*Yoruba monarchs urge commission, security agencies to ensure free, fair polls 

*Military will deal with trouble makers, Irabor vows 

*Abdulsalami-led peace committee meets Wednesday for signing of another peace accord

Chuks Okocha, Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja, Segun James in Lagos and Kemi Olaitan in Ibadan

Exactly six days before the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has expressed the commission’s readiness for the conduct of the polls.Yakubu stated this in Abuja yesterday after a tour of the training centre for INEC’s ad-hoc staff or presiding officers at the Government Secondary School Garki, and the inspection of facilities for the collation of votes at the International Conference Centre (ICC).

Yakubu, who disclosed that the corps members would swear to an oath of neutrality, also revealed that the National Peace Committee (NPC) led by a former military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), would meet on Wednesday for the signing of another peace accord.This is coming as traditional rulers in Yoruba-speaking states of Ekiti, Lagos, Kogi, Kwara, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo have appealed to INEC, security agencies and other institutions involved in the general election to support and uphold the right of every Nigerian to freely cast their vote without let or hindrance to guarantee the sanctity of the electoral process.

Also the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor yesterday vowed that the military will deal decisively with forces seeking to interfere with the election.Speaking during the inspection of the facilities, Yakubu said: “We will perform basically three activities in this ICC.“First, there is a hall that will serve as a media centre for national, and international observers. We will have our briefing with international and local observers on Tuesday. The media centre will be for press briefings where mini studios and Outside Broadcast Vans would be allowed to monitor results by the various media houses that would be given accreditation.

“The other hall will serve as the Collation Centre for the presidential election and then beside the hall is our Situation Room where we deploy our platforms, the INEC Citizens Contact Centre,” Yakubu explained.He said the Situation Room would have ad-hoc staff to monitor and respond to complaints from people in the field, adding that it would be open to everyone. Yakubu also informed the press that the Abdulsalami-led peace committee would be meeting on Wednesday to sign the peace pact for the elections, noting that the winners would receive their certificate of returns at the National Collation Centre, Abuja.The INEC boss, who visited the training venue for the Presiding Officers and Assistant Presiding Officers I, II, and III in Abuja, said only the members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) are the authorised election officers that will handle the Bimodal Voter Authentication System (BVAS) during the elections.The INEC chairman said the commission cannot rely on its workforce for the conduct of a credible and peaceful election, hence the need for mobilisation of the NYSC members.

He tasked the corps members to be loyal to Nigeria and Nigerians and not political parties.The INEC boss stated that on no account should they leave the BVAS in the custody of anyone, adding that the corps members are going to be tracked.He said: “Nigeria is fortunate to have young citizens like you. There is no way INEC can conduct elections without the NYSC. You are simply indispensable in the conduct of elections in Nigeria. We cannot conduct elections with our workforce alone.

“So we have to rely on you and other categories of staff. But you are going to operate at the most important level of the electoral system; at the polling unit levels because that is where citizens go and vote. All of you will swear an oath of neutrality. Your loyalty is to Nigeria and Nigerians and not to any political party or any candidate. You will be the INEC Chairman at your polling unit. You are the King at the polling units.“You are the only ones that will handle the BVAS at polling units on election day. Take this job seriously. We are tracking you as well so that we can know who is holding which BVAS. Do not give this BVAS to someone else.”

Yakubu also assured of adequate security in and around the venue for the national collation centre.“In essence, the 2023 general election is here. By this time next week, Nigerians will be voting in over 176,000 polling units for the presidential election. The choice made by Nigerians for the next president of the country will also be announced at this venue,” he added.The INEC chairman also allayed concerns about the unavailability of cash, stating that “We visited the CBN last week on the issue of cash for payment of some of the services, not all, some of the services that we are going to engage on election day.“The bulk of payment for goods and services is made through electronic transfer. But certain critical services will be remunerated by cash, and that’s why we went to the CBN and it’s a small percentage of the budget.“The Central Bank has assured us that we will not suffer any encumbrances in that regard. So there are no issues with respect to that.”

