Paul Obiajunwo, Port Harcourt
As Rivers people file out on Saturday to elect their President, National House of Assembly candidates and subsequently to elect their governor and members of State House of Assembly on April 11. It is obvious that the onus to conduct free, fair and credible election in the state rest on the shoulder of Dame Gesila Khan, the Rivers State Resident Commissioner, Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Having declared Rivers State as one of the states to watch out for political violence in this year’s election by political analysts and other stakeholders, the Bayelsa State born Dame Gesila was posted out of Delta state to Rivers state when the state was tensely boiling. As a fighter and one with high level of integrity and pedigree she quickly moved into action to engage peace talk with those communities where violence is prominent.
The result of her peace initiation in the state is everywhere and she has continue, even at the last minute to engaged with the youths, women, security agencies, religion leaders, non-governmental organization and political parties on how best to achieve peace and to conduct free, fair and credible election in Rivers State.
Apart from going from one community to another on voters’ education, Dame Gesila has also initiated a security committee headed by the Rivers State commissioner of Police, Dan Bature. In a recent stakeholders meeting at INEC office in Port Harcourt, she told her guests that if she can do it in Delta Central election which was conducted in a peaceful atmosphere under her watch, she is optimistic that Rivers election will be peaceful and credible.
She said INEC has done their part to stabilize the state and ensure that politicians do not see themselves as enemies but as brothers and sisters. She regretted that many innocent bloods had been shad for pre-political violence, pleading with shareholders especially the non-governmental organization to send the message across to politicians on the need to allow peace to rain.
She however, confirmed that all is set to conduct a credible elections in Rivers state, “The Commission in its bid to conduct the most credible, free and fair Elections in 2015 has embarked on so many programmes all of which will culminate in the success of the polls. These include the distribution of Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) for those who registered in 2011 and those who were captured in the Continuous Voters Registration in December 2014. The total number of registered voters in Rivers State is 2,537,590. As at March 18, 2015 a total of 2,469,383 PVCs have been received, and 87% of this number which is 2,148,289 has been distributed while a balance of 308,395 is yet to be collected. This figure includes both the PVCs for 2011 Registration and December 2014 Continuous Voters Registration exercise.
“Card Readers have also been introduced in Accreditation process to authenticate the voters and forestall any malpractices. A total of 6,818 Card Readers have been received and one each will be deployed to the 4,442Polling units and 1,396 Voting points. The balance will be used to augment where necessary.
The PVC is swiped on the card reader and if it is INEC PVC, the Voter’s picture, VIN number and bio-data will appear on the screen of the card reader. And the card reader will give a command that the holder of the PVC should place his thumb on the reader and if accepted, the person then moves to next stage of the Accreditation process.”
On the area of late arrival of material, the Rivers INEC boss said the Commission has devised a means of reducing late arrival of Personnel and materials to the polling units to the barest minimum. She said, that was done through the creation of Registration Area Centers (RACs) and Super RACs from where Poll officials will proceed to their various polling units on Election Day.
“We will ensure timely arrival of poll officials and materials before 8.00am on Election Day. By this the suspicions associated with late arrival of materials will be completely eliminated. A total of 76 RACs have been identified and prepared for the elections. The Commission has signed memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Management to use the corpers for adhoc duties. It is to be noted that the enrollment of adhoc personnel in the forthcoming elections had been done online through INEC website for the various categories of person required for the conduct of the Elections. And Twenty six thousand (26,000) Adhoc Personnel is required for the exercise and they have all been trained and retrained for the 2015 Elections.
“Meanwhile, the Commission has embarked on rigorous voter enlightenment programmes through series of Radio and Television jingles, periodic announcements, talk shops, interview sessions and press conferences. Traditional media like Town cries are also being utilized to reach the electorate at the grassroots. I and my team had carried out voter enlightenment messages to the Traditional rulers in the State; women based groups, youth groups, religious leaders and market outreaches. Posters, banners and fliers were produced and distributed to all the LGAs.”
Gesila also inform the stakeholders that the issue of security has been handled, insisting that violence of any form during and after election would not been accepted. She said the Commission is conscious of the importance of security in conducting effective, free, fairs and credible Elections.
She noted that there is formation of Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES). “This body is made up of all military and para-military agencies in the State including INEC. The Agencies in this committee contribute their workforce together under the Command and control of the State Commissioner of Police who heads the Election security in the State. INEC in Rivers State has visited these security agencies to solicit their cooperation during the elections, and they have assured us of their support. The Committee (ICCES) has been meeting regular to analyze and workout security strategies for effective coverage of the entire State. About 12,228 security personnel are required for the 2015 election exercise in the State.
“The Commission is seriously concerned about the incidences of violence before, during and after elections and we have been appealing to all stakeholders to prevail on our youths to shun all forms of violence and avoid being used by politicians to perpetrate acts that may lead to disruption of the elections. The future of this nation belongs to them and therefore they must help to deepen our democratic process.”
The National coordinator, Women Initiative for Transparency and Social Justice, Dr. Jennifer Spiff who was in one of the interactive forums with INEC and Civil Society organization said her ten year experience in election monitory shows that in this 2015 election INEC is fully committed for free, fair and credible election.
Dr. Spiff said, “With the process put in place it show that INEC is fully ready to conduct election that would be accepted by all. My only annoyance is that many people today are not educated like me so they have became victim of political violence and the desperate politicians are happy manipulating their future. The transparent system put in place by INEC is not all about the commission or the candidates but for the benefit of our society and for the future of our children.”