Barrister Jacob Ayanda is the Head of Department, Voter’s Education, Publicity, Gender and Civil Society Organisation of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Kwara State branch. He speaks with KAYODE ADEOTI on the corruption allegation against the commission regarding the N450 million election campaign fund during Jonathan’s administration among other issues. Excerpts:
There seems to be much preparation in place following the release of time table two years before the general elections and many other updates… What do you think actually informed all these?
This is what is done in the advanced countries and apart from announcing the date ahead of time, we have also commenced voter’s education. In Kwara state, we’ve decided to go on radio and television. This is going on across the states of the federation. This week, we discussed political party campaign. With this, we believe we will be able to sensitise the electorate, we want them to know their rights. We want them to know the dos and don’ts as it affects election. In the past, looking at the efforts we put into election, we still find complaints, invalid ballot papers among other issues. Having done well in 2015 and received commendations from members of the public, the commission felt we should build on that and even do more because we want to be part of the electoral management bodies in the whole world. And if we have to achieve that, we must move from one stage to the other, we must not remain stagnant. That is why we are commencing preparation early enough. We want to disabuse people’s mind from violence. We also want people to know the punishments attached to any offence committed during election so that they can desist from carrying out any evil. We also want to reduce invalid balloting. In some cases, we have tens of thousands of invalid ballot papers but we want to get it right this time. We are now with the people, we want to know what they are facing among other issues of concern to them.
You talked about punishments of offenders in election, can you shed more light on this?
These punishments were there before, but we are awakening people to it now. Currently, we are carrying out voter’s registration exercise. There are lot of offences like registering more than once, which will attracts a fine of one hundred thousand or one year imprisonment and it can even be both. If a person gives false information in any application of registration, the fine is five hundred thousand or 12months imprisonment or even both, hindering a fellow from registering is also five hundred thousand or 5years imprisonment or both. When people impersonate or carry out registration of a person (s) illegally or forging registration card, it attracts a fine of one million or twelve months imprisonment or both. You cannot also campaign and use personal security, it is wrong. It has its own penalty. These are some of the issues we are looking at.
These laws are in the Electoral Act, some are in the constitution, but people pretend as if they don’t know that they exist, and you know, ignorance of law is no excuse. But, we felt before the election, we should sensitise people about it just to ensure violence free election. We are going into full implementation of the laws now, once anyone is apprehended, he or she will be handed over to the police who will complete their investigation and finally prosecute.
You seems not to bothered about those allegedly responsible for the sponsors of thugs during elections…
There is no how those caught for one offence or the other will not have a sponsor, and once they are apprehended, they will provide an automatic link to their sponsors. But, youths shouldn’t make themselves available during the forthcoming elections. When they are approached for thuggery, they should simply tell such a persons to go and employ his children for the act. If we have free election, people will be happy.
There have been serious issues of corruption levelled against INEC officials in places where election were held recently in the county, how is the commission trying to manage or guard against this in Kwara?
I don’t want to mention names, a lot of people have been caught in this web among INEC staff in other parts of the country and the commission is so serious about it now than ever before, the staff are so careful now. No less than 200 staff of the commission staffers have been indicted, they are answering one question or the other, going to court and this was not the case in the past. Many of our members across the country are now being prosecuted for one alleged corruption offence or the other. But our staff from this part of the country have always been careful in the discharge of their duties.
The Kwara state branch of INEC was said to have collected over N30m during 2015 election from the alleged illegal proceed of N450m allegedly given by Dele Belgore and former minster, Suleiman Abubakar which they are standing trial with EFCC, as the commission spokesperson then who is in the know, what is your reaction to this issue?
If truly they gave INEC such mouth watering amount, by now, the INEC staff mentioned in the matter would have been arrested. But you can see our staff walking freely. Is not that they been immuned or protected from prosecution. Those allegations are just figment of imaginations. I don’t even know how to explain that but if actually INEC staff in the state have partook in that sharing, you can be sure that EFCC would have swung into action, why would they be prosecuting only two persons? It is an allegation that cannot hold water.
Since INEC has started its preparation early, I think it won’t be out place to ask if parties in the state have been registering?
It’s not time for that now, our time table, I think will come 30 days to the election.
The commission has commenced registration of electorate in the state, how many have registered so far?
It is a continuous exercise, it will be hard to put a figure to it. We are pending the registration now, for like two weeks. We are collating the data and afterwards, it will be displayed for those who have registered to go and check for their names if there is any correction in it and that is currently on going. The exercise will go on until like 30days before the commencement of the election. By Thursday 19th of October, we suspended the registration, another take off of the registration will commence by October 30th, 2017. There will be display, hearing of complaints and others by 23rd and 27th of October. The data will be uploaded and consolidated between 27th Oct. and 1st of November and the printing of cards, PVC will come up too.
Is it possible for the state electoral body and the INEC to work together?
Well, by constitution, Kwara State Independent Electoral Commission (KWSIEC) is independent. They are guarded by statutory law, in the same manner, INEC have such statutory law, there is no how one can take up the function of the other or even assist the other.
On the issue of PVC, how many are still left unclaimed and how do you intend to get them to their owners before election since they are not forthcoming to claim them?
We have two hundred and forty thousand yet unclaimed. We’ve continued to call on people to come and collect their cards. Before the election, we expect massive turn up.
Security issue has always been a challenge of the commission, what is being done to improve on that now?
We are working towards ensuring the issue takes a new face, we’ve established inter agency which comprise all security agencies and it’s headed by the police. We have been meeting with them from time to time to analyse our area of problems, places that are violent prone. We discussed all these with a view to getting them appropriate measure far ahead the election.
What about those that were disenfranchised during last election for failure to register because they live in remote areas…any plan to get them captured this time?
What we do now is to ensure all our offices are located in each of the local government areas of the state. And as the exercise continues, we will get to the level of the wards. Presently now, in Anambra, they’ve taken the registration down to the unit, so it’s getting closer and closer, same will be adopted here.