The decision of the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission to appoint Returning Officers and Collation Officers for all categories of the 2019 elections appears to be creating confusion among the Resident Electoral Commissioners who regard the recruitment as their responsibilities.
The RECs believed that the responsibility to appoint the returning officers and collation officers for the elections at the ward, local government and state levels belonged to them and had started the process of recruiting the ROs and COs.
In previous elections, the RECs had been saddled with the task of appointing the collation officers and the returning officers.
This is said to be based on the fact that the RECs, who operate at the state levels, know the officers who are credible and could be called upon to handle the collation and announcement of results effectively.
It was learnt that at a meeting between the INEC leadership and the RECs in Abuja in December, the criteria to be adopted in selecting the two categories of officers were outlined.
It was further learnt that the selection was meant to be discussed at another meeting in of the commission in January.
In anticipation of the approval of the names of the vice-chancellors and university lecturers to be appointed in their states, the RECs were said to have started the collation of names to serve as returning and collation officers.
However, a memo from the Office of the Secretary to the Commission, INEC, signed by the Secretary, Mrs. Rose Oriaran-Anthony, on January 30, instructed the RECs that the appointments of the ROs and COs would be done by the headquarters of the agency.
In the memo with ref: INEC/HQ/SEC/809/IV, Oriaran-Anthony stated, “It has been observed that some states have started recruiting Collation Officers for the 2019 general elections, which is not in line with the commission’s approved guidelines for sourcing of ad hoc staff.
“Kindly note that all Collation Officers for the 2019 general elections (i.e. RA, LGA. Federal Constituency and Senatorial) and all Returning Officers are to be recruited and posted by the headquarters.
Please be guided.”
But some of the RECs, who spoke with SUNDAY PUNCH on condition of anonymity on Saturday, alleged that the leadership of the commission might have other suspicious plans for the elections than had been stated.
One of them said, “It is not the duty of the headquarters to appoint returning officers and collation officers; that has never been the practice. The RECs know the people in the state and in the institutions in the state. How can anybody handpick ROs and COs from 36 states and the FCT for all the elections?”
Another REC, who also spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH on condition of anonymity, said there was a growing concern among the RECs what the leadership of the agency wanted to achieve with the latest development.
“It appears there are more to this move than all of us know. No, we are not even talking about rigging. The officers are to preside over the collation and announcements of results. Why would the commission choose to appoint people that it does not know,” said the REC.
“If there is violence during the collation, either at ward or local government centre, won’t people suspect that the ‘foreigner’ among them has swapped the original copy of the results with another copy? That’s why we are confused at the moment, especially when we don’t know who we are going to work with just two weeks to the elections.”
But a National Commissioner of INEC and Chairman, Information and Voter Education of the commission, Mr. Festus Okoye, said the electoral umpire decided to centralise the recruitment of the returning officers and the collation officers in order to know the personalities better.
Okoye, who spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, explained that the centralisation of the recruitment had become necessary so that “some people” would not make “advances” to the officers before Election Day.