By Tonnie Iredia
On September 19, 2012, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega announced that his commission had commenced the printing of 40 million permanent voters’ cards. The cards would contain security features such as barcode, hologram, micro text, fingerprints, contactless/embedded chip with printed voter details and photograph. Another set of 30 million cards according to Jega would be ready by 2013.
There is no doubt that the statement must have come as a relief to a number of voters as they would no longer have to re-register each time an election is close by. In other words, it is only those citizens who were not previously registered that would need to be added to the voters register.
The nation has much to gain from this as she would save huge fractions of her scarce resources hitherto deployed to repeated registration exercises which often produced the same defects as the previous ones. Unfortunately, the new development is capable of confusing some people who have followed INEC activities for a while.
In November 2007, it was reported that Datacard Group, one of the world’s leaders in ‘Secure ID and Card Personalization Solutions’ had been mandated by INEC after a two-year bidding process to produce the same figure of 70 million permanent voters’ cards.
According to media reports, it took the group only two months to do so by installing the 700 card printer’s facility in Abuja. Apart from claiming that its facility was capable of producing more than a million cards daily, the group also said that it trained 300 INEC staff. Is this Datacard story part of what INEC is talking about now or is the Jega story a new and different effort?
Nigerians ought to know why INEC has opted to produce 40 million cards this year and 30 million next year when a world acclaimed technical group reportedly installed at her request, 5 years ago, a facility that can do the job in 70days only. It is rather simplistic to expect Nigerians to know the advantages of instalmental production of the cards if any.
It is similarly simplistic to assume that with the making of permanent voters’ cards, the problems of Nigerian elections would drastically reduce. This is because many of our election problems have little to do with whether the voters’ cards are temporary or permanent. One recurring problem in our electoral process is the sale of voters’ cards.
During the July 2012 Edo governorship election the state government had to issue a statement to condemn those who were buying voters’ cards on the governor. In fact, the Police who are usually on top of every matter reportedly arrested six members of a particular political party for allegedly ‘buying’ voters’ cards but no one was arrested for selling to them.
All things remaining the same therefore, there is nothing to suggest that because voters’ cards are now permanent, they cannot be sold. For the same reason, under-aged voters would still receive the permanent cards in place of the old ones with which they voted before. Oh yes, too many under- aged voters illegally participate in every election in Nigeria.
In 2011, the practice was widely observed by election monitors in many polling units in Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau, Nasarawa and Taraba states. It has also happened in the last set of elections in Kogi, Sokoto, Adamawa, Bayelsa and Edo states.
There are recurring problems attributable to the administrative lethargy of INEC that cannot be solved simply because voters’ cards are now permanent. The late arrival of election personnel and materials, disappearance of some names from the register of voters and non-adherence of officials to the guidelines approved by INEC for elections are just a few of them. It is difficult to name any election in Nigeria that has begun on schedule in the last decade.
The Jega administration had its own baptism when due to late arrival of materials; it had to postpone the Senatorial election slated for April 2nd 2011. Since then, till the latest election- the governorship contest in Edo State, there has been no change. Indeed, the incumbent governor in Edo had to publicly condemn the late start of the election on July 14, 2012.
Many voters also alleged that their names were missing in the register of voters available in the same polling booths where they voted in the immediate past election. Media reports also showed that guidelines approved by INEC were not adhered to in some centres.
The location of some polling units is another problem that permanent voters’ cards cannot solve. Many of the booths are located in front of or too close to people’s houses despite the availability of public schools and public places near such houses. What this suggests is that whether the voters’ cards are permanent or not, Nigeria will continue to have malpractices like incredible voter turn-out figures.
For the Adamawa governorship election, INEC distributed 200 instead of 1000 ballot boxes in Thukudou/Sukufu/Zar wards of the state comprising 14 polling units. At the end of the day, there were results from the 1, 000 ballot boxes inclusive of those not distributed! One politician was actually caught with 6 ballot boxes inside his house. What would stop such ghost boxes from having permanent voters’ cards?
We can only applaud INEC if it evolves a device that nullifies a card used by anyone who is not its rightful owner