By CHIOMA GABRIEL
The Independent National Electoral Commission Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega last Monday in an interactive session with Editors in Lagos talked about the preparations being made for the 2015 general elections especially the Osun and Ekiti gubernatorial elections . He also spoke on the mistakes made by the commission in the past and efforts being made to avoid repeating them in future. Excerpts:
INEC had a new register in the 2011 elections but that posed many challenges and so, we have to put that aside for a new biometric register in 2015 general elections.
By September this year, continuous voter registration, CVR, for 2015 general elections will commence. There was CVR before the Anambra gubernatorial election and we are doing same in Osun and Ekiti governorship elections. We couldn’t do continuous voter registration in Edo and Ondo because in Edo, there was a controversy and that required our putting that aside.
We have commenced the distribution of permanent voters cards in Ekiti and Osun for the forthcoming governorship elections in the two states. We will also do same in all the states before the 2015 elections to avoid the kind of challenges we had in Anambra.
The mistake in Anambra was caused by our staff posted to Idemili North and the case is in court today. For effectiveness in elections, we customized result sheets but things still got mixed up.In some wards in Idemili, there were agitations and people suspected foul play and prevented us from distribution of voting materials.
We ended up postponing the election to the next day with the agreement of the people but that also became another issue because the next day was Sunday and we always try to ensure elections don’t take place on religious days. But we made that mistake and the matter is in court. There was so much media hype over Anambra election and I can tell you that even though there were mistakes on the part of INEC official, the conduct of that election was good enough.
Out of the 21 Local government areas in the state, there was problem in just one and even in that one, it was only in three wards.
But people had other complaints:
• People claimed they were disenfranchised but it was not true because going by my understanding of the meaning of disenfranchisement, what happened in Anambra was not disenfranchisement because it was not willful.
•Electoral details got missing because hoodlums made away with them.
•Equipment crashed in other places
•There were multiple registrations in Anambra. Most of the people whose names were not in the register were those who did multiple registration and hence their names were removed.
•Many peoples names were missing because they used cards of 2007 and their names were not in the 2011 register.
A new approach
But things have changed now. We have cleaned the register. It’s electronic biometric register and compares favourably with others in the world. But we must understand that in terms of multiple registration, there is no software in the world that removes that 100%.
We have scheduled the time for continuous voter registration in Osun and Ekiti states and we hope that people would come out to register.
We have commenced serial numbering of ballot papers so that in distribution, you’d know what serial numbers are going to a particular polling unit and this approach will enhance accountability.
All ballot boxes are also serially numbered and we also numbered result sheets. So, you cannot fraudulently alter results or swap result sheets. We have customized result sheets in such a way that every result sheet is specified to a particular polling unit.
But in Anambra, the officials made a mistake of randomly distributing result sheets and that caused problems.Before we realised that, it was already too late.
We have also introduced colour-coded ballot papers so that they are not uniform across the states or even local governments. We also plan to do colour-coding by senatorial districts and constituencies.
We introduced some unique features too. There are somethings you can only read with infra-red and some which only I as Chairman can read and if tampered with, we know who exactly to hold responsible.
We have brought transparency into the collation process. Before, it used to be INEC staff doing everything but we are human beings, not machines. We have changed that. Our staff are no longer collation and returning officers. We got Professors, Vice Chancellors and Senior lectures involved and the process of collation is sanitized and complaints of lack of transparency is reduced.
For 2015, we want to go beyond these class of people to include members of Nigerian Bar Association as collation and returning officers. We want to involve Engineers and the media too.
In the past, we have used members of the National Youth Service Corps and students in tertiary institutions as returning officers.
New communication policy
In 2015, we will come out with a new communication policy. That communication policy will dictate how we will perform better; how we can do mobile education better; the kind of mobile education we can get across.
We often hear that elections are costly. But we need these funds because we use them for allowances, logistics, transportation and feeding. We expect an average of three uniformed policemen per polling unit and we pay them allowances. They have to eat and it’s a lot of money.
In 2015, we are reviewing the number of the polling units. Some polling units in the past elections had as large as 3000 voters attached to each and we have decided to create more polling units. In future, it would be 500 voters per polling unit and it also means more personnel for the new polling units.