Yoruba Monarchs Urge INEC, Security Agencies to Ensure Free, Fair Polls

Meanwhile, Yoruba traditional rulers from Ekiti, Lagos, Kogi, Kwara, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo States have appealed to INEC, security agencies and other institutions involved in the general election to support and uphold the right of every Nigerian to freely cast their vote without let or hindrance to guarantee the sanctity of the electoral process.In a communiqué issued at the weekend after their meeting at the International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan, Oyo State, on Thursday, the monarchs affirmed their faith and support for Nigeria’s unity, peace, prosperity and progress and pledged to support the democratic process based on free choices according to universal adult suffrage freely exercised by the people.

In the communique, signed by the Director General, Conscience of Yoruba Nation, Abagun Kole Omololu, the monarchs expressed their concern about the recent hardship suffered by the people due to perennial fuel scarcity and the Naira redesign policyThe monarchs urged more humane handling of these challenges to free the people from high-handedness, poverty and want“In the run-up to the 2023 general election, they pledged their support for the success of the elections. They urged the people to exercise their civic duties peacefully to engender a desired change in the country,” the communique said. The meeting, which was presided by His Imperial Majesty, Oba Adeyeye Eniitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, the Ooni of Ife and Arole Oodua, granted the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, an audience.

The royal fathers expressed satisfaction with the briefings Tinubu gave concerning his aspiration.They said they acknowledged Tinubu’s solid democratic credentials and unwavering commitment to the entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria.The monarchs affirmed what they described as Tinubu’s preeminent qualification for the highest office in Nigeria.They renewed their faith in the steady democratic growth of the country and reiterated their belief that equity and justice are prerequisites for unity, peace, progress and prosperity in Nigeria.

Military will Deal with Trouble Makers, Irabor VowsIn a related development, the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Irabor has vowed that the military will deal decisively with forces seeking to interfere with the election.He said in view of the fact that Nigerians and the international community were relying on the Armed Forces of Nigeria to ensure a smooth conduct of the election, the security forces are determined to protect the polls.The warning came as the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, said, in a separate function, said that security forces were ready to ensure that citizens of Nigeria go out to vote on election day without any molestation.

Speaking at the 2023 International Military Sports Council  Day Run in Abuja,  Irabor  said the hope of Nigerians and the international community are on security agents in the country for the successful conduct of the polls.He charged the security agents to ensure a peaceful and safe environment for the elections.Irabor who was represented by the Chief of Defence Policy and Plans (CPP), Air Vice Marshal  Jackson Yusuf,  also said the current onslaught against criminal elements in the country must be sustained.

“Today our brave men and women of the armed forces and other security agencies can tell the world with pride of their daily successes in countering insurgency and other security challenges that have in recent times bedeviled the nation’s security landscape.  I, however,  urge you all to sustain the current momentum.“Also, you all know the elections are coming.  The nation and countries of the world are looking up to us as members of the armed forces and security agencies to play our role to ensure the elections are held in a peaceful environment.  I urge us to live up to our constitutional responsibilities,” he said

Meanwhile, speaking at the First Quarter Route March 2023 organised by the Nigerian Navy in Abuja, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Gambo, said security forces were ready to ensure that citizens of Nigeria go out to vote on election day without any molestation.The naval chief, who was represented by the Chief of Policy and Plans, Rear Admiral Sa’id Garba, said “the Armed Forces of Nigeria and the Nigerian Navy are ready to protect this election.

“The Armed Forces of Nigeria and the Nigerian Navy have read the riot act. We have the conditionalities, they have been briefed. As for the conduct for the election, we shall maintain an exterior periphery in the general election process and we will support the police, which is the lead security agency in internal security. They will be close to electoral officers. We shall give necessary protection where required.”

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