Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega last week appeared before the Senate of the Federal Republic where he informed the distinguished parliamentarians on the circumstances that led to the postponement of the much anticipated election. Jega who walked into the Senate chamber at about 11.43am in his opening remark said he had to shift the elections by six weeks following the advice by the National Security Adviser based on security report from the Service chiefs.
He admitted that although INEC was not 100 % ready for that election, the commission was prepared to go ahead with the conduct of the election. On the way forward toward the realization of credible election on the rescheduled dates for the polls, Jega said the commission met on February 15th to review the new development and took a decision on how best to utilize the six weeks extension to add value to the commission’s operational and logistic preparation for the election.
“We believe that the effective utilization of the period of extension will enable INEC to have a flawless, near perfect conduct of the election.
The highlight of the deliberation that are already been implemented as follows;
1. Field evaluation-National Commissioners were to visit all the state offices between Feb 11 and 19 to conduct evaluation and comprehensively determine the level of preparation in the field. 2. Following the field visit on Feb 20 and 21, the commission together with heads of departments and directorates of units will conduct a comprehensive assessment to determine what specific additional things need to be done before March 28 3. On Feb 24 to hold a meeting of the inter- agency committee on election security in order to discuss security arrangement for the rescheduled election
4. On March 4, to hold a meeting of the commission with all the resident electoral commissioners to review progress of additional things done to finalise arrangement for the March 28 and April 11 elections
5. The prioritized areas of focus for the next six weeks has been identified the key areas are as follows
a. Collection of PVCs-This is an area which has attracted wide public commentaries and where collection rate has not been to the satisfaction of many Nigerians. The period of collection has been extended for four weeks to March 8 and all efforts are to be made to improve collection by voters with regular update with the rate of collection made public and I am pleased to say that as at yesterday the collection rate nationwide has averaged 75.94 per cent
b. To organize mock tests of the card readers in each geopolitical zone and the ICT department in conjunction with the voter registry and electoral operations department mandated to immediately draw up plans for this and our decision is to now use this opportunity and identify polling units and do a mock test of the card readers particularly in each of the six geopolitical zones. Already we have conducted some specialized tests with partners in Nigeria in Texas USA and the card reader has passed in all the 13 test categories conducted in terms of its durability and versatility.
c. To organize additional training for adhoc staff especially those who are to handle the card readers and our electoral institute has already been mandated and they have already provided methodology and budget for doing this.
d. To intensify voter education and public entitlement on election day procedures
e. Resident electoral commissioners to intensify arrangement for election day transportation in consultation with the National Union of Road Transport Workers in the context of an MOU, which we have already signed with the union.
Prof Jega explained that the card readers, the use of the PVCs and the card reader for the conduct of the 2015 election, adding “we believe are in accord with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended. They were introduced also, pursuant to the powers granted to the commission by the 1999 Constitution (as amended), INEC is empowered by Section 16(4) of the Electoral Act 2010 to and I quote: wherever it considers it necessary, replace or any voter card for the time being by voters’’
On the commission’s decision to replace TVC with PVC the INEC boss said it was in accordance with the provisions of the electoral Act as amended. An election he noted is said to be validly conducted if it meets certain basic requirements including accreditation of voters. An election cannot be said to be properly conducted, if the if the steps provided by section 49 of the Electoral Act 2010 are not complied with.
This section he explained requires that anybody intending to vote shall present himself with his voter card to a presiding officer who shall certify him or herself that person on the person is on the register of voters before issuing such a person with ballot paper.
On he application of the Card Reader Jega said the use of the card reader for the purpose of accreditation of voters is one of the innovations introduced by the commission to improve the credibility of the electoral process, in particular, the accreditation process. He noted that it is not offensive to the electoral Act or to the constitution. It adds value to the desires of Nigerians to have a credible election in line with international best practice.
He noted that whereas section 52 of the electoral Act of the Electoral Act prohibits the use of electronic voting, the card reader is not a voting machine and it is not used for voting, it is merely an electronic devise introduced to improve the integrity of the voting process. It should be remembered that section 78 and section 118 of the constitution grants INEC powers to register voters and to conduct election in Nigeria.
He further explained that using the card reader has enormous advantages. The first, beinn that once the card reader is configured, it can only read PVC issued by INEC at the polling unit that it has been configured. Second, it reads the embedded chip card not the back code. Third it enables authentication of the identity of the voter by matching his or her finger print with that code on the chip of the card. Four, it keeps a tally of all cards read and all cards verified or authenticated with all their details including the time when this was done. Five , this information can be send to a central server using an SMS. Six, the stored information on the server will enable INEC to audit results from polling units as well as do arrangement of statistical analysis of the demographics of voting, something INEC has never been able to do effectively. Seven, the ward collation officer can use this information to audit polling unit result sheets and to determine whether accreditation figures have been altered, a common feature of electoral fraud in our jurisdiction.
The INEC chairman also did not rule out some of the challenges the card reader may poss while using it saying,”What if a card reader fails, what if a person is verified and his finger print cannot be authenticated. We have worked together with all political parties and agreed on what to do if any these arises. In the likely event that a card reader fails, we have enough spares to deploy before the end of the accreditation at 1pm. If we cannot replace before the end of accreditation, then the election in that particular point will be postponed to the following day when a new card reader will be provided for election and we agreed with political parties to do this because if you say if a card reader fails we go back to manual voting, we are worried that everywhere we will revert to manual because there are many people who don’t want card readers to be used.”
Fielding questions from senators present at the plenary on infallibility of the Card Reader during the polls considering the teeming number of voters at a particular polling unite, Jega assured the lawmakers that if there is any noticeable failure from any polling unite such a technical breakdown be handled but it proves difficult to be ratified before 1pm deadline for accreditation, INEC officials in addition to representatives of political parties would agree to shift the election for that particular unite to the next day.
Jega had in an attempt to justify the adoption of Card Reader in the up coming election revealed that the commission in an effort to avoid a repeat of the last election experience where over 4million voters were were disqualified as a result of multiply voting and that the card reader was meant to deal with such an ugly experience by rejecting such electoral fraud from the level of accreditation.
It is instructive to learn that there are possibilities of the Card Reader been prone to failure on arrival and this is why most senators, include the Senate President Senator David Mark and his deputy Senator Ike Ekweremadu who asked questions after officials of INEC demonstrated the workings of the Card Reader machine queried the ability of the machine to withstand the pressure from large turn out of voters at polling unites.
Be that as it may, the opposition party at that forum appear to be more interested in getting the assurance from Jega that there would be no more shift from the March 28 and April 11 polls through the question asked by their leader in the Senate, Senator George Akume who demanded from the INEC boss the confirmation that the rescheduled election is sacrosanct.
Jega in his wisdom told the Senator that he could not guarantee the date, saying that it was not within his purview to guarantee the date since there are other factors that would decide the sanctity of holding election on that day.
Well, the interactive session between the chairman of INEC and Senators to a large extent has helped Nigerians to know INEC’s level of preparation for the forthcoming election and his emphasis on the use of Card Reader wouldn’t have been taking seriously if the February election had taken place since there was no sensitization on the import of the Card Reader to the success of the election.
The meeting again afforded the lawmakers of the commission the level of progress made by INEC in the distribution of the PVC to a larger percentage of electorate who would have been disenfranchised if that election had hold as earlier scheduled. All that Nigerians are saying is that the commission should within this period of grace ensure that every eligible voter collects the PVC to enable Nigerians to decide who governs or represents them at both state and federal levels.