The Resident Electoral Commissioner in Imo State, Prof Sylva Agu, talks to AYOOLA OLASUPO about the allegation against her, and the preparation of the Independent National Electoral Commission for the governorship election in the state, among other issues
There are talks that the off-season elections in Imo and the other states are an opportunity for the Independent National Electoral Commission to redeem its image considering the outcome of the last general elections. Do you also share this view?
Remember this is an off-season election and it’s being conducted in three states of the federation. So, in this election, it is not only me that will conduct it. We are going to have other Resident Electoral Commissioners across the nation coming to help us. I believe by the grace of God, the problem we had the last time, which was the uploading of results, will be a thing of the past. We had a glitch with uploading the results of the presidential election, but others were uploaded without a hitch from the polling unit level. The glitch we had with the presidential upload was not local because I don’t know what caused it but this time around; it is not only me that will conduct the election.
I will just be in the state office. Other RECs are coming to ensure that we conduct a credible, free, and inclusive election; so, it is not about whether she is the one conducting it. I’m going to be there in conjunction with about nine RECs with the National Commissioner from Abuja. Imo State will be receiving people coming to help them with this election to make it seamless. We only appeal to the politicians not to incite or trigger violence because we are ready to deliver the mandate by the grace of God.
How prepared is INEC for the November 11 election considering the level of insecurity in Imo State?
INEC is very much ready because we have been engaging the security agencies and they have assured us that there will be election in all the polling units in Imo State except where we have zero units. We are going to conduct election in 4,720 polling units by the grace of God. You know we are not armed; so, we have been engaging the security agencies, especially those who are armed that promised and assured us that we are going to have an election on that day.
You once said that INEC’s employees were apprehensive of the security situation in the state and that 65 per cent of the ad hoc workers withdrew their services because of insecurity. What safety and security measures have been put in place by the commission and the government for your officials?
The government is doing a lot. If not for the government, we wouldn’t have those coming to help us secure people, materials, facilities, and the electorate. It is also because of them that the Chief of Staff is coming to engage us with the same purpose. I think the government is doing its best to ensure that the road transport workers, ad hoc staff, and the electorate are protected because it is their intervention that is pushing all these people to come to Imo State. We engage with them every week. The meeting we had last week was with the National Commissioner who came from Abuja and asked about the challenges we were currently facing. They have assured us, and we believe and pray to God that they will deliver because the assurance has been done several times. We met last week and this week, and we are still going to meet next week until the election is over.
After the presidential and National Assembly elections, you were criticised and accused of working for the All Progressives Congress. How were you able to handle this allegation?
You know that once you are at the top, you will be a topic. The first thing is that I believe you must know how INEC works. You can analyse the allegation and see if what they are saying is right or wrong. I don’t have to start contending or taking issues with them. Let me tell you how INEC works. For this governorship election, we opened our portal for those who want to work for INEC to apply. We went to the National Youth Service Corp and told them that we needed corps members, and we encouraged them to apply online, and then those in their final or penultimate year in the school who apply will do so directly to our head office and they will do that in the place they want to work. We have 27 LGs in Imo State; so, if for example, they want to work in Owerri, they will apply for Owerri Municipal, etc.
The REC will only stay at the state office to monitor the activities. He doesn’t even know who wins or loses. There is a platform we have where they are making the declaration, they take pictures for us to see. As they are collating, they take the pictures because, in the last election, I said you must collate with the BVAS. So, they take pictures with the BVAS and send them to me based on my instructions. With all these accusations, I look at the whole thing, but I don’t want to say a word, because I don’t know how someone will be at the state office and manipulate the results in the LGs, but this is their opinion. So, let them go with it.
Some people called for your redeployment, alleging that you did not act in a way that indicated that a credible governorship election would be conducted in Imo State on November 11. What can you say about this?
I have nothing to say about it. A REC has no right to either collate or declare results. We have our collating team. This is a mind thing, and I don’t want to start taking issues with them. No, because when we had the presidential election, even before the results came out, it was all over the place that the REC acted against Peter Obi and my students were calling me. Even when I had not seen the results before it came out. I was at the state office waiting for them to come back with the results of the person who returned, and the news was flying everywhere. They had already planned what they wanted to say, and they are spreading it but I have a God that will never fail me. He will protect me.
What pressure are you facing from political parties now that the governorship election is around the corner, and how do you manage such pressure?
