Politicians pressurising us to sell unclaimed 914, 529 PVCs – INEC

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…As Stakeholders say Illegal artisanal refining, major source of pollution***

The Independent National Electoral Commission  on Thursday raised the
alarm that some politicians in Oyo State were mounting pressure on the
commission to sell unclaimed 914,529 permanent voter cards in its custody to them.

 The commission said it was not giving in to such pressure aimed at
rigging the forthcoming polls because “INEC is determined to ensure that
people’s votes count in the free, fair and credible elections in 2019.”

Speaking on the theme, “Online journalism and Media integrity in Nigeria,”
Agboke declared that some politicians, whose identities he did not disclose,
approached the commission to buy PVCs to rig the elections.

He stated,  “As far as we are concerned, PVCs are not for sale.”

The REC assured residents of the state of smooth elections devoid of crisis
in 2019, stressing that no worker of the commission would sell PVCs to any
politician ahead of the 2019 elections.

Agboke said, “They are looking for PVCs to buy. They are looking for what is
not available because they know that these things are not available. This is
the security report at my disposal.

“Tell those who are looking for PVCs to buy that there is none to buy in Oyo
State. I can assure you that no INEC employee will sell PVCs to any politician.
I can assure you that the process will be free and fair in Oyo State.

“Those who are looking for PVCs to buy, I won’t give you their names. I
don’t have their names.

“But that is the security report I got and the report did not specify the
party and the individuals that are involved. They want us to give them PVCs but
we can’t give it to them. They want to buy PVCs but there is none to sell in
Oyo State.”

Agboke urged journalists in the state to cooperate with the commission in
spreading accurate information to members of the public.

He said, “All of us are stakeholders. If you are in doubt, call INEC. More
so, you are online journalists, let us ensure that we have our facts correct.
For me in Oyo State, I have nothing to hide. We conducted the election in Eruwa and the people that won, won.”

He urged journalists to abide by the ethics of the profession at all times.

The South-West Bureau Chief of The Nation and an Associate Editor of the
Nigerian Tribune newspapers, Mr Bisi Oladele, and Mr Wale Ojo-Lanre
respectively, urged journalists to always abide by the rules and regulations
guiding the profession in their day-to-day reportage.

They said online journalism had come to stay in Nigeria and admonished
journalists to distinguish themselves from ordinary writers considering the
fact that “almost everybody is a journalist with the advent of internet and
smart phones.”

They agreed that one of the ways for the journalists “ to differentiate
themselves from ordinary writers was for them to cross-check their facts,
investigate their stories and be conscious of the existing laws of the land.”

INEC says 2019 polls won’t be delayed, meets ASUU Jan 4

INEC also on Thursday ruled out the postponement of the 2019 general
elections because of the dispute between the Federal Government and members of
the Academic Staff Union of Universities.

The commission, however, said it had scheduled a consultative meeting
involving its Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, its national commissioners and
ASUU leadership on January 4.

In an interview with The PUNCH in Abuja, INEC National Commissioner and
Chairman of its Information Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, said the
meeting would focus on the role and involvement of ASUU members in the 2019 general elections.

While expressing optimism that the strike would be called off before the
elections, Okoye said INEC would explore other alternatives, including the use of vice-chancellors, professors and lecturers to serve as returning officers and collation officers, “depending on the outcome of the commission’s interaction with their leadership.”

“The same thing applies to the leadership of the other unions in the
different federal tertiary institutions that are on strike or are threatening
to go on strike,” Okoye added.

Other alternatives, he said, included exploring the possibility of using
federal employees and students of state tertiary institutions to make up for
any shortfall.

Okoye said, “The chairman and national commissioners of INEC will on January 4, 2019 hold a consultative meeting with the leadership of ASUU. The meeting will focus principally on the issue of the role and involvement of their members in the 2019 general elections.

“The meeting will also explore the possibility of ensuring that the students
would be on campus during the elections. The commission is confident that there will be a breakthrough during the meeting. The commission is not involved in the negotiation between ASUU and the Federal Government and may not stray into that area.

“The involvement of the commission is limited to harvesting the rich
academic resources in the various federal tertiary institutions for the 2019
elections. The commission has relied on and will continue to rely on staff and
students of federal tertiary institutions for its ad hoc staff requirements.

 “Elections and conduct require some level of intellectual acumen. It
is not an all-comers affair.  The lecturers and students are clustered in
an institution and they can be reached in cases of electoral malfeasance and
election petitions. They have a better understanding of the electoral process.

