We are 5 days away from March 28 – the most recent date scheduled for the Presidential elections and a few are still calling for the removal of Prof Jega, the Chairman of INEC. Some of the calls are being made by those who cannot understand the trouble with accessing PVCs and think Jega has provided too much ammunition to those who are uncomfortable with letting the peoples votes count. They are disappointed in him and think there are no excuses: he (INEC) should have done better to prepare for the elections. The other camp, ironically, also made up of members and associates of the Peoples Democratic Party do not want to use the card reader. In addition to calls for Jega’s removal, some are doing their best to discredit the elections questioning the legality of card readers, demanding we do not use PVCs and as emotions and fears continue to rise it is important to examine a little more carefully what some of the claims are and why elections in Nigeria are always tumultuous.
PVC accessibility versus PVC collection
Just before the presidential elections scheduled for February 14 were cancelled, Jega in a presentation to the Council of State on February 5 informed them that 65.81% of the total PVCs produced had been collected leaving a balance of 21,224,974. It would be unconscionable to have over 21M registered voters, unable to vote during the elections due to, on the face of it, no fault of theirs.
The process for collection of PVCs (and continuous voter registration) started in May 2014. The 36 states and the FCT were grouped into 3 and the exercise took place in phases. It seemed like a good plan, but the exercise was plagued with issues; INEC representatives not turning up, not being organized and in some cases, even staging protests for not being paid their allowances. In each case, only 3 days were provided for collecting PVCs at the Polling Unit level (May 23rd– 25th; Aug 15th-17th and Nov 7th – 9th) and one would have assumed that INEC would fully mobilise as many people as possible to engage with the exercise. One would also assume that states like Lagos and Kano with 2 to 3 times the number of registered voters in the other states would warrant at least a week for collection, but these states with over 5 and 4 Million voters respectively, got the same time as Bayelsa with 610,000 voters.
INEC should have done more to make the PVCs more readily accessible for collection, but the burden of collection does not belong with INEC. It belongs to the registered voters some of whom may have died, moved, registered again and have no intention of ever collecting their cards. While it is a relief that collection rates as of March 12 are at 81.22%, we must ask ourselves, if INEC had managed its own end of the process flawlessly but voters refused to collect what would be the suitable response?
Blame for election postponement
Some cite the postponement of the elections in April 2011 as evidence of incompetence and say if Jega could not have ensured that another postponement did not happen in 2015, he should leave.
Just as violence and rigging are major characteristics of our elections, so are postponements which is indicative of our weak institutions and even weaker election management process. In 2007, at least 117 legislative elections in 27 of the 36 states were rescheduled from April 21 to April 28 because of ballot omissions for National Assembly elections in those constituencies. Elections were conducted with ballot papers that had no serial numbers because we had to re-print them last minute when a court gave judgment on the eve of the elections that Atiku Abubakar could contest.
The next frontier for resistance has been the electronic card readers. It is a shame the card readers were not used in Osun in August 2014 – it would have gone a long way to allay fears and provide INEC with the opportunity of testing the technology.
The postponement is again fortuitous for INEC providing more time to test the card readers across several locations and the verdict is mixed and there are still doubts. For one the sample tests indicate that the card reader verifies PVCs almost perfectly and can tell when it has already been verified and if the card is being used at the wrong polling unit. Unfortunately when it comes to the readers authenticating fingerprints, the results are less reassuring but dirty, oily hands apparently have a role to play. However, when we measure what the card readers are meant to achieve: more transparent voting and tabulation which we sorely need to improve the trust of the public in elections, then by all means the card readers should be used.
Vice President Sambo’s doubts about the legality of the card reader are unfounded. It is not illegal. Section 153(2) prohibits electronic voting but this does not apply to the card reader which is merely electronically verifying the permanent voters card which is also covered within the Act (Sections 16 & 49(1)).
Considering how much the production and deployment of these card readers would have taken out of INEC’s N120 Billion election budget and how procurement would have happened, why are senior members of the federal executive council only now questioning its validity?
In 2007, similar calls were made not just for Iwu’s head but also for the entire INEC to be ‘disbanded’. The point of this short comparative excursion into the past is not to provide excuses for Jega, but to point out that whoever manages INEC will have the same issues until we decide to fix how we manage elections. While we like to think our election process is slowly improving, we need an election management body (EMB) that can handle continuous registration on a daily basis, with capacity to manage its own logistics, print and store its own material and easily access budgeted funds.
Many just want these elections to be over forgetting that we have 2019, 2023, hopefully ad infinitum to keep building our democracy. The path to more effective elections starts now, with advocating for and protecting the right structures to ensure rigging free elections in Nigeria.
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