WE HAVE NO POWER TO PUNISH ANYONE FOR VOTE-BUYING SAYS INEC

The Director of Voter Education and Publicity at the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mr. Adedeji Soyebi, addresses issues of concern raised against the forthcoming governorship election in Osun State in this interview with SUNDAY ABORISADE

What strategies have INEC put in place to ensure that the issue of vote buying did not rear its ugly head in the forthcoming governorship election in Osun State?

The Independent National Electoral Commission has left no stone unturned in ensuring that we get rid of vote buying once and for all. Whatever measure we have put in place is very strategic and it is not something we are going to expose to the public in order to prevent politicians from planning along with us.

Does INEC have powers to sanction individuals or political parties who engage in vote buying before the election?

Vote buying can only happen on the day of election. We have no power to sanction any political party or individuals. Only the courts can punish any individual or groups that carry out such act.

Individuals, groups and political parties have argued that payment of salary backlog to Osun workers by the state government is vote buying. Do you agree with them?

Payment of salaries arrears to workers has nothing to do with the election. That is a purely government issue and we cannot dabble in any aspect that doesn’t concern us. It is the primary responsibility of governors to address the issues of workers in his state. We have no business with that and we cannot do anything about it. Salary payment is definitely not vote buying, so we cannot sanction the Osun State governor or his political party because of that.

What is the update on the issue of vote buying recorded during the Ekiti election?

It is only the security operatives that can answer that question because they made the arrests.

INEC said it is reengineering process of voting at its polling centres that will prevent eye contacts between the voter and party agents while the former is casting his or her ballot. Will this start with the Osun election?

We are introducing drastic strategic changes into the Osun election and this will not be revealed to anybody. We are going to use the election to showcase our level of preparedness to conquer the issue of vote buying in Nigeria elections.

Some stakeholders in the last Ekiti governorship election alleged that security operatives worked for the ruling All Progressives Congress. Are you guarding against such occurrence in the Osun poll?

Only the security agencies can answer that question but we are equally looking into the issue. However, the Osun people have so far been conducting their affairs peacefully since INEC lifted the ban on campaigns. More than any other state that we had held elections in the recent time, Osun happens to be the most peaceful. Even the conduct of their party primaries was without rancour. I have not seen any form of violence in the build-up to the election. Their campaigns have been devoid of violence. Last week, there were two mega rallies held by two major political parties. They were held same day and the venue was less than one kilometre away from each other. The crowd exchanged pleasantries among themselves cheerfully without any form of bitterness. The Osun people should be specially commended for their political maturity. There has been no violence recorded so far and we expect a very peaceful election. The various security agencies have held joint meetings with the aspirants and leaderships of the political parties in the state too. We don’t expect violence to be a major issue in the Osun election.

The Ekiti electorate complained that the state was ‘overpoliced’ during the period of the election leading to intimidation of certain categories of politicians. Has INEC taken any measure in that regard also?

I don’t think that the deployment of security operatives to Ekiti posed any threat to the conduct of the last governorship election in the state. As a matter of fact, it even strengthened the process. The turnout of voters was encouraging because they have confidence in the ability of security operatives to provide adequate security. Just like what happened in Ekiti, we expect a similar thing in Osun. The security men are there to protect the lives and property of the people and not to scare voter away. I want to assure the people of the state that the security operatives would not do anything that could undermine the system.

What is the implication of the Electoral Act Amendments Bill, which was returned to the National Assembly unsigned, on the 2019 general elections?

There are always laws guiding elections at every given time. At the moment, we have the Electoral Act 2010 as amended and the nation’s constitution to rely upon. The process has even started because we have released the notice of the elections since 17th of August this year. All the political parties must have their last primaries, latest by October 8 based on the existing law. So, there are always laws guiding elections in this country.

The National Assembly may not likely pass the INEC poll budget pending before the federal lawmakers. Will this not affect the conduct of the general election?

It will not affect our activities or our preparations towards the election because the procurement of our non-sensitive materials and the process of protecting them are what is important now and the process is ongoing already. By the time the process would be concluded, the budget would have been approved by relevant authorities. It is not when we receive the money that we will start necessary preparations.

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