Professor Lai Olurode is the chairman, Elections and Party Monitoring Committee of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He was head of Sociology and dean of the Faculty of Social Science at the University of Lagos at different times.
In this interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly, the erudite scholar made it point blank that INEC is not teleguided by anybody, adding that the Permanent Voter’s Cards collected nationwide is up to 76.15 percent and assuring that the fear of disenfranchisement of some eligible voters will soon be a thing of the past and more.
How would you further justify the postponement of elections by INEC?
Postponement was ostensibly because of security challenges and the failure of state security institutions to guarantee security in view of competing demands on the country’s security resources in the war-torn north east. Simply put, Nigeria has not arrived at a situation where elections can be conducted without physical presence of security agents. There will be real fiasco if INEC had taken a decision to go ahead in spite of the caution by security chiefs. But we also have our own challenges which we were struggling to overcome before postponement.
Before the polls shift, how ready was INEC?
As l said and to be honest with you, I nursed the feeling that postponement was probably inevitable. As had been said, we weren’t 100 per cent ready. But would we have had elections that meet popular expectations? This is now academic.
Would you say the reason for the postponement would have been addressed before March 28 when presidential election is billed to hold?
Security challenges are ever evolving and difficult to pre- determined or predict. The fact that today is calm may not be enough guide to predict the next 24 hours. It is not only what our security personnel do that matters, the cooperation of other players in other countries become decisive. This is an open ended question. The question is whether elections can be secured beyond the ruling rate of security in a country.
The public impression right now is that INEC is being overrun by the powers that be. What is your reaction to this?
I don’t think there is any well grounded premise to regard INEC as being teleguided, good to concede some level of autonomy to us.
How sure are Nigerians that the commission will conduct a free and fair elections come March and April judging from all the political crises on ground?
INEC alone can’t deliver good elections without the partnership of other key players in the electoral process. The political and security environments are simply not supportive of flawless elections. The signals are just patently discomforting. I feel bewildered.
Can you give us the data of eligible voters that have collected their PVCs and those that have not?
PVC collection has reached 75 per cent and there are variations across states and regions. Not many states in the south-west have reached that national average.
As the situation is right now, a lot of Nigerians are still likely to be disenfranchised for not getting their PVCs within the stipulated time. What is your commission doing to ensure all eligible voters get their PVCs before March 8, 2015?
During my last visits to the three states under my supervision, we discussed the need to be more citizen- friendly and more culture – centred in our distribution strategies. Electoral officers were advised to make random calls, visit homes and use radio to announce some names of people yet to collect their PVCs.
How true is President Jonathan’s claim that he was not informed by INEC the elections were postponed?
INEC does not need to inform the president about postponement. It is within the power of INEC to fix and alter election dates. But stakeholders are often consulted and taken along every critical decision.
Will Nigerians outside the country allowed to vote?
No vote yet for Nigerians in the diaspora.
And is their any hope for displaced Nigerians to take part in the forthcoming elections?
As much as is practicable, we have planned for internally displaced persons to vote as doing otherwise will exclude them and may fetter seeing the entire elections project to a good end. Nigeria should avert an inconclusive elections or one that is aborted on technical grounds as much as possible.
Even for them to access the voting arena, security is a sine qua non. It is important to bear this in mind at all times. We are election managers not security operatives.