Wednesday, March 25, 2015

2015 elections and need to vote right

It’s 72 hours to the Election Day and what seems like an unending journey to polls will finally take place on March 28 and April 11, 2015. When the Independent National Electoral Commission chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, announced a six-week polls shift on February 7, it seemed like eternity but here we are. There is a saying that only a date that is not fixed does not come. In the intervening period, we have seen the Nigerian armed forces breaking the backbone of the insurgent group, Boko Haram, recovering lost territories from the Islamic sect and boasting that never again will the terrorist group be allowed to lay claim to any part of Nigeria. Though the military seem to have gained the upper hand in dealing with the insurgents, the question on the lips of many analysts are, why do we have to wait for this long to deal fatal blow on Boko Haram considering that the sect had practically been operating with impunity since 2009?
The six-week shift has also afforded INEC an opportunity to cross the t’s and dot the i’s of its preparations. Among other things, the electoral body has been able to improve significantly on the collection rate of the Permanent Voter Cards from the about 60 per cent as of February 7 to 82 per cent as of March 21, 2015. INEC has also been able to conduct a field test of the Smartcard Reader through a mock accreditation exercise in 12 states on March 7. Hands-on training of poll workers has also been done while several review meetings were also being held by the commission.
It is noteworthy that a few things are unique about the coming elections, the fifth general election since the advent of the Fourth Republic. One of such is that with the merger of three political parties to form the All Progressives Congress and the approval of the merger by INEC on July 31, 2013, Nigeria now has a de facto two-party system even though de jure, we are a multiparty state with about 29 registered political parties. Another peculiar thing about the coming elections is the unpredictable outcome of Saturday’s presidential election. Three days to the poll, the bookmakers are uncertain where the pendulum of victory will swing.
At INEC’s end, it is the first time a permanent voter card embedded chips (machine readable) will be used for elections in the country. Hitherto, INEC had grappled to have an electronic voter registration exercise which contains the biometric information (picture and fingerprint) of the voters. INEC is advancing on that and had procured 182,000 smartcard readers for the verification and authentication of the voters. All these are meant to check electoral fraud. This is also the first elections in Nigeria where millions of Internally Displaced Persons will be allowed to vote at special voting centres which had been created for them by the electoral commission.
An additional novel thing INEC is doing in preparation for the forthcoming elections are the appointment, training and deployment of Political Finance Desk Officers to track campaign finance of political parties and contestants. Prior to that, INEC in 2013 published the “Guidelines and Regulations for Political Parties”. It is the first time since inception that INEC will be tracking the campaign finance of political parties and in addition, that of candidates.
The elections are perhaps the most expensive for political parties and their contestants. The Centre for Social Justice on March 11 at a news conference in Abuja accused the frontline political parties, especially the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress of breaking campaign finance rules by overshooting the ceiling for permissible expenditure for presidential candidate which is N1bn. According to group’s Lead Director, Eze Onyekpere, “The PDP expended N3.5bn on publicity between December last year and February this year while the APC spent N1.42bn during the same period.”
From all indications, the forthcoming polls will be the most keenly contested in Nigeria’s electoral history and I will not be surprised to see contestants losing by narrow margins including by one vote. It is therefore imperative for all those enthusiastic voters who had endured INEC’s sloppiness to collect their PVCs to come out en-masse this Saturday, March 28, 2015 to exercise their power of voting for leaders of their choice. It is time for action and walking the talk. It is time to cease being social media juggernauts who indulge in arm-chair criticisms of the rot and decay in our society. It is time to vent our anger against bad leadership, lack of democratic dividends, ineptitude, greed of the political elite and other similar ills of society. We have heard their campaign promises at the political rallies, town hall meetings, debates, interviews, via newspaper advertorials, radio jingles, sponsored television documentaries and on the new media. It is thus time to make our ideal choice of leaders.
I enjoin all of us who had collected our PVCs to vote right on Saturday. Accreditation of voters will commence at 8am nationwide and close by 1pm. There will be two layers of accreditation, first is the verification of the PVCs with the smartcard readers while the other is the finger authentication. If the SCR could not authenticate a voter’s finger, an incident form would be filled for the person and they will be allowed to vote. After close of accreditation, there will be a 30minute voter enlightenment session during which the Presiding Officer will do the following: Explain the voting procedure to the voters; invite all voters accredited to form a single queue; where the culture does not allow men and women to mingle in a queue, separate queues are created for them; the PO shall count loudly the number of accredited voters in the queue, and record the number.
To vote right, there’s the need to vote on the basis of one’s personal convictions or as it is commonly said “according to the dictates of one’s conscience.” Vote not on the basis of primordial sentiments such as ethnicity, religion, social status, gender bias. Make sure the ballot paper you are issued has the Presiding Officer’s signature, INEC official stamp and date on its back. The Presiding Officer is supposed to fold the ballot paper vertically with the printed side inwards before giving it to you. In case he does not, do it yourself. Fold the ballot paper vertically and not horizontally to prevent ink blot on an unintended space which might be for another political party. Make your choice secretly at the voting cubicle that will be provided for you and cast your ballot in the open. Don’t go away with the ballot paper.
Make sure not to thumbprint in more than one space. Don’t write your name or sign on the ballot paper. Don’t vote outside of the space provided. Don’t vote in-between lines. If you do any of the aforementioned or you fail to make any choice on the ballot paper, then your vote will be counted as invalid. Thus, it will not count in the election of any of the contesting candidates. Kindly note that on Saturday, there will be three ballot boxes at each of the Polling Units. There will be red, black and collapsible green. The green box is meant for House of Representatives position; the black box will be for Senate while the red will be for the presidential candidate. On April 11, the black box will be used to collect the votes for the State House of Assembly position while the red will be used for the governorship election. The three ballot papers that will be giving to you will each have a colour corresponding to that on the box and therefore ballot papers should be dropped in the box with corresponding colour.
The underlisted are some of the electoral offences voters should avoid committing on Saturday: Canvass for votes; Persuade any voter not to vote for any particular candidate; Be in possession of any offensive weapon or wear any dress or have any facial or other decoration which in any event is calculated to intimidate voters; Use any vehicle bearing the colour or symbol of a political party by any means whatever; Loiter without lawful excuse after voting or after being refused to vote; Snatch or destroy any election materials. Anyone who commits any of the highlighted crimes is guilty of electoral offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for six months for every such offence. Remember that ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Vote right!
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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Escalating violence ahead of elections