After 2011, we did an in-house review and people from independent organizations gave us recommendations. We want to sieve our personnel to ensure that wrong people are not retained as returning officers.
We are rewarding and punishing people at the same time. We are quietly asking people to leave, like the Resident Electoral Commissioner that handled the last Ekiti gubernatorial election. She is no longer with INEC.
Others who committed various categories of offences have also been dismissed and some have taken us to court. We have done a lot of restructuring and re-organisation but you cannot remove people arbitrarily or it becomes a recipe for disaster.
We have been training and re-training our staff. Our adhoc staff in 2011 were given only a three-day training seminar and there were deficiencies. So, we are giving a five-day training programme for 2015.
Our developmental partners are also giving bridge-training for our staff which will add value to what we are doing. Most importantly is putting to use, the permanent voters cards which are embedded chip cards just like ATM cards. The card reader is battery-operated with a 16-hour battery life. So, we don’t anticipate challenges.
Sanitizing the system
Some of the politicians who buy cards from voters cannot do so usefully again. If they buy the cards, they cannot put them to use because we have taken steps to abort that. We are set to bring remarkable improvement in the voting process. You cannot use any other person’s card to vote in any election anymore because we have put steps to check that.
We meet regularly with political parties. We brief them. They raise questions and we address them and it’s a way of building trust as we go towards 2015. We are meant to complement each other.
Again, we said that with good resources, we will be able to get these things done but it will cost money, because we will do radio jingles of about five-minutes programme on prime time. Again, we will also do this in other languages that are not English. We’ll do our best and we believe that other state governments will contribute their best either as social responsibility or as obligation. For example, political parties have an obligation to mobilise the voters. They have to ensure that the voters come out to register and vote. Then, you also have to educate them so that when eventually they come out to vote, they will know how to do so. Otherwise, it will be a wasted time.
The thing now is that political parties are asking INEC to give them money to do voter education. They are supposed to do complementary work and all range of stakeholders can express this work and responsibility. We have uploaded on our websites. We have also gone ahead to establish what we call, INEC Citizens Contact Centre.
You can now call on us, send an SMS or twitter to say what you want to say about INEC. You can ask any question and you will receive a response. We believe also that this is a way that we can use to enlighten the public, giving them the information about what we do in the commission. We want to make sure this citizens contact centre operates virtually 24 hours so that at anytime, people can send comments and they will be able to see our responses.
Of course, again, in order to make information available to the public, in Anambra less than a week before the election, we introduced an express service through which you can actually find out whether your name is on the register or not.
Unfortunately again maybe because we introduced it two months to the election, or maybe there was inadequate publicity, many people did not recognise it. We have again introduced it into Ekiti and Osun.
Infact,about a month ago, we announced the numbers and we shared it to radio and TV stations. It has been part of our enlightenment campaign. All you need do is to text that number, your state, your last name and the last five digits of your pin number on the registration card. You will automatically receive a response that you have successfully registered. They will tell you where you have done the registration. If you can’t find your name on the register after you must have sent this, it means we need to come and renew your status of registration.
We have to do this in the remaining states so that from anywhere, you can send an SMS or you can go through our website. There is a place you can put your details to know where you have registered.
I want to assure you that we in INEC are doing our best and we remain focused.But there are a lot of things out there. Most editorials in newspapers have done a lot of damage by communicating wrong information to the public. The electronic media also do that.
One headline put me into a lot of trouble by giving a headline that I said that elections will not hold in the North Eastern states which I never did. What I said was recorded. I don’t know why people would wake up and do such a headline story. And everybody who was reporting the story was reporting from the headline news. They left me in a difficult condition. The governors of these states now reacted. So I have to react not just to the mis-information, but to the anger of these governors and citizens of these states that there was no way I could say such things. Some corporate bodies did independent reports regarding the Anambra elections. I think we are thinking about reforming democracy and in doing this, we don’t have to undermine the electoral process.
