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INEC has another opportunity to rebuild voter confidence in the Imo, Bayelsa, and Kogi guber polls.

INEC has another opportunity to rebuild voter confidence in the Imo, Bayelsa, and Kogi gubernatorial polls.

Barely 72 hours before the governorship elections in Imo, Bayelsa, and Kogi states, many Nigerians have called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to use the forthcoming off-season polls as an opportunity to address the confidence deficit in the country’s electoral process.

These calls came amid divided opinions and controversies that followed the outcome of the 2023 general elections.

GISTS VILLA reported that the alleged non-compliance with the 2022 electoral law by INEC was one of the grounds on which the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, and that of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, challenged the declaration of President Bola Tinubu as the winner of the February 25 presidential election.

Although Atiku and Obi lost their petitions at the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) and the Supreme Court, respectively, they argued that INEC did not follow the provisions of the 2022 electoral act and its own rules in conducting the election.

They insisted that INEC breached its regulations and guidelines by not prescribing and deploying technological devices for voter accreditation, verification, continuation, and authentication as required.

The claim has since been dismissed by the PEPC and the Supreme Court.

However, the Supreme Court particularly acknowledged that the non-functioning of the Result Viewing (IReV) portal of the Electoral Commission may reduce the confidence of the voting public in the electoral process.

“Truth must be told, the non-functioning of the IReV may also reduce the confidence of the voting public in the electoral process,” Justice John Okoro said while delivering the lead judgment in the appeal by the PDP presidential candidate Atiku.

Last month, when it was rumored that INEC planned to manually transmit the results of the forthcoming November 11 Bayelsa governorship election, many Nigerians described it as a serious setback.

However, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, denied the rumors that the results of the November 11 off-cycle elections would be transmitted manually.

Yakubu said accreditation for the election will be done using the BVAS machine before and after voting, confirming it would be used to snap and upload the results on the INEC Election Result Viewing portal.

“Please disregard whatever anyone has said about the transmission of results,” he said.

Yakubu has also charged staff of the commission to be non-partisan during the November 11 governorship election in Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi State. The INEC boss urged INEC staffers to maintain their integrity during the Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi governorship elections.

He spoke when he visited some INEC offices to assess preparations for the Nov. 11 off-cycle governorship elections in the states.

Yakubu said INEC was committed to credible elections in the states.

“INEC is not a political party and does not have a candidate in the November 11 governorship election. All we are going to do is ensure that the people of Bayelsa and Imo States choose whoever they want to be their governors, and our responsibility is to protect the people’s choice,” Yakubu said.

Meanwhile, the National Chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council, IPAC, Yabagi Sani, has advised the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, to use the forthcoming off-season governorship elections in Imo, Bayelsa, and Kogi states as an opportunity to address the confidence deficit in the country’s electoral process.

Sani also called on INEC to continue to appeal to security agencies deployed for elections to insulate themselves from the process and avoid temptations of financial inducements from politicians.

Also, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, has warned that the credibility of the off-cycle elections in Imo, Kogi, and Bayelsa States is at risk without using IReV and BVAS.

HURIWA expressed sadness that the National Assembly has not deemed it necessary to speedily amend the existing electoral act to make it mandatory for electronic transmission of results from polling units to become legalized.

HURIWA claimed that the electoral body has done nothing substantial to instill trust and gain the confidence of voters in those three states in their resolve to be fair, accountable, and transparent.

“We have watched with unfathomable amazement the attempt by the INEC to once more hoodwink Nigerian voters in Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa States into believing their propaganda that all the glitches experienced during the general elections of February 2023 had been taken care of.”

The group, however, dismissed INEC’s reassurance, saying: “INEC had told Nigerians that it was committed to the deployment of the bimodal voter registration system (BVAS) and IReV for the 2023 election and to transmit the results of all elections electronically but failed to fulfill this promise.”

Speaking to GISTS VILLA in an interview, a media and communication scholar at Peaceland University, Enugu, Nduka Odo, urged INEC to put its house in order before going into the elections in Imo, Bayelsa, and Kogi.

According to him, “If they (INEC) bring out guidelines on voting and transmission and abide by them, it’ll help them regain the trust of Nigerians.”

Odo maintained that INEC should stop promising what it’s not willing and ready to deliver, as it will lead to Nigerians losing trust in the commission under such circumstances.

He said: “When INEC collected billions of naira to fund the use of ICTs in the electoral system, Nigerians were skeptical, but we hoped for the prospect. INEC told Nigerians that the introduction of IREV would sanitize the process and eliminate electoral malpractice. We believed them.

“You know they told us IREV and electronic transmission work as ‘e dey play, e dey show’.

“But in the heat of voting, the ICTs mysteriously started experiencing hitches. That’s what they told us.

“You know Nigerians have experienced different forms of electoral malpractice. So, when INEC declared they could no longer transmit electronically, Nigerians simply accepted that INEC went the old way and turned off the server to manipulate results. You don’t blame Nigerians for experiencing years of similar excuses. It even became more dubious when the hitches only affected the presidential election.

“If you were a Nigerian, wouldn’t you lose trust in INEC under such circumstances?

“Up until today, all the results have yet to be uploaded to the IREV. And a large number of result sheets are blurred.

“That’s suspicious, and that’s the root of the disappointment people feel.

“My advice to INEC is to first of all stop promising what they are not willing and ready to deliver. Technology helps make work more efficient. Secondly, INEC needs to put its house in order before going into the elections in Imo, Bayelsa, and Kogi.

“Let there be no more hitches. It’s even worse than declaring hitches in the middle of the elections. Quality assurance means that they pre-test their machines. If it’s faulty, the suppliers of such machines should be made to pay. We can’t afford to keep going back and forth. Such leads to stagnation.

“If they bring out guidelines on voting and transmission and abide by them, it’ll help them regain the trust of Nigerians.”

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