Just before the 2015 general elections, the card reader, the new device introduced by the electoral regulator gained currency as the election game changer with its supposed ability to scrutinise and sieve out fraudulent votes. However, the Supreme Court with its recent pronouncements on contentions in some of the most controversial governorship elections has pulled the rug off the feet of the Card Reader.
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Henry Umoru, Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Omezia Ajayi
It was a device introduced as the game changer to resolve the many contentions that had plagued previous elections in the country. The card reader, a device introduced to authenticate voters and their Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, however, soon became an issue even before the elections as stakeholders supportive and against its use took diverse positions.
On arrival at the polling unit, a voter was supposed to present his PVC which would then be authenticated by the card reader following which the voter would present his fingerprints for biometric verification, a step that would authenticate the eligibility of the voter.
Given the expectations it was not surprising that the issue caused leading officials of the former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP to chorus against its use for the 2015 elections.
Femi Fani-Kayode, Director of Media and Publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation was dismissive of the card alleging a collaboration between some unnamed stakeholders and the then opposition All Progressives Congress, APC to twist the election.
“Our position on the card reader remains that the machine has not been tested in any election. There are bases for genuine concern over the use of the machine, for the first time, in a crucial election of this magnitude.
“We are aware that the All Progressives Congress (APC), is working in cahoots with some strategically placed elements to use the card readers to frustrate accreditation in some parts of the country,” Fani-Kayode said at a press conference just before the election.
Responding, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the then national publicity secretary of the APC charged the PDP of having ulterior motives for its opposition to the use of the APC.
“Nigerians have sacrificed all they can to obtain their PVCs, which are now their most-prized possession. They have also hailed the plan by INEC to use the card reader to give Nigeria credible polls.
“Only dishonest politicians, those who plan to rig, those who have engaged in a massive purchase of PVCs and those who have something to hide are opposed to use of the machine.
In the end, the Independent National Electoral Commission’s INEC’s insistence led to the use of the card reader in the polls, albeit with mixed results.
First round of elections
In the first round of elections, the presidential and National Assembly elections which were held on March 28, the card reader failed in several cases to cross match the biometric data of several voters including the then president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
The failure of the card reader was in several cases traced to the failure of polling officers to peel off the cellophane covering of the readers.
Two weeks later when the commission conducted the state level governorship and state legislative elections it confidently asserted that the card readers were in good working condition with a warning that votes and voters would be subjected to the scrutiny of the card readers.
The elections passed on almost uneventfully with the notable exceptions of Rivers and Awka Ibom where the APC alleged that the card readers were disregarded by INEC officials or that votes were crookedly computed.
At an election post review retreat in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, the then chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega affirmed that votes at the governorship election that did not pass through the scrutiny of the card reader could be defective.
“What we meant by saying that card readers must be used is that we did not expect, in any polling unit, any person to say that the card readers were not functioning and as a result, opted for manual accreditation. No.
“We asked those who had experienced card readers’ failure to come back the following day, assuring them that we would replace the card readers for the election to take place.
“As far as I know, virtually in all the places where the card readers actually failed, we came back the following day and conducted the elections and so, if there is evidence of any place where they just put aside the card readers and used manual accreditation, that election can be examined.
“I am sure the tribunal will look at the evidence clearly as to what happened.”
The alleged failure of the card reader remarkably formed the plank of several of the petitions by several failed governorship candidates at the election tribunals.
The hope of some of the losers was given fillip by the tribunals in Rivers and Akwa Ibom States and also the Court of Appeal which reversed the election of incumbent governors in the two states and also in Abia States.
It was against the grain of high expectation by the oppositionists in the three states that the Supreme Court recently thwarted their hopes with the validation of the governorship elections conducted in the states.
As at press time, the apex court was yet to give the reason for its decision in those states.
However, a pointer to the underlying judicial reason was revealed last Friday when the apex court gave reasons for its decision to uphold the election of Governor Dave Umuahi of Ebonyi State.
Justice Chima Nweze, giving the apex court’s reason for dismissing the appeal filed against Umuahi, notably faulted the reliance on the card reader by the appellant, he said:
“Exhibit GP 45 (The card reader Report) is incomplete, unreliable and incapable of proving the appellant’s allegation of improper accreditation/over-voting. Thus, any attempt to invest it (Card reader Machine procedure) with such overarching pre-eminence or superiority over the voters’ register is like converting an auxiliary procedure into the dominant procedure- of proof, that is, proof of accreditation.
“This is a logical impossibility. Indeed, only recently, this court in Shinkafi V Yari confirmed the position that the card reader machine has not replaced the Voters’ register and has not supplanted the statement of results in appropriate forms, hence, the appellant still had the obligation to prove his averments in paragraphs 16, 17, 18 and 19 of his petition relating to accreditation of voters and over-voting as enunciated in several decisions of this court which counsel for the respondents cited profusely.”
The dismissal of the card reader as a device to scrutinise the authenticate voters by the Supreme Court has inevitably brought to question INEC’s reliance on the device to check election fraud.
The judgment of the apex court nonetheless, INEC said that it did not mean that the device would no longer be used.
Director, Voter Education, Publicity, Civil Society and Gender Liaison, Oluwole Osaze-Uzi told Vanguard that the commission would not discard the card readers.
“We will continue to use the card reader for our elections. It is only meant to enhance the process and not to displace or supplant the manual register. For now, there is no legislation that prohibits it, until probably when there is an electoral reform and a contrary legislation is made about its usage. The court has also not banned its usage, so we will continue to use it for the process of authentication of voter details”, he said.
With a kind of restrained gusto, the PDP which has benefited from the judgments in nearly all the recent cases has apparently moderated its stance claiming that it would welcome the incorporation of the Card Reader into the Electoral Act.
The support would, however, be hinged on the perfection of the alleged lapses in the use of the device.
PDP National Legal Adviser, Barrister Victor Kwon said, “We all welcome improved technology in the electoral process that will ease voting and ensure the integrity of the votes but in view of the widespread challenges of the card reader in the last general election, a lot needs to be done to perfect it before we can safely canvas incorporating it into the Electoral Act.”