On a bright day in August at the INEC headquarters in Abuja, the electoral commission chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, and his team sat for an interview with a PREMIUM TIMES team led by the Publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi.
In this first part of the interview, Mr Yakubu answered questions on diverse issues such as diaspora voting, electoral act amendment and the Kogi and Bayelsa elections.
PT: What is INEC doing about providing a report on the 2019 general election?
Yakubu: We have promised the nation we would do a comprehensive review of the 2019 general elections. We did so starting in-house from the state level; from there, here in Abuja, the report is virtually ready. We promise that we would complete the processes; we also promise that the lessons learned from the 2019 general election from our review meetings would be reflected in our preparations for the Kogi and Bayelsa states governorship elections.
One of the lessons learned is the availability of information, not just to the media but to the general public. One very important area is the number of PVCs collected and the numbers of PVCs not collected. And as you have noticed in the first election since the 2019 general election, the bye-election, the state constituency election in Plateau State, we published the number of registered voters by local governments. We also published the number of PVCs collected by polling units. That is what we intend to do going forward.
Secondly, in the area of logistics, the importance of starting very early cannot be overestimated. The commission is committed to ensuring all the non-sensitive materials for Bayelsa and Kogi reach before the end of August; which means two and a half months before the election.
On the conduct of primaries by political parties and nomination of candidates, what we need to report here is, recently the commission had a meeting and issued a statement about the conduct of political primaries that have served the commission notice. According to the timetable and schedule of activities, primaries started on Sunday, the 18th, a few days ago, and it would end on the 5th of September. While submission of nomination forms would start immediately till about 9th of September. A good thing is that one of the political parties has submitted its report of its primaries; that it conducted its primary on Sunday the 18th of August consisted with the notice served by the commission.
Immediately after that, we would then go to the issue of sensitive materials for the election and this would start very early; and also early in terms of getting the materials to the locations. We do not have to speculate on that. And there are other things to discuss like the collection of PVC’s. This time, we are going to be a lot more innovative.
We have about 50,000 uncollected PVC’s in Bayelsa State and over 170,000 in Kogi elections. Our intention is to make sure that we target the registered voters who have not collected their cards, we reach them. Quite a number of them have phone numbers. We would send bulk SMS or call them for the collection of their cards. We would also make a comprehensive list of all the uncollected cards similar to the voters register at wards and LGAs so they can go and check. We are also going to make some telephone numbers available at state level so that people who see their names can call our offices to inquire where they should collect their cards and we hope this will go on up till the end of September.
We have then got to finalise, make available the number of registered voters, the number of PVCs that are collected; finalise the register and make copies available to political parties 30 days before the election as required by law. That is why we are targeting this September to allow us to do the processes; because we have to make the register available to political parties by the middle of October since the election is holding November 16.
In Bayelsa State, we are going to record 9,000 ad-hoc staff and for Kogi, we are going to have about 15,000. We have to train them, so we need to start early. And for security training, we have written the Inspector General of Police for the commencement of security training.
PT: You spoke about making the list of registered voters available to political parties 30 days before the election based on what the law says. But for greater transparency, wouldn’t it be better to publish it online on your website, to ensure that any Nigerian interested in accessing the list can go to your website?
Yakubu: For us, the legal requirement is for us to make the list available to political parties. But recall that before the last election, we published the register actually in all the polling units nationwide for claims and objections. Actually not online. We have 84 million registered voters. So going forward, this is one of the suggestions the commission would consider and make available to registered voters online. Also, the law says as a citizen, you can request for the numbers of registered voters. But very few citizens would consider going that lane, In any case, in the interest of transparency, the commission should look to consider.
One thing I should add is that we said we are going to publish the names of those who are yet to collect their cards and the process through which they can get it online. So, citizens from their comfort in their offices and homes can check the process through which they can get their cards.
We are not doing the Continuous Voter Registration for the two elections simply because since 2017, we started the CVR nationwide as provided by the law. So, this staggering continuous voter registration is obviated for the fact that we are not doing nationwide continuous voter registration. And we hope to resume voter registration early in the new year. Now there are tight schedules for each election. And between the time we publish the timetable for a schedule of elections for Kogi and Bayelsa and the conduct of the elections, there is little or no time for us to do fresh registration before the election. But we hope to resume the nationwide continuous voter registration.
We recall that we said that we suspended the process six months to the general election in 2019 so now we are going to resume after the election.
PT: You also spoke about your report on the review of the general election. Do you intend to make the report public?
Yakubu: It is a matter for the commission to decide actually. But I just received the draft of the report recently. As soon as we consider, well, the most important thing is that we have ensured greater transparency. Whatever we do in the commission is to make sure we are transparent. The only thing that is not transparent is what the voters do on election day in the voting cubicles, but every other thing we ensure our best.
PT: After every election circle, there is a need to make a case for an amendment of the Electoral Act. Have you munched any number of key issues you want to consider for amendment?
Yakubu: Actually there is a file on my table there with a bunch of proposals for constitutional amendments to the Electoral Act and what we call the electoral legal framework in general. So we would look at what we submitted to the last National Assembly and the matters arising from the last 2019 general election; so we can include this in our proposal before we submit to the national assembly.
