens’ account numbers for possible vote buying, Morka assured that he would call back but he is yet to respond as at time of filing this report.
However, the Presidential Campaign Council of the APC, during the week, had described allegations of digital vote buying levelled against it by the CUPP as senseless and a sign of fatigue.
Describing CUPP as subsidiary of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, and chief spokesperson of the APC-PCC, said the opposition parties were fond of spreading wicked rumours to portray the APC standard bearer, Bola Tinubu, in bad light.
He advised the opposition to pack up their campaigns if they had nothing more to tell Nigerians. “That is the subsidiary of PDP. These wild allegations are already a sign of fatigue. They should pack up their campaigns if they have nothing more to tell Nigerians,” Keyamo said.