Raymond Ozoji, Awka
Following postponement of the earlier scheduled general elections to 23rd February and 9th March 2019 respectively , opinions and counter opinions have continued to trail the poll shift. While some people expressed the view that the postponement was a ploy to manipulate the polls, others maintained that INEC should be given benefit of doubt to conduct credible elections on new dates. Sen.Victor Umeh is one of the few Nigerians who believe that INEC deserves a second chance to restore the interest of the voting public in the commission. RAYMOND OZOJI was among the reporters who interviewed Umeh in his countryhome, Aguluzigbo in Anaocha local government area of Anambra state. Excerpts:
Sir, do you still have confidence that INEC will conduct credible elections come Saturday this week?
I am a positive-minded person. If I say I have lost confidence in INEC, will I continue with the election? We will give INEC benefit of doubt with the hope that the commission will deliver credible elections. They must audit the adhoc personnel to be sure that they have not taken staff from candidates contesting in the elections. Anybody who wants to conduct credible elections should avoid interested parties who may smuggle in poll officials.
The Independent National Electoral Commission should also make promises it can keep. It is not about preparing for logistics and lose sight of the adhoc personnel which are recruited outside the commission. The commission should ensure that relations of candidates in the elections are not recruited as adhoc staff. Although the commission acted within the ambit of the law in the poll shift, the nation must bear with the commission even though the postponement was less than seven hours to the election proper. They must find a way to cushion the negative effects of the shift .
The economic implications of the postponement is massive. Have you considered the deployment of security agents? Those who travelled from far and wide to cast their votes for their choice candidate? The economic implications are on all stakeholders in the elections. The grave implications of the poll shift is quite huge! There would also be additional cost implications on new date for the conduct of the elections on all sides. Though INEC has taken full responsibility and equally accepted shortcomings arising from the poll shift, the commission should also do everything possible to restore and retain the confidence of the voting public in the apex electoral body. It is rather unfortunate that the elections were postponed but the onus still lies on the electoral umpire to assuage the feelings of Nigerians and correct the wrong impression it has created with the poll shift.
Furthermore the presence of adhoc personnel who are not INEC certified is still a source of danger to the credibility of the elections. It is not the first time elections are being postponed . In 2015, elections were shifted by more than one month. So it is very possible that INEC is facing genuine challenges that necessitated the shift. I do not want to say that APC is responsible for the poll shift because INEC is an independent electoral commission. So I am not someone who trade blames without justifications.
What is your assessment of security apparatus deployed for the polls?
Well, I saw soldiers on stop and search duties in almost all the junctions across my senatorial zone. Those who are notorious election riggers, planned again to rig the elections. Cultists were mobilized into my local government area Anaocha and they were camped in different hotels. Strangers were flooding the local government in shuttle buses and 608 buses. Now that the elections didn’t take place, they unleashed their anger on my posters and billboards defacing and destroying them across the senatorial district. The commissioner of police in Anambra has to find a way to prevent influx and movements of criminal elements two days before the elections. The security agencies must continue to guard the process till the election day proper.
Your words of encouragement to your teeming supporters and party members?
We have no option but to wait for INEC to do the right thing. INEC should desist from using adhoc staff gotten from candidates. Some candidates have tried to compromise the electoral commission by smuggling in Supervisory Presiding Officers, Collation Officers, Presiding Officers and from what I heard it did appear that something like that happened because those who do the business are still within the electoral process. There is no amount of promise that INEC would make to deliver a credible election if the commission does not purge itself of having arrangements with candidates to submit list of adhoc staff.