By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor & Henry Umoru
The outrage from the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN was infectious last Monday. The news that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC would not be using the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines for the elections caught many unguarded and spread speculations of an already arranged programme to rig the forthcoming general elections.
Purchased at a price of more than N40 billion the about 130,000 DDC machines were presumed by a largely ignorant population as the very weapon required to frustrate the rigging machinations of Nigerian politicians.
The DDC machine is essentially a lap top machine configured to capture data and forensic details of the voting population. The machines were deployed to each of the 120,000 registration wards during the just concluded voters’ registration exercise.
Though it was not the first time that such configured laptops would be put into use during a voters’ registration exercise as they were so used during the immediate past registration exercise, there was, however, much more confidence in the system during the last exercise.
However as with the last time there were reports of breakdowns of the machines and other logistical constraints. Such incidents remarkably did not deter the voting population as Nigerians came out with enthusiasm to register.
In several cases community support was given to the registration officers as in several cases potable generators known as “I big pass my neighbour” were extended to the registration officers to power their machines.
It was as such a shock when news seeped out that the machines would not be used during the elections.
In faulting INEC’s decision to use a manual register, the ACN spokesman in a statement said:
“The voter registration exercise was designed to ensure that only qualified voters would register and vote. The fingerprints captured during registration are stored in the system of each DDC machine, since there is no central data base as we have said in earlier statements.
“On election day, the fingerprints of each voter are to be taken again and compared with what has been stored in the computer. If the record is found, the person is considered authentic and should be allowed to vote. Once he/she has voted, the record will be updated to reflect that, and that person should not be allowed to vote again in the same election.
“It is, therefore, absolutely important that the computer used during registration, which now contains the records of all voters registered at a particular polling station, must be brought back to the same polling unit on voting day to be used in the verification as indicated above.
If the computer is not brought back and used to verify and authenticate each voter, only the manual register would be used, even though the people will be made to believe the system is foolproof since they will still be fingerprinted anyway.”
The party further warned that nothing short of the electronic voter’s register, backed by the same system used for the registration exercise to allow the authentication of voters, would be accepted during the April polls.
The party said the need to authenticate would be voters at the various polling units has been made more urgent by the fact that the so_called AFIS software to detect double/multiple registration has been shown not to be foolproof due to the human factor.
INEC was, however, sharp to affirm that there was no legal backing for it to use an electronic voting machine (EVM) in the elections.
Indeed, the use of EVMs had been controversial issue since it was first broached during the stewardship of Prof. Maurice Iwu as chairman of the electoral commission.
Members of the Senate between 2003 and 2007 while working on the 2006 Electoral Act had deliberately made a call for the INEC to be barred from using the EVMs during elections.
The fear was that the machines could be programmed to achieve a perceived objective that may not be to their interest.
Affirming that the commission still lacks a legal platform to use the EVMs, Mr. Kayode Idowu, Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, said the electoral commission never at any time promised that it would use the DDC machines for elections.
His words: “INEC never said it will use the DDC machines for election. The law does not allow INEC to use e-voting for now. There is nothing the commission can do about that. However, what is in the manual register is a replica of what we have in the DDC machine.
The fingerprint on the manual register is the same with the finger print in the DDC machine.”
In fact, Mr. Clement Nwankwo, Executive Director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, PLAC insisted that INEC was right. Nwankwo who was a strategic support staff of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Constitution Review told Saturday Vanguard that the DDC machines were indeed not configured for voting.
“Those machines are not for voting, they are for registration of voters, they are not configured for voting, they are to obtain and store data.”
While Gen. Muhammadu Buhari the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC said the confusion could have been avoided if INEC had followed the party’s suggestion of adopting the Modified Open Secret Ballot System.
Speaking through his spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin he said:
“We believe we can overcome all these problems if the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had done what we asked them to do from the beginning and that is the Modified Open Secret Ballot System.
“This was the same system that was adopted during the June 12, 1993 general elections. With that system, there is no way one person can be in two places at the same time.
“Accreditation and voting will be done simultaneously throughout the country and as such no one person can vote twice in the same polling booth. That is what we are pushing for. We also urge all other progressives and Nigerians to push for the same thing.”
The PDP in its own response was dismissive of the opposition parties saying charging that the ACN should go to the field and campaign rather than allege that INEC had plans to drop the DDC Machines for the April general elections.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali who described the ACN as indolent, stressed that he was not holding brief for INEC, but noted that issues raised by ACN were not justifiable and there was no basis for such to be raised in the first place.
The PDP spokesperson who noted such could only be raised by those he described as idle minds, said, “As you can see, we are very busy crisscrossing the country to campaign for our Presidential candidate, President Goodluck Jonathan, to convince Nigerians to vote for him as the only candidate who is patriotic, has the interest of Nigerians and Nigeria at heart against the background of what he has done, still doing and what he would do.
“The only thing I can say to the ACN is that they are indolent, we are very busy with a very serious matter as a party now and that is the campaigns across the country, we are in serious business, ACN should stop crying foul, they should go to the field the way we are doing now, all these falsifications have no basis,” the PDP spokesman said.