Ahead of Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission on Wednesday commenced the distribution of sensitive materials in states including Lagos, Benue, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun.
Also, as part of the preparations for the polls President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday met with security chiefs at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, where he said INEC had no excuse not to conduct successful polls.
In no fewer than nine states, the electoral commission stepped up preparations through the distribution of sensitive materials to local government areas.
In Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, the Resident National Electoral Commissioner, Prof. Ayobami Salami, at 10am, met with security agencies and officials of the commission before the distribution of the materials to local government areas.
Salami, who spoke at the Central Bank of Nigeria, Ado Ekiti branch, venue of the distribution, said early distribution of the materials “is an indication that INEC has put everything in place and we are not leaving everything till the last minute.
“We are to assure Nigerians that we are fully ready for the elections and the materials are ready on time and being distributed on time and will get to locations on time and elections will hold on schedule.
“I can assure you, as you can see, that all our electoral officers in all the local governments are here with their vehicles to convey the materials to the various local government areas. That is an indication that logistics issues have been resolved. We have the money that we need to conduct this election and we have the fuel for the vehicles that will be used,” he said.
The exercise also commenced in Ondo State, where our correspondent observed on Wednesday that the sensitive materials were moved from the Akure branch of the CBN to the headquarters of each of the 18 local government areas of the state in the company of heavily armed security agents.
Commenting on the development, the Acting Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr Oyekola Oyelami, stated that the process was smooth while proper arrangements were made to ensure that the materials get to the council areas.
The exercise was carried out in Lagos under the heavy presence of security agencies at the CBN headquarters, Marina, Lagos.
The Lagos State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr Olusegun Agbaje, told journalists at the CBN office in Marina that all the materials would be distributed on Wednesday to the LGAs where the electoral officers from each council would do the final distributions on the election day.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner, Benue State, Sam Egwu, took delivery of sensitive materials from the CBN branch in Makurdi.
The spokesman for the commission in Benue State, Terkaa Andyar, said the commission would send the materials to the local government areas on Thursday.
“It is late now; so what the commission decided is that we are dispatching the materials to local governments that are close by while others who are far away will receive their materials tomorrow (today),’’ he explained.
INEC began dispatching election materials and the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System to the 18 LGAS in Cross Rivers State on Wednesday.
Our correspondent observed the equipment being loaded into trucks at the INEC state headquarters in Calabar on Wednesday.The deployment was witnessed by the representatives of political parties and security officials.
Before the materials were distributed, the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Prof Gabriel Yomere, said “no big man would be allowed to come out on election day with his orderly.”
The distribution of electoral materials to the 13 council areas in Nasarawa State has also commenced.
Speaking with journalists on Wednesday after inspecting the materials at the CBN, Lafia branch, the Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state, Uthman Ajidagba, said the commission was ready to conduct a free, fair and credible election.
He disclosed that the ballot papers, result sheets and BVAS machines would be distributed to the 3,245 polling units across the state.
Our correspondent reports that security operatives, officials of various political parties and candidates witnessed the distribution of the materials.
The INEC office in Sokoto State office confirmed that it received 3,999 BVAS machines alongside other sensitive materials for onward distribution to all the local government headquarters in the state.
Briefing newsmen at the CBN office in the state on Wednesday, the Resident Electoral Commissioner for the state, Dr Nura Ali, said all the sensitive materials were in the custody of the commission in the state.
He said the commission had distributed the non-insensitive materials to the 23 LGAs across the state, noting that the commission was fully ready for the conduct of the general election.
He stated, “We have been having a day-to-day engagement with all the security agencies in the state and they have all assured us of maximum protection throughout the period of the election.
“I want to use this opportunity to assure our people in Sokoto State that INEC is ready to conduct free, fair and credible elections in this state.”
As part of the preparation for the polls, the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Ogun State, Mr Niyi Ijalaye, in Abeokuta on Wednesday, held a meeting with the heads of security agencies led by the Commissioner of Police in the state, Frank Mba.
He warned that the use of mobile phones remained banned at polling units, noting that voters would not be allowed to make calls or take pictures with their phones while casting their votes.
Ijalaye gave the warning in Abeokuta while addressing journalists shortly after the meeting.
In Katsina, security was beefed up around the state secretariat of INEC ahead of the poll.
The Head of Voter Education and Publicity, INEC, Sheu Sa’idu, explained that the items would be transferred to all the 34 LGAs on Thursday (today).
In the same wise, the Enugu State Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Ammani, has ordered the maximum deployment of all policing resources to ensure peaceful conduct of Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections in the state.
Ammani, who gave the order on Wednesday, during the last-minute security review and strategy meeting with his management team and commanders of the tactical/ operational teams at the police headquarters, warned that lapses in any form would not be tolerated.
A statement by the Enugu State Command’s spokesperson, Daniel Ndukwe, said that the meeting was aimed at putting finishing touches to the strategies being put in place for the maintenance of law and order during the election period.
