By Yushau Shuaib
THERE is anxiety in the land over this month’s general elections. To be sure, the presidential and national assembly elections will hold on February 14, 2015 while those of governors and state assemblies have been scheduled for February 28. Some of the fears though, especially about security and logistics challenges, have been allayed by recent pronouncements and disclosures from security agencies and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
The Forum of Spokespersons of Security and Response Agencies, FOSSRA, which has membership drawn from military, security, intelligence and response agencies, has pledged to remain professional, non-partisan and apolitical at all times while promising to ensure adequate security and fairness before, during and after the February elections.
The assurance from the August body is very crucial because membership include representatives from Defence Headquarters, Army, Air force, Navy, Police, Department of State Services, DSS; Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC; National Intelligence Agency, NIA; Office of the National Security Adviser, NSA; Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC; Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS; Nigeria Customs Service, NCS; Nigeria Prison Service, NPS; Federal Fire Service, FFS; Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC and National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA.
In its communiqué, which was signed by Major Gen. Chris Olukolade and Emmanuel Okeh, Chairman and Secretary respectively, FOSSRA members resolved that, through efficient and effective inter-agency collaboration, their respective agencies would ensure maximum security cover during the election period.
On its part, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has also said that it has received all the necessary logistics and funding for the elections. Speaking at a one-day lecture organised by the African Policy Research Institute, APRI, on the forthcoming elections, the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega said that the Federal Government had approved and released funds required by the Commission to conduct the elections.
The INEC boss was quoted to have said: “Funding is always an issue, but I can say that for INEC in terms of our preparation, it is no longer an issue, anybody will always want to have more money but we believe that we have sufficient resources to be able to conduct the 2015 general elections. So, we can say that funding is no longer an issue for us as far as the election is concerned.”
What may jeopardise the election, which most people insist must hold as scheduled, is the inability of a significant number of prospective voters to obtain their permanent voter’s card, PVC.
The statistics released by INEC to justify its level of preparedness calls for more concerted efforts, mobilisation and massive sensitisation campaigns to ensure that nothing is compromised towards fruitful elections.
In its official analysis of the nationwide voter registration database, INEC had confirmed the registration of 73,528,040 of voters during the 2011 registration. Because of some defect in the total registration, the electoral body officially registered 68,833,476 voters for the elections in February 2015. The figure was arrived at after removing over four million voters that were allegedly engaged in duplicate registration. The removal was done through the Commission’s AFIX and Business Rules for the printing of PVCs.
There is also the relocation of all Polling Units, PUs, from churches, mosques, private compounds and even veranda of schools so that all PUs would be inside enclosures in line with international best practices. Nigeria now has 119, 973 polling units nationwide for the elections.
With the introduction of 145,000 Smart Reader Cards, SRCs, to check rigging or manipulation, INEC has insisted that it wouldn’t allow those with temporary voter cards to vote in the election. These Smart Reader Cards will authenticate the holder of any PVC, confirm his or her finger print and detect fake or cloned PVC.
Most worrisome of the statistics is the data on registered voters and number of cards distributed to voters. While the confirmed registered voters are 68,833,476, the number of cards distributed as at February 1, 2015 is 42,779,339 which gives 62.15% of the distribution.
It is alarming that some states with larger population of voters, and curiously strongholds of the opposition are indeed backwards in distribution. For instance, states that are governed by the All Progressives Congress, APC, like Lagos, Kano and Rivers merely recorded 38%, 52%, 49% of distribution of voters cards while those under the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, like Taraba, Akwa Ibom, Kaduna states have high distribution rates of at least 80% each.
On the relocations of poling units, INEC should as matter of urgency, educate and announce addresses of the new locations to voters to avoid confusion on election days.
While adopting its Business Rule in removing over four million registered voters, INEC should realise that there is likelihood that some genuine names might have been removed by the AFTEX technology. It is therefore essential that those innocent potential voters that might have been affected should have the opportunity of redress. If necessary, they should be re-registered just like the Sultan of Sokoto was treated when he complained that his name was missing.
While most of the major stakeholders have insisted on the conduct of elections on the stipulated dates, INEC should extend distribution of PVCs to the eve of elections rather than February 8, 2015 to allow more potential voters to receive their cards and avoid disenfranchisement of electorates. Though it could be cumbersome to combine the logistics involved in preparing for the real election with card distribution, INEC must ensure that every voter receives his/her card. A situation where an average Nigerian, who is not a politician, complains of not receiving PVC is quite worrisome.
Mr. Shuaib, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Abuja. •Mr. Shuaib, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Abuja.