The chairman of the Independent National Eelctoral Commission has spoken of some of the records preparations for the 2019 elections have set.
Mahmood Yakubu, a professor said this was the first time in Nigeria’s history that the electoral budget would be made public. He also said the announcement of dates for next year’s general elections was the earliest ever made.
Mr Yakubu stated these and others while briefing journalists when he visited the State House, Abuja, on Friday.
Read excerpts of the interview with the election chief below.
Q: On voters registration extension?
Yakubu: Well, we started the continuous voters registration exercise on 27th April 2017, so we have been, as provided for in our constitution , registering voters consistently in the last 16 months. In response to appeal by Nigerians, we have created more centers for the registration; but finally decided that we should suspend the process as provided for by the law, six months to the elections. But again, in response to appeal by Nigerians, we have now extended to the end of the month. As at Saturday last week, the 11th of August, we have registered 12.1 million citizens, this will eventually be added to the 70 million voters that are already registered for the 2019 general elections.
We have voters register of over 80 million citizens.
Q: Is the registration also for weekends?
Yakubu: Let me make this very important clarification, the registration is going to take place between 9 in the morning and 5 p.m. daily including weekends but excluding the public holiday. You know Tuesday and Wednesday next week have been declared public holiday.
The second important clarification that I should make, is that the second voters registration exercise, the end of the continuous voters registration is 31st of August. But (it) does not mean the end of the collection of PVCs. Collection of PVCs will continue until at least one week to the general election in February 2019.
Q: Are you not worried that the virement is still before the National Assembly?
Yakubu: Well, we have made the clarification that the National Assembly asked for and I am happy that the National Assembly and the two committees on INEC expressed satisfaction on the clarification that we made for the matter of appropriation. So we look forward to hearing what the the National Assembly will say.
But we also need to make this very important clarification, the commission requested for N189.2 billion, that is what the executive proposed to the National Assembly, so there are no discrepancies in the figures at all.
Q: Are the elections going to be postponed?
Yakubu: I have said this over and over again, there are no conditions under which elections should be postponed. Under section 26 of the Electoral Act, the date is formed and fixed, February 16, 2019. We issued the timetable way in advance for the very first time in the history of our nation. Citizens of Nigeria know when elections will take place one year in advance. It has never happened before.
Secondly, also for the very first time in the history of our country, that citizens know the budget of the electoral commission. That budget has never been defended before the National Assembly; as citizens know line by line how much the commission proposed, what the money is going to be spent on. I think I am very happy with this process.
Q: What brought you to the villa?
Yakubu: It has nothing to do with our national politics. Recall that in March 2016, I was elected the President of ECOWAS network of electoral commission, in that capacity recently, we undertook a NEEDS assessment visit to the Republic of Guinea-Bissau and part of what they request for Nigeria, is assistance with voters registration kits.
Since I returned a little over two weeks ago, I have received daily calls from electoral commission, and this afternoon, the ambassador of Guinea-Bissau to Nigeria, they want to start the voters registration on the 23rd of this month but they are relying on Nigeria to provide the assistance. That is why I came and had a meeting with Ambassador Lawal with the senior special assistant to the president on foreign affairs to facilitate Nigeria’s electoral assistance to Guinea-Bissau.
It is important to do so because you should also remember that for several years now, Nigeria has had troops in Guinea-Bissau to stabilise the country and that stability is dependent upon the conduct of proper elections. Once elections are conducted, Nigerian troops can now safely withdraw. So it’s much cheaper for Nigeria to provide this assistance.
Q: Is there budget for foreign observers?
Yakubu: I have had this question that we have prepared budget for international observers, there is no such thing. There is no line in the budget for international observers. What we are provided for are the kits, you know the jackets, caps, publication, that we give to international observers, the stickers that are fixed on their cars to be identified on Election Day. This is the standard practice. Each country that organises elections provide these facilities for those who monitor elections. But their accommodation, transportation will be born by various election monitoring groups and not by the Nigerian government.