A teenage girl looks from the side of the makeshift tent she calls home at a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Galkayo, in the northern breakaway state of Puntland. (AFP)
Abuja - The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Wednesday expressed readiness to conduct election in areas recently liberated by the military in the North-East, if the displaced persons returned before the polls.
Chairman of the commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, made this known at a “Situation Room Dialogue” with civil society organisations and senior INEC officials in Abuja.
The session was organised by the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room in collaboration with the British Department for International Development (DFID).
Jega, however, said that if the residents of affected areas failed to return before the polls date, the commission would continue with its arrangement to make Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) vote at designated centres and in their camps.
"We have said that in the areas where people have moved back and it is confirmed that it is safe, then, it is better for us to go back to the polling units there and organise our elections.
"We have tasked our Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) to make that assessment now, but as we rightly pointed out, we know that in many cases the people in the IDPs camps are not going back.
"If there are still people in the IDPs camps and they are not going back, we will do the elections as we have planned at the designated centres for the IDPs," he said.
Jega said that INEC had at the last National Security Council meeting on Tuesday received assurances from security agencies that they were doing everything possible to secure the areas during the elections.
"We are pleased with the report that that there have been remarkable improvement in the fight against the insurgency.
"We understand that there are only three local government areas in the North-East that have not been totally liberated of the insurgency but we also know that the insurgents are also desperate.
"We are working closely with security agencies to ensure that measures are in place to check this and ensure that it does not disrupt the electoral process,’’ he said.
The INEC chairman reiterated the commission’s call on the security agencies to provide security at National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members’ lodges during the elections to avert a repaet of 2011 incident.
He said that the commission had also directed that preference should be given to people with disability in queues at polling stations and that persons who needed assistance to vote on election day should be provided be assisted.
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"For those whose finger prints cannot be read, that has been taken care of because the incidents form is there for them to fill.
"Honestly, anybody who has registered and has Permanent Voter Card (PVC) will be allowed to vote regardless of his disability or ability," he said.
He said that the commission used the polls shift period to improve on its preparation, including hands-on training on the card readers for electoral officials, consultation with stakeholders as well as voter education.
"Voter education in the country like Nigeria, given our size of population and terrain, is very challenging.
"Be that as it may be, we have used our resources to the best of our ability that have been appropriated but this has been profoundly supplemented by development partners particularly the EU," he added.
Jega stressed that it was a criminal offence for anybody to deny an eligible voter his card based on religion or ethic reason.
He disclosed that the commission was making effort to use better facilities for the collation and announcement of result of the presidential election.
"We have secured the International Conference Centre (ICC) rather than the small routine Electoral Institute.
"We believe it will be more spacious and conducive for this purpose," he said.
He stated that there were no challenges with the procurement and distribution of sensitive and non-sensitive materials for the elections.