By Omeiza Ajayi
AS the electorate in Edo State file out to vote in their next governor today, all eyes are on the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to deliver on its mandate of conducting a free, fair and credible election. The Commission has dutifully carried out 13 of the 14 scheduled tasks contained in the timetable and schedule of activities for the election, the last is the actual election today.
However, while the electoral umpire has a great role to play in this regard, it is pertinent to note that in spite of its preparations, if other stakeholders like the security agencies, politicians and the people refuse to cooperate with it, the dream of having a free, fair and credible election would just be a mirage.
It was in realization of this that INEC, through the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, ICCES, has held several meetings and drawn up a code of conduct for security operatives deployed for the election.
The Commission said the introduction of a harmonized Code of Conduct and Rules of Engagement is a “commitment to improve the quality of elections in Nigeria, including the provision of first-class protection for all electoral activities.” Security operatives on election day will now “operate with a common standard of reference for their actions.”
The electoral umpire also developed a policy for conducting elections in the context of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The policy contains a lot of health and other advisories to ensure a seamless exercise and protect against spread of the virus.
On the readiness of the commission for the polls, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said: “We held many meetings with political parties and their candidates. We had several engagements with the security agencies at national and state levels. We consulted with stakeholders. We sought and received, the blessings of royal fathers and religious leaders. We have recruited, trained and carefully screened all categories of ad hoc staff to be deployed to the field. We have delivered all non-sensitive materials for the election. Voter education and sensitisation is ongoing. We have made arrangements for the movement of personnel and materials to all polling units on Election Day. The Commission has taken every step and made every arrangement for the election holding this weekend”.
Just like in previous elections, the Commission is deploying magnifying glasses and braille ballot guides to assist Persons with Disabilities, PWDs, to vote unaided.
Before now, the Commission had translated and published its policy of conducting elections in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the Voters’ Code of Conduct into braille in order to ensure greater awareness and effective participation of all citizens in the electoral process irrespective of disability.
What could be a game-changer since the introduction of the smart card readers is the step taken to deepen the use of technology in elections. For instance, the Commission recently built portals for the nomination of candidates by political parties as well as the accreditation of election observers and the media. It has used the portals seamlessly in preparing for the Edo Governorship election.
Z-pad, dizzying issues
However, what could perhaps be the most critical of the recent innovations introduced by the Commission is the use of a tablet now popularly called the z-pad. The z-pad is an innovation introduced to serve as a secondary means of achieving full biometric accreditation using facial image of the voter in support of the fingerprint authentication by the Smart Card Reader.
Secondly, the camera on the tablet will be used to take a picture of the polling unit result (EC8A) and to upload same on a dedicated portal (INEC RESULT VIEWING – IReV). This development would enable all those interested in viewing the results to do so in real time and this has a tendency of eliminating swapping or alteration of results as they are conveyed to the collation centres.
In order to test-run the system, the Commission deployed the z-pad in the Nasarawa Central State Constituency bye-election in Nasarawa State on 8th August 2020.
According to Prof. Yakubu, the test-run was intended to assess the functionality of the technology before its deployment in major elections. However, while the capture and uploading of polling unit level result went on smoothly, the facial authentication did not, as the Commission encountered hardware and software issues which needed to be fixed.
“Our ICT Department worked on the new device and made a presentation to the Commission which decided that the system needs to be robust enough before it can be deployed in a major election. Unlike the 44 polling units of the Nasarawa Central State Constituency, the Edo governorship election involves 2,627 polling units. The Commission decided that since this technology is work in progress, we should carry out a further test-run in some of the smaller constituencies during the bye-elections scheduled for 31st October 2020 and thereafter engage with stakeholders before it can be deployed in major elections. The atmosphere in Edo State ahead of the election this weekend is already charged. We cannot afford to complicate it further by introducing a new technology we are not yet fully satisfied with.
“However, the uploading of polling unit level results in the election on Saturday will proceed as planned. The z-pads have already been delivered, configured and ad hoc staff trained on its deployment on Election Day. Enough chargers have been provided to address the power problem identified during the Nasarawa test-run. We envisage that there will be a high traffic of persons interested in viewing the results in real time. Consequently, the Commission has dynamically expanded the result viewing portal to accommodate almost two million viewers at the same time without clogging. To view the uploaded results, please visit our website (www.inecelectionresults.com) to register and create an account”, the INEC Chairman explained.
Smart card readers
The Smart Card Readers would still be used for voter verification and authentication. According to Professor Yakubu, “this is a mandatory requirement and where it is deliberately avoided to undermine the integrity of the electoral process, the result for the affected polling unit will be declared void in line with the Commission’s regulations and guidelines.”
Despite its huge deployment of assets, including over 20, 000 ad hoc staff who are already trained, insured and given an operational code of conduct,the national headquarters of INEC will monitor the election throughout Edo State today.
Through its Zoom Situation Room, INEC will receive live reports from the field, while citizens can contact the electoral umpire on its various platforms such as the toll-free INEC Citizens Contact Centre (ICCC) telephone line in addition to its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
In addition to the above, INEC has entered into an agreement with various transport unions including Maritime Unions to supply vehicles and boats for the transportation of materials and men.
The Commission said it has received all needed Personal Protective Equipment PPEs against Covid-19 for its personnel and ad hoc staff. It has also configured the smart card readers and sent them to electoral officers while all the participating 14 political parties have been given copies of the voter register in line with Section 20 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
What are the statistics?
The number of registered voters in Edo is 2, 210,534; the number of PVCs collected is 1,735,910; The number of uncollected PVCs is 483,868; These uncollected PVCs have been deposited with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, for safe keeping so that nobody can have access to them.
The number of Polling Units where elections will be conducted are 2, 627. The number of political wards are 192 wards. There are 18 local government areas spread across the three senatorial districts.
There are 14 political parties participating in the exercise. Twelve of the political parties presented male candidates while two presented female governorship candidates.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, polling units will now open at 8.30am (instead of 8.00am) and close at 2.30pm (instead of 2.00pm). However, all eligible voters who are on the queue by 2.30pm will be allowed to vote in line with the Commission’s regulations.
The INEC Chairman has said the ultimate objective is to ensure that the choice of who becomes the next governor of Edo State is entirely in the hands of the voters.
“I wish to reassure you that votes will count and only the choice made by the people of Edo State will determine the outcome of the election. The Commission shall not take any action to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate. Our focus is on our processes and procedures. Nothing more.
“The Commission is also aware of the concern expressed in some quarters about the neutrality of our staff, in particular the ad hoc staff engaged for election duty. We have heard allegations that some ad hoc staff were recruited in such a manner as to compromise the election. In response, the Commission deployed two National Commissioners who reviewed the process for strict compliance with the guidelines for such recruitment. I want to assure you that all categories of ad hoc staff have been vetted. The integrity of the process will not be compromised and there will be no partisan infiltration.
As the eligible voters in Edo State go to the polls on Saturday, I wish to renew my appeal to all political parties, candidates and their supporters for peaceful conduct. Your votes will count. Polling unit level results will be uploaded for public view.
However, this will not happen where the process is disrupted by violence or malpractices. The Commission is determined that no one will benefit from impunity or rewarded for bad behaviour such as vote-buying, ballot box snatching and stuffing, multiple voting, hijacking and diversion of election materials, disruption of collation, falsification of results, attack on INEC officials or compelling them to declare unofficial results. The people of Edo State must be allowed to freely vote for their preferred candidate without inducement or harassment”, he stated.