The fears of millions of Nigerians over the use of Smart Card Readers, SMR, for the accreditation of voters during the 2015 general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, came to pass two weeks ago during the presidential election. Nigerians that raised their voice against the use of the new technology for the accreditation of voters argued that INEC chairman should have used the technology on a smaller scale during governorship election in the states before using the technology full scale during national election.
In principle, Nigerians welcomed the idea of the innovation as it will assist to stem the tide in electoral malpractices in the country, but the timing became an issue when INEC chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega, waited for almost four years before jumpstarting arrangements for the use of the Smart Card Readers. INEC chairman did not do wholesale test-run of the SCR readers and the INEC staff and ad-hoc staff were not properly trained on how to handle the Card Readers.
After INEC shifted the dates of the polls, the Director General of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Dr Ahmadi Ali, spoke the minds of several Nigerians when he urged INEC to make provision for plan “B” as signals ahead of the election strongly suggest the use of INEC card readers for the accreditation will flop at the last moment.
He said, “There are also reports that the PVC readers are not fully 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 staff for the election had not been concluded as well as other problems confronting INEC.”
Following Ahmadu Ali’s suggestion, INEC, which initially insisted only those cleared will be allowed to cast their votes, came up with the idea of Incident Form for those the card readers could not read their finger prints.
Dr Ali and several other millions of Nigerians that expressed reservations over the use of the 2015 general election as guinea pig to test the card readers were vindicated when Nigerians trooped out in large numbers to vote in the presidential and National Assembly elections as the election was characterised by Smart Card Readers hitches and late arrival of materials at polling stations.
Even President Goodluck Jonathan, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party candidate in the polls, and his wife, Patience, were not spared of the hitches.
After several failed attempt with five card reader machines that read his thumbprint, Jonathan and the First Lady were eventually issued with Incident Form for accreditation.
In Enugu, similar incident played out which compelled the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, to advise the Independent National Electoral Commission to discard the use of SCRs for the polls after he could not secure accreditation with the machine. Ekweremadu, too, was accredited with the Incident Form.
According to Ekweremadu, “The card reader is not functioning optimally. It has made accreditation slow and stressful.
“INEC did not listen to our advice. This card reader should have been tried in a bye-election or supplementry election before a major election as this. INEC should immediately discard it and allow everybody who presents his PVC to be accredited and vote.
“The card reader is not recognised by the Electoral Act. It is not in our Constitution. I and my wife had to be accredited manually”.
In Ebonyi state the card readers failed woefully, a development that compelled electoral officials to hand out Incident Forms to accredit voters. Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, who is an indigene of the state, charged INEC to correct the lapses in the accreditation process linked to the SCRs in order to give credibility to the polls.
Anyim, who spoke to journalists in his home in Isiagu, Ebonyi State, said, “I have done my own accreditation. It was successful. But reports from most of the polling units indicated that the card reader is not working. INEC should correct the lapses experienced in this exercise to give credibility to the polls.”
In VGC, Lekki, Lagos, where the All Progressives Congress Vice Presidential Candidate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and his wife voted, the accreditation process did not start until about 10 am. When the process eventually started, the card reader was non functional. The development got Osinbajo and his wife worried. The same scenario played out in most of the polling units in Lagos state.
The lawmaker representing Lagos Central Senatorial District, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, lampooned the INEC over the “shoddy handling of the polls.” Senator Tinubu, who spoke with newsmen at the Polling Unit located on Bourdillon Road, expressed worry that some electorate may be disenfranchised at the end of the voting exercise.
She said: “I have been here since 8am and nothing has happened here but we are expectant and we will definitely berth the election and by then, everybody will be happy.”
The lawmaker decried the late commencement of voters’ accreditation saying, “as far as this election is concerned, it is a failure. This is a total failure. This shows incompetence and unpreparedness despite the assurance given by INEC. But I believe that INEC should be able to prove the presidency wrong by getting it right.”
In Borno State, 10 percent of eligible voters were recognised and verified by the SCR at most of the polling units.
Some INEC officials attributed the failure of the card readers to INEC engineers who could not decode the inbuilt security installation in the card reader.
The security code in the card reader is reportedly designed to update the time and date of voting. One official claimed that the cards were initially programmed for February 14 that with the postponement to March 28, some of the cards had not been re-programmed.”
Following the widespread failure of the card reader machines, Prof. Attahiru Jega, changed the guidelines in the conduct of the election on March 28 and approved the use of manual accreditation in areas that the Smart Card Readers malfunctioned during the Presidential and National Assembly elections in the country.
In a statement issued while the election was ongoing and after millions of frustrated voters had gone home disenchanted, INEC admitted that, accreditation has been slow in many places and has not commenced at all in some others.
INEC said that “even though the guidelines for the 2015 general elections provide that where card readers fail to work and cannot be replaced, elections in such PUs will be postponed to the next day.
“The scale of the challenge we have observed has necessitated a reconsideration of the provision of the guidelines. The Commission has therefore decided that in PUs where card readers fail to work, the Presiding Officer shall manually accredit voters. The Presiding Officer shall mark the voters register upon being satisfied that the person presenting PVC is the owner.”
Another issue Prof Attahiru Jega has failed to address till date is the issue of the under aged voters in the North that were allowed to vote during the March 28 polls. Several months before the election the issue was brought to the attention of Prof Jega those under aged voters were issued with PVCs. His feeble response was that any under aged voter that presents himself to vote on Election Day will be arrested.
In spite of Jega’s assurances, thousands of under aged voters were alleged to have been allowed to vote on March 28. Reacting to the widespread under age voting in the north, Prof Jega rhetorically for most of the time assured Nigerians that the allegation of under aged voting in some parts of the North is being investigated.
He said the commission has directed the Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state concerned to investigate.
Specifically, the REC, according to him, has been asked to identify why it happened and to fish out the officers responsible for the registration of the under aged voters.
Jega stressed that underage registration and voting are illegal, promising that culprits would not go scot free.
He said: “We are investigating this (underage voting) and we will take appropriate measures once it is established.”
But Nigerians appears not to be taken in by Jega’s assurance and alleged the leadership of INEC intentionally allowed under aged voting in the north for political reasons.
Pastor Site Felix Okeleke, of Power Action Project Ministries said, “It is not a good example for our nascent democracy at all. If this act is allowed to go unchecked and the culprits not punished, it may make other regions in the country also to start registering kids for accreditation in future elections.”
“Without being told, the act is an indirect way of rigging, as ineligible kids are given rights to vote to increase the number of votes won by a particular party and some politicians in the region over their opponents from other regions in national and state House of Assemblies elections.
“Any election conducted with this type of wrong accreditation is not free and fair; no matter how peaceful it was declared or seen by international observers.
“The perpetrators of this act against democracy should be prosecuted and punished as deterrent to others. I now understand why some people said during census periods in the past, goats, cows and hens were counted as human beings to increase the population of people from a particular region,” he said.
As Nigerians go to the polls today for the governorship and State Assembly elections, all eyes are on Jega to see if he will deliver on his promise that all the flaws noticed during the March 28 election will not repeat itself.