Decision of the headquarters of Independent National Electoral Commission to appoint Returning Officers and Collation Officers for all categories of 2019 elections appears to be creating confusion among Resident Electoral Commissioners who regard the recruitment as their responsibilities.
RECs believed that responsibility to appoint returning officers and collation officers for the elections at ward, local government and state levels belonged to them and had started the process of recruiting ROs and COs.
In previous elections, RECs had been saddled with the task of appointing collation and returning officers.
This is said to be based on the fact that RECs, who operate at the state levels, know the officers who are credible and could be called upon to handle the collation and announcement of results effectively.
It was learnt that at a meeting between INEC leadership and RECs in Abuja in December, the criteria to be adopted in selecting the two categories of officers were outlined.
It was further learnt that the selection was meant to be discussed at another meeting of the commission in January.
In anticipation of the approval of names of vice-chancellors and university lecturers to be appointed in their states, RECs were said to have started the collation of names to serve as returning and collation officers.
However, a memo from Office of the Secretary to the Commission, INEC, signed by the Secretary, Mrs. Rose Oriaran-Anthony, on January 30, instructed RECs that the appointments of ROs and COs would be done by the headquarters of the agency.
In the memo with ref: INEC/HQ/SEC/809/IV, Oriaran-Anthony stated, “It has been observed that some states have started recruiting Collation Officers for 2019 general elections, which is not in line with the commission’s approved guidelines for sourcing of ad hoc staff.
“Kindly note that all Collation Officers for 2019 general elections (i.e. RA, LGA. Federal Constituency and Senatorial) and all Returning Officers are to be recruited and posted by the headquarters.
“Please be guided.”
But some of the RECs, who spoke on condition of anonymity on Saturday, alleged that the leadership of the commission might have other suspicious plans for the elections than had been stated.
One of them said, “It is not the duty of the headquarters to appoint returning officers and collation officers; that has never been the practice. RECs know the people in the state and in the institutions in the state. How can anybody handpick ROs and COs from 36 states and the FCT for all the elections?”
Another REC, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was a growing concern among RECs what leadership of the agency wanted to achieve with the latest development.
“It appears there are more to this move than all of us know. No, we are not even talking about rigging. The officers are to preside over the collation and announcements of results. Why would the commission choose to appoint people that it does not know,” said the REC.
“If there is violence during the collation, either at ward or local government centre, won’t people suspect that the ‘foreigner’ among them has swapped the original copy of the results with another copy? That’s why we are confused at the moment, especially when we don’t know who we are going to work with just two weeks to the elections.”
But a National Commissioner of INEC and Chairman, Information and Voter Education of the commission, Mr. Festus Okoye, said the electoral umpire decided to centralise the recruitment of the returning officers and the collation officers in order to know the personalities better.
Okoye explained that the centralisation of the recruitment had become necessary so that “some people” would not make “advances” to the officers before Election Day.
The national commissioner added, “INEC decided to centralise the recruitment of the officers in order to know them. We want to know who are the returning officers and the collation officers.
“We have contacted the universities directly. The vice-chancellors are sending the list to the chairman of INEC directly under serious cover.
“Each of those to be Returning Officers and Collation Officers will not know their posting until a day to the elections. They will not be exposed to manipulations with such arrangements. We want to be adequately transparent.”
Okoye stated that the greatest challenge of the commission was how to manage the number of party agents and collation officers at the about 120,000 polling units nationwide.
He said, “It’s going to be tough. If we have 91 political parties and 73 presidential candidates, how do you manage the number, especially when we are going to have all the candidates participating in the elections?”
Okoye, who disclosed that INEC had stopped giving grants to political parties, added that a special arrangement had also been made to ensure that Internally Displaced Persons in Benue and the North-East states could vote during the elections.
“The IDPs will vote, either those in the camp or those who ran away from their places because of attacks. We will conduct elections where it is safe to do so,” he added.