The National Working Committee of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Monday met with representatives of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over issues of electoral reforms.
Leaders of the political party during the meeting urged the electoral body to lead the process of electoral reforms that will legalise electronic voting and reduce military presence during elections.
“I would like to urge your commission to move quickly and initiate Electoral Act amendment that will legalise electronic voting and remove the influence of the military as primary security on the Election Day,” National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, said while welcoming the INEC representatives to PDP National Secretariat, Abuja.
The party also lamented over alleged military involvement in elections noting that the recent elections including the 2019 general elections calls the integrity of the electoral umpire to question.
“Despite a standing lawful court ruling that military should be kept at a distance during elections as secondary security, we have all watched how they not only took over the primary security role from the Police but in some instances dictated and even connived with some INEC officials,” they said.
The also described the 2015 election which saw the transition of power from Goodluck Jonathan of PDP to Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as ‘Nigeria’s finest election.’
PDP however tasked the electoral body to stand up to their responsibility of balance and impartiality.
“The survival and sustenance of our democracy rest squarely on the integrity of the Electoral Commission which will derive from the character and the impartiality of its operatives.
“The effect of bad elections in our polity has been far reaching, stagnating the political and economic development.”
They concluded that free, fair and credible election is exactly what PDP and indeed global democracy demand and expect from INEC.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Paul Ananaba has backed the introduction of electronic voting into the nation’s electoral system, saying it is the solution to ballot box snatching.
Appearing as a guest on Channels Television’s News At 10, Ananaba called for reforms that will help sustain the democratic process.
One of such reforms he noted is the replacement of the country’s Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) with a national identity card and bio-metrics.
“There should now be a regime for electronic voting with full bio-metrics so that many issues of electoral violence and snatching of ballot boxes will be taken away. Again, we should remove the regime of ballot boxes. We don’t need that. All we need is a national identity card with bio-metrics,” he stated.
“You punch in your ID card number, you put your bio-metrics, it cannot be faulted. Then the voter votes. That way, we will leave all that.
“We should proceed to the point that if you have an election petition pending, you will not be sworn into an office so that you don’t use the paraphernalia of office to proceed to prosecute elections,” he stated.
He also spoke on the cases of petitions forwarded to tribunals, suggesting that a newly elected leader should not be inaugurated while there is a pending petition.
The legal practitioner also called for the independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission, stressing that the appointment of its chairman should not be solely on the President.
While condemning the involvement of armed personnel in the nation’s elections, he called on the National Assembly to recall the Electoral Amendment Bill that is awaiting presidential assent.
He also advocated a harmonious working relationship between the legislative and executive arms of government for the overall interest of the nation.
“You would have seen that INEC has just said that the intervention and coming in of armed personnel into the electoral process was not acceptable to it and all that. It shows that there is a need for reforms and I will identify (those) areas.
“Beyond what the INEC Chairman (Professor Yakubu Mahmood) has said that the ninth Assembly should go to quickly. I expect that the already passed bill awaiting assent should be recalled so that the president wouldn’t proceed to sign that and then we will begin a fresh process.
“But it should be recalled, and we should ensure that the National Assembly is working with the Executive because it is not just the National Assembly. If there is no political will, there will be no amendment,” he added.
With nine months to the general elections, they passed the bill for an act to amend the provisions of the Electoral Act, No 6, 2010.
The bill, which is different from that which the President refused to assent to, contains the legalisation of the card reader voting system.
It also includes the safekeeping of the voters’ register and what happens in the event of a candidate’s death among others.
However, the lawmakers specifically excluded the clause to reorder the election sequence from the bill while some amendments were made to the bill before it was passed.
One of the alterations is the amendment to the clause which mandates the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to keep the register at specific locations across the country.
In the event of electoral violence, the House seeks the disqualification of a candidate alone without including the political party, and such a candidate will not be eligible to recontest the election.
The House proposes that if a card reader fails in a polling unit, the election will be suspended and reconducted within 24 hours and mandates INEC to monitor the primaries of various political parties.
Election Sequence Altered?
The lawmakers had voted for the change of the order of elections in January while the Senate adopted a new election sequence in February.
The proposal, however, suffered a setback on March 13 when President Muhammadu Buhari withheld his assent to the amendment of the 2010 Electoral Act.
