Ahead of tomorrow’s emergency meeting of the Council of State conveyed by President Muhammadu Buhari, where major decisions are expected to be taken to douse tension over the scarcity of naira notes, former President Olusegun Obasanjo is optimistic that nothing will interfere with the successful conduct of the general elections scheduled for February 25 and March 11.

Obasanjo’s comment is coming amid fears that the elections might be postponed due to the ongoing crisis caused by the scarcity of fuel and new naira notes. The former president, who urged Nigerians to strive and ensure that the polls hold at all costs, spoke, yesterday, when he played host to the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) at his penthouse residence located within the premises of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), Abeokuta, Ogun State. The ADC national leaders were led by national chairman of the party, Prof. Ralph Nwosu, BoT chairman, Dr. Mani Ibrahim Ahmed and a former presidential aspirant of the ADC, Chukwuka Monye.

Stating that the attention of the global community is now focused on the 2023 polls in Nigeria, Obasanjo charged Nigerians, as main stakeholders, to contribute towards the success of the elections.“We are in an interesting period in Nigeria. In less than three weeks, we will be going to the polls; well, I hope nothing will intervene against that. In less than three weeks, we will be electing a leader that will pilot the affairs of Nigeria for the next four years from May. “I have been in Togo, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire from the beginning of the week; and they are as concerned about what happens in Nigeria as every Nigerian should be.“Before I left Abidjan, President Alassane Quattara of Cote d’Ivoire was telling me about a position that Cote d’Ivoire is fighting for and he told me that ‘we are putting it on hold until after Nigeria’s elections.’ So, even for them, Nigeria’s elections are of utmost importance.”

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has faulted reports that it is pushing for a postponement of the elections. APC’s National Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, described that report (not in The Guardian) as blatantly false and reckless, which bears no iota of credibility.  He said: “Beyond its loud headline, the report offers no substantive justifying content aside from its intended purpose of misleading and causing needless anxiety and speculations regarding the upcoming elections. It bears reiterating that the underlying report is fake news.”

BARELY 16 days to the presidential election, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, yesterday, visited the Presidential Villa, Abuja, where he briefed the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting and reassured that the polls will hold as scheduled despite the scarcity of fuel and cash.  Briefing State House correspondents after the FEC meeting, Yakubu said the Commission has sorted out the challenges initially posed by the scarcities, explaining that the briefing at FEC was statutory and a follow-up to the meeting with the Council of State slated for Friday. “We took FEC members through all the preparations that we have put in place for the election and the few challenges that we are facing and the steps that we have taken to address those challenges. “I can tell you two of these challenges quickly. The first one is the availability of petroleum products. We had a meeting with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and they raised that as an issue of concern. Immediately after that meeting, we interfaced with the leadership of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited and right now, there is a technical committee, working.  “The idea is for them to avail us the use of their over 900 land mega stations as well as floating mega stations nationwide, for the purpose of stocking products to ensure that the Commission doesn’t suffer any encumbrances in the movement of personnel and materials for the election. “The second one is the currency issue and again, we had an engagement on Tuesday with the Governor of the Central Bank and he assured us that the Commission will not suffer any encumbrances on that score. So, be rest assured that the election will hold as scheduled,” he said.

However, the electoral body has said violence remained a major challenge to the successful conduct of the election. INEC National Commissioner, May Agbamuche, who represented Yakubu, stated this at a one-day special hearing on “The Extent of Implementation of The Electoral Act, 2022 Ahead of The Conduct of The 2023 General Election.” Agbamuche said violence could affect the credibility of the elections, especially now that the attacks were targeted at INEC facilities.  

She said: “Violence makes deployment for elections difficult, particularly, where some of the attacks are targeted at INEC facilities, the electoral process and participants. But the Commission has been working with security agencies and other stakeholders to establish mechanisms to understand, track and mitigate security challenges. We are working collaboratively in the context of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES).  “Towards the election, the Commission has been joined in over 1,000 court cases as at January 6, 2023, involving intra-party elections and nomination of candidates by political parties.“Having concluded 12 out of 14 of the activities in the timetable and schedule of activities for the general election, the Commission is fully committed to the successful conduct of free, fair and credible elections.”

