By James Ezema
That the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which was annulled by former military President Ibrahim Babangida, had been adjudged Nigeria’s freest and freest election is no longer in doubt. Ever since, conducting a credible election at the local, state and federal levels remained a mirage.

Different reasons had been adduced why polls were rigged, especially in favour of a ruling party, mainly in states of the federation, with some analysts particularly worried that at local government level, no opposition political party ever wins the ruling party.

Though most Nigerians applauded the appointment of the current Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, in recent times there has been heightened pessimism over the preparedness of the electoral umpire to conduct credible, free, fair and transparent elections where losers of elections will not need judicial intervention because, to them, the voice of the people through their votes was heard loud and clear.

In view of the many promises made by previous electoral umpires in the country in the past which never changed elections in the country for the better, Nigerians have been expressing fears that the presence of Resident Electoral Commissioners who presided over election that were so far upturned by the courts in the current INEC remained a threat to acceptable polls outcome in the country.

Despite the seemingly growing uncertainties over the preparedness of INEC to conduction next year’s following request for extension of time for the forthcoming elections by Prof. Jega’s new INEC, the commission may well be on the part of making history.

At a roundtable discussion on “The Importance and Sanctity of Votes in the Electoral Process in Nigeria” organised by the United States International Visitors Leadership Programme Alumni Association, Lagos, Nigeria, Tuesday in Lagos, the commission for the umpteenth time gave graphic details of its readiness to depart from identified loophole in past flawed elections in the country.

Incidentally, the event was chaired by Charismatic female politician, Senator Joy Emodi, who in her remark as chairman of the occasion alleged that she has been intimidated, threatened in the course of her political career as a woman and recently, according to her, lost her second term mandate to the Senate through judicial manipulation of the judiciary at the behest of an opponent she claimed did not participate in the Senatorial election.

Drawing from her past experience in a male dominated political environment like Nigeria, she encouraged more women to join politics in order to contribute their quota in ensuring that women get the best and contribute to national development to take care of future generation of Nigerians.

For her, the sanctity of votes is a must and she was quick to note that anything that would lead to better awareness in the campaign for credible election should be supported by all. Just as Senator Emodi equally insisted that religious groups, non-governmental organisations and individuals must join the crusade for credible election particularly in 2011.

Aware of these challenges, the INEC boss, represented by Lagos State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola, at the roundtable political discourse shocked the audience when he revealed that the commission had discovered and documented 87 rigging methods employed by Nigerian politicians in rigging previous election. Though he did not reveal the rigging techniques for obvious reasons, he quickly noted that the commission has devised ways to thwart such dubious ways of manipulating polls outcomes.

Probably in attempt to check one of the rigging methods, during the voters registration exercise later in the year, the commission has vowed to owed to produce a credible voters register devoid of flaws witnessed in the one used during to 2007 general elections.

To achieved this, Jega at the event, disclosed that a direct data capturing (DDC) machine will be provided for each polling unit to remove some of the problems of the past. He further disclosed that INEC has fully developed new registration software that is completely owned by the commission for the exercise. According to the commission, the software has been and is currently being vigorously tested.

“The significance of the new software is that it will tackle many of the lingering challenges that had questioned the credibility of our voters’ register. The system will no doubt lead to improvements in the accuracy and convenience with which the Register can be revised and updated. There are comprehensive guidelines for registrations. Worthy of note are the sanctions stipulated in the Electoral Act 2010 for registration offences and the resolve of INEC to enforce them.

There is a plan to establish a “situation Report Room” so that stakeholders can inform INEC about voters registration problems as they develop and thus enable INEC to respond to issues as they arise.

The INEC chairman added: “The truth remains that the main trajectories of rigging elections in Nigeria have been well documented and studied and can be effectively countered.

“Let me inform you that when the new commission was put in place, there was a retreat at Obudu. The commission’s report was studied by members of the commission and in the report there was indication that there are about 87 ways of rigging elections that were discovered and since that time INEC has been doing everything possible block those loopholes.

“Most of these things (rigging methods) has been documented and we are looking at all these ways and are blocking those loopholes and I want to assure you that there are several things in the registration procedure that will make us detect those who carry machines to their homes. There is no way they can remove the time the registration was done because if you register at 9 a.m. the machine will record it that you registered at 9 a.m.”, he explained.

For INEC, the registration exercise must be credible and the commission has insisted it will ensure that the lapses of the past were completely removed. “For example, the new direct data capturing machines is a clear departure from other machines used in the last registration exercise because, this time around, there are certain things that will be done to make multiple registration difficult, and also, there are sanctions for registration offences apart from the fact that the personnel the will be used will not be party agents and that will ensure that we capture a lot of people”, said.

One other unique aspect of it, the INEC had further explained, “is the deployment of one machine to each polling unit. This will remove the problems of the past where people were always having problems during election time locating their names in specific polling unit. Since it is one machine per polling unit, it will remove such problems and you go to where you were registered definitely you will find your name there”.

According to Prof Jega, following controversies generated by 2007 voters’ register, “INEC sampled 100 polling units from 19 randomly selected state. The results were alarming and include, among others massive inadequacies, underage registrants, hundreds of blank or blurred photographs and multiple registrations by the same persons. There is therefore the need for fresh voters’ register”.

In tackling the problem, he said the commission has “developed new registration software that is completely owned by INEC for the exercise which has been and is currently being vigorously tested. The significance of the new software is that it will tackle many of the lingering challenges that had questioned the credibility of voters’ register. The system will no doubt lead to improvement in accuracy and convenience with which the Register can be revised and updated”

The INEC chairman furthered assured that over 3060, 000 ad-hoc staff required for the registration exercise will be traceable just as payment to them shall be done through their bank accounts, saying that the commission has established a working relationship with the NYSC directorate and the NUC with a view to engaging youth corp members and senior Federal university students as ad-hoc staff.

The Independent National Electoral Commission under the Leadership of Prof. Jega has shown it was ready to meet the yearning of Nigerians on free and fair elections in 2011. Jega, at the event also promised that the number post election litigations would reduced drastically in 2011 as candidates would be satisfied by it work.

Earlier, at the roundtable discussion, which took place at the Afe Babalola Auditorium, University of Lagos, Akoka, human rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana promised to investigate the allegation by Senator Emodi that her opponent who was declared winner by the Appeal Court did not participate in 2007 the Senatorial election.

Mr. Falana had also cautioned that unless the role of the security agencies in the electoral process must be  redefined, alleging that some of the agencies were used in the past to rig elections. He also took a critical look at the role of the judiciary, faulting the tribunals and Appeal Courts in some of their judgment in post election litigations, particularly in Ekiti state where it took the court nearly four years resolve election dispute between former Governor Segun Oni and Governor Kayode Fayemi of the state.

He said: “talking of sanctity of votes, our sister (Senator Emodi) has challenged us, and I’m going to investigate it, that somebody who never contested with you was proclaimed the Senator of your zone. But the sadest aspect of your case, and I though you were going to mention it, is that that legal rigmarole was also three years. I mean someone, ran in an election and you do not know the actual winner until after three or four years. I can’t understand it. It has never happened anywhere in the world. Just last week, the Court of Appeal finally proclaimed Fayemi winner of the 2007 governorship election in Ekiti State after 42 months.”

According to Falana, credible polls was not about INEC alone, “government officials, those of us who are privileged, ad-hoc staff of INEC and the media, have we come to the stage where we regard injustice to one as injustice to all? And until we get to that stage, we’re not going to get it right. And that is the problem of the sanctity of votes”, Mr. Falana noted.

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