He had stated that altering the sequence of the election in section 25 of the Principal Act might infringe on the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of INEC to organise, undertake and supervise all elections provided in section 16(a) of the constitution.
A majority of the lawmakers at both chambers had proposed that the National Assembly polls be conducted first, followed by the state lawmakers, and the governors, while the presidential election should take place last.
The governor of Kaduna State, Mr Nasir El-Rufai, has called for the adoption of electronic system of voting to conduct elections across the country.
Governor El-Rufai, who appeared as a guest on Channels Television’s flagship programme News At 10 on Saturday, believes the e-voting would prevent the nation from unnecessary spending among other challenges.
He made the recommendation after the Kaduna State government implemented the e-voting system in the conduct of election for all local government areas across the state.
“I think it can work at the national level; it has been successful, and we believe it can be duplicated across the country,” the governor said.
“We think that this is a very solid foundation for the development of our democracy because a credible, fair, and transparent election will determine the quality of leaders going forward.”
With about nine months to the general elections, El-Rufai, however, said there might not be enough time for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to implement the system in 2019.
He explained that the state government spent a considerable time in planning for the electronic system of voting adopted by Kaduna State Electoral Commission (KADSIECOM) in today’s exercise.
On the gains of e-voting, the governor stated that the e-voting system did not only make the exercise easier for the electorate to cast their votes in a lesser time, but it also eliminated the rigging strategy of ballot box snatching.
He added that the government saved about N1.7billion that could have been spent printing ballot papers with high-security features.
According to him, the electronic machines can be used for the next 10 years as they only require updated software for subsequent elections.
Governor El-Rufai acknowledged that his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), might not win all the local governments as it has always been in state elections, saying they do not wish that the process be perverted.
He further commended KADSIEC for their efforts in ensuring that the process was successful, noting that the exercise has been peaceful and stress-free for the electorate.
The governor said the process was also commended by stakeholders who took part in the exercise, including the election observers and the electoral officers who conducted the poll.
The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), has declared that the commission is ready for an electronic voting system if it is approved by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and backed by relevant legislation.
The commission says the current National Identity Card has an inbuilt platform to accommodate electronic voting and make its take-off in the country a huge success.
The State Coordinator of NIMC, Mr Stephen Inokoba, made the declaration while presenting the national identity card of the state Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Mr Desmond Agu, in his office.
He explained that the provision for electronic voting was one of the 13 security features embedded in the new national ID card.
He said that once the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other policymakers opt for electronic voting, the current identity card would be an effective launching pad for a smooth system.
He said: “The card has been fashioned in such a way that it can be used for electronic voting.
“Once Nigeria is set, we have the platform ready for electronic voting to commence.
“We are ready. The platform is on. It is left to INEC and the policymakers. Once they do what they ought to do, our platform is already there, it has been developed.”
The NSCDC boss, while appreciating some of the card’s benefits, praised the Federal Government for the initiative and appealed to people of the state to obtain theirs.
He described the card as a testimony of the federal government’s good intentions for the country.
“Initially it sounded like a mirage but you can see that it is true. I have completed the process and obtained my card.
“With what I have seen, the Federal Government has good plans for all the citizens. So, let us all take advantage of this initiative to better our lives.
“There are many privileges attached to the cards. These are the things obtainable in advanced countries where you can use similar cards to enjoy subsidies in services offered by the government,” he said.
Highlighting the major benefits of the cards, Inokoba said: “When you have the card, there are 13 benefits that you will get. The first one is you have an opportunity of getting a card to yourself alone through the Match-On-Card (MOC).
“It means that the card will not be given to somebody that it doesn’t belong to. You name will be matched with your fingerprints. So, there is no card by proxy”.
A Federal High Court in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, has refused an application brought by four registered political parties, seeking to restrain the electoral commission from using Smart Card Readers in the conduct of the general elections.
The United Democratic Party, Action Alliance, Allied Congress Party of Nigeria and Alliance for Democracy filed the suit.
The parties, through their counsel Alex Iziyon, told the court that the proposed use of the readers was contrary to the provisions of the constitution, as well as the amended 2010 Electoral Act.
In the suit, the political parties challenged the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to introduce a process not specifically provided for in the constitution, as it prepares for the rescheduled polls.
