by crossriverwatch admin
Chief Patrick Otu is the Chairman of Cross River State Independent Electoral Commission (CROSIEC). The man whose commission has been dragged to Court by some aggrieved political parties over what they describe as a violation of the State electoral law with respect to the fees candidates for the forthcoming LG polls have been charged for the nomination forms.
In this exclusive interview with CrossRiverWatch, Otu described the court cases as Democracy in action and say the fees the commission charges cannot be compared to what candidates get when elected.
How prepared is your commission for the September 21st Local Government Elections?
The commission is set. Information is on air to train the ad hoc staff for those that will assist in conducting the election. It is a serious matter, we are on it, we have got a lot of materials and in no distant time sensitive materials shall be delivered. We have been monitoring and observing, progress has been made and we are on course.
Can you tell us how many political parties are participating in the election?
We’ve had up to six political parties who showed interest in the election. PPA, ACN, PDP, Labour Party, CPC and ANPP. They are all working hard and fielding candidates and the screening of their candidates is on to verify their credentials as submitted to show their readiness for the election. As you came in you must have seen that the yard is very busy because of the screening for both councilors and chairmanship candidates of the political parties mentioned earlier.
It was reported recently that some political parties took your commission to Court, is it true?
Yes, it is very normal and well that when election processes are on, individuals and parties looking at the process of the elections may find one thing or the other that require clearance from the courts of law. In fact, taking matters to court in a democracy is an exercise that will make the process clear to the people. We cannot at this level say Nigerian democracy has come of age, we are still toddling, if you go to some states, they have never conducted any local government elections but Cross River from the word go, during this democratic enterprise has never had caretaker committee, but that notwithstanding, we still have issues that need clearance and the only place to have the clearance is the court of law.
What are these issues?
For the one I’m aware of, one of the cases is about our charges, that we are charging too much and that most of our charges are not in conformity with the law. Our position for the word go is that the specified fees for candidates have never been a complete analysis of the law, you have what is acceptable and operational in all electoral commissions which is called ‘Guidelines’, INEC has guide lines, SIECs have guidelines and the specified amounts are always analyzed in the guidelines because some of the fees are subject to economic forces. For instance, nomination fee is an item which yield revenue, revenue for government which is the sole financial of SIEC activities. Anybody who want to contest elections must pay for the nomination form and the fees is receipted and varies from time to time, but whatever is specified must go into the guidelines which are published and presented to all the political parties as a public document. It is only fees charged outside the guidelines that they can raise questions about.
How much does your commission charge as fees for the nomination form?
Chairmanship candidates in totality pay N190,000 while councilorship hopeful pay N60,000. Fixing the amount is the responsibility of the electoral commission and the commission must make sure that it is published in the electoral guidelines.
Now let us do analysis, because the commission is modest enough in its charges; In 2010, councilors paid N55,000 while they pay N60,000 in 2013, that is N5,000 difference. Also Chairmanship candidates paid N150,000 in 2010 and they pay N190,000 now which is N40,000 increase, so tell me what is exceptional there? They are all receipted because they will pay the money to the government account in the respective banks and bring only the teller for us to give you receipt.
However it is a democratic practice if it is the wishes and will of the people to change the pattern, the law can be changed and by that may be next time it may not be the responsibility of the commission to fix the fees. But our responsibility is to ensure effective participation in the poll. In reality if you look at the market forces, the people look at the amount as abysmal because of what they get when they win the election, but like I said that is not our business, our business it to conduct election in a free, fair atmosphere and encourage effective participation.
Are the parties that took the commission to court taking part in the election?
You mean CPC, ACN and Labour that took us to Court? As I am talking to you, candidates of the parties who took us to court have paid their fees and attended screening, so who is complaining again?
What is the relationship between INEC and CROSIEC?
To be frank the relationship between INEC and SIECS is that both of them are election management bodies. INEC conducts all federal elections while SIEC conducts only local government elections, the two have different laws.
But because we all manage elections, we collaborate, SIEC know what INEC is doing while INEC know what SIEC is doing.
SIEC serves the role of primary school and it is like the kindergarten aspect of education which is the basic foundation that prepares the child for the tertiary education for tomorrow. So we prepare the politicians at that level and so if we don’t fashion them well at that level, INEC will not have the right candidate tomorrow. If the foundation is not properly laid, even what INEC shall do will be shaken. It therefore calls for INEC to know what the SIECS are doing and in most cases INEC call SIEC to participate in what they are doing to enable them have ideas cross-fertilized.
What is the commission doing about the voters register?
In line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in the compilation of the voters register, the SIECs should be part of it and advise appropriately because that is the same register they use for the conduct of the local government election. Even if there is a review of the register, INEC carries SIECs along to be part of it because SIECs are on ground and are closer to the people than INEC.
The composition of the two election management bodies clearly defines who is on ground. Hardly will you have the REC of INEC who is from the state is superintending as election boss same as INEC Electoral Officers at the local government level but we are from the state, we know the state inside out, we are closer to the people and know the terrain.
I really have to comment at this instance particularly under Professor Jega at the Federal level and Mike Igini at the State Level here, our collaboration has been very thorough, he carries SIEC along and he has been having good working relationship with us. I have heard Igini in most of his interview to have said that one good thing he has found in Cross River is that the SIEC in Cross River tries to maintain the principles of election conduct and that makes him have a good working relationship with us in the state.
Even as I’m about to conduct the local government election, INEC is aware, the commissioner is in the know and some of their staff will be used for that exercise.
What does the forthcoming Local Government Election portend for 2015?
Both SIEC and INEC are looking for a better election in 2015 to move the country forward and INEC has started that effort. A pointer to this is the fact that most of the states that have never conducted local government elections are warming up to do so while few of them had already done, this is a good development because when that happens democracy with respect to the conduct of election shall have a proper footing in Nigeria by 2015.
Did SIEC meet the statutory time line for application for voters register?
I have applied and they are working on it. Acquisition of voter register has nothing whatsoever to do with the time table for the election. That is our own business with INEC even if it is one week to the election and the registers are here, they are sent to the field but the fact is that those registers are in need between us and INEC because there is no other group that can produce voter register other than INEC.
Do you pay INEC to get the voters register and if yes, how much did you pay as application fees?
No, ehnnnn, I can say that actually it attracts no fees because it is between SIEC and INEC, because you know they get the soft copy and package it for us, so we just give a token for the soft copy since we cannot go to market and buy it. So if anybody says that SIEC pay, I don’t see it that way.
What Challenges is your commission facing in the run up to the election?
The court cases are a challenge because it makes us spend much more that we envisaged. Secondly, the rate at which people try to influence local government election is a very big challenge too particularly amongst the traditional rulers who are not so pronounced. Immediately people hear that local government election is about to take place everybody becomes interested even the local chiefs are not exempted.
It is very cumbersome and difficult to conduct local government election, people will trace you to your lineage, your community, your parents amongst others and giving threats all over.
The challenge of accommodation is another one, we have been choking here for many years, but thank God for the governor who just approved the total renovation of this place. What is delaying the work is because the election is on once we finish the election, the renovation of this place will commence.
What is your vision for citizen participation in local government elections in Cross River state?
The extent to which political parties will be strengthened enough to assume the capacity to participate in election is my vision. When election is not competitive and parties don’t participate in an election, it is no longer an election, so the participation must be keen, effective and competitive this is when you can say we have an election and it is my prayer come 21st September.
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