I didn’t realise this job can be so complicated – Jega

What is your first impression of the situation you met on ground on your assumption of office?
The situation I met on ground gave me the impression that there is a lot of work to do in terms of reorganizing the Independent National Electoral Commissin (INEC), in terms of bringing in very good quality, credible and competent staff, of changing attitudes and mindsets that goes about coming to work on time and doing the work that people are supposed to do. And in terms of the actual work itself, I realised that even though I have a very clear sense of the challenges I will face by taking up the offer of the job, I didn’t realise it is that complicated because suddenly we were faced with constitutional amendment, which had tightened the time schedule within which we are expected to discharge our responsibility. But these are clear challenges in life, they make life more difficult but luckily, in everything I have seen, things are difficult but they are not impossible to correct. So I am approaching issues with that positive mindset. You know that it is difficult, it is challenging, but if we in INEC give it our best and get the right kind of people to help us do it, the other Nigerians as stakeholders can give it their best, then our efforts can achieve something substantial for us.

Talking about Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs), I am sure you are aware of what former Cross Rivers State governor, Donald Duke, said about how they mobilised funds to induce people. Prior to that,you issued your own declaration to RECs. Bringing your statement side by side with his, how deos that make you feel?

Clearly, given my own experience, because as a lecturer, I have taught courses on Nigerian politics and elections and as a human rights activist I have also participated in election observations from 1999 to 2007 and I have also been reading newspapers and have been interacting with politicians and people who know. So frankly, even by the time I became INEC chairman, I knew, and many of the resident commissioners know that as it pertains to the relationship between the state resident commissioners and their host governors in particular, the excessive reliance of either the state office or the local government office on the state government or the local government. Now unfortunately, the fact that the state offices are not adequately funded or adequately provided for gave something of excuses that the state officials hide under to gain maximum material benefits from their host governments. There are also clear categorical inducements from the state governments to the staff of the commission at the state level. So therefore, when I made that statement to the RECs, it was based on what I knew, knowledge which has been graphically confirmed by the statements of a former governor. So the opportunity of inaugurating the new RECs was what I used to urge them to ensure that they maintain credibility and decency in the way in which they relate with their host governments. I assured them that whatever we can do within limits to improve their work, they will be provided with resources to do what they are supposed to do and not have to be under pressure to go begging cap in hand to their host governments. Obviously, the extent to which we can satisfy the need of the state is a tough thing to do because the funding of INEC generally is minimal and we, as a commission, did not prepare the budget, we just met it and we are too far in the implementation of the budget. So within the resources available we are committed to provide as much as possible to improve the facilities in the state and local government offices to reduce the pressure that can compel the RECS and the EO s to go begging for resources. Then we will also make sure that really anybody who breaches the regulation and commits misconduct will be properly penalised. Already there are laws that adequately sanction misconduct or criminal activities and so on. And so those areas where it is perceived that there is connivance or officials are bribed and therefore sell results or declare result in favour of those who did not win, we will make sure we gather the requisite evidence and once we have evidence to prosecute, then we will prosecute people and I believe once we start making examples, people will now rationally realise that it is in their best interest to either do the job with integrity or leave the job and go and do something else.

You were at the Nigeria Police Force headquarters this morning (Friday) and everybody knows that without the support of the police, the electoral frauds perpetrated by the politicians would not have been possible. What assurance did you get from the police?

One of the decisions we have taken after the interactions with the staff in the headquarters was that all departments and units, that all outstanding cases and offenders, we should have a report on that so that we will know state by state, which electoral offences have been compiled.

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