Mr Iziyon told the court that the Electoral Act, in section 52(1), prohibited electronic voting, but that the electoral body had gone ahead to introduce electronic voter’s card reader.
The counsel urged the court to temporarily restrain the INEC from implementing the use of the card reader machine in the forthcoming elections, pending the determination of the suit.
He further urged the court to bridge the time within which INEC would be allowed to file a response, in view of the nature of the case which according to him had a robust electoral jurisprudence.
In his ruling on the exparte motion, the trial judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, noted that the political parties had shown that they had legal rights, showing that the case is triable, but observed that the parties would not suffer any irreparable harm if the electoral body is given the opportunity to be heard before the interim orders being sought could be granted.
Consequently, the court declined to make any interim orders against INEC on the proposed use of the Smart Card Readers.
However, it abridged the time for INEC to file its response to four days, after receiving court papers on the matter.
Hearing on the substantive motion on notice was thereafter adjourned until Tuesday, Mar 10.
INEC To Test Card reader
In a statement on Monday, the INEC said it will conduct a field testing of the functionality of the Smart Card Readers to be deployed for the accreditation of voters on Election Day. The General Elections was re-scheduled for March 28 and April 11.
According to the Commission’s Decision Extract issued on February 26 and signed by the Director of the Commission’s Secretariat, Ishiaku Gali, the field testing will take place in two states of each of the six geopolitical zones of the federation.
He said the testing would take place simultaneously on Saturday, March 7.
The states selected for the exercise are: Ekiti and Lagos, South West; Anambra and Ebonyi, South East; Delta and Rivers, South South; Kano and Kebbi, North West; Bauchi and Taraba, North East; Niger and Nasarawa, North Central.
Nigerian Politician, Jimi Agbaje, believes that the 2010 amendment of the country’s Electoral Act is not entirely a bad law but that the challenge for Nigeria remains how to implement the laws.
Jimi Agbaje was a guest on Channels Television’s ‘Politics Today’ on Sunday, April 6.
While advocating the need for the Independent National Electoral Commission to raise its game and earn the confidence of Nigerians, he recalled the contrast between the 2007 elections conducted by the INEC which he referred to as a disaster, and the improvement witnessed in the 2011 election which “provided hope for Nigerians.”
He believes that the recent conduct of elections in Anambra State had again undone the good that the commission had done by its improved conducts in the Edo State elections. Therefore, the onus was on INEC to work hard to earn the trust of Nigerians all over again.
He noted that any form of amendment being proposed for the Electoral Act would be coming against the background of how much INEC can do, “Is INEC getting better?”
Joining the programme via the telephone, a legal practitioner, Chima Nnaji, placed emphasis on the logistical challenges facing the country and the controversies surrounding the introduction of electronic voting.
He stated, “If there is just one thing that we need to get right, if it is possible, that would have a multiplier effect on the rest, it is this electronic voting process. If we can get this right, the tendency is that it would reduce rigging and all this idea of people sitting down in one room and writing results.
“It will also help good governance in absolute terms because if a politician knows that it is the voters that matter in the electoral process they will respect the ballot box.”
The plan to review Nigeria’s electoral laws had been in the news in the past week and Director of Voter Education and Publicity, INEC, Mr. Olumide Osaze-Uzzi, was also on the programme from our Abuja studio to offer INEC’s perspective for a balanced view of the development.
He revealed that INEC had made a number of requests in the ongoing electoral reform process, including those bordering on its operational independence, the electronic voting, and being at the forefront of the establishment of an Electoral Offences’ Tribunal as well as the Electoral Offences’ Commission.
Speaking about the expectations of Nigerians as regards the possibility of INEC deploying electronic voting in the 2015 general elections, Mr Osaze-Uzzi, revealed that the Electoral Act at present prohibits electronic voting in the country, a situation which the commission feels should not be so.
While admitting that the commission was not insisting that it was ready for e-voting, he said that they were requesting for INEC to be allowed to commence that process whereby foundations are laid for the exercise to be able to take off soon in the country.
He noted that the commission had demonstrated its willingness to embrace the process with its launch of the electronic register during recent elections and as also seen in its distribution of permanent voter cards in parts of the country, like Osun State.
Osaze-Uzzi said that the legal restrain was the reason why all its activities had been to deploy their technology mainly to activities like registration, voter verification and other pre-election processes which they are allowed to conduct electronically.
