By Jide Ajani
The continued non-appointment of Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, by President Muhammadu Buhari may scuttle the fidelity of the electoral process as the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, under Professor Mahmood Yakubu, is set to conduct the Continuous Voter Registration Exercise, CVR. To do this in a situation where not less than 33 states of the federation do not have RECs is to set the nation backwards to the era of Voter Register with names of foreigners on it. This report will show why such is not desirable
Professor Eme Awa
Saturday, December 5, 1987. Time was just some minutes before the hour of three. Professor Eme Onuoha Awa, then National Chairman of the National Electoral Commission, NEC, hurriedly authorised the issuance of a statement aired on the networks of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN, as well as the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA. He needed to. His careful, well-orchestrated meticulous planning (which involved voter registration exercise) preceding the event of that day – the local government elections on no-party basis – had gone up in flames before his very eyes.
Awa, a clear-headed and well-respected professor of political science, had worked tirelessly with his team at the old Senate Building located at the Tafawa Balewa Square, then NEC headquarters, to ensure that the elections would go on well. This was some three years after the military had truncated the Second Republic. But what happened that day was that politicians ensured that the smoothness anticipated turned into ashes.
From stolen voters register, to ballot box stuffing and ballot box snatching, fighting at polling units and open inducement of NEC officials, it was chaos all over. Therefore, the statement issued before the close of polls that day was for few hours of extension of close of polls. The extension allowed the Commission to rectify some anomalies. That was in 1987.
Enter Attahiru Jega
When the Jega-led Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, took over in 2010 and began planning for the general elections under the Jonathan regime, it had the full complement of the structure of the Commission in place – in all ramifications – unlike what subsists now and which would be highlighted later.
Jega took the Commission and other stakeholders to Tinapa in Calabar, sometime around September in 2010 (effectively covered by this newspaper), where a retreat was conducted to analyse all the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that may aid or deter the conduct of the elections.
From Jega’s early steps, it was possible for all those who will eventually conduct the elections, especially in the states, to be involved in the visioning and early planning for the polls, starting with the compilation of the biometric voters register.
Consequent upon further investigations by Sunday Vanguard regarding Jega’s move against electoral fraud with the full complement of the Advanced Automatic Fingerprint Identification System, AAFIS, it was discovered that some 3,600,397 (three million, six hundred thousand, three hundred and ninety seven) names were deleted from the Voter Register, VR, in 10 states (Kebbi, Zamfara, Taraba, Gombe, Benue, Kogi, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Enugu and Abia) of the federation; and another 504,818 names from the register in respect of Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states.
The total names deleted from the Voter Register in the 13 states were 4,105,215 (four million, one hundred and five thousand, two hundred and fifteen).
The figures between 2011 and early 2014 were as follows:
Kebbi -1,638,308 but now 1,306,405
Zamfara – 2,045,131 but now 1,130,245
Taraba – 1,357,551 but now 1,184,950
Gombe – 1,318,377 but now 988,043
Benue – 2,390,884 but now 1,657,266
Kogi – 1,358,049 but now 1,234,074
Bayelsa – 640,372 but now 503,837
Akwa Ibom – 1,656,595 but now 1,443,227
Enugu – 1,374,583 but now 1,005,585
Abia – 1,536,264 but now 1,252,085
The import of this wonderful exercise carried out by Jega in his early days would be manifest within the context of the seemingly disturbing proposition of Professor Mahmood Yakubu and his team to conduct the very sensitive exercise of Continuous Voter Registration, CVR, ahead of the 2019 general elections without RECs in 33 states.
Today’s INEC and Professor Yakubu
Now, several steps are important in preparing for general elections.
They include – but are not limited to – a review of laws guiding election based on contextual practices. This is necessary because of the need to resolve issues which constrain elections, registration of eligible voters; reviewing how to control party campaigns and financing within the ambits of the law; definition of contestable posts and the qualifications for contesting them – that is, the eligibility of candidates following their party and national electoral laws; recruiting ad-hoc election managers and procuring materials for the elections; as well as preparing for the resolution of election disputes, in no exact order.
Of all these steps, after the laws guiding elections, none is as important as the registration of eligible voters.
It is surprising, therefore, that INEC is proposing to commence this all important step in over 33 states without the constitutionally prescribed Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, in each state, supervising this exercise as was the practice in the past.
What INEC is proposing to do is to carry out this exercise by a cadre of administrative secretaries, some of whom have been indicted in a report by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, regarding the 2015 elections awaiting arraignment in court, to carry out this foundational step ahead of the 2019 elections.
