The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on Thursday, denied allegation that it was bent on frustrating efforts by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Prof. Kolapo Olusola, to file a petition to challenge the outcome of the July 14 governorship election in Ekiti State.
The commission maintained that contrary to claim by PDP candidate that his legal team were denied access to sensitive materials he would require to support his petition at the tribunal, it only instructed its officials in Ekiti to carefully safeguard the ballot papers to ensure they were not tampered with.
Speaking at an interactive session with a coalition of Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, in Abuja, INEC which was represented by its National Commissioner, Prince Solomon Soyebi, said it would not like a situation where any of the contending parties would pour ink on the ballot papers.
Soyebi said: “Talking about allegation of denying the legal team of a party from access to our papers, I am not too sure this is true. They might have had some difficulty, but I am telling you that as at today, even as at yesterday, the legal team of the said party were in Ekiti State and they are working closely with our office.
“The office itself has been instructed to make sure that they cooperate with them. What we just said was that they should be very very careful, especially with our ballot papers. We will not like a situation where someone will go where we keep our ballot papers with ink and then pour it on some of them.
“This is because you cannot put anything beyond these political parties. I am not making allegations, but we are just being proactive. We are going to safeguard these papers.
“But whatever they asked for, I believe was being issued as at yesterday that I talked with the REC”.
The PDP’s gubernatorial flag-bearer, Olusola, who is challenging the declaration of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Dr Kayode Fayemi, as winner of the governorship poll, had accused INEC of deliberately withholding the election materials in a bid to frustrate to lodge a petition within the constitutional stipulated time.
While acknowledging that the law mandated that such petition must be filed within 21 days after the contested election, Olusola decried that over 10 days had elapsed since the Ekiti poll held.
Meantime, Soyebi said INEC was worried about rising cases of vote-buying during elections, saying there was need for some of those that were apprehended during the Ekiti governorship election to be firmly prosecuted.
“One major issue which all observers and even the commission noticed and is worried about is vote-buying, which now has a lot of names like prepaid and post paid. It is a very serious issue.
“There was even free fuel being donated by political parties in Ekiti State. Money is beginning to play a significant and damaging role in our electoral process. We should try to find a way stop this menace.
“We are happy that people are no longer snatching ballot boxes, however, they are now going to the polling units to buy votes. Truth is that there cannot be vote-buying without a willing seller. It is becoming highly worrisome, coming out in multi-colours everyday.
“I am sure that arrest will have a deterrent effect. It is becoming so endemic and I think it is not what we should gloss over”, Soyebi added.
In his remarks, convener of the CSOs which is under the aegis of Situation Room, Mr. Clement Nwankwo, expressed his concern that barely 200 days to the 2019 general elections, INEC had yet to receive a budget, even as the National Assembly has adjourned its proceedings till September 25.
“I fear that elections for 2019 is being threatened because there is no funding to enable INEC to carry out its responsibilities”, Nwankwo noted.
He further decried what he termed as “increasing partisan role of security agencies”, urging President Muhammadu Buhari to restrain the use of state institutions for partisan politics.
“We cannot move into 2019 having our security agencies operating like an arm of the ruling party. If our security agencies are going to threaten the credibility of our electoral process, it behoves on Civil Society Organisations to raise issues about it.
“This is why we are raising the issue that the partisan role of our security agencies is a source of concern to us”, he added.