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INEC Lists Corps Members To Conduct Direct Primaries

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The Independent National Electoral Commission may be forced to use serving members of the National Youth Service Corps to monitor political parties’ direct primaries across the country if the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), signs the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.

This is because of the large number of personnel that will be needed to monitor the direct primaries across the 8,809 awards in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory.

The INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr Festus Okoye, confirmed this in a chat with one of our correspondents on Sunday.

Okoye said it would be premature to speculate since Buhari had not yet signed the bill. He also said certain factors would be considered.

He admitted that the staff requirements for primaries would “change if the President assents to the bill.”

The INEC spokesman said some political parties might consider conducting primaries at the ward level, while others might use the local governments or senatorial districts as the criteria for primaries

Responding to a question, Okoye said, “Some parties may adopt the 8,809 registration areas (wards) of the commission for their primaries. Some may use the 774 LGAs for their primaries. Some may cluster their primaries around the senatorial districts.

“Some may use the state capitals and have a differential period when people from a particular local government area can vote. These things will be set out in the guidelines that will be designed by the parties and filed with the commission at least 14 days before the conduct of the primaries.

“When the bill is signed into law, the commission will meet and take a position on how to proceed with each strand and segment of the process. We may use our staff members for some of the primaries. We may use lecturers of federal tertiary institutions for some. We may use staff members of federal agencies and commissions, and we may use corps members. It depends on the track designed and submitted by the parties.”

Also speaking with The PUNCH, a retired INEC director, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, said the use of corps members would be the most feasible if the President assents to the bill.

Osaze-Uzzi, who said mandatory direct primaries would increase the cost of elections, stated that the NYSC remained the largest single pool of personnel available to INEC.

“It is most likely that INEC will use corps members because the NYSC is the single largest pool of personnel available to the commission. But more importantly, is the cost implication. The cost of conducting elections will be astronomical,” he stated.

The commission, according to its 2019 project plan, hired about 2.7 million ad hoc officials for the general elections, many of whom were corps members.

The document, which was obtained by The PUNCH, showed that N630m was spent on monitoring political party congresses and primaries in 2018. About N104.8m was spent on monitoring governorship, senatorial, state constituency, and federal constituency primaries, while the presidential primary cost N27.8m.

Attempts to get a response from the NYSC on the proposal proved abortive as its spokesperson, Mrs Nike Adeyemi, did not respond to inquiries.

The National Assembly had last week passed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which makes it compulsory for all political parties to conduct their primaries using the direct method.

The Peoples Democratic Party and the governors of the All Progressives Congress have rejected the provision for direct primaries, while the National Assembly remains adamant.

This week, the bill is expected to be transmitted to Buhari for assent upon his return from South Africa. However, governors have begun making moves to ensure that he does not sign it.

But the House of Representatives and some senators have threatened to veto the President if he fails to sign the bill within 30 days.

Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo had said last week that many of the National Assembly members believed the best way for them to win re-election was by the direct primary method, which would not be easily manipulated by their state governors.

“The reason (for the endorsement of direct primaries by the National Assembly) as it emerged from our discussions at the tripartite committee was that some legislators felt that state governments had completely taken over party congresses, and other legislators, as stakeholders, stood no chance of a fair contest in the primaries if all potential delegates and actors have already been spoken for,” Osinbajo said.

Meanwhile, political parties under the aegis of the Inter-Party Advisory Council, have again kicked against the use of direct primaries

The National Publicity Secretary of IPAC, Major Agbo, told The PUNCH that it could affect smaller parties, which did not have the finances.

He said, “The passage of the Electoral Act due to pressure from the electorate is a welcome development. The wishes and aspirations of Nigerians prevailed at last even though they tried to scuttle it initially.

“However, the inclusion of the clause on direct primaries is meant to stifle smaller parties without resources. The resources required to mobilize all party members for the primaries are enormous and will effectively put the smaller parties in difficulty, especially as the parties do not receive any funding from the government as tenable in other climes.

“This is not healthy for our democracy as it gives undue advantage to the bigger parties at the expense of the smaller ones. Nigerians should insist that this clause be removed before the bill is assented to.”

In a related development, the Senate has expressed optimism that Buhari will sign into law the 2010 Electoral Act (amendment) Bill, 2021, which will be transmitted to him this week.