We had a preliminary meeting with the new chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC. So as soon as the National Assembly resumes, we will continue with a very good frank discussion. We need this kind of engagement with the National Assembly, so the issues are understood even before the formal amendment/review by the National Assembly commences.
We already have some sort of mental map of where we need to go in respect of the electoral law.
PT: I wonder how much frustration you actually felt when the last electoral bill was not signed by the president. Did that make your job a little easier or more difficult?
Yakubu: We were far too busy with so many things during the election to worry about matters that we have no control over. Amendment of the electoral framework is entirely for the Executive and the National Assembly. But we proceeded in the knowledge that there was legal backing because we have the 2010 Electoral Act as amended. There was no lacuna in that respect and we operated on the basis.
What we would have loved to see happen was a speedy resolution on the legal framework because we could not conclude our regulations and guidelines because works have not been concluded on the electoral legal framework. You need the electoral legal framework to determine your regulations and guidelines because you draw from the Electoral Act. Because we could not conclude work on the legal framework, we could not conclude on the training manual. The manual also draws from the regulations and guidelines. One thing led to another, but I hope this time around we work very closely with the National Assembly to ensure that it allows us time to prepare for our elections.
PT: What will you say to the amendment of the institutional framework on the general privacy issue, diaspora voting and data privacy like phone numbers of voters that are revealed to political parties?
Yakubu: For diaspora voting, we are consistently in support of diaspora voting. But you need amendment in the electoral framework for that to happen. For the commission to be able to register citizens abroad and for them to be able to vote. At the moment, voting is available to those who are residents in the country and are registered. You can only vote if you are registered in the country or you can transfer your registration to another place in the country.
In essence, voting is available to eligible citizens who are residents in Nigeria and are registered in any part of the country they need to vote.
There are two issues in diaspora voting which we need to clarify. First, we have what is called Out of Country Voting, OCV. Out of Country Voting is where we have people who are registered voters in the country and are on national service or assignment outside the country. For instance, the military, members of the diplomatic corps and Nigerians engaging in technical corps. In some countries, they are given the right to vote; but it is for the same reason people cannot vote outside the country.
The second dimension is what is called diaspora voting; this is voting available to citizens who live in other countries. We have set up a committee to look into that. We have a report which says we are good to go. The only thing we are waiting for is an amendment to the legal environment. Once the legal framework is amended and we have the relevant and appropriate resources for us to register citizens in other countries to vote, we are good to go on that.
Remember that there are Nigerians in virtually all parts of the world. The only obstacle is the electoral legal framework. Once that is built, we will then work out the modalities. But thinking ahead as a proactive measure, we have a drafted one ready. In case that is done, we will consult the state stakeholders and look for the relevant resources. We have always assured Nigerians in the diaspora that they are part and parcel of what happens at home and therefore they should have the right to vote. In the long run, we may also do what other nations do where their citizens have not only the right to vote but they also have the right to be represented. You should have overseas constituencies who represent Nigerians living in specific countries of the world in the National Assembly. On this one, the commission is committed to the amendment of such a legal framework.
On those privacy issues, I am hearing it for the first time that some people may have access to some people’s telephone number. The truth of the matter is when we publish the list of the registered voters at the polling units or when we give political parties, there are certain things we do not give, biometrics, for instance, residential addresses and telephone numbers. We do not publish such information and there are some certain things we give; it is a matter of policy. We do not give out personal details to anybody. We only give out photographs, voters’ registration number, gender, names. We do not give information with a sensitive nature.
So, as a matter of policy, this commission does not give us sensitive information to the public.
PT: There is a section of the INEC constitution that mandates political parties to submit election financing report to INEC. How many political parties have submitted those documents to INEC since after the 2019 general election? And what is the sanction on not submitting?
Yakubu: Okay, you are basically talking about two things, you are talking about party finance and campaign finance. These are two things. Political parties are supposed to submit to the commission reports of their expenditure six months after an election. Of course, the commission is supposed to track individual expenditures based on the provision of the Electoral Act which set a threshold or limit on what anybody contesting for any political office can spend.
As for how many have submitted, I am not sure at the moment but I can check. I am sure one or two parties made submissions. We have sent a reminder to the political parties, thereafter the commission will take steps. I think in the past, these reports were published and sent to the National Assembly. As a matter of necessity, we will do the needful if the party does not submit. We will look at what the law says and apply. Very few of the parties have submitted their campaign finance.
Just as an addendum, the law requires political parties to submit their campaign finances within six months after the election, so the yet to be submitted parties are still within the time from the end of the election. The parties are also required to submit the expenditure of their candidate for each election. This is what they are to do within a period of three months after the conclusion of an election. As at today, only four political parties have submitted, the fifth one still has some issues because the law says it is the party that should submit and authenticate but it was the presidential candidate that submitted. So, factually, only four political parties have submitted within the stipulated period of three months.
PT: You mentioned that you already have a prepared proposal for the electoral amendment for diaspora voting, are those documents included in the documents going to the National Assembly?
Yes: Yes, there are included.
Editor’s Note: Watch out for the second part of this interview where Mr Yakubu speaks on the future of card readers, INEC’s constant logistic challenges and other matters.