“All of us here have passed through the electoral process furnace before now…and I suspect we would mostly agree that never before have we been subjected to this level of sheer venom, crudity of vulgar abuse of language in such prodigal quantities as in this current political exercise. The very gift of communication, considered the distinguishing mark of cultured humanity even in polemical situations, has been debased, affecting even thought processes, I often suspect.”
–Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, at a book launch recently.
On Monday, March 16, 2015, I was a guest on a radio programme anchored by a popular presenter, Inya Ode, on Nigeria Info 95.1 FM Abuja. For an hour and a half, we discussed the ugly phenomenon of hate speech in the context of the ongoing electoral campaign. The programme which was live also had audience phoning in and sending messages via social media – Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. I was pleasantly educated by the in-depth knowledge of Nigerians about the goings on in the polity. Aside from being a regular guest of many radio and television stations discussing topical national issues, I am primarily a development worker.
In the lead up to the 2015 general election, I have been involved in a number of salutary things that could contribute to successful, credible, free, fair and peaceful polls. One of such areas I have worked assiduously is in the mitigation of election violence and peace education. I am involved in research, training and advocacy on non-violence elections. I have also been among eminent researchers for the National Association for Peaceful Elections in Nigeria on hotspots analysis and training of election violence observers; CLEEN Foundation on Security Threat Assessment and UKAID on Election Risk Analysis. I have also been involved in training of senior staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission on Alternative Dispute Resolution. I am a pacifist by nature and it has been my pleasure being involved in promoting peaceful elections.
Quite unfortunately, my interventions as well as those who have spent enormous resources to ensure peaceful 2015 elections, which include musician Tu-Face Idibia and his colleagues campaign against election violence, may have yielded little positive results. I am worried and very disturbed by the sustained culture of election related violence in Nigeria. The desperation exhibited by the two main political parties namely the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress has been very untoward. Propaganda has been elevated to a state of art while foul language, inciting comments, inflammatory statements, name-calling and character assassination pervade the political environment.
In the lead up to the forthcoming elections, three strands of violence have been on display. These are Psychological violence, Structural violence and Physical violence. Psychological violence includes intimidation and harassment of political opponents and even the citizens. Hate speech is a form of psychological violence as it is meant to incite. When a party says it will form a parallel government or party stalwarts say that monkeys and baboons will be soaked in blood or that all political cockroaches should be killed or that a candidate is “brain dead” or that anyone who chanted a party slogan should be stoned, they are all classic examples of psychological violence. Even the inciting comments being made against Prof Attahiru Jega and the trenchant call for his resignation or sack are tantamount to psychological violence not only on the leadership of INEC but on the institution itself and the electoral process.
Structural violence which amount to exclusionary or discriminatory policies against certain groups has also been witnessed in the run-up to the forthcoming polls. For instance, we saw this during the party nomination process last November and December. Nomination forms were priced out of the reach of people of average financial means. It was simply a case of the highest bidder winning the party primaries of some political parties. It would be recalled that the PDP denied Prof. (Mrs) Akasoba Duke-Abiola nomination form despite paying the required fee. Even in terms of the way the primaries of some of the political parties were conducted, an uneven playing field was created in favour of anointed or “consensus” candidates. This is structural violence. This was partly responsible for the conduct of parallel party primaries in some of the leading political parties. Other forms of structural violence we have witnessed are the abuse of state and administrative resources by incumbent political office holders. For instance, security agents have been allegedly used to deal with opposition members.
Physical violence has been on display in all of its infamy. Political assassinations and attempted assassinations, attacks on party offices and contestants’ homes, fights between supporters of rival parties, factions and candidates, riots and rampages have been exhibited. The National Human Rights Commission on Friday, February 13, published an 80-page report titled, ‘’Pre-election Report and Advisory on Violence in Nigeria’s 2015 General Elections’’. In the referenced report, NHRC claimed that no fewer than 58 persons had been killed in election-related violence in 22 states from December 3, 2014 to February 13, 2015. Is this not worrisome? Since that report was made public in February, the country has recorded many more political deaths in states like Oyo and Rivers. Let me cite few instances of such deaths.
On Tuesday, February 17, several All Progressives Congress supporters reportedly scampered to safety when explosions and gunshots boomed at the Okrika National Secondary School field in Rivers State. By the time normalcy was restored, five police officers were allegedly shot. While one of them died on the spot, four others were reportedly in critical conditions in the hospital. Some other APC supporters were declared missing while equipment at the venue were set ablaze. Several cars, including three belonging to the police, were also reportedly destroyed.
On Saturday, March 14 media reports had it that unknown gunmen shot dead two PDP stalwarts in Abonema town, in the Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State. The victims were identified as Mr. Ibima Olunta, and Goodfellow Bobmanuel. Olunta was alleged to be the chairman, Ward 2, Abonema while Bobmanuel was a PDP councillorship aspirant, Ward 2 in the local government area. Two members of the Accord Party in Ibadan, one Kehinde Bello and Sarafa Adedeji were on March 1 shot dead and 15 injured by suspected political thugs in Odinjo area of Ibadan, Oyo State. These are just few of several election related violence this motherland has suffered in the lead up to the looming polls.
The ironic thing is that all these are happening despite the widely celebrated peace accord signed by party chairmen and their presidential candidates on January 14, 2015 in Abuja. This peace accord had also been signed by governorship candidates and party chairmen in the states. I have pointed out in my column on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 that:
“The Abuja Peace Accord is desirable, reasonable and is a useful alternative dispute resolution mechanism. It is well crafted but is it enforceable? True that the intentions of the framers are noble but they need to be reminded that there are non-violence clauses in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended, the 2010 Electoral Act, as amended, the Code of Conduct for Political Parties, and in the Constitutions of each of the political parties; why then do we continue to experience high level of violence in our polity and elections? It’s simply because the enforcement has been weak. How many of the perpetrators of the 2011 pre and post-election violence had been punished for their dastardly acts? This culture of impunity is majorly responsible for the festering of election related violence.” Need I add more?
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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