“Some of the vice-chancellors and lecturers have experience as some of them
have acted as returning officers and collation officers before. Some of the
students of federal tertiary institutions in Anambra, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Edo
and other places where the commission conducted off-season elections already
have a store of knowledge and experience and only need refresher courses on new
and creative innovations introduced by the commission.

 “Furthermore, the corps members are fresh from institutions of higher
learning and are serving in communities, local governments and states other
than their own. They are not involved in the ‘local or domestic issues’ of the
various states and may not be easily swayed or influenced. Most of them have been patriotic and some paid the ultimate price in serving their nation.”

To use VCs, professors as returning, collation officers

When asked what INEC would do if ASUU failed to call off its strike, he
said, “The commission is confident that there will be a breakthrough or middle ground that will enable the students and the lecturers to contribute their quota during the 2019 elections. However, the vice-chancellors, professors and the lecturers can still serve as returning officers and collation officers during the pendency of the strike, depending on the outcome of the commission’s interaction with their leadership. The same thing applies to the leadership of the other unions in the different federal tertiary institutions that are on strike or are threatening to go on strike.”

Strikes won’t force us to delay elections – Electoral body

 Okoye also explained that the commission would not postpone the 2019
general elections.

He said, “INEC will conduct the 2019 elections on the dates already
communicated to the Nigerian people. The strike by the different unions will not lead to the postponement of elections. The commission will prefer to use the lecturers and students in federal tertiary institutions for the conduct of elections but if that fails, the commission will explore alternatives.”

In the meantime, stakeholders in the oil and gas industry have described
illegal artisanal refining in the country as a major source of pollution.

The stakeholders, who spoke at the 18th Biennial International HSE
Conference on the Oil and Gas Industry in Nigeria, recommended that the
practice of burning crude oil recovered from illegal activities should be
stopped forthwith.

A communiqué, which was released by the Department of Petroleum Resources on Thursday, read in part, “Revenue is being lost, and it causes major air, water and soil pollution. Procedures including temporary laydown areas should be established to receive, monetise and/or responsibly dispose of recovered crude
oil.”

The communiqué, which was signed by the Chairman, Conference Planning and Management Committee, Dr Musa Zagi, contained key outcomes and recommendations from the conference.

The stakeholders stressed the need to tackle illegal artisanal refining
through immediate multi-stakeholders engagement among operators, regulators, government security forces, and community leadership.

According to them, continuous investment in stakeholders’ engagement,
capacity building, technology advancement and allocation of the budget are key to sustained performance on health, safety and environment in the industry.

They said the performance of international oil companies should be sustained and improved upon, while indigenous oil companies urgently need to improve their HSE performance.

The communiqué read in part, “Passage of the long-awaited Petroleum Industry Governance Bill remains an important and urgent step towards improved stakeholders’ environmental stewardship.

“The much-spoken about harmonisation and cooperation across regulators cum regulatory functions needs to be urgently done. The Federal and state
governments need to address the underdevelopment and feeling of neglect in the Niger Delta as these remain a challenge to improved environmental stewardship.”

The stakeholders stated that some of the statutory fees currently paid in
foreign currency should be considered for payment/reimbursement in naira.

They said while HSE practice in the upstream sector had achieved a
commendable minimum standard over the years, the downstream sector required sustained attention to improve HSE performance.

According to them, pursuing sustainability has been proved to be good
business as it positively impacts financial performance.

The government, oil and gas and service companies were encouraged to
integrate physical activity and exercise within the workplace through modern technology such as gymnasium facilities.

The communiqué said, “There is an urgent need for the establishment of a
National Environmental Database for the oil and gas industry. The DPR should lead this effort.  Performance reviews show that operators need to improve their compliance-performance in produced water handling, gas flaring and management of environmental issues.

“Operators must continue to improve on community-operator relations through sustained social interventions in infrastructure and human capacity.

“All new projects should have decommissioning in view from the conceptual stage of the project through design and implementation. Lessons abound from other countries with mature fields. Decommissioning guidelines should be sufficiently robust to also cover gas facilities.”

They stakeholders added, “Sustained efforts are required to stem the
pervasive mediocrity across environmental practice in Nigeria. Key actions
required include intervention to ensure quick passage of the bill for an
institute of environmental practitioners and a Voluntary Code of Ethics for
environmental practitioners.

“The oil and gas industry needs to include process safety in implementing
asset integrity programmes. Such process safety activities should include
measures to prevent the deterioration of safety critical equipment in the
maintenance management systems.”

 Punch