Let me give you another example, recently, many of you must have heard of the reports from a Human Right agency. I don’t know how many of you read that report. They indicted the judiciary and other people. I don’t know about the other organizations but I took the trouble and read what that report wrote about INEC. All the examples they gave were about the 2007 elections but the way the report was made and presented, it was as if it was about a recent election and the preparations for 2015 elections. They quoted one of editorials which I told you and was saying that something was wrong with 2011 elections. How many people have read that report and how many have observed it? Anybody reading that report will think nothing has changed. How can you use evidence of 2007 in 2014?
I am here today I might not be here tomorrow, all I know is to do my best. It is not about Jega, it is about what is good for the country.
Turn-out for elections
In 2011, the largest voter turn-out was 57% and that was for the Presidential election. Low voter turn-out could be a function of many things: lack of sensitization; lack of choice; feeling of apathy by voters that their votes may not be counted.
We have detected a means of detecting multiple registration. We have evidence of detecting that and prosecuting it.
We have prosecuted hundreds of electoral offenders but that also depends on the lawyers handling the case; the policemen handling the investigations and the court processes involved. As it is, INEC is automatically joined in every electoral offence.
Elections in the North-East
I have never said there will be no elections in the North East. I was invited to a senators’ forum and a senator asked a question that in view of the situation in the North-East, whether elections would hold. I answered that we are planning that election would hold everywhere in view of the hope that the issue would be resolved by that time. I went ahead to add that under the circumstance of the rule of emergency, elections would not hold. But I’m an incurable optimist who believe things would be right by the time elections will hold.
I did say that people could be afraid of coming out to vote and these are some of the challenges with conducting election in the North east.
We have observed that political parties do not comply with the rules about electioneering campaigns. All the parties are guilty of breaking this rule. The specified time for electioneering campaigns is 90 days before the election to end 24hours to the election. Campaigns are meant to start after primaries are conducted and candidates have emerged but we have people putting up posters two years and one year to the election and that is an electoral offence which security agencies should contend with. But political parties can hold rallies.
On political parties also, we have noticed that they lack capacity to dispatch credible agents to polling units and we give agents of political parties copies of results from each unit. We have told partis to bring their agents for training by INEC but till date, no political party has done that. Due to the possibility of the results being changed, polling units and collation centres have what we call stream-lining the results and we have introduced a data base to access results as they come in from polling units. That creates room for people to have parallel tabulation of results as they come in.
Why African Peoples Congress, APC, was not registered
The All Peoples Congress, APC, is a merger of existing political parties and they met the requirements for registration but the African Peoples Congress as a new party seeking registration did not meet some of the requirements for registration. But the law is clear and All Peoples Congress met the requirements. The other APC did not meet the requirements and so was not registered.
Effect of confab on election
We are preparing on the process of existing law and there is a constitution in place. We are asking the National Assembly to be finished with all amendments within six months to the election as stipulated by law. If amendments were not concluded six months to the election, they won’t have effect on the election. But the National Assembly has given its word that amendments in Electoral Act would be concluded six months before the election.
Order of election
In 2011, Presidential election was second after National Assembly election. The third was gubernatorial and State Assembly elections.
Elections in one day is not feasible because of the challenges involved. It would only create more problems and it’s necessary we avoid that. In Kenya, a smaller country than Nigeria, it posed challenges that they said if they have opportunity, they would not have elections in one day.
In Nigeria, elections in one day means five ballot boxes, five ballot papers and with the level of illiteracy in Nigeria, it would create problems.
It is not impossible to hold all elections in one day but we would be biting more than we could chew. There are systemic challenges concerning this.
We in INEC have the capacity to prepare adequately, conventionally and logistically and to create a level playing ground for politicians and we are doing our best to do that well. The electoral process will be fertile as it was in 2011 and we want to ensure peaceful elections next year.
We know that Nigerian politicians are a special breed. We are to communicate to many Nigerians about the attitude with which politicians come for the elections. Our politicians should do something about their language and utterances and about changing the rules of the game.
We will be better than 2011 and we are putting things in place to ensure free, fair and credible elections in 2015.
In planning, we stayed away from things that will require legal amendment. There is prohibition on electronic voting and we have stayed away from that hoping that the prohibition could be amended someday because electronic voting has become worl standard.