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Opinion: As INEC's Card Reader Scales Through Litmus Test
By Rotimi Akinwumi
Never in the history of electioneering and preparation for conduct of elections in Nigeria has the National electoral umpire under whatever name, suffer so much pressure and antagonism over its tactics than the current management team of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Since last year when INEC made public its plans to bring sanity into the electoral process through the elimination of fraud by the use of Permanent Voters Card and the Smart Card Reader, the commission and its top management led by Prof Attahiru Jega, have come under intense attacks from the various political gladiators who felt threatened one way or the other, seeing the new methodology being canvassed by Jega and his men as a war on their different interests.
While most Nigerians pretended not to be concerned about what Jega has up his sleeves, the powers behind the two major political parties in the country, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) have latched on to the PVC and Card reader matter, helped generate controversy about and around it, and extended their battle of wits to the corridor of the election umpire, in furtherance of their supremacy battle.
Rise of opposition, threat and blackmail
With INEC boxed into a tight corner and forced to postponed the election, from the initial February 18 scheduled date to March 28 and April 11, a new wave of opposition rose suddenly against the plans by the electoral body to make use of the PVC and Card readers.
The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) fired the first shot when it openly rejected the use of the new technologies and quickly received supports from some lesser political parties.
Spokesman for the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Femi Fani-Kayode, said the ruling party would resist moves to go ahead with the use of card readers during the elections.
"Our position remains that the machine has not been tested in any election and there are basis for joining concerns over the use of the for the first time in a crucial election of this magnitude.
"We are aware of plots by the APC to use the card readers to frustrate accreditation in some part of the country while not enforcing strict use of the machine in other parts," he said.
The Director General of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Amadi Ali, also re-echoed Fani-Kayode's comments days after when he criticized the electoral commission for the postponed elections saying electoral body was not fully ready for the polls.
Ali, who spoke at a press conference which was also attended by Fani-Kayode, did not mince words in criticizing the planned use of card readers for the elections.
"There are also reports that the PVC readers are not fully distributed and tested. How can INEC handle cases of faulty card readers?
"Do they have a credible plan B in situation where voters line up and the card readers refuse to work? Ballot boxes are reportedly inadequate. Adequate training of INEC's members of staff for the election had not been concluded and other problems facing INEC.
"Quite clearly the shift in election date is meant to save INEC from monumental embarrassment. I would like to reiterate that the PDP is ready for the election any day" he said then.
Latching on to the position mounted against the INEC plans, a group of political parties also expressed their opposition to the use of card readers for the elections as they said it had not been tested and as such could not be trusted.
A group of Fifteen political parties were the first to join the PDP in opposing the proposed use of card readers in accrediting voters by INEC in the elections.
The aggrieved parties supported by five presidential candidates participating in the elections in stating their opposition at a press conference insisted that the use of the electronic devices would not only be against the 1999 Constitution, but also the 2010 Electoral Act (As amended) which proscribed electronic voting in the country.
They, therefore, threatened not to participate in the elections if the INEC insists on using card readers, saying they "observed some obvious but dangerous developments in the proposed use of card readers" by the commission for the conduct of the elections.
The parties, which spoke through their spokesperson and Acting National Chairman of Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD), Dr Onwubuya Breakforth, said: "These important observation, if not well considered by the commission, has the propensity to derail the 2015 polls."
According to Dr. Breakforth the card reader is a device which is susceptible to manipulations to favour particular candidates and in the process, disenfranchise many registered Nigerian voters or potential election winners.
Breakforth said they consider the card reader a relatively new technology that should be sufficiently tested before use.
"The concept of using card readers for these coming elections as being planned by INEC, has a lot of implications which may negatively impact on the conduct of a credible, free and fair elections on March 28 and April 11.
"... if the card reader should develop some technical problems, there is a possibility that the consequences of such development would affect about 40 (forty) or 50 (fifty) percent of the polling booths nationwide.
"Because of the tendency of the card reader device to develop some technical fault any time during the voters accreditation process, that was the reason why all the Political Parties agreed with INEC recently, that the election should be postponed in polling booths where a substantial number of card reader defaults were recorded because it would disrupt the entire election process," they said.
The parties advised INEC to manually confirm every voter during accreditation process. The parties said while they are not against a faster and improved way of conducting the elections, but that it should not be used in the general elections.