My policy is I operate an open-door system in the sense that if you want to see me, you will book an appointment and I don’t see people in camera. So, if you want to see me, you will book an appointment and you will have to see me alongside my management team. That is how I’m operating and for those that wanted to see me, I asked them to book appointments. Some came and some did not.
Does that mean that you don’t receive threats from politicians?
They insult me, and as I told you, I am a daughter of Zion. I didn’t just come here. God sent me here and He that sent me to Imo State is ready to protect me. I can’t take issues with them because their mindset has already been formed. So, whatever happens, is the REC. They can go on with this opinion; there is no problem with that, but I know my responsibilities and I do them. Mine is to provide an enabling environment, and that is what INEC does and we’re doing it. In the Electoral Law and the Constitution, a REC has no right to counter any result except if you were there on the field and witnessed that they did not conduct that election. If the PO says he conducted the election and there is a register for it, the REC cannot counter it. The only place where it can be countered is the court. I can only counter it if the PO said there was no election and they were forced to declare, that is where the REC will come in. If there is a satisfactory report and all the political party agents sign, we have 18 political parties in Imo State and all of them will give consent to it and whoever tells you that I have the power to counter that is telling a lie. It is against the Electoral Act. In this life, let me tell you something, the only being we are accountable to is God. So, if some people are saying that I collected a bribe, God will deal with it accordingly. As I told you, mine is to provide an enabling environment and we have since been engaging for us to have a free and fair election, and we have been appealing to political parties to shun violence because those collating on the fields are people’s children too. So, if their lives are in danger, you can’t expect them to lay their lives for whatever they are doing.
Do you think there will be a large turnout of voters on the day of the election considering the fear of insecurity?
We were in a meeting, and somebody said there would be voter apathy and I countered that. There won’t be any voter apathy because we are wiser now. We have been talking to them to come out and that a free, fair, and credible election is a collective effort and not only the REC or INEC employees’ efforts. This is how it works; INEC workers are the first, politicians are the second and the voters are the third in the chain. For a credible election to hold, all hands must be on deck, and I advise the electorate to stay back to protect their votes so that they won’t come back to call out the REC or INEC employees. Don’t just vote and go home, stay there and watch them do the sorting. Then after the collation, all party agents will sign and agree with whatever results they have in the polling unit. The REC doesn’t go to PUs (polling units). It is against the Electoral Law. The REC can only monitor in the morning and go back to the office to attend to visitors and observers.
The INEC Chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu, said recently in Nasarawa State that the commission had a shortfall of 1,154 ad hoc workers for the forthcoming governorship election in Imo State. How do you intend to deal with the situation?
We are already taking care of that. The coordinators in the various LGs are recruiting corps members and it is done every day. I told you that we were meeting every week and they promised to get corps members and absorb those who did not register online, collate their names, and send them to Abuja because they must register. It is one of the criteria and we have requirements for participation. The coordinators of NYSC in each LG are helping us to get the names of corps members who are willing to work.
How many corps members do you intend to recruit?
Over 4,000 of them and I heard that we have about 5,000 in Imo State. We’ve been talking to them and many of them have started giving us their names. They are submitting it to their various LGs, and I don’t know about it. When the coordinators finish recruiting them, they will send their names to the state office because they must register, and we need them too. The law says the POs must be corps members.
About four different attacks were launched on INEC facilities in Imo State in 2022. Has anyone been arrested in connection with the attacks?
People were arrested for the one at the INEC state office but for the other ones, they didn’t arrest anybody. Nobody has been arrested yet because it was done in the night.
What did the commission do to compensate the families of its workers who lost their lives during the attacks?
No worker was affected by the attacks. There was no direct attack on any of our staff. It was only on the facilities but when a worker is involved, INEC will always take care of them. That is part of the law. Once they are injured, all their expenses are always catered to by INEC.
What measures has INEC put in place to discourage vote-buying in the November 11 governorship election?
We have been training and retraining. We have been engaging with the political parties and CSOs on that. We are doing our bit by telling them to shun, violence, vote-buying and other vices. We have been engaging them. We will also be having meetings with traditional rulers, NGOs, and CSOs so that they will also help in telling the people that ‘please, we want a free and fair election in Imo State. We are ready by God’s grace to deliver a credible election, but we need people’s support.’