Ahead of the forthcoming governorship election in Osun State, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Segun Agbaje, has assured that the commission would ensure a transparent, free and fair exercise.
Agbaje said that the INEC had put proactive measures in place to live up to the expectations as an electoral umpire expected to be neutral and play according to the rules to guarantee the integrity of the poll.
Agbaje, who stated this, in Osogbo, the state capital, in a chat with newsmen, added that the exercise was the only major one before the general elections next year and must be seen to be free and fair in order to be used as a template for it.
He noted that politicians, security agencies and the media had a lot of roles to play in guarding against manipulations and ensuring the credibility of the poll.
While cautioning the politicians against vote buying, Agbaje insisted that they must allow their pedigrees to determine their votes.
He also urged security agencies and their personnel to check against vote selling and buying by arresting anybody caught in the act.
He said that INEC would organise a training for security personnel as from September 6th -7th at all the senatorial districts on how to stop the trend.
He also called on the media to objectively expose culprits in their reports.
He said the measures would go a long way in serving as a deterrent with a view to nipping the ‘see and buy’ trend in the bud.
Agbaje said that electorate would not be allowed to take their phones to the cubicles at the polling units where voting would take place.
He said that before they vote, they must handover their phones to the next person on the queue and collect it after voting.
This, he said, was intended to discourage people from taking pictures of ballot papers to prove the party they voted for and later go behind to claim money for selling the votes.
The resident commissioner, however, disclosed that INEC had started liaising with security agencies on the necessary sanctions against vote selling buying within the ambit of the law of the country.
He, said that the commission was not empowered to arrest but would work with security agencies to arrest culprits.
He said that vote selling and buying was an embarrassment to INEC.
He insisted that security agencies could not be at polling units and such illegality would be going on during elections that was supposed to be credible.
“If anybody wants to go to the cubicle at the polling unit, they must drop their phones and pick them after voting. This is intended to stop them from taking pictures of the ballot papers as an evidence for whom they voted for and use it to claim money from whomever they sold their votes to,” he said.
He added: “If we can’t curb this in Osun in this election, it will be difficult to curb it in the 2019 general elections because Osun election shall serve as a template for the exercise.”
“Vote selling and buying which is referred to as ‘see and buy’ is an embarrassment to INEC. Security agencies can not be around during elections and such illegality would be allowed to go on. Anybody caught in the act should be arrested by security agencies positioned at the polling units. INEC will also join hands with them to effect arrests of culprits,” he added.
“I, too, can make citizens arrest with the assistance of DSS and other security agencies on ground with a view to ensuring that everybody complies with the rules of the game.
It appears that selling and buying of votes is beyond our control. INEC is yet to take a decision on the use of phone and selling and buying of votes. But since it is a gross electoral offence, we have been talking to security agencies on the necessary sanctions to be applied against offenders.
“We have been urging commissioners of police and directors of other security agencies to go the whole hog and put a stop to the illegality.
“Also, we have been talking to politicians never to compromise any more. The media, too, have a lot of roles to play in this regard.
While speaking on the readiness of INEC to conduct the election, Agbaje disclosed that as at Monday last week, 1,152,751 PVCs representing 69.09 percent had been collected out of the 1,668,524 PVCs received in the state. He added that 515,773 representing 30.91 percent had not been collected.
He said that INEC was targeting 75 percent collection before the election.
To achieve the target, he said the commission would, as from Thursday this week, move the uncollected VCs, including the faulty ones, to the wards and Local Government levels to avail people of the opportunity to collect them.
Agbaje also disclosed that INEC would hire the services of about 15,000 adhoc staff during the exercise.
He added that the federal higher institutions in the state which include the Federal Polytechnic, Ede, and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, as well as the National Youth Service Commission (NYSC) had obliged it with a significant number of personnel.
He said that the training for the staff would be held between September 3rd and 5th in order to prepare them for the exercise.