Doubts, Concerns, As INEC Declares Self Ready For February Polls
FEBRUARY 14 and 28, 2015 has been set aside by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the dates for the conduct of the presidential/National Assembly elections and Governorship/State Assembly polls.
INEC, which announced these dates in Kaduna, at the end of the commission’s stakeholders meetings with the National Commissioners and all the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in April 2014, had since begun preparations for the elections.
After a not-so-impressive outing in Anambra, the electoral umpire had received measured praise for its performance in Ekiti and Osun states, which were relatively adjudged free and fair.
Basking in the euphoria of the Ekiti/Osun successes, the commission boasted that it would conduct a 2015 election devoid of blemish and in line with internationally acclaimed standards. It then set in motion measures that it believed would help actualise all the tall target of delivering free, fair and transparent elections, including the conduct of Continuous Voter Registeration (CVR), issuance of Permanent Voter Card (PVC) as well as introduction of card readers to tame the monster of proxy voting and ballot box snatching by politicians.
The commission is, however, faced with serious challenges, ranging from securing poling materials, personnel and voters in the restive states of the North East, which has remained under insurgency rule since the inception of the Boko Haram deadly attacks.
Other challenges facing peaceful conduct of the elections include shabby handling of the CVR and distribution of the PVC, as well as the provocative and inciting ‘character assassinations’ by contending politicians and their parties. The challenges have led to series of calls from highly placed individuals for the postponement of the election.
INEC has also received bashings from certain quarters on the manner it handled the contract for the printing of the voter cards, which reportedly failed to follow the due process as laid down in Public Procurement Act and internalisation of resources.
Former vice presidential candidate of the Defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) and General overseer of Later Rain Ministry, Pastor Tunde Bakare, who was the first to call for the postponement of the February polls, cited the inability of the Federal Government to curtail the killings, destruction and destabilisation of the North East by the Boko Haram Islamic group, noting that Nigeria cannot afford to go to the polls when a good number of its cities are under siege and control of the sect.
Joining pastor Bakare in the call for the postponement of the election, the Citizens Advocacy For Social and Economic Rights (CASER) approached the Community Court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to stop the February 2015 general elections.
In the case, which was filed against the Federal Government and The Authority of ECOWAS Heads of states and Government with suit Number ECW/CCJ/APP/03/15, the group prayed the court to postpone the February elections in order to preserve the citizens’ Fundamental Human Right to Life in accordance with the ECOWAS Protocol relating to the mechanism of Conflict protection, management, Peace Keeping and Security.
Representative of CASER, Frank Tietie argued that the postponement of the election has a legal basis in the country’s constitution, citing Section 135 (3), which states, “If the Federation is at war in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved and the president considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National Assembly may by a resolution extend the period of four years as mentioned in Sub section (2) which he noted shall not exceed a period of six months.
The group regretted that the Nigerian military has not shown superior strength of force since the insurgency started, adding that they have progressively advanced to capturing so many Nigerian territories and sacking cities all through 2014.
Also in the suit, CASER noted that the security situation in the country has created an unprecedented number of Internally Displaced Persons, which, according to the International Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), is over 3.3 million Nigerian citizens. It added that the Federal Government and Nigeria’s political class are more interested in election and the electioneering campaign, rather than the pitiful plight of the IDPs.
“That the electioneering campaign of the two dominant political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) have been characterised by hate speeches, disparaging remarks and vindictive posturing, which has reached a polarised crescendo among the Nigerian citizenry and there currently exists a palpable Ethno-religious tension between Muslims and Christians, which has pitted the North against the South.
“Since the opposition APC has, through its Campaign Director, Rotimi Amaechi, vowed to form a parallel government where it is not satisfied with the election results as a political party, it is most probable that, if the ruling PDP wins the election, there shall be a repeat of the post election violence of 2011, which would be on such a larger scale, as large number of people would be killed in addition to the mass killing already being perpetrated by the Boko Haram group.”
Last Thursday, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki (Rtd), joined the call for INEC to postpone the February polls. Dasuki blamed INEC’s inability to distribute PVCs to all intending voters with barely three weeks to the election.
According to the NSA, “If in one year, INEC could only distribute 30 million PVCs, I do not see how they can distribute another 30million within two weeks before the election. And if Nigerians are allowed to vote without the PVCs, what sense does it make to vote three months when about 30m PVCs have not been issued by INEC, who claim they have it. So, there is nothing wrong in us delaying the election to ensure that every body who ought to vote gets that card to vote.”
But despite all the calls and concerns, INEC has insisted that it is not considering any form of postponement of the election, stressing that it is in its final preparations for the election
The commission has, however, noted that, while it took consideration of how to protect the ballot papers, it also took measures to internalise resources by ensuring that indigenous firms got a larger proportion of the printing contract.