Mr Jimi Agbaje, in his reaction stated that Nigeria was not ready for electronic voting. He said that there were many things that would need to be put in place for such system to work in Nigeria.
He said that Nigerians would need to believe in the system for it to work, adding that INEC would need to convince Nigerians that the electronic voting would be fraud proof before they can see it as worthy of being embraced.
Independent Electoral Offences’ Commission
INEC has also requested that it is allowed to be at the fore front of electoral prosecutions in order to be able to prosecute electoral offenders.
Osaze-Uzzi explained that if a person has been found guilty of an electoral offence, such person should be disqualified from participating in any election, but INEC does not have the powers to disqualify candidates.
Therefore, giving the powers to a well-funded independent Electoral Offences’ Commission which would have the powers to arrest, investigate and prosecute offences, including the qualification and disqualification of candidates, would ensure that the system is cleansed.
Agbaje agreed that there needs to be a separate commission whose job it would be to prosecute election offenders.
He noted that the reason violence had continued to rise in Nigerian elections was because there had been no real punishment for offenders.
The militarization of elections in Nigeria also came to the fore in the discussion, as Agbaje noted that the deployment of soldiers during elections was an indication that the system was not perfect as their presence already reduces the chances of calling the elections “free and fair”.
He, however, would not totally condemn the practice as he admitted that indeed the Police cannot handle the management of elections in Nigeria due to the violent attitude of many Nigerians during elections.
He further emphasized the need to have electoral violence well punished as the only way to put a stop to the practice in Nigerian politics.
With INEC’s request for an independent body to prosecute electoral offences, the level of independence that INEC itself has was also scrutinized. Mr Osaze-Uzzi, said that the INEC was “as independent as the law permits it.”
While admitting that the commission wished that it was more independent, he noted that they do not take orders from anybody but they were still subject to the judiciary, the legislative, and when they submit budgets it is subject to approval.
Agbaje while corroborating Osaze-Uzzi’s submission on the level of INEC’s independence said that the commission could never be 100% independent. He, however, noted that attention should be given to the states and not necessarily the commission at the national level.
He said that the choice of Professor Attahiru Jega as head of the electoral commission was a good one with a level of independence maintained over the years, but the state electoral commissions cannot be seen as being independent and more attention should be paid to the commission at that level since most of the electoral issues arise from them.
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega on Monday said that the commission has investigated and prosecuted over 200 persons who allegedly breached the electoral laws. Mr Jega, who was a guest on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, accused Nigerian politicians of always seeking to ‘jump the gun’ during elections. He said INEC has done its best in checking this trend.
“I want to say categorically, we have done or best. We have prosecuted over 200 people successfully,” he said.
He said some of the electoral offenders, including members of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) and INEC staff have been fined or jailed. “Before our commission was inaugurated, there was no record of a single successful prosecution of electoral offences,” Mr Jega said.
He said though the number represents a drop in the ocean, the commission had reasons to prosecute about one million people over multiple registrations.
“On registration alone, we do have evidence to prosecute close to a million people for clear cases of multiple registrations,” he said. He said the commission lacks the resources and personnel to prosecute all these offenders.
Mr Jega said INEC is currently working on how to relinquish the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders to another agency.
He said, “We are partnering with the NBA (Nigerian Bar Association), in fact, we have been discussing this partnership and now we are taking it a level higher and our hope is that before we commence the process of continuous voters’ registration, which we hope will commence by the third quarters which is July – September God willing, we also want to make example of those who have done multiple registration.
“We will do it, but it is very challenging. The best thing is to have another agency that can actually handle prosecution of electoral offenders.”
Mr Jega said managing logistics during elections is a major problem that INEC have been contending with for a long time insisting that the commission has done its best to minimise this challenge.
He said, “I want to assure you that globally, there’s no country where you can say it is 100 percent free of this challenge of late arrival of materials.”
He said since he assumed office, the commission has been partnering with the security agencies to hasten the deployment of materials to areas with troubling terrain.
“Where it is necessary to move material by aircraft or helicopter, the navy helped us during the 2011 elections. Where it was to move it in the riverine areas the navy helped us and even provided security to minimise challenges arising from the activities of militants groups,” the INEC boss said.