The spokesman for the Senate, Ajibola Basiru, stated this in an interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja.

He said only enemies of democracy would envisage that the President would not assent to the bill.

“The President has not rejected direct primary and has not told anybody that he will not sign the bill,” Basiru stated.

Asked if the federal lawmakers would carry out their threat to veto the President if he declines assent to the bill, Basiru said he did not believe in assumptions.

He stated, “I don’t deal in theories. I don’t deal in hypotheses. I won’t answer any question on whether the National Assembly will veto the President or not. It will be an insult on the President for anybody to be thinking that he will withhold assent to the bill.

“We don’t have any problem with the President. We have done our work. Let anybody go and tell the President not to sign it. Go ahead. When we get to the bridge, we will know how to cross it.

“It is presumptuous for anybody to assume that he will refuse assent to the bill. It is not even healthy for democracy. It is only negative people, who are enemies of democracy, who will think like that.”

Meanwhile, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, has said the direct primary method is better than the indirect system.

Rafsanjani, in an interview with one of our correspondents, however, said the National Assembly should not impose the direct primary method on all political parties without due consultation.

“The positive side of the direct primary method is more than the indirect, because of the ways and manners in which it affects political parties negatively. The National Assembly should get the support of other political parties before imposing the method on them,” he said.

The National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Kola Ologbondiyan, also said the party was against the imposition of a sole mode of primary on all the parties.

Ologbondiyan stated, “Our position in the PDP has always been that the parties should be allowed to determine the type of primary they wish to adopt.

“The National Assembly cannot force a singular process on all the political parties.”

The PDP spokesman, however, said the party had yet to determine the method it would adopt to elect the candidates, who would fly its flags in the 2023 general elections.

“We have not adopted any mode of primary for the 2023 general elections. We should be able to agree on that by the end of the year,” Ologbondiyan added.”

BIG STORY

UK Imposes Travel Restrictions On Six African Countries As New COVID-19 Variant Emerges

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The UK government has imposed temporary travel restrictions on six African countries following the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant in South Africa.

A new variant of the coronavirus, B.1.1.529, was discovered in South Africa three days ago and 59 cases have been confirmed in South Africa, Hong Kong, and Botswana.

Although the variant is yet to be detected in the UK, it has gone ahead to announce that travelers from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, and Eswatini, will not be allowed into their shores from 12:00 GMT Friday (1 p.m. Nigerian time).

According to Sajid Javid, the UK health secretary, “the UK Health Security Agency is investigating a new variant. More data is needed but we’re taking precautions now.”

“From noon tomorrow, November 26, six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travellers must quarantine.”

Experts have said that the B.1.1.529 variant could be the most lethal and worrying yet. This is because of its “awful spike mutation profile”, which scientists fear could help it evade immunity. Early reports suggest it is capable of reducing vaccine efficiency to just 30 percent.

“The first indications we have of this variant are that it may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and that the vaccines we currently have may be less effective,” Mr Javid said.

According to him, British scientists are “very concerned” by this variant.

“We will ask anyone arriving from these countries from 4 a.m. on Sunday to quarantine themselves in hotels,” Mr Javid said, adding that those arriving before that date will have to self-isolate and do two PCR tests on the second and eighth day of their confinement.

“And if someone has arrived from these countries in the last ten days, we will ask them to do PCR tests,” he added.

The WHO will hold a special meeting following the emergence of this new variant.

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BIG STORY

Chidinma Sold Ataga’s Laptop To Me For N495,000 —– Computer Village Businessman

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A businessman, Mr Ifeoluwa Oluwo, has narrated how the laptop of the murdered Chief Executive Officer of Super TV, Michael Ataga, was sold to him for N495,000 by Chidinma Ojukwu two days after Ataga’s body was found.

Chidinma, a 300-level Mass Communication student of the University of Lagos, was accused of killing Ataga.

The undergraduate and two others, Adedapo Quadri and Chioma Egbuchu, are undergoing trial before Justice Yetunde Adesanya of the Lagos State High Court sitting at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos State.

At the resumed hearing on Thursday, Oluwo, the third prosecution witness, was led in evidence by the Lagos State prosecuting counsel, Mr Yusuf Sule.

