Rochas Does Not Meddle With Imo Electoral Commission — ISIEC Chairman

| January 25, 2013 | 0 Comments

Chairman of Imo State Independent Electoral Commission (ISIEC), Chief Teddy Obi Akwari, in this interview with IGBEAKU ORJI, says that calls for the scrapping of state electoral bodies are not in the interest of the nation. He also says that ISIEC will continue with local government elections in the state in spite of a court case challeging its legality.

Last week, you were reported to have convened a meeting with political parties with a view to organizing a local government election in Imo State in April; what is the true position?
You heard right. On January 2, 2013, we released our notice of election. On the next day we released time table for the election. Local government election is going to hold on April 27, 2013. It is because of that I had to invite all the registered political parties in Imo State to intimate them and also, by hand, officially give them the timetable for the election. And in that meeting I had 98%, if not 99%, attendance; and they all agreed that they were ready to participate in the election.

Some elected local government officials who are still in court asking the state government to allow them complete their tenure; if the matter is still in court, how are you going to conduct this election?
You see, Law number 23 of Imo State 2010 as amended stipulates two-year tenure. In fact, it gives us the mandate to conduct election every two years. The last election was conducted on August 7, 2010 and by August 8, 2012, we ought to have conducted another election. Of a truth, we are behind schedule in the conduct of this election.

Do you have any measures in place to ensure free and fair election, a level playing field for all the parties?
Today, one of the conditions or one of the added advantages of participation in the local government election is that you have to pass through leadership training. As for security, we are already in talks with the SSS. 

We wrote the commander of the Army at Obinze; we are having a meeting with them. We are also going to have a meeting with the Commissioner of Police; all these things are geared towards ensuring that there would be adequate security during the election.

The ANPP chairman said the former ISIEC, led by Emma Nwonye, was neither dissolved, sacked nor suspended by the present government and is still in court challenging his removal. He said ISIEC cannot conduct local government election when the legality of their appointment is being challenged in court. How do you react to that?
Let me give you one instance: after the election that brought President Goodluck Jonathan to power, CPC went to court challenging the election and the legality of the Jonathan-led government. While that was going on, Jonathan was sworn in.

Did it stop the activities of the government of Federal Republic of Nigeria because his election was being challenged in court?  So the fact that the former commission felt aggrieved that it tenure had not expired will not stop the functionality of ISIEC. We will continue to carry out our legitimate duties until the court says you are illegally constituted.

What measures have you actually put in place to assure the parties participating in this local government election that you will not dance to the tune of government, or be manipulated by government to achieve its own end?
As much as possible, I try not to speak about the governor, His Excellency, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, so that people will not see us as dancing to his tune. This man is a broad-minded man. He has given ISIEC a free hand to operate. He respects and recognizes our independence. He does not meddle with our activities from the first day we were sworn in till now and I do not see him meddling with our activities with regard to election.

You must have learnt one or two things from INEC; what areas do you think INEC has done well which you may have learnt from?
Yes, in the Edo State governorship election, I want to tell you that I was an observer in that election and, to the best of my knowledge, I saw transparency. And I discovered that, first, materials arrived at the polling units right on time in the areas I observed. I was in Edo North and the elections in those areas were free of rancour.  I also learnt a lot from that election. And so you discover that after the last general election, INEC has improved considerably in the bye-election, and other elections that INEC is conducting now.

That does not mean that they have performed 100 percent but INEC has scored credit in all the elections they are conducting in recent times. As a state independent electoral commission (SIEC), we have affiliation with INEC, and so the areas INEC make mistakes during our elections as SIECs in the 36 states of the federation we amend to ensure that we have near excellence in our local government election.

What areas do you think need improvement in our electoral system as a country?
One of the areas that need improvement in our electoral system is voter education. I discovered that there has always been voter apathy. Most voters do not come to cast their votes because of the fact that they do not know the importance and in most cases when they cast their votes you discover that about 20% to 30% of the votes cast were wrongly cast. Another one is presentation of candidates. Political parties in this country should learn to hold free and fair primary elections.

They should ensure that candidates are not imposed upon the people, because when you impose an unpopular candidate on the electorate, there is bound to be voter apathy and rigging. The party in power may want to do everything possible to ensure that the candidate they have presented scales through, but if there is free and fair party primary election, the party starts winning from there. Then also I want us to understand that our electoral system is undergoing a process. I want Nigerians to be patient with the electoral commissions in Nigeria, INEC.

Some people have called for the scrapping of SIECs; what do you think about such calls?
Such calls, I have to tell you, are mere selfish calls and that is a call for extra burden for INEC, which it cannot carry. INEC as a body will not be capable of conducting election in 774 local governments we have in this country. We have 36 states in Nigeria including Abuja. This call is a selfish call and I am assuring you that it will not sail through. Anybody who has the interest of this country at heart cannot be making such calls. Now let me tell you, we have about 36 SIECs in this country and, in my own commission, I have over 200 workers. I am also sure that it is so, if not more, in the other states.

Now when you scrap SIECs, what do you do with these are Nigerians. Again, it calls for another financial burden on the federal government. If SIECS are scrapped, the burden of conducting election in the local government areas will fall on INEC; and who finances INEC? Is it not the federal government? That means each time any state wants to organize local government election, the federal government will bring money to finance it.

Again, they are talking about local government autonomy. When you have local government autonomy, it means that, for instance, in Imo State we have 27 local governments and one Governor, it then means that we will have 28 governors because the loyalty of the 27 chairmen will be on the federal government. Much as the loyalty of the governors is to the federal government, these 27 local government chairmen who may be given autonomy, their loyalty will also be to the federal government. They cannot listen to the governors any more.

That means we now have 28 governors, for instance, in Imo State. You can see the anarchy. It means there won’t be checks and balances any more in the local government system. Let me tell you, if the autonomy is granted, the local government chairmen will go and get sirens; and as the governor is sounding his siren, the local government chairmen will also be sounding their siren. There will be anarchy and so that call must not be heeded; it is not a call that is in the interest of this nation.

There are so many other reasons why this cannot be permitted and I tell you the autonomy goes along with the scrapping of SIECS. It amounts to unnecessary show of power if the National Assembly goes ahead to debate on this issue and goes ahead to scrap state independent electoral commissions. I am not saying this because I am a chairman of an independent electoral commission in a state.

After all, I am a lawyer, if today it is scrapped I go back to my profession, but I am talking in the interest of the nation. I don’t even know why it has to be scheduled at all; it ought not to be debated at all. Rather, I have the thinking that Nigerians should debate on how to help the SIECs in their duties. That is my thinking, how to ensure that there is improvement. Look at the United States, for example, if we are learning from the United States we shouldn’t be talking of scrapping states independent electoral commissions.

How much is required for the chairman and councillors to pick the form?
I think this is very important. Like I told you, until we know the number of wards we are going to conduct this election, we will not be able to fix the amount yet. But what we’ve told the political parties is that we are going to give our forms to candidates, candidates as may be presented by political parties, and not to aspirants.

Culled from :Here

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