He said INEC devised a strategy of deploying materials to areas far from the city centre before deploying to closer areas but that this, as it happened in the recent Edo Council polls, has its own challenges.
He said the commission has reduced the incidences of late arrival of material to election venue by about 60 percent since 2011.
Mr Jega maintained that staggered elections are not the best for Nigeria, saying that the series of staggered elections in the country resulted from court judgments which affected tenures of some governors.
He said, “Certainly, some staggering helps the process. The kind of staggering we have now in terms of saying this kind of elections should take place now and then you sequence it; that kind of sequencing of major elections, I think has been helpful, it helps us to focus and it helps us to poll resources together and to deploy them appropriately.
He said, “But if you take staggering to a staggering extent, if I can put it that way, really it will also have its own challenges. It means for example if we have to every election state by state in all the 36 states and the FCT it will take us three years.
“If you are doing Presidential election for example, you have to do it nationally and in every place because the results have to be announced for a candidate to be returned.”
Mr Jega said conducting staggered election has its limitation and insisted that what is important is for INEC to have the independence of deciding when to conduct a holistic or staggered election.
“If you legalise it by saying do elections state by state or do election region by region, you will create additional problems which are not presently anticipated,” he said.
The INEC chairman said the commission at the moment does not have any legal bottleneck and is not hindered from seeking innovative methods of conducting its operation even with the use of technology.
“The only clear categorical hindrance is in electronic voting. The law says categorically that electronic voting is prohibited and until that prohibition is lifted we even have challenges in terms of experimenting and piloting or getting some machines and beginning to see which are the best that can be used for electronic voting are,” he said.
He said the commission had sent a recommendation to the National Assembly that as they review the 1999 constitution to “look at that provision and perhaps remove that prohibition. So that once it is removed we may not be able to do it in 2015 but we can begin to experiment and identify which models are suitable to Nigeria.”
Permanent Voter Card
Mr Jega said before the 2015 general elections, INEC will distribute permanent voters’ card to all registered voters in Nigeria.
The voter cards are to replace the temporary ones issued at the end of the voters’ registration in 2011. The cards are valid for 10 years.
Last year, the Federal Government approved N2.6 billion for the printing of 40 million out of the 75 million permanent voter cards in the first phase of the project.
The government has approved additional N33.5 million for the project’s second phase.
Mr Jega said “the permanent voter cards are chip-based carrying all our biometrics that was captured during the registration.
“We intend on election day to use a card reader to verify and to authenticate who is the true owner of that card. We believe that once we are able to do this successfully, then all these phenomenon of politicians purchasing voter cards and giving it to other people to come and vote with it on Election Day will be eliminated.”
The INEC chairman said all registered voters must vote at the point where they have registered.
Mr Jega disclosed this in response to a question tweeted-in by a lady who was watching the live programme on Channels Television from Abuja.
However, when a voter relocates, Mr Jega said “the electoral act clearly specifies what to do. You can change or transfer your registration status. All she needs to do in her case is to apply to the Resident Electoral Commissioner in the FCT giving all the necessary information why she has moved, what were the details of her previous registration, what was her polling unit and where is she now located.
“Once she does that application and it is verified, her details will be transferred to her new place and then we will issue her a permanent voter card in the new place.”
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has debunked allegations that the new registration fee of N1 million for intending political parties was a ploy to scuffle smaller parties. Speaking as a guest on a Channels Television’s programme, Politics Today, Kayode Idowu, spokesman to the INEC Chairman said though the constitution did not stipulate the amount to be charged as party registration fee, it however gives the electoral body the prerogative to fix a price.
Speaking further on the plans of the electoral body for future elections, Mr Idowu said the commission is learning from previous elections and is perfecting its mode of operation.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Monday said the use of chipped voters’ card in the next general election will not violate the section of the electoral law that prohibits the commission from conducting electronic voting.
Speaking as a guest on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, Kayode Idowu, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman said the first batch of the permanent voters’ card is already being processed.
“INEC expects that by 2015, every voter will have that card,” he said.
Contrary to the proposition by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that using chipped voters’ card will stop multiple voting, a political scientist, Isuwa Dogo said single authentication of voters will not stop people from casting several votes in the same polling unit.
Mr Dogo, who was a guest on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, said what INEC should concentrate on doing is to make it position for Nigerians to vote from anywhere within the country other than where they registered.