Abuja, Lagos, Akure and Benin City — Following what it described as the concern expressed in some quarters about the neutrality of its staff engaged for the governorship election in Edo State, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has reassured the electorate in Edo State that their votes would count in the emergence of the winner of the September 19 election in the state.
The commission has also disclosed that the z-pad, a new innovation used in the recent by-elections in Nasarawa State as a secondary means of achieving full biometric accreditation of voters, using a facial image, would no longer be used for Edo State governorship election.
This was coming as the candidates and political parties involved in the governorship election would today sign a peace accord that would be superintended by a former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), and the Bishop of the Sokoto Diocese of the Catholic Church, Bishop Mathew Kukah.
Ondo State Police Command has also stated that the recent fire incident at Ondo State head office of INEC was caused by faulty electrical connections.
In an address, he delivered yesterday at Edo Governorship Election Stakeholders' meeting in Benin, Edo State capital, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, stated: "Our ultimate objective is to ensure that the choice of who becomes the next governor of Edo State is entirely in the hands of the voters.
"I wish to reassure you that votes will count and only the choice made by the people of Edo State will determine the outcome of the election.
"The commission shall not take any action to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate. Our focus is on our processes and procedures. Nothing more."
He stated further: "The commission is also aware of the concern expressed in some quarters about the neutrality of our staff, in particular the ad hoc staff engaged for election duty. We have heard allegations that some ad hoc staff were recruited in such a manner as to compromise the election.
"In response, the commission deployed two national commissioners who reviewed the process for strict compliance with the guidelines for such recruitment. I want to assure you that all categories of ad hoc staff have been vetted.
"The integrity of the process will not be compromised and there will be no partisan infiltration.
"As the eligible voters in Edo State go to the polls on Saturday, I wish to renew my appeal to all political parties, candidates and their supporters for peaceful conduct. Your votes will count. Polling unit level results will be uploaded for public view. However, this will not happen where the process is disrupted by violence or malpractices.
"The commission is determined that no one will benefit from impunity or rewarded for bad behaviour such as vote-buying, ballot box snatching and stuffing, multiple voting, hijacking and diversion of election materials, disruption of collation, falsification of results, attack on INEC officials or compelling them to declare unofficial results.
"The people of Edo State must be allowed to freely vote for their preferred candidate without inducement or harassment. We have been assured by the security agencies that thugs and their sponsors will not have the freedom to move around freely to disrupt the election or collation of results."
Yakubu said z-pad, a new innovation introduced by the commission to serve as a secondary means of achieving full biometric accreditation of voters, using facial image, would no longer be used for Edo State governorship election.
He said the technology, which was deployed in Nasarawa State by-election to test-run its functionality, had both hardware and software issues.
Yakubu, while announcing the decision to drop the z-pad, noted: "The atmosphere in Edo State ahead of the election this weekend is already charged," adding: "We cannot afford to complicate it further by introducing a new technology we are not yet fully satisfied with."
According to him, "Perhaps the most critical of the recent innovations introduced by the commission is the use of a tablet now popularly called the z-pad. It is a new innovation introduced to serve as a secondary means of achieving full biometric accreditation using the facial image of the voter in support of the fingerprint authentication by the Smart Card Reader.
"Secondly, the camera on the tablet will be used to take a picture of the polling unit result (EC8A) and to upload the same on a dedicated portal (INEC RESULT VIEWING - IReV). This will enable all those interested in viewing the results to do so in real-time.
"The commission deployed the z-pad in Nasarawa Central State Constituency by-election in Nasarawa State on 8th August 2020. It was a test-run intended to assess the functionality of the technology before its deployment in major elections. While the capture and upload of polling unit level results went on smoothly, the facial authentication did not.
"Without going into the technical details, let me say that the commission encountered hardware and software issues that needed to be fixed."
He explained that INEC's ICT Department worked on the new device and made a presentation to the commission, which decided that the system needs to be robust enough before it can be deployed in a major election.
He said: "Unlike the 44 polling units of Nasarawa Central State Constituency, Edo governorship election involves 2,627 polling units. The commission decided that since this technology is work in progress, we should carry out a further test-run in some of the smaller constituencies during the by-elections scheduled for 31st October, 2020 and, thereafter, engage with stakeholders before it can be deployed in major elections."
However, the uploading of polling unit level results in the election on Saturday would proceed as planned, Yakubu stated.
Also speaking at the stakeholders' meeting, the Inspector General of Police (IG), Mr. Mohammed Adamu, said a total of 31,000 police personnel would be deployed to monitor the election.
