*Our worries – PDP
By Olasunkanmi Akoni, Vincent Ujumadu, Gbenga Ariyibi, Peter Okutu, Suzan Edeh, John Mkom, Davis Iheamnachor, Jude Opara and Festus Ahon
The test run of the Card Reader Machines proposed for the forthcoming general elections, carried out in 12 states, yesterday, exposed the flaws in the new voting technology introduced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Significantly, the machines failed to recognise Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) in some states.
In many other states, the machines’ batteries went down after barely three hours of operation.
The batteries running down within the space of time may be an issue in an election in which voting may span at least six hours.
The failure of the biometric confirmation of potential voters was higher in the North.
Lagos State was, however, an exception as the exercise passed off smoothly with little hitches in the swiping of the PVCs and the biometric confirmation of the potential voters.
The exercise was carried out in Lagos, Ekiti, Anambra, Ebonyi, Taraba, Bauchi and Kano. The other states where the mock accreditation exercise took place were Kebbi, Delta and Rivers States.
LAGOS: Satisfactory exercise
The event which commenced at 8 am at the 50 voting points in Onigbongbo Ward in Ikeja, held simultaneously at the various polling units.
Prospective voters came out in trickles with their PVCs for the accreditation process which was done by four INEC officials in each of the voting points.
Unlike other voting points in Onigbongbo, the turnout at most of the polling units in Ikeja G.R.A was not impressive.
At the places Sunday Vanguard visited, the process of authentication of the PVCs which was done by swiping of the PVCs against the Smart Card Readers, SCRs, was smooth, just as the thumbprints of most prospective voters were generally recognized by the SCRs.
The process of authentication lasted between 60 seconds and two minutes.
Some residents, who thought the exercise was for PVC collection, complained that they were yet to get their PVCs, despite seeing their names on the voters’ register.
Others, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, expressed satisfaction with the exercise, even as they lamented that INEC was not doing enough on public enlightenment.
The state Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Mr. Akin Orebiyi, who monitored the exercise, commended the exercise, noting that the result had cleared doubts about the efficiency of the SCRs.
“The intention of today’s exercise is primarily to test the efficiency of the Smart Card Readers. That is why we are here. And we have achieved good results. This shows that the Card Readers are efficient. So, politicians who have doubts about the device can now see that the device will contribute to making the elections credible’’, Orebiyi added.
RIVERS: Fake PVC
The exercise was carried out in all the 23 units of Ward 1 (Oromineke and Ezimgbu) and the 19 voting points in Port Harcourt. The process was carried out by 188 staff of INEC.
The state REC, Dame Gecila Khan, who monitored the testing, described the exercise as successful.
She said the essence of the Card Reader Machine was to spot out irregularities on the side of voters. She said the target of the machine was met after spotting some slight irregularities.
A fake PVC that was suspected to have been cloned was spotted. The card was discovered to have not been issued by INEC as the machine could not recognise the bearer.
But the bearer, who did not disclose his name to journalists’, insisted that he registered and obtained the card from INEC officials.
ANAMBRA: Malfunctioning machine
THE mock accreditation conducted at Igboukwu Ward 1 in Anambra State showed the Card Reader failing to recognise about half of those who presented the cards. It also took between 10 seconds and 10 minutes for the Card Reader to clear some of the prospective voters, just as the battery of some of the machines went down after barely three hours of operation.
Even when some people washed their hands and returned to try again, the Card Reader still rejected their fingers.
One significant feature of the exercise was the rejection of PVCs by some polling centers, which some of the stakeholders described as a welcome development as it showed that nobody can vote outside the area where he registered.
The state REC, Mr. Edwin Nwatarali, who monitored the exercise with some of his staff, took note of the deficiencies. He however expressed happiness that there was no incidence of the Card Reader rejecting the PVCs brought to the polling stations by their owners.
The REC was also confronted with the issue of those who claimed that their PVCs were already signed by other people by the time they went to collect them, but he advised those who had such problems to report to him for proper verification.
Though the INEC staff were at their duty posts by 8.00 am, prospective voters did not arrive early, apparently due to lack of publicity. For instance, at Amaudo Akwukwa polling unit, the first voter arrived at about 9.00am. and it took three seconds for him to be accredited.
However, as the exercise was going on, public address systems were used to ask people in the ward to go for the mock election.
