Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Nigerian Polls: Parties Slam Jega Over Voting Procedures
Nigerian National Mirror
Mar 25, 2015

It was a flurry of accusations and counter-accusations yesterday as the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and some political parties bickered over the decision of the commission to change its earlier procedure on ballot paper sorting.

INEC had at an earlier meeting with political parties told them of its resolve to introduce two levels of ballot sorting after votes are cast.

While the first sorting would ensure that wrongly-placed ballot papers in any of the three ballot boxes, each for House of Representatives, Senate and President, are picked and invalidated, the second level of sorting would be undertaken to sort out the ballots by party and thereafter loudly count the votes scored by each party in the presence of the polling agents and observers.

However, at a National Stakeholders’ Summit on the 2015 General Elections held in Abuja yesterday, INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega recalled that in spite of the earlier agreement, the commission had since written a letter to all the parties intimating them of the new change.

Explaining further, the INEC boss said: “A representative of one of the political parties had drawn the attention of the commission to the legal implication of invalidating such ballot papers. And you were all there and we said we would go back and consult our legal department. They said we should not do that.”

In the letter, INEC said having consulted with its legal department as well as its consortium of six Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, it has decided to amend Paragraph 26 of the Approved Guidelines and Regulations for the conduct of the 2015 General Elections on Sorting and Counting of Ballots and Recording of votes.

As part of the amendment, INEC said at the close of voting, the Presiding Officer shall, “Sort all wrongly deposited ballots and transfer them into their appropriate ballot boxes.”

Jega said one out of four INEC personnel in each Polling Unit has also been designated to ensure that ballot papers are dropped appropriately.

However, many of the parties, including All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Citizens Popular Party, CPP, the Progressives Peoples Alliance, PPA, said they never agreed with INEC to amend the sorting procedure.

They said there was never a time they agreed on the new procedure, but accused INEC of merely kowtowing to the demands of a singular party to change the process.

On the fidelity of the electoral process, Jega said the commission as a human organisation has done its best and that the onus is now on other stakeholders and all Nigerians to ensure free, fair and credible elections.

Meanwhile, Inspector General of Police, IGP, Suleiman Abba has again restated his earlier warning to Nigerians not to clog around polling units on election day.

He said they must go away after casting their votes.

This came even as Mr. Abba has ordered restriction of movement on the two election days.

He said as part of efforts to ensure adequate security across the country on Saturday March 28 and April 11, he has ordered the restriction on vehicular movements from 8.00am to 5.00pm on the two days.

“This total restriction of movements order applies to all, except for ambulances, fire service trucks and others on essential duties,” the IGP said.

Consequently, he advised travelers and citizens who intend to use roads on these days and hours to plan alternative times for their traveling.

While expressing his regrets over the inconveniences that road users and the general public may encounter as a result of the restriction, the IGP appealed for the understanding and cooperation of the citizenry, as the restriction is done in the nation’s interest.

He assured that adequate security logistics and manpower have been strategically deployed to achieve a most conducive electioneering atmosphere.

In this regard, policemen for election duty have been properly trained, briefed and sensitised on their roles as stipulated in the Electoral Act.

They are expected to be professional, non-partisan, civil but firm in their approach and relation to the public.

On his directive to voters, Mr. Abba who was also at the National Stakeholders’ Meeting on the 2015 General Elections said he has issued his own “advisory” to voters and so it was left for them to heed or discard.

He said staying behind could prompt one to commit one of the several electoral offences listed in the electoral law.

According to him, the success of the polls depends on maintenance of law and order adding that the police is determined to ensure hitch free elections.

It would be recalled that the All Progressives Congress, APC and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP had criticised the order credited to the IGP and urged their supporters to disregard the order.

But the police boss in his presentation insisted that staying around could be tempting for the voters to fall short of the nine electoral offences that could be committed around the polling units.

The IGP who quoted the nine offences from section 129 (1) of the Electoral Act emphasised that; “Loitering without lawful excuse after voting or after being refused to vote”, constitutes an electoral offence that the law enforcement agents will not take lightly.

Mr. Abba was however silent on other provisions of the Electoral Act.

Specifically, section 61 (1) of the Act vested the power of arrest at the polling units in the respective Presiding Officers.

According to the section, “The Presiding Officer shall regulate the admission of voters to the polling unit and shall exclude all persons other than the candidates, polling agents, poll clerks and persons lawfully entitled to be admitted, including accredited observers, and the Presiding Officer shall keep order and comply with the requirements of this Act at the polling unit.

“The Presiding Officer may order a person to be removed from a polling unit, who behaves in a disorderly manner or fails to obey a lawful order.”

In defence, Abba said anyone dissatisfied with his understanding of the relevant provisions of the electoral law can go to court, saying at the end of the day if there is any breach of security, he is the one that would be held accountable.

He explained that the police have reviewed the performances of security agencies in the previous elections and is prepared to ensure hitch free elections.

According to him, among the strategies adopted is enhanced synergy in the operations of all the security agencies, saying three security personnel would be deployed to man each of the polling units across the country.

“Similarly, we will provide security to almost 9,000 collation centres across the country, including the national collation centre where the presidential election will be announced.”

He further explained that security will not end with protection of INEC officials and its equipment but everybody who will be involved in the process.

“Apart from the three personnel at the polling units, intervention teams will also be on ground in case there is need for intervention,” he added.

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