He said: "As part of our election security plans, all the three senatorial districts, 18 local government areas and 192 wards and 2,627 polling units across the state have been appropriately mapped out, and adequate deployments will be made to ensure security.
"This massive deployment is not only to deter misguided political actors that might be bent on threatening the election through acts of thuggery or other conducts that violate the provisions of the Election Act, but to also serve as a strong warning that the government is determined to bring such characters to justice should they advance their ignoble, undemocratic and unpatriotic intents."
Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, who was represented by Iyasele of Benin Kingdom, called for free and fair election.
He charged INEC chairman and IG to ensure that the election is one of the best in the country.
"It is a test for everybody. And to the two major political parties, we want peace. We are watching," Oba Ewuare added.
Also, speaking live from Benin City on ARISE NEWS Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspaper, INEC's National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, expressed confidence on the commission's readiness to handle Edo State election and every other challenge that may come with it.
He appealed to Edo State people and indeed all Nigerians of the need to repose confidence in the democratic process despite negative prevailing circumstances.
"As a commission we are ready. Out of the 14 items on our schedule of activities, we have already implemented 12 of them. The only two items remaining revolves around the end of campaigns and the election itself," he noted.
Okoye explained that to ensure a free and fair election in Edo State, the commission has already dispatched all sensitive materials to the various local governments in the state.
He revealed further that the commissioner has also deployed additional resources in terms of resident electoral commissioners to assist in the conducts of the forthcoming election, adding: "We also have three additional National Commissioners that are going to coordinate the three senatorial zones. So, on the part of the commission; we are ready for this election."
INEC Fire Outbreak Caused by Electrical Fault, Say Police
Meanwhile, as outrage continue to trail the fire incident at Ondo State head office of INEC, the state Police Command yesterday said the fire outbreak was caused by faulty electrical connections.
Ondo State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Bolaji Salami, disclosed the cause of the incident at a news conference held yesterday in Akure, the state capital.
Salami said talks of saboteurs causing the fire were untrue.
Over 5,000 card readers to be used for the October 10 governorship election were razed in the inferno.
The card readers were kept in two containers inside the premises of INEC.
Some political parties had called for thorough investigation into the incident for the purposes of arresting the perpetrators.
He said: "Investigation into the incident is out. The fire was caused by faulty electrical connection and all the smart card readers were burnt. The smart cards were kept in two containers in the premises of INEC and the air conditioners were kept on for 24 hours.
"This will put to rest speculations that the fire was caused by saboteurs. If there are other findings we will let you know. For now, the major cause is faulty electrical connections.
"This report is final from the fire service. They have the authority to investigate fire incidents in Akure," the commissioner explained.
On the reported destruction of campaign posters and banners by political opponents, Salami said his men were on the alert to arrest perpetrators.
"We are working hard to curtail political violence. We are meeting with political leaders to tell their followers to desist from attacking each other. We are investigating all aspects around the killing in Idanre," he said.
US Imposes Visa Ban on Bayelsa, Kogi Election Riggers
In a related development, ahead of the September 19 and October 10 governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states, the United States has imposed a visa ban on unnamed individuals, who it said undermined conducts of the November 2019 Kogi and Bayelsa governorship polls.
It said the move was in the run-up to the September and October 2020 Edo and Ondo governorship polls.
Spokesperson for the Department of State, Mr. Morgan Ortagus, disclosed this yesterday in a statement.
"In July 2019, we announced the imposition of visa restrictions on Nigerians who undermined the February and March 2019 elections.
"Today, the Secretary of State is imposing additional visa restrictions on individuals for their actions surrounding the November 2019 Kogi and Bayelsa state elections and in the run-up to the September and October 2020 Edo and Ondo state elections.
"These individuals have so far operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and have undermined democratic principles," the statement reads in part.
The US Government did not reveal the identities of those who have been banned.
It, however, said the ban was in furtherance of its commitment to strengthening democracy in Nigeria.
"The Department of State emphasises that the actions announced today are specific to certain individuals and not directed at the Nigerian people.
"This decision reflects the Department of State's commitment to working with the Nigerian government to realise its expressed commitment to end corruption and strengthen democracy, accountability, and respect for human rights," the statement read.
The US said it remained a steadfast supporter of Nigerian democracy and commended all those Nigerians who participated in elections throughout 2019 and have worked to strengthen democratic institutions and processes.
It condemned the acts of violence, intimidation, or corruption that harmed Nigerians and undermined the democratic process.
"As Edo and Ondo state off-cycle elections near, we urge all stakeholders, including the Independent National Electoral Commission, the political parties, and the security services, to uphold the tenets of democracy and facilitate genuinely free and fair elections, conducted in an appropriately transparent and non-violent manner," the US said in the statement.