The National Assembly has said the current naira redesign policy could affect negatively the conduct of the polls. The Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, stated this at the public hearing. Bamidele said: “CBN told us at the beginning of the policy that it was targeting the so-called moneybags, who stashed away billions in their closets. We thought those are the people they want to get at. “We have now seen that it is the ordinary man on the streets. They are sleeping in the banking hall because they cannot have access to the little money they have. We must understand the political economy of an electoral process.“People are thinking of the money politicians would spend on vote buying, they don’t know that political parties would also mobilize people to all the polling units as agents, just like the INEC would mobilize personnel also. “Today, CBN is assuring Nigerians that it would provide money for INEC if they need more money. Are we saying that INEC must rely on the intervention of CBN for it to perform?“If the police run into logistics problems, they would also run to CBN for selective intervention. We are fighting Boko Haram, if the military authorities could not access funds from their banks, they will also need to approach CBN for selective intervention. These are issues and as a stakeholder, the CBN is the most outstanding threat to these elections holding as scheduled.”

In his contribution, the Executive Director of Yiaga Africa, Mr. Samson Itodo, urged INEC to reconsider its stand on the three million students who could be disenfranchised in the polls. Itodo, at the public hearing, disagreed with the position of INEC that it could not help the situation. Rather, he said the electoral umpire could appeal to the various tertiary institutions, which had slated their examinations for the period of the election, to cancel such arrangement. Earlier, a study report by Nigeria’s geopolitical Intelligence platform, SBM, had revealed that the 2023 general elections could reverse the trend of low voter turnout, which has characterized Nigeria’s elections in the last two decades, but the elections may be marred by insecurity. The SBM’s report revealed that unlike in previous elections, more Nigerians are willing to vote in 2023, with 43 percent as first-time voters and mostly young people, but warned that despite the rise in Permanent Voter Card (PVC) collection if the security threat across Nigeria remains unchecked, it could deter people from coming out to vote.

INEC has, however, assured that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machine cannot be manipulated, saying the device will be deactivated whenever snatched.INEC deputy director of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Lawrence Bayode, disclosed this while speaking on Channels Television’s special election program, ‘The 2023 Verdict’, on Wednesday. Bayode said a snatched BVAS cannot be used to manipulate the polls.

He stated this amid the backdrop that ballot boxes are usually snatched during elections by hoodlums or gunmen to disrupt the voting process. According to Bayode, “if a BVAS is snatched, we have a system in place that can deactivate that particular BVAS. We deactivate it so that whoever snatches the device will not be able to do anything with the device.“This is because the device pushes the accreditation data automatically on its own even without the operator pushing a button. This happens when the device is idle, it pushes that accreditation data to the backend.”Bayode said if hoodlums take the device to other places where they think they can manipulate the data on the device, the polling unit officer will report the incident and action will be taken immediately. In furtherance of his drive for safe, secure, and credible general elections, as well as ensure adequate security coverage before, during and after the polls, the Inspector-General of Police, IGP Usman Alkali Baba, has approved the setting up of an Election Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Team for deployment across the states, to identify, analyze and mitigate threats, as well as carry out on-the-spot assessment and appraisal of the security emplacements ahead of the 2023 general elections.

The IGP has similarly appointed the Vice President (INTERPOL) and Head, National Crime Bureau (NCB), AIG Garba Baba Umar, as the National Coordinator of the team of experienced and seasoned police officers with vast knowledge in election security management, to be assisted by other team members including the AIG Force Secretary, AIG Habu Sani; CP Election Monitoring, CP Basil Idegwu; and the Force Public Relations Officer, CSP Olumuyiwa Adejobi. According to police spokesman, CSP Adejobi, “the team also comprises seven other Commissioners of Police, 15 Deputy Commissioners of Police, 30 Assistant Commissioners of Police, 30 Chief Superintendents of Police, and 16 strategic officers of other ranks.”

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