The rescheduled 2019 elections may suffer yet another setback as no fewer than 13 states are battling with a shortfall of critical field staff, SaharaReporters can report.
Adamawa, Anambra, Cross Rivers, Delta, Enugu, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Lagos, Niger, Ogun, Osun and Taraba are some of the states already on the red alert, according to investigations.
Our checks show that 205 staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), all playing crucial roles, have been interdicted by the commission for the past 22 months. The affected officials are either Electoral Officers (EOs) or Heads of Department (HoDs) saddled with logistics and operational duties at all levels.
Sources within the commission have raised the alarm about another possible flop, saying, “Saturday’s rescheduled presidential and National Assembly elections may still suffer another setback, due to the huge gap of experience created by the interdiction.”
One source expressed certainty that INEC Electoral Officers and other critical field officials from 13 states, all numbering 205, will not be participating in the exercise.
Worse still, the commission has not competently replaced the loss of manpower, thereby exposing the process to a plethora of problems as witnessed last week.
It was gathered that Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) from the affected 13 states have made several appeals about shortfall of staff, but to no avail.
For instance, Kashim Gaidam, REC of Adamawa State, was said to have cried out the loudest about “manpower shortfall”. SaharaReporters gathered that majority of those currently handling both professional and technical roles were drawn from menial staff, like security and cleaners.
In Jada Local Government Area of Adamawa, the current Electoral Officer was recruited as a guard by the commission. The situation is virtually the same in a good number of other places. Jada is both hometown and local government origin of Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
As to how and why the 205 were interdicted, SaharaReporters further learnt that about 1,000 INEC staff across the country were implicated in the alleged Diezani Alison-Madueke $90 billion loot.
One of the interdicted staff told SaharaReporters: “For us, the hullabaloo about INEC staff accepting gratification from the alleged Diezani loot was the Chairman’s invented way of conducting the elections with incompetent hands.
“The allegation is that we accepted gratification from proceeds of Diezani’s loot through West Africa Network on Observer (WANO), an accredited election monitoring organisation.
“Yes, WANO partnered INEC in 2015 and they were domiciled right within INEC office, where they gave all of us cash grants for logistics support. This was done in the open, there was nothing hidden about it.
“Later, we were summoned to Abuja and asked to refund the money, that it was from the Diezani loot, and we did. Afterwards, we received letters of interdiction from INEC headquarters that we had been found guilty of an offence we were neither investigated nor queried about.”
It is curious, however, that the interdiction has now lasted for 22 months. What is more disturbing is that the commission is faced with acute manpower needs at this critical time. Also, some staff of the commission, who are currently standing trial, in connection to various scandals have not been interdicted.
This, SaharaReporters can report based on facts available, seeing the Admin Secretary in Bauchi and Anambra have both been indicted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the Diezani saga but have not been interdicted.
Another interdicted staff member said: “Also curious is how the staff remained suspended despite confirmation by EFCC, that the 205 staff were not liable to prosecution regarding the matter at hand.”
When contacted to react on the matter, Gaidam admitted to having made spirited efforts for the reinstatement of the interdicted staff from his Adamawa office. However, he refuted claims that the interdiction could jeopardise the polls. “If Gaidam falls down right now elections will go on hitch-free,” he maintained.
Asked for how long the staff would remain suspended, Gaidam said: “The issue is before the National Chairman, please direct the question to him.”
He also alluded to the fact that justice needed to be done on the matter, saying: “Without justice any system of government will collapse.”