Oluwo said he sells phones, laptops, and accessories at Computer Village, Ikeja, Lagos, and has been in the business for five years.

According to him, after seeing Chidinma on social media after the sale of the laptop, he immediately ensured that all her documents were kept handy.

The witness identified Chidinma as a customer who had purchased a phone on April 30 and also sold a laptop on June 18, at the same office.

Oluwo said, “On June 18, Chidinma sold me a MacBook Pro laptop for N495,000 after negotiations and market value comparison. In order to make a sale, you have to submit some documents and fill a form with your government identification card, driving license, international passport, voters’ card, and National Identification Number.

“You also have to fill a form which includes email, phone number, house address, and full name. It will also contain the full value of the item for that day, the name of the item, and the serial number of the item.

“This is what we do to contact a customer if there are any issues.

“I asked Chidinma to unlock the laptop and she did. So, I conducted my internal observation which included speed performance, the circle count of the battery, and general functionality.

“After that, I proceeded to ask questions, ‘Do you have a receipt for this laptop?’

“She stated that it was a gift from her boyfriend and that she had two laptops and needed to sell one to pay some bills.

“I conducted a check on a website for my market evaluation. I confirmed the value of the laptop. It was $1,000 to $1,200. The exchange rate of dollars at that time was N400 to N450 and she wanted to sell for N600,000. We were able to negotiate for N495,000, which I initiated from my UBA bank account to her Sterling bank account.”

When asked if Chidinma had produced the receipt of the laptop, Oluwo stated that she was not able to provide the receipt as she had insisted that it was a gift from her boyfriend.

“After the sale of the laptop, we saw her face on social media regarding a murder case. A few days later, the police from the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, invited my manager, Olutayo Abayomi.

“When I got to the police station, I discovered that it was in connection to the laptop we bought from Chidinma on June 18.

“We both made a statement detailing how we came about the laptop and how we made the purchase.

“We gave the police the documents of the former owner, which included a copy of her voters’ card, a copy of our form, and all receipts which already have her information regarding the laptop.

“There is no way we can detect that a phone or laptop was a stolen one,” Oluwo said.

During cross-examination, Chidinma’s counsel, Onwuka Egbu, asked if he was shown any documents, receipts, or proof of ownership to show that the laptop was not for the first defendant at Panti but the witness said he was not shown any.

Justice Adesanya adjourned the case till November 29, for the continuation of trial.

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BIG STORY

New COVID Variant Of ‘Serious Concern’ Detected In South Africa

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A new variant of the coronavirus has been detected in South Africa.

The variant, B.1.1.529, is said to have a high number of mutations, which may be a source of concern in relation to immunity and transmissibility.

Confirming the discovery in a statement on Thursday, the NICD said 22 positive cases of the new variant have so far been detected in the country.

“The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, confirms that through collaborative efforts with private laboratories and the NGS-SA members, a new COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.529, has been detected in South Africa,” the statement reads.

“Twenty-two positive cases of variant B.1.1.529 have been recorded in the country following genomic sequencing collaborations between the NICD and private laboratories. In addition, other NGS-SA laboratories are confirming more cases as sequencing results come out.”

According to the statement, Adrian Puren, NICD acting executive director, said it is “not surprising” that a new variant has been detected in South Africa.

“Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be. Developments are occurring at a rapid pace and the public has our assurance that we will keep them up to date,” Puren said.

The institute said Joe Phaahla, the country’s health minister, confirmed that the new variant has also been detected in Botswana and in Hong Kong.

He said the variant was of “serious concern” and behind an “exponential” increase in reported cases, making it “a major threat”.

Michelle Groome, head of the division of public health surveillance and response at the NICD, also said provincial health authorities remain on high alert and are prioritizing the sequencing of COVID-19 positive samples.

“This means that individuals should get vaccinated, wear masks, practice healthy hand hygiene, maintain social distancing, and gather in well-ventilated spaces. Individual compliance to preventative measures can have a great collective impact in limiting the spread of the new variant,” she added.

As of September 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had identified five COVID variants — Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Mu.

While it is not unexpected that there will be more variants of the coronavirus, prior to the detection of the B.1.1. 529, the Delta variant had been linked to a high infection rate.

The Delta COVID variant was confirmed in Nigeria in July 2021, and is currently the most dominant strain in the country.

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