By Lateef Ibrahim, Abuja
Barely three weeks to the conduct of the governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has cautioned its staff and officials of the political parties participating at the polls to do the right thing or face the full weight of the law.
While INEC charged the political parties, their candidates and supporters to shun vote buying, hate speeches, inciting statements and other things that the electoral act frowns at, it disclosed that staff and ad-hoc staff deployed for the elections would be placed under official oath of neutrality.
The Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, while meeting with leaders of the registered political parties in Abuja yesterday, ahead of the forthcoming elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States, disclosed that the commission will deepen its collaboration with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC, with a view to curbing the various anti-electoral law offences.
Specifically, Prof Yakubu said that operatives of EFCC and ICPC would be deployed at polling centres to arrest vote buyers.
According to him, ‘As electioneering has already commenced, the commission wishes to appeal to political parties to speak with their candidates and supporters to advise them against hate speeches, and inciting statements, physical attacks of opponents, destruction of each other’s’ campaign materials and other sundry violations of the electoral acts
“Of course, voters harassment and votes buying at polling units constitute violations of electoral law. Hate speeches, inciting statements constitute violations of the electoral laws. Prohibition of the use of mobile phones at voting cubicles is still in force.
“We are going to deepen our collaborations with the EFCC and ICPC in this respect. They will keep eyes on the movement of cash during electioneering campaigns and on Election Day.
“Prior to 2015 elections, some alleged vote buyers were arrested by the EFCC. Some have been charged to court. The latest update that I received indicated the EFCC has secured the first conviction in Gombe state. That is certainly a cause for celebration”, the INEC Chairman said.
Speaking further at the quarterly meeting of INEC with registered political parties, the Chairman, disclosed that all the political parties, fielding candidates for the two elections will sign peace accord in Yenogoa on November 7 and in Lokoja on November 11 ahead of the Saturday, November 16 date for the two elections.
Aside from this, the INEC chairman said that all INEC staff and ad-hoc staff to be deployed to the two states would take oath of neutrality, stating, “ You all know the implications of disobedience to official oath”.
Prof. Yakubu said that the commission will be working hand in hand with all security agencies to ensure that both men and sensitive materials of the elections are secured, explaining that INEC will deepen the sanctity of elections by ensuring that the process is secured
He also revealed that the Kogi West Senatorial election, which would have cost INEC over N300 million to conduct as a stand alone election, would now gulp about N10million now that it has been merged with the governorship election in the state to hold same date.
On the signing of peace accords in Kogi and Bayelsa states, the INEC chairman said that he will be accompanied at the two occasions by the Inspector General of Police and other security agencies.
He gave a breakdown of gubernatorial candidates in Kogi state to consist of twenty three political parties made up of 21 males and two females, while in Bayelsa state, he said that there are forty five parties contesting for the governorship consisting of forty two males and three females.
The INEC chairman urged the political parties not to run fowl of the election guidelines by ensuring that they stop campaigns by November 14.
In his response, the Chairman of the Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Chief Peter Ameh made case for a level playing field for all parties and their candidates at the elections.
Ameh however asked INEC to caution Senate for advocating for the de-registration of some registered political parties.
Prominent among parties in attendance yesterday were; All Progressives Congress, APC, which was represented by Hon Victor Enoh, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which was represented by it’s National Organising Secretary, Colonel Austeen Akobundu, rtd, and Woke Adeseun for Social Democratic Party, SDP.