By Chioma Ndife
The auxiliary bishop of Awka Catholic Diocese, Most Rev. Jonas Benson Okoye, has demanded for the immediate re-engineering of the structure and operations of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in order to guarantee a more credible polls in the nation’s elections.
Bishop Okoye who expressed disappointment with INEC, while speaking exclusively with Fides on the recently concluded presidential, senatorial and Federal House of Representatives elections in Nigeria, noted that the challenges raised by the failure of the card readers to authenticate registered voters in various polling units across the nation and the collapse of some voting points within different polling units a few hours before the commencement of the elections, showed there was clumsiness in the preparedness of INEC to conduct the elections.
He wondered why a body vested with the authority of electioneering would fail the nation despite the four years it had. He maintained that the re-engineering of INEC structure and mode of operation would enable the body to function more effectively.
He maintained that there were many confusing figures in the result generated by INEC at the just concluded presidential election in many states and noted that the results had been generating ripples in many quarters. He however expressed happiness that the presidential candidate of the People's Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, had gone to court to contend the election results to ensure that masses' voice was not submerged.
He lamented that Nigeria's hard earned democracy was under serious threat by the manner in which INEC conducted the last elections and the delay that trailed the results' collation. He said that the delay which triggered outburst from the masses suggested that the will of the people must have been thwarted by some INEC personnel.
The bishop who expressed regrets at the lives which were lost on the day of the election in Rivers and other states, said time had come for Nigeria as a nation to look into the issue of protection of lives and plan on how to prevent reoccurrence in subsequent elections.
He advocated for electronic voting and collation of results which, he said, would give room for all states to collate their results simultaneously and put an end to result manipulation. He explained that electronic voting would reduce the cost which a nation incurs through the printing of election materials such as ballot papers, boxes, result sheets, among other sensitive materials.
Bishop Okoye who regretted the stress which voters were made to pass through while standing on queue during the accreditation and voting period, said such could have been minimized if INEC was better prepared. He bemoaned the security hiccups that trailed the 2019 elections in most states, noting that such affected the credibility of any election.
He said that the malfunctioning of the card readers, apportioning of large crowd to a polling unit which made people who couldn't queue for long hours to leave, and security challenges, among others, affected the free and fair nature of the election.
The prelate flayed the manner in which many people in the Southeast were disenfranchised, including priests who could not get to the locality where they registered due to the special nature of their duties a day before the election. He said something must be done to address such situations in future elections.
He however commended the INEC technical crew in Anambra State for being on ground to ratify issues emanating from card readers in some places and disclosed that some ad-hoc staff of INEC were allowed to change dysfunctional card readers at Ekwulobia, Aguata LGA. He noted that such issues could have been handled by INEC if they were prepared for the election.
He opined that for things to be done in the right manner, the electorate must stand on their rights citing, instances where voters in some parts of Uga refused to vote because they were not allowed to see the plain result sheets for the senatorial election.