The parties went further to demand for the removal of the chairman of INEC, Attahiru Jega, urging him to proceed on terminal leave, as they accused him of exhibiting unprofessionalism and poor judgement.
"Since Prof Attahiru Jega has shown lack of professionalism and good judgment in his actions so far in the conduct of the 2015 elections and since he has about three months to the end of his tenure as INEC Chairman, we the stakeholders urge him to quietly consider proceeding on terminal leave so that a more competent person can handle the current election process," the parties said.
The parties warned that the use of card readers, which INEC says will help check voting fraud, will negatively affect the credibility of the elections.
The statement containing the demands was also signed by the national chairman of MEGA Progressive Peoples Party, Dare Falade; the presidential candidate of the Peoples Party of Nigeria, Kelvin Alagoa; and the presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, Rafiu Salau.
Incidentally, a day earlier, the PDP had joined and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in opposing a suit challenging the decision by INEC on the use of the PVC and card reader in the general elections.
The suit was filed by the Society for Advancement and Protection of Public Rights (SAPPR) and it came up for mention at the Federal High Court in Abuja.
Another attempt to use the court to frustrate INEC was taken by Alliance for Democracy, United Democratic Party, Allied Congress Party of Nigeria and Action Alliance, but was rejected by the court.
In stating their case, they threatened to pull out of the elections, should INEC insist on using the technology.
PDP double speaks
While Nigerians expressed disgust with the position of the PDP on the Card readers, the party was forced to engage in double speaking which betrayed the inner cohesion of the ruling party.
While two vociferous party leaders, governors, Babangida Aliyu (Niger State) and Ayodele Fayose (Ekiti State) joined Fani-Kayode and Ahmadu Ali in expressed their reservations about the insistence by INEC and the All Progressives Congress (APC) that the card reader should be used at the polls, the Deputy National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus said the party is not afraid nor opposed to the use of the card readers.
Uche Secondus, in an interview with newsmen in in Abuja, declared: "PDP is not against the use of the card reader for the elections, the position of the PDP has been that INEC should test-run them in order to ensure that they are in perfect condition to avoid problems.
"We believe that we don't go into such crucial elections with trial and error arrangement, the commission must test-run them and put them in perfection.
"The main opposition, APC, and its leaders panic, and that is why they are making series of false claims and peddling unfounded rumour around in order to cause confusion in the land ahead of the general elections. Nigerians and the international community should beware of these propaganda by the APC."
Secondus said that PDP as the major stakeholder in the general elections believe in the ability of Prof. Attahiru Jega-led INEC to conduct free, fair and credible elections. PDP has nothing to fear ahead of the elections as it is sure of total victory at the polls."
"PDP is fully ready for the March 28 and April 11 general elections, we are fully on ground to win at the polls. We are mobilising the party's structures right from the polling units to the wards, the local governments to the states and the zones. As we speak, we are on ground in the 9,572 wards across the country, campaigning from door to door, house to house.
We have well established offices in all the wards in line with our party's constitution, we are just not campaigning on the pages of the newspapers, we are in the 774 local governments, we are in the 36 states of the federation and Abuja. If you put all these structures together, you will see why I am so confident that we will win the elections," he declared.
However, Governor Aliyu said the general fear about the use of card reader might be due to the worry that majority of the people could be disenfranchised if INEC insists on using the machines.
Speaking with State House correspondents in Abuja last week, the governor said given the experience of Nigerians with the identity card registration, the possibility of the failure of the system could not be ruled out. He cited his personal experience during the registration for identity card, where it took about one and a hour before he was able to pull through.
"The concern of many people is that the card reader may have difficulties particularly in the rural areas but we have been told that if they are charged, they will be okay. The stand of many of the political parties is that where you have difficulties, what happens. I remember when they were registering me for the national identity card.
Fayose on his part alleged that APC is known for its penchant for promoting confusion and division in Nigeria for political gain even at the expense of the well being and unity of the country. He explained that in as much as the usage of the card reader is noble, the preparation of INEC for it has been very poor which is believed to be a conspiracy between the electoral body and APC on the card reader.
Fayose quoted Jega to have said that the card reader's battery can go flat at most five hour which means that unless there is alternative power supply, the machine will be rendered useless after the battery has gone flat. "The question now is that will the INEC provide power generators in each of the poling unit in the whole country so that by the time the battery is down the electoral officers could switch to the alternative power? Without this, the introduction of the card reader is nonsense".
