The BBC’s Peter Okwoche spoke to INEC’s chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu and asked him questions about rumours that the elections will be postponed due to violence in parts of the country, transmission of election results, irregularities in the voters register, allegations of being partial, etc. Here are his answers
Peter Okwoche: How are preparations right now?
Mahmood Yakubu: Preparations are on top gear.
Election in Nigeria is a huge undertaking. The total number of registered voters for the 2023 general election is 93 million. That is 16.7 more registered voters in Nigeria than the other 14 countries in West Africa put together.
So in other words, an election in Nigeria is like conducting elections for the whole of West Africa and beyond.
So it’s huge.
Peter Okwoche: A member of your team, Abdulaziz Zuru who was representing you at an event, said there’s a possibility that these elections might be postponed because of the insecurity around the country. Let’s hear it from you now, is that the case? Is that a possibilty or what?
Mahmood Yakubu: Yes there’s insecurity, but insecurity is perennial. But we are committed to conducting the elections as scheduled. And immediately after that statement was made, the commission made an issued an official statement.
So, to answer your question directly, the 2023 general elections will not be postponed. The commission is not even contemplating adjustment to the timetable. We are good to go for these elections.
Peter Okwoche: Even in places where your facilities have been destroyed, your personnel have been attacked, some have been killed?
Mahmood Yakubu: We have identified those locations where facilities have been attacked and we have assured Nigerians that we can recover from those attacks.
This year in particular, we have had attacks in a number of places, 11, but these are attacks from which we can recover, so I can’t see that as an obstacle to conduct of elections nationwide. We are going to proceed as scheduled.
Peter Okwoche: There have also been complaints about irregularities during voter registration, double registration, underage registration, how are you tackling these? Is it something that you’ve seen? Is it widespread?
Mahmood Yakubu: Well, we have a robust system of cleaning up the voters register, using what we call Automated Biometric Identification System. Under the continuous voter registrations that we did for over a period of one year, some 12 million Nigerians were registered, but when we applied our business rules to clean up the data, we dropped 2.7 million out of them. Among them the invalid registrations. The invalid registrants may be those who are not qualified by age, because the minimum age for registration is 18 in Nigeria, or those who are not Nigerian citizens, or deceased persons whose names are on the register, or multiple registrants.
So, we are reasonably confident that we have cleaned up the register.
However, cleaning up the register is a continuous process.
But I want to say that the voters register in Nigeria is a national treasure. It is simply the largest database of citizens in the country and the largest database of citizens in Africa.
So we’ll continue to clean up the voters register, but the core of the register is solid, where I’m happy with the register.
Peter Okwoche: Major candidates in the elections are already complaining. We had one say the other week that you don’t have the capability to transmit the votes once they have voted, to transmit the results electronically to the national database.
Mahmood Yakubu: Well, I don’t know who said so, but look at what we have done. We did the pilot in August 2020, at Nasarawa in central Nigeria, when we conducted a bye-election in state constituency and since then we piloted the transmission of results in 105 constituencies nationwide, including major governorship elections. We did it in Anambra, we did it in Ekiti, we did it in Osun, we also did it in the Federal Capital Territory.
Now some of them may be small elections in the Nigerian context, but the state with the least number of registered voters in places where we transmitted election results in Ekiti, is Ekiti. But Ekiti has more registered voters than The Gambia and Cape Verde put together.
So we are happy with the pilot that we have conducted and we are reasonably confident in the strength of the processes.
Peter Okwoche: Even in rural areas?
Mahmood Yakubu: The machine on election day doesn’t rely on Internet to accredit voters. It works offline.
Now when it comes to transmission of results that’s where it needs network, but if there’s no network in the immediate vicinity, the scanned image of the polling unit level results, which is taken using the BIVAS (Bimodal Voter Accreditation System), will be transmitted as soon as the staff move from the polling unit to the collation centres. And we have been working with the major telecom companies in Nigeria and we are satisfied that the number of blind spots can be addressed in the country. And the number of blind spots where you have no network is really small.
Peter Okwoche: A lot of people say the elections in 2015 were freer than the elections in 2019. You oversaw the one in 2019 and not 2015 and they say that’s because you’re close buddies with the government, with the ruling party. How close are you to this APC-led government?
Mahmood Yakubu: That’s just an allegation. People always say so of all electoral commissions, including electoral commissions in Nigeria and other countries as well, the usual accusations.
But look at the kind of elections we have been conducting of late. Different political parties have won different elections and citizens believe that the votes are counting and will continue to count and they are confident in the process.
So my assurance to the citizens is that we’ll continue to do what is necessary to ensure that we protect the integrity of the process.
As I said, our allegiance is to the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and not to any political party or any political actor.