When it became a common feature that the Card Reader was rejecting fingers of most voters, the INEC workers asked such people to go and wash their hands without rubbing body cream. In some of the polling units, the INEC workers resorted to using handkerchiefs to clean the fingers of the affected people, and it still did not work for some people.
Some of the party candidates that had Igboukwu as part of their constituency also monitored the exercise. The senatorial candidate for Anambra South, Dr. Andy Uba, who is also the Chairman of Senate Committee on INEC, observed the exercise in some of the polling units and was briefed by the INEC workers about the challenges they were facing.
Though he observed that the Card Reader could help to ensure free, fair and credible election, he promised to intimate INEC with the problems encountered during the mock exercise.
Another senatorial candidate for Anambra South, Mr. Emeka Osunkwo, of the Peoples Democratic Congress, PDC, who hails from the ward, said it took two minutes for him to be verified, but expressed worry that the likely large turnout of voters on the day of the election might overwhelm INEC if it took long time for the Card Reader to verify voters.
DELTA: Low turnout
LOW turnout of voters trailed the mock accreditation exercise for the demonstration of the Card Readers in Delta State.
The exercise, which commenced at exactly 8 a.m. with INEC officials mounting their various units, was conducted in Ward 04 comprising 14 units spread across Asagba Primary School and Niger Mixed Secondary School, Asaba in Oshimili South Local Government Area of the state with about 13,000 registered voters.
Voters trickled in to see how the card readers work. Our correspondent, who monitored the exercise, reported that there were incidents of failed attempts in capturing biometrics of prospective voters.
The exercise, which recorded less than 25% of the over 10,000 voters who collected their PVCs, was however successful as it took a maximum of 30 seconds to accredit a voter.
Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, who spoke through the state Commissioner for Justice, Mr Charles Ajuyah, SAN, commended the exercise. He, however, appealed to INEC to work on the machines in order to eliminate incidents of failure of biometric capture on election day.
The Delta State Chairman of the Labour Party, Chief Tony Ezeagwu, who also spoke during the exercise, said: “I am impressed with what I have seen so far; it is working. But they would have demonstrated how data collected is being transmitted to the head office in Abuja to remove the doubt that the data is being stored here at the polling unit.”
On his part, the Treasurer of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Delta, Mr Akpedafe Edewor, who represented the State Chairman, Prophet Jones Erue, said: “INEC has done a perfect job and APC is ready to abide by the rules guiding the use of the Card Readers for the election.” He insisted that the Card Reader must be used for the elections.
BAUCHI: Low turnout
The exercise, held in Jama’re B Registration Area of Jamare’re Local Government Area of the state comprising 14 polling units, recorded low turnout of potential voters.
The exercise commenced at 8 a.m. and ended at 1 p.m.
At Jeyogel polling station, the total number of registered voters was 405, but only 109 turned out for accreditation, out of which 83 voters fingerprints were successfully captured while 26 failed the verification exercise.
As at 11.30am, the average battery strength of the Card Reader at the various polling units was 78 percent reflective of the durability of the batteries supplied.
Yola polling unit had a total number of 650 registered voters, but only 104 turned out for the exercise. The number of captured fingerprints at the polling unit was 81 while 23 failed the verification.
Reacting to the development, the state REC, Professor Hamman Tukur Sa’ad, expressed satisfaction with the performance of the Card Readers even as he noted that the low turnout was because of the awareness that it was only a test run.
He said that there were 14 polling units in the registration area, and the Commission deployed 30 Card Reader devices, adding that there was no reason to use the spare devices as none of the readers failed.
The INEC boss said that the only challenge of the exercise was convincing people to come out of their houses and partake in the exercise.
NIGER: Eligible voters without PVCs
There was an impressive turnout for the exercise in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State. However, many eligible voters could not partake as they could not present their PVCs.
The accreditation took more than a minute for each person.
The state Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Honorable Umar Musa Ma’ali, who commended the exercise, said the PDP was satisfied with the Card Reader but called on INEC to work on the time taken to accredit each voter in order not to frustrate the exercise.
He said from what they had seen, the Card Reader had shown that it was a good development which cannot be abused.
The All Progressives Congress (APC), through its spokesman, Jonathan Vatsa, also commended INEC for the innovation, adding that it would knock out the issue of multiple voting.
