By By Emman Ovuakporie, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Joseph Erunke & Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA— Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, yesterday, told the Senate that only the service chiefs could guarantee the sanctity of the rescheduled polls in view of the security challenges facing the country.
Jega, who was grilled for about four hours by the Senate on INEC’s preparedness for the elections as well as the effectiveness of the use of card readers for the accreditation of voters, affirmed that the commission was ready to conduct credible, free, fair and transparent elections. He, nevertheless, confessed that the postponement of the election had offered the commission the opportunity of extra preparation.
Meanwhile, a move by some members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, legislators in the House of Representatives to summon Jega for a similar consultation was blocked by All Progressives Congress, APC, lawmakers who now outnumber those of the PDP.
Opposition by Senators Odion Ugbesia (PDP, Edo)and Heineken Lokpobiri (PDP, Bayelsa) to the introduction of the card reader on the claim that it is unconstitutional was rejected by Jega who insisted that there was no going back on it.
He premised his insistence on what he described as solid legal advice, pointing out that the development would help produce a credible process. He added that the commission would conduct a mock election with the use of card readers before the main election to calm frayed nerves.
According to him, INEC was prepared to face any litigation that might arise from the use of the card readers.
He also said that politicians, who were stealing, cloning or buying the Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, from people, were wasting time as the card readers would not recognise such cards during accreditation.
While fielding questions on the sanctity of the March 28 and April 11 dates for the elections, Jega said that it was not the duty of INEC to provide security and that the commission would not risk the lives of about 700,000 ad-hoc staff to be used during the exercise by sending them to the field without security protection.
He said: “I kept saying consistently that INEC is not a security organization. We are an election management body. So, we rely a lot on security to be able to ensure that things are done well and that there is no disruption of the electoral process.
“We have been working very closely with the Inter-Agencies Consultative Committee on election security and that is why for us, if the service chiefs say that we can’t guarantee security, give us more time, what is the alternative security arrangement?
“We are going to use close to 700, 000 ad hoc staff. We can’t send people to the field in that kind of a situation. Our hope and prayer is that in the next six weeks there will be significant improvement in the security situation for us to be doing elections all over this country in a very secured environment.
“There are certain questions that we are not really competent to answer. Certain questions should be directed to the military, and they can answer it better.
“I must say that every Nigerian knows that we want elections to hold within the constitutional time-frame. We should be fair also to the military. Soldiers are also patriotic Nigerians. Let us give them the benefit of doubt.
Six weeks extension
“I don’t see how anybody will contemplate any extension beyond these six weeks. There are no constitutional grounds upon which you can do that. It will only have to be unconstitutional. I don’t see how anybody will contemplate any unconstitutional means. For us, we work by the constitution, by the law and as far as we are concerned, that is what is guiding us and we should all put the interest of the nation at heart.
“On February 8, after additional broad consultation with key stakeholders, the commission decided to accede to the strong advice of the National Security Adviser, NSA, and the Service Chiefs to reschedule the elections to March 28 and April 11.
“On February 15, the commission met again, reviewed the new development and took a decision on how best to utilise the six weeks extension to add value to our operational and logistical preparations for the election.”
He said that the commission will hold a meeting of the inter-agency committee on election security on February 24, to discuss security arrangement for the rescheduled election and another on March 4 with the Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, to review progress of additional things done to finalise arrangement for the March 28 and April 11 elections. He said INEC had prioritised areas of focus before the elections, including the collection of PVCs which had been an area that had attracted wide public commentaries because of the unsatisfactory collection rate by many Nigerians.
“I am pleased to say that as at yesterday (Tuesday), the collection rate nationwide has averaged 75 .94 per cent.”
He also said that the commission was planning to organize mock tests of the card readers in each geopolitical zone and the ICT department in conjunction with the voter registry and that the electoral operations department had been mandated to immediately draw up plans for the mock test.
Jega also said: “Our decision is to now use this opportunity and identify polling units and do a mock test of the card readers particularly in each of the six geopolitical zones. Already we have conducted some specialised tests with partners in Texas USA and the card reader has passed all the 13 test categories conducted in terms of durability and versatility.”
He further said that the commission wants additional training for ad-hoc staff, especially those who would handle the card readers, adding that its electoral institute had already been mandated and provided with the methodology and budget for doing that.
“We believe that the period of extension has offered us an opportunity to further perfect the electoral process for the delivery of free, fair credible and peaceful elections to the satisfaction of the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians.
“The use of the PVCs and the card readers for the conduct of the 2015 election, we believe are in accord with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.
“They were also introduced, pursuant to the powers granted to the commission by the 1999 Constitution (as amended). INEC is empowered by Section 16(4) of the Electoral Act 2010 to ‘Wherever it considers it necessary, replace any voter card for the time being by voters.
“The decision of the commission to replace TVC with PVC is in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Act as amended. An election is said to be validly conducted if it meets certain basic requirements including accreditation of voters.”
On constitutional contentions concerning the use of the card reader against the prohibition of an electronic voting machine, he said: “The use of the card reader for the purpose of accreditation of voters is one of the innovations introduced by the commission to improve the credibility of the electoral process, in particular, the accreditation process. It is not offensive to the electoral act or to the constitution. It adds value to the desires of Nigerians to have a credible election in line with international best practice.
