Mr Segun Agabje is the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Osun State. In this interview with select newsmen, including LEADERSHIP Sunday’s CHIBUZO UKAIBE, he speaks on the commission’s preparations for the governorship election in the state as well as the menace of vote buying.
How prepared is INEC for the forthcoming governorship election in Osun State?
For every election, the Commission prepares a schedule of activities which it follows until the last day of the election. The Commission prepares a 14 point agenda. This agenda covers from the preparation of the agenda itself, stating when political parties can flag off campaigns, party primaries, submission of candidates’ names for the election proper, submission of party agents and so on and so forth. We usually have a 14 day notice of hold which means that we have only 14 days to elections and in the case of Osun, September 20 is the last day for campaign ahead of the September 22 election date. We have recruited adhoc staff of over 16,000. We have also trained them along other agents at the state level and at the various senatorial districts. These are the people that would be deployed to various polling units across the states on the election day. It is important to also know that at the state capital, there are 3010 polling units and 332 registration units. We also have 30 local government areas in the state and also about 755 voting points.
What are challenges the Commission faces ahead of the election?
One challenge we have is caused by the political parties. The Electoral law says names of party agents must be submitted 14 days before the election. But out of the 48 political parties that will participate in the process only 41 of them have complied with the provisions of the Act. Section 5 of the Electoral Act, 2010 amended says that every political party must submit those names not less than 14 days to the election and as I speak, some of the political parties are yet to comply and as a Commission we will see how we will apply this section against the defaulting political parties because we cannot stop the election because of their own shortcomings. The election must hold.
Were these political parties formally made to be aware of this aspect of the Electoral Act?
Yes, they are aware, we have told them on various occasions. We even sent representations to the party leaders. We also want to give them a soft copy of the party register and also told them that any party that fails to meet up with these requirements will have itself to blame. So 41 of the political parties complied, only 7 refused to comply.
There is also the issue of vote buying. It is not an INEC issue because after the Commission has set everything in place to ensure that there is a free, fair and credible election some people will come to disrupt the process, in this case through vote buying. But this time around we have partnered with various security agencies and they have assured us that they would work with us to address this issue because if we don’t control this dangerous trend of vote buying now, it is going to mar the general elections in 2019. We are also going to rejig the polling booths during the exercise so as to totally frustrate the plans of potential vote buyers. We will not only make them lose their money, they will end up in jail when caught. We are saying this loud and clear now and I hope the electorate in Osun State will adhere to our warning.
The candidate of a political party accused you of being biased and demanded that you should be redeployed ahead of the election. What do you have to say about it?
It is a laughable matter. Senator Iyiola Omisore, the gubernatorial candidate of the Social Democratic Party, (SDP) who made the allegation is respected in the country. He was a Senator and former deputy Governor of Osun State. I believe that I have not met the state governor since I assumed office as the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC). We have not even crossed each other on the road. So as far as I and the commission are concerned, it is just a distractive statement. I respect him and I want to let you know that I did not bring myself to Osun State, the Commission brought me. So, if he has anything against me he should report me to the Chairman of INEC or any of the national commissioners in the Commission. So if anybody has anything against me, they should report me to the Commission that I am not capable of handling my task in one way or the other. It is the Commission that decides who will oversee the affairs of the election, so if the commission says I should stay there, I have no option. There is no section of the law that says a REC cannot conduct election twice in any state. If there is any place in the law that says so, he should come up with it. So as I have said before, all these are distractive statements but we are not going to be distracted.
Do you feel any sense of pressure ahead of next week’s election?
No! In 2014, before the same governorship election, there was so much panic then and people were scared because they didn’t know what was going to happen but now it is not like that. Osun State, as far as I am concerned, is one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria. The people there are very peaceful, we have been encouraging them to come out and collect their Permanent Voter Cards, (PVCs) and they have been coming out.
Have you been under any pressure from politicians or political parties for assistance in the election?
I have always said that I cannot help anybody; it is what the smart card reader gives that we will record, and after the result has been announced they will be given to the party agents. That is why we are insisting that all the political parties should present their agents before the election day so that they can witness what is going on. We have met with all the stakeholders, religious leaders, traditional rulers and also the NGOs that are collaborating with us to make sure that we achieve success.
What is the level of the collection of PVC so far?
As at September 8 2018, about 1,219,904 PVCs had been collected which translated to 72.7 percent. As at 2014 it was 70 percent. However, before the election day we are still targeting about 73-75 percent or more because we still have about 457,202 cards with us that are yet to be collected.
What do you think is responsible for this?
While for the voter cards, we have about 406,000, the ones that we are seriously concerned about is about last year and we believe that people that are genuinely registered with us will come and collect their cards. Some of them are students who have left the state who the registered but were unable to get their PVC before they left and some too are dead or relocated.
What is your advise to the people of the state ahead of the polls, particularly regarding none violence?
I will not stop soliciting the support of all the people in the state irrespective of their political parties. We should ourselves as partners in progress working for a common goal which is to have a peaceful election in the state. I don’t forsee any violence based on the postive responses of the people towards the exercise. Those who are to collect their PVCs should come out and do so on time, they should not sell the PVCs for any amount or for whatever reason(s) because it is what they will use to determine who will be their next governor. All their votes will count under my watch. I implore them to say say no to voter buying. We have done it before and we are going to succeed this time around. The Commission has released three dedicated GSM phone lines to the members of public to the Situation of the Commission in the state. I am confident that the election will be free, fair and credible, it will be the litmus test for what should be expected from the Commission come 2019.
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