To be fair, it should be noted that the duty of appointing RECs is that of the President and not INEC – a body that is obviously struggling to work with or without its requisite constitutionally prescribed manpower.
For the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), Nigerians should not expect much redress in terms of their fears over the conduct of such an exercise without RECs because it would be self-indicting, having been unable to make the constitutionally required appointment. But the critical question to ask is: Where are the opposition parties in Nigeria? Are they only relevant for periodic election contest purposes and have no further role to play in the polity? Or are they mere supporters’-club-like political parties?
Political scientists, who have read and analysed the uses and abuses of political “voting machines” such as the Tammany Hall machine of New York, and the so-called Daley Machine of Chicago, appreciate the importance of vigilance in the early stages of preparations for general elections. Political groups, who were unable to develop efficient vigilant measures, some times end up losing vital votes.
This is because vigilant groups have been known to mobilise their votes or suppress the votes of their opponents through different forms of voting registration antics, apart from possibly populating the register with frivolous or non-existent voters, in the hope of making up votes with such names or substituting them with ineligible or unregistered voters.
The voting machines may also study the emerging demographics as voters register and, by predicting areas where they may have problems, use antics to erect electoral laws or ballot access barriers, districting misalignments and other chicaneries for demographics that may be adverse to their political interests.
For instance – and this has been documented – whereas INEC insisted, in 2014/2015, that collection of the Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, could only be collected in person by their owners, a directive, which was obeyed to the letter in most parts of the South, was obeyed more in the breach than observance in the North.
In fact, this was what accounted for the higher PVC collection rate in the North than in the South – although former President Goodluck Jonathan’s loss at the polls could not be solely pinned on this. It was his election to lose and he lost.
Given the many anomalies, which have beleaguered INEC, political groups, who are familiar with these sorts of jeopardies, based on lessons learnt from the history of election irregularities, amongst many others, are suspicious of the commencement of voters registration without RECs, particularly under pliable civil servants, some of whom, over the years, have been in the system when Nigeria had voters’ register with names of foreigners populating it until the Jega-led team came and gave the country a better, more credible biometric register.
If some of these easily compromised and pliable civil servants are truly reliable and could be relied on and unsupervised by a higher authority to carry out an exercise like this, the simple question to ask is: Why was Nigeria having problems with the voters register until the Jega team came on board and conducted the 2011 and 2015 elections that have been adjuged as, though, not perfect, but engendered a clear remarkable departure from the previous elections?
Surely, unsupervised voters registration exercise to be carried out by civil servants, particularly some indicted “administrative secretaries”, would be a recipe for the infusion of virus into the current register.
To recall the early signs of the cumulative jeopardies, which have beset the Commission, one must go back a little further to the early days of the regime.
In June 2015, the government applied a rule, unknown to Nigeria’s current democratic practice, by appointing an Acting Chairperson for INEC by a directive from the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Barrister Danladi Kifasi. The position of the Chairperson of INEC is not that of a career civil service position, and, thus, it was alarming to political stakeholders the intention and the ethics informing it as well as the outcome. This was an unmitigated ethical flaw, because, from this first error of judgement, a wrong early signal was sent to political foes of no intentions to foster an independent and impartial electoral management body.
Recalling this background of events is necessary for teasing out the credibility gap that greeted INEC’s recent announcement that elections would be held every third week (Saturday) of February in an election year even when it has undoubted power under the Constitution. To understand the incredulity which informed the announcement, INEC, as currently constituted, has no RECs in not less than 33 states of the federation.
In the extant Nigerian Constitution, INEC is one of the entities specially established under Section 153 of the Constitution – all listed therein have their functional components listed before their functions. In other words, the Constitution intends that function should follow structure and not structure after function.
But since the beginning of this regime, federal entities have been left to function in many instances without constitutional structure. It took the current regime over one year to execute the directive of just one line of the INEC component structure in paragraph 14 of the Third Schedule of the Constitution.
Two years after, the other compulsory component of INEC, as directed by the Constitution – the 36 RECs – remain vacant in not less than 33 of the states. In fairness to the officials at INEC, they have no role to play in this “constitutional negligence”.
This is entirely the duty of the Presidency, but with many Boards of the Federal Government of Nigeria which stood dissolved and non-functional for years, it seems in character that electoral activities may suffer the same fate of governance neglect as other sectors of governance under this regime.
Whereas it may appear as though the leadership at INEC is intent on proactively working around the problem, it decided to kick-off with general elections’ activities, since government is leisurely in it execution of the constitutional directive on how to compose the full structure of INEC. But by beating the gun, what are the dangers INEC actions may bring for political groups?
