Controversy over Card Reader

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The introduction of permanent voter cards and the use of card reader by the Independent National Electoral Commission is generating a lot of controversy, and there is fear that if it is not handled carefully may rubbish this year’s general elections

By Olu Ojewale  |  Mar. 23, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

THIS, no doubt, is the season of controversies. As general elections draw near, Nigerian politicians have upped their antics with all sorts of controversial issues to either destabilise or discredit each other. In the past few days, the atmosphere is fraught with accusations and counter-accusations on the introduction of permanent voter cards, PVCs and the use of card readers, CR, by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct the elections. The measure has divided the political class with the two major political parties in the country holding divergent views.

Both supporters and opponents of the INEC innovation have almost been shouting themselves hoarse maintain their stances. The INEC said that the use of the PVCs and CR would stop multiple voting by ensuring that only owners of the PVCs could vote at designated points where their PVCs were programmed to.

But the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, appears to be unconvinced, even after the device had been used in mock elections held on Saturday, March 7, in 12 states of the federation.  The devise recorded massive failure in three states including Ebonyi and Niger. According to a statement attributed to INEC, the exercise recorded 59 percent success rate. This is why the PDP insists that 41 percent failure rate of the card reader in only 12 states was unacceptable wondering what will happen if the device is used in the 36 states plus the federal capital territory.

The PDP Governors’ Forum, which met at an interactive session with the media and civil society organisations in Lagos, on Tuesday, March 10, expressed reservations at the use of the device and overall preparedness of the INEC for the elections.

The PDPGF meeting which was held in Lagos, had in attendance governors Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom); Liyel Imoke (Cross River); Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa); Babangida Aliyu (Niger); Sule Lamido (Jigawa); Bala Ngilari (Adamawa); Ayo Fayose (Ekiti) and Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo).

Others were Ibrahim Shema (Katsina); Jonah Jang (Plateau); Mukhtar Yero (Kaduna) and Ibrahim Danwambo (Gombe). Jimi Agbaje, governorship candidate of the party for Lagos State, also attended the meeting.

Akpabio
Akpabio

Akpabio, chairman of the PDPGF, said Lagos, was chosen in recognition of its position as the headquarters of the media and activism in Nigeria.  On the PDPGF opposition to use of the PVC and CR, the governor said: “The INEC appears ill-prepared for the 2015 elections. For example, at the time the polls were shifted due to security concerns, more than 23 million registered voters had yet to collect their PVCs and you know there are some countries with populations of about just three million.

“Twenty-three million would amount to disenfranchising more than five West African countries in their own elections. It will be recalled that even the INEC chairman (Attahiru Jega) admitted on the floor of the Senate that over one million PVCs had yet to be printed in far away China.

“According to the INEC chairman, the postponement was a blessing in disguise. How then can Nigerians reconcile the purported readiness of INEC for the February 14, election with the testing of card readers more than a month after the postponement? More than three weeks after the elections have been shifted, they are then testing the card readers that would have been used. Given the failure rate of the card readers during the recent mock exercise, it is apparent that many Nigerians will be disenfranchised even when they are registered to vote.

“We re-assert that on no account should any registered voter be disenfranchised for non-possession of PVC even when the person has a TVC when it is not due to one’s own personal fault; even when the card reader has rejected or refused to recognise the thumbprint or the battery is dead and there is no electricity in that area to charge it.

“We don’t want anyone disenfranchised and we are pleading also that elections should not be shifted again because the impression is that we were not ready for elections even though we know that we would have won the elections if they had been allowed to hold.”

Similarly, Imoke said prior to 2011, Attahiru Jega, chairman of the INEC, was seen as a man of integrity and that was why he was appointed by President Jonathan.  However, he said recent happenings in the INEC were beginning to prove him to be otherwise.

Imoke said no one should be disenfranchised on account of the PVC or card reader. He also said: “The facts are before us. The testing of the card reader and its failure have not been addressed. The PVCs remain unprinted as we speak; INEC has no right whatsoever to disenfranchise any Nigerian. I will appreciate it if the media can focus on this issue. I will not want to go to a polling unit and be told that as a result of no fault of mine, my card was rejected. My picture is on my PVC, it looks like me and it is me but because the card reader cannot recognise my fingerprint, I will not be allowed to vote?

“So for us, it is important that we understand democratic values and appreciate that the values of democracy rest squarely on equity and the right of every Nigerian to participate in the process of selecting their leaders.”

Expressing similar opinion, Jang, who said he had collected his PVC, flayed the INEC for not test running the device in last year’s governorship election in Osun and Ekiti states.

Imoke
Imoke

As if taking a cue from the governors, the national leadership of the PDP also sent a letter to the INEC detailing why it was against the use of the PVC and CR based on its observations on the mock election. Addressing the press in Abuja on Tuesday, March 10, Uche Secondus, deputy national chairman of the PDP, said there were three major elements that the INEC must correct before the elections if the device must be used. According Secondus, the card reader as tested on Saturday by the INEC has three major elements namely very high sensitive setting, medium sensitive and low sensitive setting.

He said: “The high sensitive setting makes it difficult for accreditation which takes up to 15 to 20 minutes while the medium and low sensitive makes it easy for accreditation which takes about five minutes to four minutes as the case may be. So, we concluded that the card readers have some major default and this can be corrected by the INEC or those who provided the technology.”

