The Resident Electoral Commissioner in Anambra State, Dr. Nkwachukwu Orji, in this interview with TONY OKAFOR, says the police need to improve its relationship with the Independent National Electoral Commission in subsequent elections
How would you describe the governorship election?
I would describe the election as a great success. This is in the sense that elections in this part of the world are not just a mere democratic ritual. It is also a conflict mitigation mechanism because that’s the only way you can ensure peaceful succession of power, and that is also how aspirations and hopes of communities are usually actualised through elections. That is why most times, elections are volatile here. If a candidate or party loses an election; it means that the whole community loses an election. For us, we don’t just see ourselves as election managers, we also see ourselves as peace builders. So if you say that an election is successful in Nigeria and of course in many other developing countries, what you are basically saying is that, one, election has the ability to provide a basis for peace. But beyond that, it has ensured peaceful succession of power. Thirdly, it has provided a basis for democratic accountability. These are the kind of things you look out for to describe an election as successful. So, the success of election is not just about counting votes and announcing results. That is why, for example, the 2011 general elections, in election management sense, were successful. But in terms of peace building, they weren’t. They were credible but they ended in violence. So, we consider Anambra governorship election as a great success because it was able to achieve some of these minimum benchmarks.
But many Anambra residents will not agree with you, especially with some reports of ballot box snatching. How would you react to that?
Of course, I would contend that, we have about 5,339 polling units. The areas we had incidents that led to cancellation of votes were only 236. It is a negligible figure, compared with the total number of units. Of course, the issues we had were varied. So if you try to isolate where there were cases of ballot snatching, it was far less. Our officials went ahead to conduct the elections rather than just following the procedure – the procedure is where card readers fail, you call in field technical support staff. If they were not able to rectify the problem, you call in to have the card readers replaced. If that doesn’t happen, you cancel the election, and hold it another time. But they didn’t follow the processes in many places. They went ahead to accredit people manually, and we had many cases like that. If you look at it critically, you will discover that there was some sort of connivance between the communities and the officials, in the sense that, there were prior determinations not to use the card readers. So I won’t agree that those hitches we had were too bad. Remember, this is Nigeria, and not the United States.
Some of your officials were reportedly compromised. What is being done to fish them out and bring them to book?
Of course, we are documenting such cases. We had cases where Supervisory Presiding Officer took the money that was supposed to be paid to the Presiding Officer and left. We had issues in Onitsha where it delayed the elections, the same in Orumba North, where a supervisory presiding officer was given a certain number of ballot papers and he took away up to 1,000 ballot papers from that, only to allocate less than 1,000. The guy is already with the police. So we had issues like that, including the earlier one I mentioned where our officials connived with community leaders to set aside card readers so as to conduct the election manually. We have proper records of all our officials, so it is easy to track them.
The election has been described in some quarters as money poll (money was thrown around). Why did your officials turn a blind eye to these things?
I didn’t see money being thrown around sincerely. I only got to hear of such reports from some people, it’s just hearsay.
Under the law, is INEC not empowered to mete out punishment to parties found to be inducing people with money at polling units? What did INEC do about this problem?
There is clear stipulation about use of money in election in the electoral act. So, who has the responsibility for what is not in doubt. The offences for the use of money around polling units and things like that are clear. INEC is not a security agent. Police do the arrest. INEC is an election management body, which can only report cases, and alert the security agencies who do the investigation and prosecution. INEC doesn’t have that capacity. We can only lodge the case. We have party monitory unit. We monitor campaign financing. We have a department called Election and Party Monitoring, part of their job is to monitor campaign financing but the difficulty in campaign financing in Nigeria is that it has both the covert and overt. Much of the money politicians spend, I got to learn, is spent underground. So the one we monitor is the one spent formally, which is in line with the law. No party would buy 300 vehicles; most of them are donated by individuals.