It would be recalled that when the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, led the finance agencies, including the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company, to pay a courtesy visit to the INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega in August 2014, the commission was urged to carry the printing company along in the award of contracs for the printing of ballot papers as a measure to internalise resources.
But The Guardian gathered that, rather than engage NIMPS, the commission decided to award the contract for the printing of ballot papers for the February 14 presidential election to an unnamed Spanish firm, while the ballot papers for the other elections were given to other indigeneous firms, ensuring that no firm from a particular geopolitical zone was given the contract for states within its zone.
Justifying the process, Chief Press Secretary to INEC chairman, Kayode Idowu assured that, with the careful measures taken in the award of the contracts, it would be very difficult to rig the 2015 elections, adding that all the ballot papers and result sheets have been customised for specific polling units, and that it would be difficult for them to be used in areas other than where they are designated.
Idowu also stated that part of the commission’s decision was taken to ensure that the papers were not duplicated by politicians, noting that the voter cards that would be used for the elections are also customised with specific INEC code, noting that, with the introduction of card readers, it is only the rightful owners of the cards that would be identified to vote.
“The commission did the award of these contracts in the best interest of the country. It was done with special reference to maximize the policy of internalisation of resources.
“Part of the reason we are printing the way we are doing is so that the ballot papers cannot be duplicated; the security features are there. We are also going to use the card readers and people have already been trained on that. INEC’s materials cannot be duplicated. Politicians are free to print their cards but our card readers will reject all fake voter cards, it is only INEC cards with codes that would be accepted by the card reader and the codes are only known to INEC and its producers.
“The card readers will confirm the cards before any voter will be allowed to cast his vote. So, with this, the era of people voting by proxy is gone. The same thing goes with the ballot papers, because they are printed with security designs, which differ from one state to another. So, with the customised ballot papers, it would be very impossible to move ballot papers that are meant for a particular state to another. Also, result sheets are also customized for each polling unit outside of which they cannot be used. They are all on currency grade and customized to those polling units. These are some of the security measures that informed the commission’s decision to award the contract for the ballot papers the way it did, and all these cost huge amount on the commission. I can assure you that indigenous firms are handling a large proportion of the ballot papers.
“We should be talking of things that will for now lead to delivering the elections rather than going to visit matters that are routine procedures. The focus of the commission now is on delivering the elections: How do we get the people to pick their Permanent Voter Cards that would empower them to vote in the elections. We are also focusing on how to mobilise our officers and materials for the purpose of delivering free and fair election,” Idowu stated.
INEC) also explained why it could not continue indefinitely with the display of the Permanent Voter Card (PVC) in the 120,000 polling units in the country citing the high cost of the exercise. It added that the process was so expensive that it has cost the commission over N11.5billion in eight days just to distribute the cards to registered voters across the country.
The commission had come under severe criticism over delay in producing new voter cards as well as the difficulties voters experience in picking their PVCs at the various local government councils. The commission also received several complaints over the manner it handled the Continuous Voter Registration exercise still ongoing in some states.
Idowu said: “The process cannot continue indefinitely at the polling unit level because it translates into billions of naira. Just do a simple calculation, all over the country there are 120,000 polling units and let’s say we have a minimum of four people to man each of those polling units, multiply four by 120,000 it will give you 480,000 and if you are to give each of them N3000 naira, multiply that with 480,000 which is the number of personnel needed; you will get N1,440,000,000. That is just for one day, not the entire exercise; and that is why we cannot continue indefinitely. The money is not there; in short, that type of money cannot be captured by any budget.”
INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, who, at the weekend, disclosed that the commission faced challenges from the contractors who were given the job of printing the PVCs, however stated that the INEC has distributed over 54 million PVCs, adding that it has recently taken delivery of over 15 million cards, which would be given to the RECs for distribution.
The chairman noted that the commission would incur huge expenses if it must continue to distribute the cards at the polling units. “If people were to follow due process, the commission would have easily mopped up everybody that needs to be mopped up, even at that level, because we are not doing general voter registration, we are doing registration for people who just turned18 and those who, for one reason or the other, could not register in 2011.
“We did this latest exercise for five days, but had to extend it again because, if only the people who ought to come to register came, those five days would have been enough because we projected using the population index of how many people that were likely to have turned 18 since the last registration and those who were not captured earlier. But so many other people, who ought not to have come out in the first place, came out and we discovered that they were there just for one flimsy reason or the other. For example, somebody said he just changed his name and needed a card bearing his new name and stuffs like that, and such people would have blocked the chances of those who were supposed to be there to register.
“The greatest factor is for people to come and pick their voter cards; the commission will not take voter cards to their homes. The cards were taken to the polling units for a certain number of times for prospective voters to collect them, not every body was able to collect them and they were moved to the local government offices since March when the exercise began in segments in some states and distribution has been on going, people need to come and pick those cards.
“Also, the commission is producing more cards based on the number that turned out during the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise,” Jega noted.