However, the All Progressives Congress, APC, the main opposition party, on its part, said it was satisfied with the device and urged the commission to go ahead with the use of the card readers.

Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State and chairman, Progressives Governors’ Forum, accused the PDP of plotting to stop the conduct of the general elections on March 28 and April 11. Okorocha, who spoke through Chinedu Offor, commissioner for Information, Imo State, on Wednesday, March 11, faulted the claim by the PDPGF on Tuesday that the INEC was ill-prepared for the polls.

He said: “They (PDP members) want to do everything to stop the elections. They have come up with all manner of excuses. The PDP is on a fishing expedition. If they are not talking about card readers, they are talking about insecurity. How can they be talking of the INEC not being prepared? They know they have lost the confidence of the Nigerian electorate. They have seen the handwriting on the wall.

“The questions to ask are: Is the INEC ready? The answer is yes. Are Nigerians ready? The answer is yes. Is the APC ready? The answer is yes. Have people collected their PVCs? The answer is yes. All over the world, not all eligible voters vote in an election. The international community is ready and watching.”

Another APC governor in support of the use of the device is Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State. Fashola alleged that the decision by the PDP governors to reject the use of card readers for the next elections was antithetic to democracy.

The governor said that the fear of losing the next elections was the main reason the PDP governors decided against the card readers, which he said, contravened its conception by the INEC to prevent rigging and multiple voting. At a rally he addressed in Eti-Osa Local Government Area alongside Akinwunmi Ambode, governorship candidate of the APC in Lagos and other party chieftains in the state, he said that the stance of the PDP governors against the use of the card “has placed a moral burden on the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan since the proposal to use the card readers was funded by the federal government.

Okorocha
Okorocha

“The PDP government is afraid of defeat. That is why they are kicking against the use of card readers. The Jonathan administration funded and promoted the idea of PVCs when INEC proposed it. Now that they realise that it will be difficult for them to rig the election if the card readers are used, they want to change the rules at the middle of the game. It is not possible. Card readers will help prevent rigging.”

Holding a similar view, the APC alleged that the PDP and its governors were opposed to the use of card readers because they were afraid of losing the elections. The party, in a statement, issued by Lai Mohammed, its national publicity secretary, said that it had been “vindicated that the six-week postponement of the elections was to buy PDP time to avert certain electoral defeat and perfect their rigging plan.”

Notwithstanding, the INEC met with leaders of all registered political parties on Thursday, March 12. The meeting was aimed at briefing the political parties on its preparation for the elections and convince them on the need to use the card readers.

On Wednesday, Jega met with the 37 resident electoral commissioners in Abuja, who were said to have approved the use of the PVC and CR for the elections. At the meeting, Jega gave an assurance that Nigerians’ aspiration for free, fair and credible elections would be met. He said: “I want to use this opportunity to reassure all Nigerians that we are doing our best and our best will be good enough in terms of meeting their aspirations and in terms of free, fair and credible elections… We all need to ensure that the elections are peaceful, because peaceful elections are what will promote the stability of our country and what will lay a solid foundation that is required for development.”

That notwithstanding, the controversy over the use of PVC and CR is not likely to go away with a wave of the hand. On Wednesday while the meeting was ongoing, a group of protesters gathered outside the INEC’s premises to kick against the use of the card readers for the elections. The group, which called itself the Middle Belt Concerned Youths, said it was against the use of the device because it would not guarantee free, fair and credible elections. Yusuf Amodu, leader of the group, told journalists that the mock election conducted by the INEC revealed that the card readers were prone to fraud and capable of causing problems on election days.

But the group’s apprehension was not shared by the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room which commended the mock accreditation in 12 states held on Saturday, March 7. While commending the exercise, the Situation Room said it was fairly successful and passed the integrity test, which made it worthy of commendation.

Fashola
Fashola

It remarked that: “The Card Readers functioned properly with occasional connectivity issues and the verification process of the PVC was almost seamless except for one case of conflicting details on the PVC and Card Reader, this was in Niger State.” The non-governmental organisation noted that there were several reports of delays and challenges in the authentication of fingerprints, which prompted the INEC officials to ask people to fill incident forms. But this did not stop people from being accredited but only slowed down the process.

The Situation Room similarly noted complaints by registered voters who had still not received their PVCs as well as few cases of acts of aggression towards the INEC officials by some party agents in Niger State, but it said there were no acts of violence.

Based on the exercise, the orgainsation recommended that the INEC should intensify its efforts on voter education and civic education programme on the importance of using and how they must vote with the PVCs.

“The INEC should endeavour to make alternative Card Readers available and accessible on Election Day to avoid unnecessary delay in the accreditation process. The INEC should develop a process of dealing with the issue of discrepancies of details on the PVC and the Card Reader in a way that the Card Reader can be reconfigured in a timely manner so as to avoid disenfranchisement of any voter. The INEC should work on processes and options that will facilitate and fine-tune the biometric authentication process.

It also said that “Adequate provision for transportation must be made for the INEC staff,    especially in the rural areas as delay in deployment of staff and materials on Election Day will be unacceptable.”

The Situation Room is made up of civil society organisations, CSOs, of more than 60 groups.

But whether everyone would have supported the use of the PVCs and CR before March 28 presidential elections is another issue. In the meantime, it appears that some people are really afraid of the use of the device.

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