January 20, 2011

Voters’ Registration: One week of hitches, disappointments, complaints


IT is exactly seven days since  the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC began the much expected compilation of fresh voters’ list in 120,000 polling units across the country.

However, 168 hours after, the exercise is still dogged by hitches, complaints and disappointments. Seven days to the end of the two-week exercise, most of the registration centres are yet to register 100 voters. Each of the centres is expected to register between 500 to 1000 voters to make up the expected 70 million voters that will vote at the 2011 general elections.

As of yesterday, INEC registration officers are yet to begin the exercise in many locations, especially new towns and communities that developed after the last voters’ listing in 2006.

The voters’ registration exercise has been greeted by an avalanche of hitches and complaints from all over the country. The complaints range from faulty machines, inability to capture biometric data of registrants, and unavailability of registration officers in many areas.

Recurring hitches

Chief among the hitches is the delay or inability of the Direct Data Capturing (DDC) machines to capture the 10 finger prints of registrants. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Senate President David Mark, were among hundreds of would-be registrants, whose finger prints could not be captured. In the case of Obasanjo, three machines and experts were drafted but it did not work out.

Some of the registration officers, bulkily drawn from members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), are also finding it difficult to operate the DDC machines. The laptops die after 60 minutes on battery power and in most cases there is no power to recharge the laptops.

At a time some phones can scan a set of fingerprints in a second, observers are still wondering why the DDC machines, which gulped about N40 billion cannot function well.

A corp member, who was involved in the registration process, said in some cases, it took them more than 30 minutes to scan a single set of finger prints because the DDC machines would not work.

Impending disenfranchisement of voters

Disturbed by the worsening trend, a host of the citizenry and stakeholders have urged the INEC to extend the exercise to ensure that no one was disenfranchised. There are also calls on the electoral umpire to jettison the capturing of finger prints, which is constituting a major drawback to the exercise. This is in spite of the fact that handicapped Nigerians such as those without hands, or with one hand or less than 10 fingers have been disenfranchised ab initio because they cannot be registered in the first place.

President Jonathan at the ongoing INEC registration exercise.

Jettisoning fingerprints capture

Speaking on the hitches, Prof Bolaji Aluko said the conception of the voters’ registration exercise as another National ID programme was wrong. “We don’t have the time for that. Besides, there are millions of ID cards that can be adopted as Voter’s Register cards if those ID cards are simply re_validated, meaning that this over_dependence on the DDC machines would not exist. Why must we spend almost N100 billion on an exercise that is having these severe hiccups. I can assure you it will not make significant improvements if (for example) the fingerprinting is not discontinued, because it might continue to be the limiting ‘reaction step’ in this process.”

Aluko lamented that the problem was not getting people to the registration centers, but “getting those who get there to be registered.”

According to him, there are three problems:

* No DDC machines in  many places. This can only be solved by INEC by providing more machines.

Not well_trained personnel. This appears not to be a serious problem for now.

* Where DCC machines and trained personnel exist, it is taking too long, if at all, to do four things: finger-print (a biometric), take pictures (another biometric), enter names and other personal information, and  print the card with all the above three items.

He said: “INEC cannot but enter names and print a voters’ card, so the question at hand is whether the process can be speeded up by abjuring finger-printing and taking pictures  and my answer is ‘Yes.’  The question is whether INEC will be bold enough to admit it at this early _ or late – hour.”

At the beginning of the exercise, INEC Chairman, prof. Attahiru Jega said the exercise would not be extended.

Lagos State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola also spoke in like manner. Asked if two weeks would be enough to register about five million voters in Lagos as each polling unit is expected to have between 500 to 1000 voters, Ogunmola nodded affirmatively. “Two weeks will be enough. We are used to wasting time in Nigeria. If you give people six months, you will still people rushing to register on the last day,” he asserted.

Jigawa REC assures voters

Jigawa State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Alh Ibrahim Bagobiri Mafara, admitted that the INEC was experienced a number of problems but assured that they would get all eligible voters registered before the end of the exercise.

He  explained that Jigawa State INEC  received 3454 DDC) machines, 73 less than the 3527 machines needed to cover all the 3527 wards in the state. He assured that they would get the remaining 73 DDC machine within the week.

Said he: “It is not abnormal to experience problems at the beginning of any project, we are already working on addressing the problems and I assure you, here in Jigawa State we are going to complete our exercise before the end of the stipulated two weeks.’
But now, the INEC would require a miracle to register 70 million voters in seven days going by prevailing trend.

INEC passes buck

Assailed by complaints of the hitches, the INEC on Monday  accused corps members serving as voters’ registration officers of causing some of the lapses being observed in the process, saying it probably overrated the corp members while preparing for the exercise.

INEC Commissioner in charge of Information, Mr. Solomon Soyebi, narrated the commission’s frustrations when he appeared on “Focus Nigeria,” a political program of the Africa Independent Television. He observed that INEC had high expectations of the corps members because of the generally held notion that being “modern graduates,” they would be conversant with the basic application of laptop computers.

Soyebi expressed INEC’s displeasure about hitches being experienced in the exercise and explained that everything was being done to address identified lapses and rectify the short comings within the shortest time possible.

NTP chief berates INEC

However, National Chairman of the National Transformation Party, NTP, Hon. Emmanuel Mok dismissed as hog-wash the INEC’s accusation of corp members. Noting that the commission was given adequate funds to train ad-hoc staff for the exercise, he wondered why the INEC did not do so. He insisted that corp members remain the largest pool of ready-made manpower the commission could use to handle the voters’ registration.

Berating the INEC over poor handling of the exercise, which he said could hurt the 2011 polls if not redressed, Mok said that the commission was showing that it was ready technically and integrity wise to conduct credible polls in April.

Mok told reporters in Lagos that going by the way the electoral umpire handled the Delta State governorship re-run and the voters’ registration, it was not ready for the elections after spending over N90 billion.

Stating that Nigerians could ill-afford INEC getting it wrong in 2011, Mok said: “The evidence before us coming from two critically important activities so far: The Delta State governorship rerun election and the voters’ registration exercise going on nationwide, show that INEC has not put its acts together to be able to conduct, monitor and ensure that 2011 April general elections are credible; that voting materials will arrive on time at polling stations and most importantly that the voting machines, their cables, batteries, printers, registers, etc will be effective.”

He noted that leading communications companies had been capturing biometric data of GSM phone users in the SIM card verification exercise without hitches and wondered why the INEC was having problems with the exercise. Mok called for extension of the compilation to ensure that all adult Nigerians were enfranchised in the 2011 elections.