There have been allegations that the same set of University of Calabar lecturers that were involved in the 2013 election were also returned as collation officers and returning officer this time around. It was alleged that Governor Willie Obiano influenced it. How was he able to achieve that?
Nigerians are difficult to satisfy. If you’re looking for staff members, I think you will go for experience and qualifications as the basis for hiring them. You also have to hire staff members in a way that is convenient for you. You need to know how much it takes to transport those officials. There were 348 of them. The budgetary provision for transporting of collation officers and returning officers for this election was just about N1.5m to move them from Calabar to Awka. I spent N2.3m and we didn’t want to use people within the South-East. We also needed those who knew the environment. So we were looking for both qualifications and experience. So nothing compromises them because they have done this before. The insinuations are just unimaginable. Any issue must be evidential, not speculation. Saying that they were compromised because they participated in the 2013 elections is just baseless.
The candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Oseloka Obaze, alleged that there were over-voting and inconsistencies between the counted ballots and card readers’ data. Why has INEC been quiet about that?
He withdrew that allegation, you know that. Anyway, every case of over-voting, we made sure we cancelled it because the law is clear about that. So when we said that we cancelled elections in 236 units, they were all cases of over-voting. In some cases, votes of entire wards were cancelled. I don’t really know what he meant. You followed the processes, collation processes, they were just transparent.
His agents should make case if there are such cases. But none of his agents has written nor confronted us; they are just talking in the media.
Will INEC consider reviewing its ICT operations as suggested by Obaze?
Why should we do that? We don’t have the basis to do that because he has not made any clear points on that, he just asked us to review our ICT operations – review them in what sense? That’s my point. Is it in their appointment or mode of operation or equipment being used? It is not clearly stated. We regard these argument as just media issues and not helpful to anybody.
I completely disagree with him. Like I said, if you have operation in 5,339 different units and you succeeded in all, but 236, then that should be adjudged successful. 236 is not only where we had card reader issues, but a combination of all other issues we had in the exercise. People should just accept this.
As a key player in the election, what would you say are the major challenges that need to be rectified in future election?
I will want our relationship with the security agencies to improve. We really had issues with the Nigeria Police. Where we had delays were places we didn’t find police to escort our men and materials like in Onitsha South, Onitsha North, Awka South, mostly in urban areas. In Awka South, we have deployed to the RAC (registration area centre) as early as 6.30 pm and then we had to withdraw from the RAC back to our office because there were no security agencies there. It was around 4.30 am that we had to return to the RAC and that led to delays. In Onitsha South, we had similar cases. But beyond reviewing our relationship with the security agencies, we also need to look at transportation arrangement. We had cases that completely looked like sabotage. We had cases where our electoral officials had made arrangements with transport service providers and paid advances to them two weeks before the day of election and then on the Election Day, these guys came up to say they wouldn’t move an inch unless the full payment was made. That was not part of the agreement. In fact, in some cases, police had to be brought in. For instance, in Aniocha of Aguata, police were involved and people had to be arrested. Election is a multi-stake holder activity. We depend on people to do things. We employed over 23,000 ad hoc staff. These are supposed to be citizens of this country and individuals who we relied on to get these processes completed. But you find cases where supervisory presiding officers would receive money from EOs (electoral officers), funds that should be distributed presiding officers and others and he makes away with the money; these are Nigerians, not INEC. Like the example of transport providers, because they knew that we were in dire need of their services, they would agree with two or three persons, then on Election Day, they would increase their fares and the highest bidder would be able to pay, because we were desperate at that point. We have used all sorts of strategies to get this. We entered into agreement with them which was duly signed but don’t respect agreement. We even got the police and Department of State Services, in some cases, to guarantee such agreements and people didn’t take them as legal documents. We hired over 4,500 vehicles for this election. So these are the key challenges we had. Also, we had cases where people had made a prior determination not to use card readers. We had cases where at gunpoint, people got our officials to completely demobilise the card readers and run the election manually.