The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has said the general election will be held in spite of the various attacks on the commission's facilities across the nation.
Yakubu said INEC was satisfied with the preparations done so far ahead of the elections.
Addressing an audience at Chatham House, London, yesterday, Yakubu decried the increasing spate of attacks on INEC's facilities in form of arson but reassured the audience that the commission would go ahead with the elections as scheduled.
The electoral umpire chairman, while noting that 50 facilities of the commission had been attacked in four years, said the implications of the attacks were that the commission would need to continue to rebuild the burnt facilities and replace materials.
He, however, assured Nigerians and the international community that INEC, in collaboration with security agencies, had increased security presence in some of the attack-prone locations.
He noted that the last attack on the commission's facilities happened last Sunday, saying the commission was able to respond quickly with the help of the military, thereby minimising the extent of damage done to that attacked facility.
"In four years, 50 facilities (have been) attacked in various parts of the country. The implications of the attacks is that we have to rebuild facilities and replace materials. The commission and security agencies have increased their presence in some of these locations.
"The last attack happened on Sunday last week but because of the cooperation between the military and the electoral commission, we were able to respond and the damage was limited to just a section of the building in a local government office.
"The commission has repeatedly called for concerted efforts to control and check these attacks and in December last year the National Assembly held a public hearing on these attacks and we hope that authorities have these attacks under control and the response by the security agencies is more coordinated.
"But in spite of these attacks we will rebuild facilities and replace damaged and lost items, the elections will hold," Yakubu said.
Speaking further, he reiterated the promise to Nigerians and friends of Nigerians that the 2023 general election would be free, free and credible, "and we have left no stone unturned in preparing for it."
"But like with all elections, especially those requiring the extensive national deployment like we do in Nigeria, it will naturally come with challenges.
"We have worked closely with stakeholders and development partners to confront these challenges and we are satisfied with our preparations so far," he added.
According to the INEC boss: "Since 1999, Nigeria has been conducting regular general elections following the restoration of civilian-democratic rule governance after many years of military rule. The 2023 general election will be the seventh consecutive general election in Nigeria.
"This fact makes this the longest period of electoral democracy in the country's history. Previous periods of electoral democracy were relatively short, repeatedly truncated by military interventions. However, the quantity of elections is one thing, but their quality is another. As Zavadskaya and Garnett aptly note, the question of integrity of elections is relevant for "all elections, whether in new democracies or jurisdictions that have held election for decades," because they are all "vulnerable to malpractice."
"However, good elections are not only about curbing malpractices, but also about ensuring inclusivity. Inclusive elections constitute an essential part of democracy. This is the reason why in our Commission we regularly speak of our commitment to free, fair, credible, transparent, verifiable and inclusive elections.
"To be sure, credible and inclusive elections in the final analysis depend on adequate preparations and my main preoccupation today is to share with you how we are preparing for a general election of high integrity and inclusiveness in Nigeria in 2023," he added.
Lamenting the continuous attacks on its facilities nationwide, the INEC Chairman said despite the attacks, elections would hold.
He said: "The commission has repeatedly called for concerted efforts to control and check these attacks and in December last year, the National Assembly held a public hearing on these attacks and we hope that authorities have these attacks under control and the response by the security agencies is more coordinated.
"But in spite of these attacks, we will rebuild facilities and replace damaged and lost items, the elections will hold."
Giving a breakdown of voter registration and collection of Permanent Voter Cards in Nigeria, Yakubu said the general election would be an exercise for the young people in Nigeria.
He added that records on the ground showed that the election would be dominated by the Nigerian youth.
Yakubu, who said he was encouraged by the turn-out of registered voters to collect their PVCs, said over 600,000 eligible voters collected their PVCs in Lagos alone within the last one month.
The INEC boss stated that there are currently 93.4 million registered voters in Nigeria, out of which 37 million, that is 39 per cent, are young people between the ages of 18 and 34.
"And then they're closely followed by 33.4 million or 35.3 per cent middle-age voters between the ages of 35 and 49.
"Put together, these two categories constitute 75.39 per cent of registered voters in Nigeria. So, actually the 2023 election is the election of the young people, because they have the numbers. Even the majority of the PVCs collected are collected by young people.
"So, out of the 93.4 million, 70.4 million registered voters are between the ages of 18 and 49," Yakubu stated.
He reminded the audience that the collection of the PVCs would end on January 29, 2023, adding that, "we have to end it because before the election we will publish number of PVCs collected on polling unit by polling unit basis nationwide."
"Voting by millions of Nigerians living outside the country remains a recurrent issue for the Commission. Nigeria is said to have one of the largest diaspora communities in the world. Our quest for a fully inclusive electoral process in Nigeria will not be complete as long as these Nigerians are unable to vote. "However, the Commission only acts in accordance with the electoral legal framework, which remains the main reason why we cannot implement diaspora voting for now. Both the 1999 Constitution and the 2022 Electoral Act provide that voters can only be registered and vote within the country.
