Obo Effanga, Bayelsa State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), in this interview, spoke about the forthcoming governorship election in Bayelsa State, and how the Commission is preparing to improve on the 2023 general election, among other issues. INIOBONG IWOK brings the excerpts:
Can you speak about the forthcoming governorship election in Bayelsa State and the issue of electronic transmission of results?
If I may take us back a bit, the INEC result viewing portal (IReV) was created by INEC sometime in 2020 and it has been used in all the elections from that time till date and that is what we will be using in the next election. There is a need to understand how the IReV works. In my interactions with political parties, it was shocking that all the political parties were present in the room there, their chairmen or the representatives of those political parties, none of them said they knew they had used the IReV. Also, none of them has attempted to access the IReV to see how it works. So, I had to explain to them. I had to give them the link, and I ensured that all of them before they left the room, knew how to access the IReV. What is the IReV? As I said, it is the INEC result viewing portal. It is a portal where polling units’ results are uploaded.
Now, when elections are conducted in the polling units that is where elections are won and lost. At the end of the voting, the votes are counted and recorded for political parties taking part in that election in what is called the FORM EC8A, which is the polling units’ result sheet. It is written out there and with the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), a snapshot of that form that has been filled with the result is taken, and it is this snapshot that is uploaded to the IReV.
For people who know how the IReV works, they know that when they go to the IReV what they will see is a picture of the individual polling units’ results. The IRev is not a collation centre, it is not a collation device, but it’s just where people can view the results of individual polling units. At the end of the voting, at every point at the polling units, when these results are being recorded in the FORM EC8A, copies of the results are given to the party agents, who are present in the polling units.
Every political party is entitled to have its agents at every stage where the election is conducted counted and collated. At the polling units, copies of these election results are given to the party agents. So, every party has copies of the election results in all the polling units.
It is after elections have been concluded at polling units that the result which has been filed is now taken to the registration areas centre, also known as the ward collation centre. At this centre, the results are handed over to the ward collation officer. The ward collation officer enters these results from the various polling units into the ward-level result sheet.
This is also observed by the representatives of political parties. They see how these are recorded and at the end of the recording at that level, they are also given a copy of the result sheet for that registration area, also known as ward. From that point, the results for the wards within the local government area are taken to the local government collation centre; here all the ward results are entered into the local government result sheet.
At the end of the day, you also have the results for the local government area; copies of the results are also given to the agents of the parties. Finally, they will come to the state collation centre where the state collation officer and the returning officer for the governorship election will sit and receive results from each of the local government area collation officers.
This is also witnessed by political party representatives, the media and the Civil Society Groups who are present at each of these stages. This is done transparently and when the results at the state level are entered, the returning officer can see the outcome of that. If the candidate meets the requirement of being declared the winner, he or she will declare the person the winner.
You said that IReV has been in operation since 2020 and that you have been using it for the conduct of elections since then, but what is the assurance that issues like technical glitches have been totally addressed and lessons that we can learn from the elections in February and March, to ensure there is no repetition?
When you talk about the glitches that occurred in the last election, you will recall that it happened with the presidential election result. It took place for some hours and eventually, all those results were uploaded. They were there on the IReV and are still there on the IReV. The election that happened after that, the governorship and House of Assembly elections, we didn’t have such, which means that whatever the problem was we were able to surmount it in the subsequent election.
We also believe that in this election, because this is the next election that INEC will be conducting after the general elections. It is conducted in three states. So, this won’t be a problem and that is also one of the reasons we are going to have the mock accreditation and use of the BVAS and IReV on Saturday in the three states.
What is INEC doing to ensure that everyone who comes out to exercise their franchise will be protected?
On the issue of security, definitely, we are working with the security agencies; remember that our duty is to conduct elections. It is the duty of the security agencies to secure the lives and property of everyone participating in the election, and that includes the voters, those who report the events, observe them and even those who conduct the election. There is the inter-agency consultative committee on election security.
At the state level, it is chaired by the Resident Electoral Commission (REC) and co-chaired by the Commissioner of Police in the state. In the stakeholders meeting that we had recently, the commissioner of police was present and assured everyone about their readiness, capacity and capability to protect people during this election. We hope that will be the case, and as he has also said, remember this is a standalone election or off-cycle election, so it is possible for them to mobilise personnel from across other states.
He said specifically yesterday that they are expecting 27, 000 personnel to be assigned for this election. So, we are hopeful that won’t be a problem. For other things that we have noticed, that was what we mentioned that we would need to address. We are also working on them. We have been having several meetings. We had a number of workshops involving key personnel of INEC in preparing for the election. So, we are doing everything to ensure that this election comes out very well.
How would the Federal High Court Abuja judgment disqualifying Timipre Sylva, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), going to affect your preparation?
The issue about court judgment, let me just mention that if there is any court judgment it will be served in INEC headquarters and INEC headquarters will make a decision based on the judgment that it has received. Our duty is to implement what the headquarters has made a decision on. So, we are going on with our plans here.
On the issue of voter apathy, recall that in March after the presidential and National Assembly elections in February, the state House of Assembly election conducted in Bayelsa State, most of the people shunned the election because they thought that their votes wouldn’t count. What is INEC doing in Bayelsa State to ensure that people come out on November 11 to vote?
What we had in March was the State Assembly election. What we are doing now is a governorship election and this will attract more interest because it is closer to them than national elections. We are doing enough in terms of publicity to mobilise people.
We are also involving some civil society groups to go to the various local government areas to also get people out to participate in the election. We also think that there is a lot that the politicians themselves need to do because they are the primary beneficiaries of people coming out to vote and we have seen that the campaigns have been going on in the state.
We expect that in the campaign they are also telling people to come out and vote. We are doing our part in getting people to know about the election and to participate in the election. So, eventually, we expect that we should have a good turnout in the election.
Let us also realise that one of the reasons people feel that fewer people vote in the elections now is that with the use of the BVAS technology in the accreditation, it means that it is the actual people who have come out that will vote.
Unlike some years in the past when our accreditation process wasn’t topnotch in such a way that it was possible for people to pad votes in certain areas, even when people didn’t turn out to vote. What I can assure you is that if we record the number of people who voted in this election, it will be actual, as to real people who came out and were properly accredited and voted.
We are doing a lot of publicity; we have programmes on local radio and television stations. Our personnel have been going to the media houses and talking to the people. We also have our staff in the local government areas doing the same thing. As I said we have engaged the services of local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) which are nonpartisan to also engage in voter education in the state.
Can you share with us the statistics for this election?
We have over I.256 million registered voters, 2,224 polling units in the state and 16 political parties participating in the election.