The European Union Observer group for the 2015 general elections also joined the fray when it observed that the use of Permanent Voter Cards and the card readers for the forthcoming polls will constitute a big challenge to the INEC and the electorate.
The EU Chief Observer, Mr. Santiago Fisas, made the observation early February when he led members of his delegation to pay a courtesy visit to the Chairman of the National Assembly who is also the Senate President, David Mark. Fisas, who was received by the Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma - Egba, on behalf of Mark, however commended the INEC for putting structures in place to guarantee a credible poll despite the challenges.
APC joined the fray
While majority of the smaller political parties pitched their tents with PDP, the major opposition party, the APC took a different option, insisting that INEC must use the new technology in eliminating electoral fraud.
At various times, the APC took on the PDP and lambasted the ruling party saying it was afraid of electoral defeat in a free and fair election.
The position of APC on the use of the card reader was supported by the chairman of the Inter Party Advisory Council, IPAC, Yunusa Tanko, who said the parties opposing the use of the technologies did not represent IPAC, the umbrella body of political parties.
Tanko, who is also the national chairman of National Conscience Party, said his party was not opposed to the use of card readers during the elections.
As soon as the smoke of opposition to the card reader and PVC started rising, the APC did not mince words in accusing the PDP led Federal government of plotting to use some political parties which it branded as "satellite" organs of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to seek a fresh shift of elections.
At the end of a special meeting of its leaders called specifically to review the imbroglio, the opposition party warned the Federal Government against further shift in the election dates, saying the "party will resist such a move" while it also warned that the card reader and the PVC must be used by INEC.
Irrespective of the bashing it has been receiving from the ruling PDP, the APC has chosen to remain adamant that the position of INEC on the PVC and card reader must stand.
APC in support of Jega and his plan to use the card reader also took time to lambast other parties that opposed the INEC plans;
Lai Mohammed, the National Publicity Secretary of the party said that "in an apparently-choreographed show, some 15 portfolio political parties called a press conference to also announce that they will oppose the use of the card reader, vowing to boycott the elections and use a legal process to prevent the use of the machine.
"These syndicated threats are the latest indications of the mortal fear in the corridors of power about the machine that has now become the nemesis of election riggers and manipulators worldwide."
The opposition party said contrary to the claim by the PDP, Nigerians are ready for a free, fair and credible elections to be made possible by the use of the card reader, and will massively resist any move to dump the machine.
"Nigerians have sacrificed all they can to obtain their PVCs, which is now their most-prized possession. They have also hailed the plan by INEC to use the card reader to give Nigeria credible polls.
"Only dishonest politicians, those who plan to rig, those who have engaged in a massive purchase of PVCs and those who have something to hide are opposed to the use of the machine."
The APC statement said for the avoidance of doubt, "our party is ready for any tool, including the card reader, that will ensure that the votes of Nigerians will count in the forthcoming election. In this regard, we sincerely hope that the nationwide tests of the machine to be carried out this week by INEC will not be sabotaged by those opposed to it.
"The card reader has been demonstrated to work, including at the Senate, and no one must come out to tell Nigerians anything to the contrary.
Some weeks back, the INEC boss was a guest of the Nigerian Senate where the workability of the card reader was tested. At the end of the day, the Senate, though, dominated by members of the PDP, eventually agreed that the INEC has done a good work in the plan to use the controversial technology. The clean bill of health from the Senate did not satisfy the antagonists of the INEC, and the commission was forced to stage a mock testing at various constituencies, for the card reader with the hopes of assuaging the anger of the doubters of its preparedness.
The exercise which held last weekend, expectedly, brought about different reactions from the opposing camps.
While the PDP expectedly denounced the exercise, describing it as a failure, the APC commended INEC for "doing a good job".
The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary,Olisa Metuh, issued barely 5 hours after INEC concluded the exercise on Saturday said it had noted a series of complaints by Nigerians regarding lapses experienced during the exercise. It therefore challenged on the commission to tell the public the outcome of the testing.
The party claimed that the fall-out of the test "vindicates earlier widespread calls by stakeholders that the card readers should be thoroughly tested to ascertain their workability before the general elections."
The PDP expressed worry over the alleged lapses which it said included but "not limited to non-verification of voters' fingerprints even after authenticating their PVCs, slow accreditation process as a result of poor internet server operations in some locations, and apparent inadequate knowledge of the card readers by both INEC officials and voters."
Source: Daily Independent