Despite Jega’s careful planning and proactive steps, many will remember that some INEC staff compromised the exercise to some extent on the basis of which INEC had to do what it called clean-up of the register, just as Nigerians witnessed logistical difficulties that disrupted the first election day with some materials wasted after the first election was postponed. That experience points to the difficulties of planning elections without taking to account some difficulties in the field.
With the early faltering of the current INEC, which resulted in inconclusive elections, the sense of over-confidence, which the current leadership habours, appears misplaced and should have been tempered by field realities.
It already came out this past week with a tentative time-frame for elections which will guide a future schedule, and it further announced the intention to commence the Continuous Voter Registration, CVR, exercise shortly; but given what has been stated as facts, the lack of substantive leadership in its state offices and a recent history of political intent to undermine its autonomy, while not discounting the potential manipulation of political machines in such electoral activities if the system is weak, why is INEC proceeding thus? Is it being proactive or, as was to be the motive behind the nonsensical and controversial 30,000 Polling Units? Is this INEC also out to outdo good sense and virtuous electioneering?
Dangers of CVR without RECs
To have a clear understanding of the enormity of having a clean and valid register not polluted by a wrongly-timed CVR, this is how it works:
The over 119,000 Polling Units in Nigeria are the primary cells grouped into clusters – and that is the very point where rigging and a warped electoral process starts. These clusters are what make up the various wards in the country.
When prospective voters engage the registration exercise, each is expected to provide data made up of but not limited to names, date of birth, residential address. The persons faces are also captured.
For full-proof personalisation and to give effect to the one-man-one-vote system, the biometrics of each person is captured – because it has been proved that no two individuals have the same biometrics configuration in the world.
Mind you, at this stage, some individuals, out of a genuine fear that their data may not have been properly captured owing to the familiar glitches that characterise the registration exercise, may move to another polling unit to get registered again.
Yet, there are those who, doing the bidding of crooked politicians, could move round up to 20 polling units to register 20 times.
In some instances, some disgruntled and corrupt INEC officials, too, may elect to compromise the exercise by feeding multiple entries for a single person.
The objective of this cocktail of vices is just so that multiple Voter Cards, VCs, would be issued in the name of different persons but all geared towards empowering a politician with access to many cards – just imagine 1,000 individuals registering in 20 places and being issued with cards (1,000 x 20 = 2,0000). Sounds ridiculous!
All these are done at the polling unit level and are then brought together to create a register for wards, local governments, states and then the bulk VR itself for the country.
But before the final valid register is produced, another grueling, though scientific process, is engaged.
It is at this next stage that all the data for each registered person would be fed into a central system. This is where science demystifies criminality.
The raw data that is fed into the system creates a register of all that has happened in the field.
But that is not the register that Nigeria desires for a free and fair election.
Indeed, over the years, and as a consequence of relying on this type of raw data collection and compilation, Nigeria has never had a clean, valid VR.
What the system in place does is to clean the compiled data.
So, how does it work?
And this is where AAFIS came in.
Mind you, we already have a register.
But the register we have is just the result of the compilation of all that happened in the field – including, ridiculously of course, the putative genetically engineered 20,000 prospective voters by just 1,000 people.
And whereas the process of AAFIS is slow (and should be), it is the surest way to ensure that Nigeria gets a clean and valid VR.
That was not the first time it would be attempted.
Once the AAFIS process is engaged, using a cluster of computer systems, polling unit by polling unit, each registered voter’s data is presented and mapped – face, biometrics and all that.
Because science has succeeded in putting a lie to crookedness, individuals, who had tried to be smart by doing multiple registration, would have their names popping up in the system separately (assuming they chose to use fake names).
But the science of AAFIS is that fake biometrics cannot be used.
And herein lies the catch: No matter how many times an individual registers, the systems have been designed in such a way that even having registered 20 times, all the registration inputs would all fall into one single registration because the biometrics is one and one alone.
So, the product of the exercise is what is known as the Valid Voter Register, VVR.
That is what was used for the 2015 elections with the added complement of the Card Reader, CR.
Unfortunately, because of the inadequacy and non-functionality of some CRs, INEC announced late that Saturday March 28, 2015, that voters with valid cards should be allowed to vote where the CR failed to identify the eligible voter.
Now, the danger in allowing the CVR to commence in the absence of RECs means there would be no senior authority to supervise the exercise and, therefore, exposing it to the shenanigans of politicians working with civil servants.
And, as noted earlier, whereas it is not the function of Professor Yakubu to appoint RECs, President Buhari should ensure that the appointments are made quickly.
Because it was the fidelity of the process that ensured that his election was considered free and fair to a large extent. It is that fidelity that is now in danger of being polluted.