Yomi Dinakin is a Professor of Law and a university administrator of good standing. He was appointed few months ago as the Chairman of the Ondo State Independent Electoral Commission (ODIEC). An indigene of Alade-Idanre, he spoke with ADEKOLA AFOLABI on his determination to maintain his integrity to conduct credible, transparent and hitch-free local government elections in the state come December 1, this year.
You recently released time-table and guidelines for the conduct of local government elections in Ondo state. What stage are you now to ensure hitch-free polls?
In giving out date for the elections, there are steps to be taken, both statutory and administrative in terms of provision of logistics, in terms of publicity and other arrangements to ensure a hitch-free election. One, we have been able to divide ourselves into sections and local governments in order to effectively monitor the activities of our electoral officers across the local governments. Two, we have begun sensitisation of people, that is, voter education. In this area we are involving the National Orientation Agency because they have the expertise and they are on the field. We are collaborating with them to intensify our efforts with respect to voter education, to encourage our people to want to vote, to see the elections as a mere contest of allowing people to make choices or alternatives. So, we have done our own background work in terms of all these and we are rolling them out in accordance with the time-table we have released.
As a creation of the state government, people usually have the notion that you are likely to be controlled by the ruling party. How will you assure all the political parties involved that the elections will not be conducted to favour the ruling party?
The ODIEC is not necessarily a creation of the Ondo State Government. It is a creation of the state House of Assembly in accordance with the constitution. It is similar to the Independent National Electoral body. They are the same composition in terms of powers and requirements. But while INEC is created by Act of the National Assembly, ODIEC is created by a law of the state Assembly. So, ODIEC is not a creation of Ondo State Government, it is a creation of the legislators of the Ondo State. And it is statutory body recognisable by the constitution. It works independently of the government of Ondo State. I do not need to convince anybody because the law says I’m not under the control of any government, I’m independent of any government. The House of Assembly provides budgetary allocation for the commission so we must move away from the mindset that it is an extension of government and that the government dictates to the electoral commission. Government does not dictate to the electoral commission. The commission works according to law. I have repeatedly said that every participant, every stakeholder must watch our activities and participate and see that we are open and transparent. I have always talked about fidelity to law, we are working according to law and people should call us to order if we are doing anything contrary to the law.
Some political parties are complaining that the notice given is too short and this may not give them enough time to be fully prepared for the December 1 local government polls. How will you react to this?
No political party has come to us to say the notice given is too short. The notice is supposed to comply with the statutory provision. The Electoral Act in Ondo State provides for 90 days notice, and the notice we have given is well above 90 days. So, no political party can complain.
Going by various activities you are going to carry out for smooth conduct of the elections, is it still possible for the commission to meet up with the December 1 polls?
Yes, we are going to meet up. We are going to comply with the law. We have drawn up the time-table in accordance with the law and all our activities must be within the 16th of August and December 1 we have fixed for the conduct of the elections. We have given notice and the day of the elections as required by the constitution, and political parties are expected to begin their activities and nominate candidates for the elections. Political parties must ensure there is internal democracy in accordance with the law and therefore the parties must go back home to conduct primaries and bring their candidates. There is no room for independent candidacy.
Will you say the commission has been provided with the necessary logistics to go on with the elections?
Yes, we have all the logistics and we are implementing. So, December 1 stands.
How many political parties are participating in the elections?
We don’t know yet. All we do now is to collect the names of registered political parties from INEC and all the registered parties will participate. We have applied to INEC to give us registered political parties, their logos will appear on the ballot papers. So, we are expecting all registered political parties to participate.
Does the commission have enough hands for the conduct of the polls?
No electoral body has the required number of staff for the conduct of elections. We have our permanent staff at the headquarters and in all our area offices. We have adequate staff but for the purpose of the conduct of the elections, it is normal and it is a usual practice to employ ad-hoc staff that we will train to assist. INEC for instance, is using National Youth Corps Members and that will usually constitute the bulk of those they will use as ad-hoc staff, apart from professors and others. So, in our own case too we are going to recruit ad-hoc staff as polling officers and so on. The political parties too will nominate their polling agents to adequately monitor everything on the day of the elections. There will also be observers that will also monitor the smooth conduct of the elections. So, we are going to recruit ad-hoc staff to complement our staff.
How many ad hoc staff are you looking at?
I don’t have the figure now but they are going to be around 300 to 400, depending on the number of polling units which INEC is going to release. Like I have said, we depend on INEC for voter’s register, polling units, list of political parties and so on, but we are going to work on the figure given to us by INEC and we are going to disseminate the information to the stakeholders.
What is your message to the political parties and the electorate?
My message is that they should be free, they should be fair and be willing to participate and see it as a contest. They should go to the polling units on election day in peace with their PVCs. There should be no violence.
As an unbiased electoral umpire, how will you maintain your integrity to conduct free, fair, credible and peaceful elections come December1?
All of us must work together to achieve success and peaceful elections. I cannot be at every polling unit, I cannot be at every collation centre, so it is the responsibility of all of us to behave at every polling until. We want everybody to eschew bitterness, violence. Let us go to our polling units with only our PVCs and cast our votes in a peaceful manner and also monitor it to ensure it is well collated. If we do not recruit thugs, if we do not create violence even at parties’ primaries, we should expect free and fair elections devoid of acrimony. Parties should not hijack ballot boxes or engage in any form of electoral malpractices so that we can have peaceful and acceptable elections.
But for us at the commission, we will maintain our integrity and be fair to all. We will provide a level playing ground for all participating political parties and treat everybody equally. We are prepared to conduct free, fair, credible, transparent and peaceful elections, and this must be the responsibility of all of us, the political parties, the voters, you and I and everyone of us.