"For instance, Section 77(2) of the Constitution provides that "every citizen of Nigeria, who has attained the age of eighteen years residing in Nigeria at the time of the registration of voters for purposes of election to a legislative house, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election," he added.
The INEC boss revealed that the commission would conduct mock accreditation nationwide ahead of the 2023 general election. He said the mock accreditation would be carried out across selected polling units to ascertain the integrity of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), before the main elections begin in February.
Yakubu further revealed that every BVAS machine deployed across the 774 local government had been tested, adding that the functionality of the machines was impressive. He also stated that back up machines have been readily provided in case of system glitches.
He added that with all preparations on ground, the commission was really "comfortable and happy."
He said: "We have the machines for the 2023 elections but we didn't want to take chances. Each and every machine has been tested and confirmed functional. For the last two weeks our officials were in the 36 states of the federation testing these machines, and the functionality is simply encouraging.
"The second thing we're going to do, and pretty soon, is to conduct mock accreditation exercise nationwide ahead of the elections. We won't wait until the main elections come, we will test the integrity of these machines with real life voters in selected polling units across the country.
"We did so in Ekiti and Osun, it was fantastic and we're going to do so nationwide. Increasingly our people are becoming more excited about the deployment of this technology and we're really happy.
"Also in terms of the numbers of these BVAS machines, we always make provision in case of malfunction or glitches. There is always a backup. We have IReV technical support that will fix the machines in the unlikely event of any glitches.
"However, where it fails to function completely in a polling unit, from previous experience there were isolated polling units, the law has a remedy that the commission should re-mobilise and re-conduct elections in the affected polling units within 24 hours, so we are really, really comfortable where we are."
Agbakoba Tasks INEC on Clarification of Section 134
Meanwhile, with less than 40 days to the presidential election, foremost lawyer, Chief Olisa Agbakoba, has raised concern about provisions of Section 134 of the 1999 Constitution.
In a letter to Yakubu, the senior lawyer who raised concern about the confusing nature of the law, wants the electoral umpire to make clarification before the elections.
Section 134 of the 1999 Constitution provides specific requirements a presidential candidate must meet before he or she would be declared winner of an election.
It reads: "A candidate for an election to the office of President shall be deemed to have been duly elected, where, there being only two candidates for the election: he has the majority of votes cast at the election; and he has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
"A candidate for an election to the office of President shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being more than two candidates for the election- (a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and (b) he has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja."
However, in the letter dated January 17, 2023 and titled: 'Re: Clarification on Section 134 of the 1999 Constitution,' Agbakoba stated that he and, "many concerned Nigerians are worried about the correct interpretation of the said section."
According to Agbakoba, while the section in one breath says a candidate could only be declared winner of a presidential election by scoring majority of votes cast in the election; in another it says a candidate could only be declared winner after scoring the highest number of votes cast in the poll.
"I reviewed section 134 carefully, specifically, subsections 134 (1) (b) and (2) (b), and wondered if "two-thirds of all the States in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja" means either of the following: a) that a presidential candidate must score not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the states in the federation which means 24 states, the 24 States will include the Federal Capital Territory Abuja as a "State", or (b) that a presidential candidate must score not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation which means 24 states and in addition to meeting the one-quarter requirement in 24 states, a candidate must also win one-quarter of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja".
From the above he said one could deduce that a presidential candidate must have one-quarter of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, in addition to scoring not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in 24 states of the federation, to be duly elected.
"The above possible interpretations raise three major questions:
(1) is the requirement that a presidential candidate must score not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of the 36 States of the Federation; does this mean that the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja is incorporated in the 24 States? Or (2) is the requirement that a presidential candidate must score not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of the 36 States of the Federation; does it mean that the presidential candidate must also score not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja?
(3) can a candidate that scored not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in 36 States of the Federation but fails to score one-quarter of the votes cast at the election at the Federal Capital Territory, be duly elected as President of Nigeria?"
Agbakoba further observed that while Section 134(1)(a) provides that a candidate for an election to the office of president shall be deemed to have been duly elected, where, there being only two candidates for the election, the candidate has the majority of votes cast at the election, Section 134(2) provides that a candidate for an election to the office of President shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being more than two candidates for the election, the candidate has the highest number of votes cast at the election.
He said, "The constitution describes the winner in two different languages. One, the winner must score the majority of votes and the other, the winner must score the highest number of votes. This is confusing.
"To be honest, I am not quite sure of the right answers to my questions. I just thought to bring this to your attention as something you might wish to clarify to the public."