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Election: Disenfranchisement of voters, bad as rigging , By Edozie Okeiyi

The much talked about 2015 Elections are only a few days away. The frenzy is unprecedented. The stakes are obviously high this time around, so no one is actually  surprised. One thing we all agree on is the need for a free, fair and credible exercise.

A credible exercise would not only serve as a solid platform for future political stability and growth, but more importantly, would reduce the likelihood of post -election violence. So it is in the overall interests of Nigeria for INEC and all stakeholders to ensure we have a credible exercise.

Apparently to ensure a credible exercise, INEC  introduced the Permanent Voter cards, powered by a card reader, for the purpose of accreditation of voters during the lections.

INEC and Jega should be commended for this laudable innovation. It corresponds with President Jonathan’s promise in 2011 to make rigging a thing of the past in Nigeria. Whatever measures necessary to minimise or eradicate electoral malpractices in the country should be commended by all.

INEC OFFICIAL CHECKING THE THUMB OF A PHYSICALLY CHALLENGED VOTER, DURING THE TESTING OF SMART CARD READER AT HORARE WARD AND JOGEL POLLING UNIT IN JAMA,ARE LGA OF BAUCHI STATE ON SATURDAY.
FILE: INEC OFFICIAL CHECKING THE THUMB OF A VOTER, DURING THE TESTING OF SMART CARD READER AT HORARE WARD AND JOGEL POLLING UNIT IN JAMA,ARE LGA OF BAUCHI STATE ON SATURDAY.

Having said that,  let me mention that the poor distribution of the PVCs nationwide has reasonably dented the credibility of this new technology. For instance, Ghanaians used this new technology for their last election. I have spoken to my friends and colleagues from Ghana; they confirmed to me that nearly every eligible voter got his/her PVC one year before the election. So nobody had reasons to complain in Ghana, principally because people were issued with their PVCs well in advance.

A situation where over 12 million voters are yet to receive their permanent  voter cards, approximately 6 days before the polls, is not only wrong and unacceptable, but an abuse of the inalienable right of citizens to vote and be voted for.

Again, we are going to experiment this new technology with the presidential election. This is quite bizarre. The conventional approach is that innovations are tested and certified before plunging it into the big stage. But strangely, we are going to try out a new system for the first time in our history, using the presidential election as our lecture board. This is very offbeat and unscientific. A rational and scientific approach involves approaching problems from the simple to the complex, and experimenting at the foot of the mountain, not at the mountain top. Ideally, the presidential election should be the grand finale. It shouldn’t be the preamble, unless there is a sinister motive involved.

It is as a result of these lapses that some have called for the re-introduction of the modified open ballot system, popularly known as option A4. Option A4 was introduced by the former brave and charismatic INEC boss, Professor Humphrey Nwosu. It was a system where all voters queued openly to vote for their preferred candidates, after accreditation. This method is cheap and very cost effective. It was this system that produced the June12 result, an exercise that was deemed by local and international observers, as the freest and fairest election in the annals of Nigeria. I also share this view.  However, my opinion is that we have outgrown this system. It is a very raw and crude approach to elections. It served us well then. But we draw from history in order to strengthen the future, not to reintroduce outdated methods hook, line and sinker. I don’t believe we should revert to the old open ballot system. Rather, we should embrace the new technology, with reasonable flexibility, in order to accommodate all and sundry. Technology is the way forward in the 21st century.

The introduction of PVC is a welcomed development. I believe if well utilized, it has the potential to minimise, if not eradicate, electoral malpractices in Nigeria. It is sad to mention, that the distribution of the PVCs was poor and lopsided. Every registered voter should have been issued with PVC long before now. If one is issued with one and he/she doesn’t use it, then it will be a different story. But for a citizen to be disenfranchised because INEC failed to distribute the PVCs properly is not only morally unacceptable, but legally wrong. In fact INEC may face legal actions from disenfranchised Citizens. It is a civic right that every eligible voter must be given the opportunity to exercise.

In conclusion, I recommend that every registered voter must be given the opportunity to exercise his/her franchise. If a voter has duly registered to vote, and owing to INEC’s poor distribution of the PVCs, the said voter doesn’t have a PVC, INEC should allow such persons to vote, as long as their names can be found in the electoral register for the polling booth. Yes we want credible polls, yes the PVC is a good innovation, but we cannot achieve credibility while disenfranchising millions of our compatriots. Rigging is a crime. Disenfranchisement of others is a grave injustice. We cannot solve the problems of rigging by introducing another injustice. INEC should use the new technology, with reasonable flexibility.

More importantly, INEC should tell itself the blunt truth that it failed to distribute the PVCs in timely manner. Insisting that people without the PVCs won’t be allowed to vote is tantamount to justifying an injustice. Impunity is not only when leaders show little or no regard for the law, it includes when a citizen is denied  his inalienable right to vote , for no faults of his, and INEC refusing all suggestions to accommodate him/her at the polls.

Let the PVC be used, but if INEC failed to provide Mr A with a PVC, and Mr A turns up at the polling station, and his name can be found on the electoral register, Mr A should be allowed to vote. Denying him his right to vote means punishing him for INEC’s shortcomings.

DISENFRANCHISEMENT is as bad as RIGGING. None should be defended or justified. Every vote must count. There can be no credibility if I am allowed to vote, and my neighbour is not allowed, because INEC didn’t give him a PVC. Let us rise up and defend our democracy, and the right of our fellow compatriots to vote and be voted for.  WHAT IS SAUCE FOR THE GOOSE IS SUACE FOR THE GANDER.

We are all citizens of the same  Country. There should no double standards.

Let me close by reminding us of one of the greatest quotes of the departed African legend Madiba…

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”.
God bless Nigeria…

Edozie Okeiyi, @edokeiyi,  is  Director of Media & Strategy Great Nigeria Movement.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.