“Whereas Section 52 of the Electoral Act prohibits the use of electronic voting, the card reader is not a voting machine and it is not used for voting, it is merely an electronic device introduced to improve the integrity of the voting process. It should be remembered that Sections 78 and 118 of the 1999 Constitution grant INEC powers to register voters and to conduct election in Nigeria.
“We have done some few tests and the result we have is about 90 per cent successful. We feel comfortable that the card readers can be used and add value to the electoral process. It cannot be perfect. It may not be able to read every finger, and that is why we agree with political parties.
“We bought 182, 000 card readers. Some of them did not work, that is what we call dead on arrival. Of the total number of card readers that we ordered and configured, only 503 had failed to work. That is 0.03 per cent of the total.
“The agreement is that if a card reader fails during accreditation, then, we will try and repair it within the time of accreditation which is between 8:00 and 1:00 pm. If a card reader failed around 10am, before 1:00pm, we will do everything possible to replace it but if we are unable to do so, the time lost will be added to the accreditation period and extended.”
Advantages of card reader
Explaining the advantages of the Card reader, he said: “Using the card reader has enormous advantages. First, once the card reader is configured, it can only read PVC issued by INEC at the polling unit that it has been configured.
“It reads the embedded chip card, not the back code. Third, it enables authentication of the identity of the voter by matching his or her finger print with that code on the chip of the card and keeps a tally of all cards read and all cards verified or authenticated with all their details including the time when this was done.
“This information can be sent to a central server using an SMS, the stored information on the server will enable INEC to audit results from polling units as well as do arrangement of statistical analysis of the demographics of voting, something INEC has never been able to do effectively.
“The ward collation officer can use this information to audit polling unit result sheets and to determine whether accreditation figures have been altered.”
He said if a card reader fails when a person had been verified and his finger print cannot be authenticated, spares will be deployed before the end of the accreditation at 1pm.
He also said: “If we cannot replace before the end of accreditation, then the election in that particular point will be postponed to the following day when a new card reader will be provided for election and we agreed with political parties to do this because if you say if a card reader fails we go back to manual voting, we are worried that everywhere we will revert to manual because there are many people who don’t want card readers to be used.
“If a voter’s PVC has been read and the details have been verified but his finger print cannot be authenticated or he or she has no fingers, an incidence form will be written by the presiding officer at the voting point and the voter will then be accredited.
“Party agents and observers will be there to testify to this. In the next six weeks, the commission hopes to utilise the period of extension to organise more public enlightenment programmes on the use of the card reader, but we have already done a number of tests.
“We have tested these card readers in a pilot scheme here in the FCT and some of the states. We have sent national commissioners to supervise the distribution of PVCs and they went with technical officers and the card readers and wherever they went as people were collecting their cards they were also checking to see whether the cards could be read. In general, we are satisfied with the result.”
The INEC chairman said that anybody can go to court to challenge the use of the card reader, but, “we believe we have not done anything wrong. We didn’t ask for an amendment to the Act because we thought it was not unnecessary.”
He said the PVC is permanent and could last for at least 10 years and as such it could be used in 2019 election, adding, “we hope as we move towards 2019, we will get funding so that we will make PVC truly a continuous process.”
High rate of PVC in North East
On the issue of high rate of PVC collection in three states under emergency rule, Jega said: “Why should anyone blame me for that? There is need for us to have clarity on this matter. In Yobe, only two local government areas are under emergency rule and the state is in the second phase in the distribution of the PVC.
“In Yobe along with about 11 other states, we distributed cards as far as July, 2014. So if the rate of collection has gone very high, I don’t see why that should be seen as a problem. The same thing in Adamawa, only four local government areas are inaccessible and we devised a system where cards can be distributed to IDPs.
“So, as many as had been displaced but who had registered have been able to collect their cards. But when you look at the way newspapers do their analysis, they tend to project as if there is regional slant in the distribution of the cards.
“When we designed the distribution of cards, we did it in such a manner that we took two states each from each geo-political zone to make a phase and we did it in three phases just to avoid being accused of this regional slant in the distribution of PVCs.
“It will be wrong to assume that Yobe or any other state has higher rate of collection. If people come out to collect and other people did not, why should we be blamed for that?”
The deputy leader of the PDP caucus in the House, Leo Ogor had at yesterday’s session raised a motion calling for Jega to be summoned. The motion was, however, defeated by the majority of members of the House at the session who belong to the APC.
The distribution of House members and their party membership shows: APC (182); PDP (155) other parties (23). The House has 360 members.
Deployment of military
Meanwhile, the House will today debate the legality or otherwise of the deployment of the military during elections.
This motion is proposed by the APC leader in the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, APC Surulere Federal Constituency. Gbajabiamila at the hearing today is expected to cite video and audio evidence of the involvement of military men during the 2014 governorship election in Ekiti State.
Last August, INEC backed an amendment to the Electoral Act which constitutionally limits the role of Armed Forces in elections. The commission in a position paper presented by its chairman, Attahiru Jega backed the amendment of Section 29(1) of the Electoral Act which inserts a new paragraph(b) that limits the role of the military to “securing the distribution and delivery of electoral materials”.
The new paragraph (b) reads in part: “The commission shall be responsible for requesting for the deployment of relevant security personnel necessary for elections or registration of voters and shall assign them in the manner determined by the commission in consultation with the relevant security agencies.