* INEC begins mapping of election hotspots, records ceaseless hacking attempts
· Massive PVC collection in cities shocks Rivers INEC
· INEC has no hiding place anymore because results are now open
By Ignatius Chukwu
The Correspondents Week just ended in Port Harcourt with some organisations and individuals making important statements that will make waves for a long time to come.
The INEC official who attended the opening ceremony revealed that PVC collection has recorded a surprising surge in the cities and wondered why, though many said they knew why.
The friend of journalists at Indorama Nigeria (Dr Jossy Nkwocha) gave nine tips to newsmen on how to exercise vigilance ahead of the elections and how to avoid the traps of fake news.
The Commissioner for Information in Rivers State, Alabo-elect, Chris Finebone, raised doubts about the INEC information backbone.
The Toye Cole Campaign Council made an appearance at the Dinner through the mouthpiece, Barr Sogbeye Eli, and demanded that journalists hold politicians accountable, pointing those who enacted orders to stop the opposition from free campaigns, and those staging violence.
The Correspondents Week activities in Port Harcourt may have afforded rare opportunity to the election managers to unveil several situations facing them.
This is as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Rivers State has identified some volatile spots in the state ahead of the elections.
Also, results are now treated openly and officials say the electoral managers have no hiding place anymore.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Rivers State, Mr Johnson Alalibo Sinikiem, who spoke through Barr Isaac Usulor, the head of Voter Education and Publicity, named places such as Bori (Ogoni), Oyigbo local council, and some Kalabari areas as samples of volatility.
INEC however said they are expect the security agencies to plot ways of caging those volatile areas. Sinikiem spoke as guest lecturer at the Correspondents Week seminar with the theme: Media Vigilance Ahead Peaceful Elections.
INEC revealed that they are collaborating with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Matters Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to check vote-buying the forthcoming general election, saying the menace has eaten very deep into Nigeria’s electoral culture.
Barr Usulor said media plays big role as watchdog, and that seminar of the opening Ceremonies of the Week was good for the players such as INEC, the governments in place. “We can examine the role of the media in some situations such as the story about RACs in private facilities. It’s not true. It was pure mistake. We investigated the matter properly. I commend the press in Port Harcourt. They are very resilient.’
INEC implored the press to remain neutral and never be mouthpiece of any candidate or party, and to always give equal airtime to each candidate.
On accreditation for election coverage, Usulor said it is to promote factual reporting.
He said the surge in collection of permanent voters’ card (PVC) that just ended at the wards was a shock because in the cities, many persons rushed to collect, something he said was unusual. He said it continues at the LGA areas till January 29, 2023.
He also said INEC in the state has received BVAS and other materials ahead of the elections, and that distribution begins. “The press should beware of misinformation because it is bad. We are committed to free and fair elections.’
On peace, he said INEC does not act alone because there are critical stakeholders. “The EFCC, ICP, others are now involved in the fight against vote buying. Vote buying is eating deep into electoral processes and integrity. We are working with youths to black vote-buying in communities. Also, buying voters cards or being found with other people’s cards is now an offence. Security partners are looking out for this. Intelligence is coming from Bori zone, Obigbo, and Kalabari areas.”
He said innovations will change things. “There can be no hijack of ballot boxes or results due to the process and measures in place.’
He commended President Muhammadu Buhari for signing the amended electoral law of 2022. “That’s why INEC can afford to talk big this way. Now, INEC can cancel a result found to be signed under duress. INEC is mandated to within seven days set up a panel to review such result and take action. There are now provisions for people living with disability.”
Media is allowed to cover everything about elections but not the thumb-printing table. “There will be no photographing of the ballot paper during or after thumb-printing.’
INEC said violence is usually caused by lack of transparency. Party agents are to be present at receipt of materials. Look out for BVAS and sensitive and non-sensitive materials. Voters should check if there is figure in the BVAS.’
He said results are now to be displayed in the open at the voting unit for all to see and that it would be transmitted by the BVAS to the INEC portal. “Result is open. INEC has no hiding place anymore.”
On those pressing INEC to intervene in Rivers Order 21 and 22 that seemed to block the opposition from campaigning in the state, the INEC official advised aggrieved persons to challenge the order (which is now a law) in court. “You can join INEC. Sue the maker of the laws and stop pressing INEC. We have no power to sue the makers of the orders.”
He said there is much improvement on PVC collection especially in the cities. “We expect to hit 90 per cent in distribution, both for old and new registrants. The remaining gap can be due to deaths and migrations to other locations.
Strangely, there seems to be a surge in collection of PVCs.’
Answering questions, Barr Usulor said election officers will put on the BVAS for party agents to take a look and confirm there was no figure in it. “Party agents have been trained for this exercise. Voting above accreditation number will lead to nullification of unit result. The BVAS snaps itself.”
On ladies that do make-up, he said there is no problem about that, saying the BVAS takes one’s bio-details such as eye and fingerprints. “The moment you put your finger on it, your bio-details will spring up.
“Hackers have tried daily to penetrate it but no way. The system is configured to update everyday. They can’t. It’s a wonderful machine. It has offline mode for areas without network and has multiple subscriber identity module (SIM) for any network to work.
Chris Finebone: INEC communication backbone is suspect
In his opening remarks, the Special Guest o Honour, Alabo-elect Chris Finebone (Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communication), opined that the communication backbone upon INEC serves the people is suspect. “I pray the communication will provide you the backbone you need to deliver. If it fails, it will be too bad.”
Saying there is always a day to sit back and look back; to review your activities and decide where to tighten the nuts. “This is the way towards perfection. But, often, we lose sight of the essence of the event by focusing on the celebrations. My advice is for professionals to seek to get better. The Correspondents should thus use the Week to seek to get better at their practice.
Extending the goodwill of Gov Nyesom Wike, he said the governor is a friend of the press. “To journalists, I point at two duties before you. Whether you are born with the passion for journalism or not, you must find a way to develop a passion for reporting.
“Let us work hard to deliver. We admit things are difficult and that every sector is under some siege, but I urge all journalists to find a way to practise with passion and serve the masses better.”