In Osun State, the distribution which took place in the premises of the CBN, Osogbo branch, was witnessed by the representatives of the parties, security agents, journalists and INEC officials.
Before the distribution commenced, there was however a drama, as operatives of the Department of State Service, stationed at the entrance to the bank, prevented journalists and other people that were to observe the distribution from entering the premises.
The security operatives had claimed that the management of the CBN Osogbo branch, had instructed that they should not allow anyone into the premises.
But INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr Mutiu Agboke, insisted that journalists and party representatives should be allowed into the premises.
Speaking after journalists had been allowed into the premises to witness the distribution, Agboke said the commission was ready for the polls.
Meanwhile, at the meeting with security chiefs and the INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, the President said they had no excuse in ensuring the success of the elections.
It was gathered that the unscheduled meeting was at the instance of the INEC chairman, who explained that it was all part of efforts towards free, fair and credible elections.
Earlier, Buhari, while explaining the reason for his late arrival for the commissioning and handover of security equipment, valued at over N12bn to the military and Nigeria Police Force by the Coalition Against Covid-19, revealed that he had to stay back for a while to meet with Yakubu.
The President told the CACOVID-19 group that his five-minute delay was due to an ongoing engagement with the INEC Chairman.
However, he reminded the team that the meeting was for the successful conduct of elections.
Buhari said, “I’m being grounded by INEC. You know next Saturday is a great day for us and I take instructions from INEC so that I make sure there’ll be no excuses for a successful election conduct.,” he stressed.
In a related development, the security council has expressed satisfaction with the level of security nationwide, stating that ‘’there is no going back” on the February 25 and March 11 election dates.
Malami disclosed this to State House Correspondents after the council’s maiden meeting for 2023 chaired by the President at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, on Wednesday.
The declaration, it was gathered, was meant to allay simmering concerns that the Federal Government may postpone the elections amidst the new naira crisis.
The crisis caused by the scarcity of naira notes and fuel had sparked speculations and anxiety that the Federal Government was planning to shift the election dates, a claim the Presidency has repeatedly denied.
Addressing journalists on Wednesday, the AGF said the Federal Government has made enough preparations ahead of Saturday’s election.
He said the members expressed satisfaction with the current security situation and resolved that the elections must hold as planned.
According to Malami, the council members were briefed by the Chief of Defence Staff, the Army, Navy and Air Force chiefs, and heads of other security agencies about their readiness to provide the necessary security cover for the election.
The AGF also noted that the security council meeting was a follow-up to earlier meetings by the Federal Executive Council and the Council of State to ascertain the readiness of the INEC and the police for the polls.
He stated, “At the National Security Council meeting, briefings were made by security agencies generally and service chiefs. National Security Adviser made a submission; the Chief of Defense Staff made one; the Chief of Army Staff made a submission; the Chief of Naval Staff made a submission, the Chief of Air Staff did; the Inspector-General of Police, who incidentally is equally addressing you, made a submission; Director-General, State Security Service did; and indeed DG NIA and CDI all made submissions.
“The summary and conclusion of all submissions were to the effect that the system is wholeheartedly ready for the conduct of the election and arising therefrom, the position of the government, the position of the President is to the effect that the election is holding on February 25, 2023, and Mr President and the National Security Council are happy with the preparations on the ground and wholehearted arrangements are put in place in that direction.”
Malami added that there is no going back on the planned elections.
“So we have been mandated, arising from the conclusions of the security council meetings to now brief you accordingly, but the summary of it, the conclusion of it, the resolution of the Council, is to the effect that the elections are holding and there is no going back about it”, Malami said.
The Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, who also briefed journalists revealed that the President has directed all security agencies to ensure a safe electoral exercise for Nigerians and officials of INEC.
“As for specific instructions, yes we have specific instructions. The specific instruction is that we must ensure that Nigerians are allowed to come out and exercise their franchise or vote for the leaders of their choice and for that we must create a conducive environment or atmosphere for Nigerians to exercise their rights.
“We must also provide protection for INEC materials and officials to do their work. We must ensure that before, during and after the election, whatever fallback it is, we do not have people who will take the laws their hands and if there are any, we should be able to check within the quickest possible means to ensure that it does not snowball into a bigger crisis”, Baba revealed.
Fielding a question about an allegation against governors inciting violence over the new naira crisis, Baba said the force cannot prosecute them but can only dish out cautions.
“We are investigating whoever does anything that can be investigated. But for him to be prosecuted, there are people who have immunity. I think that is some of the reasons, but that will not stop us from cautioning or warning them and from advising them and we are doing so,” Baba said.
He explained that the presence of military personnel on the streets of Lagos and Abeokuta after the naira shortage riots in Ogun State was a joint operation to stabilise the internal security order before the election.