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INEC's Preparedness: Card Readers and Deployment
Here is the Professor Attahiru Jega's briefing to the Senate on INEC’s Preparedness to Conduct the 2015 General Elections and the Workings of the Card Reader and its Deployment. The briefing took place on February 18, 2015.
The briefing explains that card readers will be used during the accreditation period on voting day and with the new election timeline, INEC will embark on an extensive public enlightenment campaign to inform people about the use of the card readers.
The following is INEC Chairman Jega's official response:
On February 5th, in response to an invitation, I appeared before the National Council of State (NCS) meeting and made a presentation titled ‘Preparations for the 2015 General Elections Progress Report’ (see attachment). The summary of the presentation was that, although not 100% ready, we believed that we could go ahead with the scheduled elections for February 14 and 28, except for the new development in which INEC received a letter from the NSA conveying the strong advice of the Service Chiefs for a rescheduling of the elections for at least 6 weeks. The NSC reviewed the situation and concluded that INEC should go and make further consultations and, in compliance with its statutory powers, decide on what to do.
On February 8, after additional broad consultations with key stakeholders, the Commission decided to accede to the strong advice of the NSA and the Service Chiefs and rescheduled the elections to March 28 and April 11, 2015 (see copy of Press Conference Statement).
On February 15, the Commission met again, reviewed the new developments and took a decision on how best to utilize the six-week extension to add value to our operational and logistical preparations for the elections. We believed that effective utilization of the period of extension would enable INEC to have a flawless, near perfect, conduct of the elections. The highlight of the deliberation, which are already being implemented, are as follows:
- Field Evaluations: National Commissioners to visit all the states offices between February 11 and 19, 2015, to conduct evaluations and comprehensively determine levels of preparations in the field.
- Headquarters Evaluations: following the field visits, on February 20th and 21st, the Commission, together with heads of Departments, Directorates and Units, to conduct a comprehensive assessment to determine what specific additional things need to be done before March 28th.
- On February 24th, hold a meeting of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), to discuss security arrangements for the rescheduled elections.
- On March 4th, hold a meeting of the Commission with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) to review progress of additional things done and to finalize arrangements for the March 28 and April 11 elections.
- Prioritized areas of focus for the next six weeks have been identified, key among which are as follows:
- a. Collection of PVCs: the period for collection has been extended by 4 weeks to March 8, and all efforts to be made to improve collection by voters, with regular updates of the rate of collection made public.
- b. Organize more tests of the Card Readers in each geo-political zone. ICT Dept. in conjunction with VR and EOPs Depts., to draw up a plan for this immediately.
- c. Organize additional training for Ad hoc staff, especially for those who are going to handle the Card readers
- d. Intensify voter education and public enlightenment on election day procedures
- e. Recs to intensify arrangements for election day transportation in consultation with the NURTW, in the context of the MOU already signed with the Union
In summary, it can be noted that INEC has forged ahead with the preparations to conduct the 2015 general elections as rescheduled, for March 28 and April 11. We believe that the period of extension has offered us an opportunity to further perfect the electoral process for the delivery of free, fair, credible and peaceful elections, to the satisfaction of the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians.
We regret any inconveniences these new developments might have caused many stakeholders and we hope that, in spite of this, all will join hands with the Commission to turn this disappointment into a blessing for our country.
The Card Readers
The use of the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and the Card Reader (CR) for the 2015 General Elections, we believe are in accord with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended). They were introduced pursuant to the powers granted to the Commission by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended).
INEC is empowered by Section 16(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as Amended) to ‘whenever it considers it necessary, replace all or any voters card for the time being held by voters’ The decision by the Commission to replace temporary voter’s card with permanent voter’s cards is in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended).
An election 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 steps provided in section 49 of the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended) are not complied with. The section requires that any person intending to vote shall present himself with his voter’s card to a Presiding Officer who shall satisfy himself/herself that the person is on the register of voters before issuing such a person a ballot paper.
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. It is not offensive to the Electoral Act or the Constitution. It adds value to the desire of Nigerians to have a credible election in line with international best practice.
Whereas section 52 of the Electoral Act (As Amended) prohibits the use of electronic voting, the Card Reader is not a voting machine and is not used for voting. It is merely an electronic device introduced to improve the integrity of the electoral process.
It should be remembered that Sections 78 and 118 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) grant the Independent National Electoral Commission the sole power to register voters and conduct elections in Nigeria subject to the direction of no authority. No person or body is allowed to meddle into how the Commission conducts elections.
Having set the legal context for the introduction of the PVC and CRs into the 2015 electoral process, we shall now proceed to clarify what the Card Reader does and demonstrate how it does it.
Using the CRs has enormous advantages. First, once configured, it can only read PVCs issued by INEC. Second, it reads the embedded microchip in the card, not the barcode. Third, it enables authentication of the identity of the voter by matching his/her fingerprints with that stored on the chip. Fourth, it keeps a tally of all cards read, all cards verified/authenticated or not, with all their details. Fifth, this information can be sent to a central server using an sms. Sixth, the stored information on the server would enable INEC audit results from polling units, as well as do a range of statistical analyses of the demographics of voting, something INEC has never been able to do effectively. Seven, the RA/Ward Collation Officer can use this information to audit PU result sheets and determine whether accreditation figures have been altered (a common feature of electoral fraud).
Using the CRs has two main challenges: What if a Card Reader fails? What if a person is verified but his fingerprint cannot be authenticated? We have worked with political parties and agreed on what to do if any of these arises. In the highly unlikely event that a CR fails, we have enough spares to deploy before the end of accreditation at 1pm and adjust the time to gain lost time. If we cannot replace before end of accreditation, then election in that voting point would be postponed to the following day when a new CR would be provided. If a voter’s PVC has been read and his details verified, but his fingerprints cannot be authenticated, or he/she has fingers, an incidence form would be written by the Presiding Officer of the voting point and the voter would then be accredited. Party Agents and Observers would be there to testify to this.
In the next few weeks, the Commission hope to utilize the six weeks period of extension to organize more extensive public enlightenment and testing of the Card Readers.
We are pleased with the opportunity today to demonstrate the use of the Card Readers to the Senate.
Professor Attahiru M. Jega, OFR