He, however, called on INEC to ensure that PVCs are made available to voters in order to ensure that some are not disenfranchised. The INEC staff, who participated in the exercise, said the process went smoothly as the Card Readers recognized the voters registered in the polling units while it rejected those from other polling units.
Eligible voters, who could not be captured, were assured that the non-recognition of their thumbprint will not disenfranchise them from voting as they were told that once the machine recognizes the card, they will be accredited to vote.
KANO: 3 failures out of 10
The mock exercise, which took place in Dan’Maliki Ward, Kumbotso Local Government Area, witnessed high turnout of prospective voters but it was marred by the failure of the Card Readers to recognise the thumbprints of a large number of potential voters.
There were about three failures out of ten successful PVC entries, but INEC officials said the development was not a threat to the deployment of the Card Readers.
The state REC, Munkaila Abdullahi, said that the Commission issued ‘incident forms’ to reflect failed biometrics, pointing out that the anomaly would addressed.
“The Card Reader has proved to be reliable, and we are satisfied by the turn out of voters and security cover by the police,” the REC said.
He explained that the adjustment of accreditation time by one hour was done to accommodate likely hiccup, adding that the “Kano exercise was a huge success.”
EBONYI: Poor authentication
The exercise in Ebonyi State took place in Izzi Unuhu in Abakaliki Local Government Area and was marred by slow authentication process of PVCs by the Card Readers across the area designated for the exercise.
The exercise, which took place in 24 polling units across Unuhu Ward 10, witnessed appreciable number of voters and large turnout of security personnel.
One challenge reported was that the Card Readers didn’t recognize the fingerprints of voters who registered for the 2011 general elections.
Addressing newsmen after the exercise, the Ebonyi State REC, Dr. Lawrence Azubuike, acknowledged that the authentication process by the Card Reader was very poor and promised that such challenges would be corrected as reports emanating from the mock election would be sent to INEC headquarters.
TARABA: Flaws galore
The exercise, conducted in all the polling units of Mutum Biu Ward in Gasol Local Government Area of Taraba State, ended with many voters complaining that the Card Readers could not identify their fingerprints.
Although the Card Reader takes less than ten seconds to authenticate a PVC, the machine rejected over 70% of the fingerprints of the card owners in the areas visited by Sunday Vanguard.
There was large turn up for the exercise in all the polling units.
Repeated efforts to confirm the fingerprints led to long queues at the polling units.
The INEC National Commissioner in charge of Adamawa, Gombe and Taraba States, Dr. Nuru Yakubu, who was in the area to inspect the exercise, told journalists that the Commission was happy with the development despite the inability of the Card Reader to verify PVC owners.
Yakubu, on the inspection visit alongside the Resident Electoral Commissioners for Gombe, Adamawa and Taraba States said the exercise was a huge success since two out of the three aims of the Card Reader was achieved.
He said the SCR aim was to accredit, verify and send polling units data to the INEC center.
He further stated that since the Card Reader was able to do proper accreditation of genuine PVCs that belongs to INEC, the Commission will monitor the number of voters accredited in each polling unit which shall reduce rigging.
EKITI: Poor turnout
Voters, international observers, and other stakeholders lauded the initiative to use Card Readers following the mock accreditation exercise that took place in Ward 009, Dallimore Street, Ado Ekiti.
The ward has about 21,631 voters out of which 14,461 had collected their PVCs. Turnout yesterday was poor though the usage of the Smart Card Reader was practically demonstrated to the admiration of all.
Commending INEC for the innovation, Mrs Rumi Ana Decheva and Mr Uros Urstga, both international observers, said it would help in adding credibility to the country’s electoral process.
The state REC, Mr Sam Olumekun, who monitored the election , said the mock election practically demonstrated that the forthcoming polls could not be manipulated.
A voter, Mrs Ojo Taiwo, who was verified at Dallimore Unit 002, applauded the electoral body for the initiative , saying it will help in stemming the tide of electoral malpractice in the country.
Our worries – PDP
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, said, yesterday, it was worried over the lapses in the testing of the Card Readers.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, the party noted that the fall-out from the test “vindicates earlier widespread calls by stakeholders that the Card Readers should be thoroughly tested to ascertain their workability for free, fair and credible elections before being deployed for the actual polls.”
Metuh, who said that the party had noted series of complaints from Nigerians regarding reported lapses experienced in the testing of the machines, stressed that it was waiting for official response from INEC.