INEC, YDP and 2015 elections

The judgment of Justice Ahmed Mohammed of Abuja Federal High Court last Wednesday to the effect that Young Democratic Party, a hitherto political association, be accorded due rights and privileges of a political party came to many as a surprise. The learned judge had posited that the YDP was deemed registered when the Independent National Electoral Commission failed to inform its promoters of its decision not to register it as a political party within 30 days of receiving its application, as required under Section 78 (4) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. INEC was said to have received the association’s application on April 1, 2014 but only notified the applicant of its decision not to register it on September 15, 2014. I am saddened by this news. I believe the electoral commission should have known better rather than delay the communication of the defect of the application of the political association to its founders within the 30 days stipulated by law.
At a press conference on March 5, the new party gave INEC two options namely: to either reprint its ballot papers and include the party with a view to accommodating the party’s candidates or shift the elections. “If INEC does not have the appropriation for logistics for reprinting of its ballot papers, then INEC ought to, within the constitutional provision, further reschedule the general elections so as to accommodate our party,” the party’s national publicity secretary submitted. Meanwhile, in compliance with sections 85 and 87 of the Electoral Act, the party said it had fixed its governorship/House of Assembly and Presidential and National Assembly primaries for March 26 and 27 respectively.
When I wrote about my disapproval of the poll shift on this column four weeks ago, I did not foresee this latest development. Had it been that the elections had held on February 14 and 28 as originally scheduled by INEC, this court judgment would not have had any impact whatsoever on the 2015 polls. However, the election postponement allowed the new party to make mockery of our electoral planning. Just imagine, INEC should shift the polls to accommodate its yet-to-be-nominated candidates or shift the polls! What would be the electoral fortune of this party even if INEC were to put it on the ballot? This is a party whose primaries are scheduled for March 26 and 27. That is on the eve of the national elections.
INEC did mess up on the issue at hand. If its staff in charge of party registration had done their job professionally, the country would not have been put in this precarious situation. Can the electoral management body afford to ignore the part’s boastful requests? What valid, legal options are available to the commission in handling this sensitive matter? I read that it is going to ask for stay of execution and appeal the high court decision. Good, but is that satisfactory? What if it goes on appeal, conducts the elections on March 28 and April 11 only for higher courts to later rule that the elections were null and void for unlawful exclusion of the candidates of the new party? We have had a similar situation in 2007 when the Supreme Court, without minding that INEC had printed about 65 million ballot papers, ordered that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar had been unlawfully excluded and that he should be on the ballot. That decision came five days to the 2007 presidential poll and INEC had to reprint the ballots. The commission therefore should learn from history.
It may be true that the YDP may be playing the political card of other vested partisan interests beyond its own as revealed by this newspaper in its last Saturday edition. However, if we must blame the hawk for wickedness, let’s also scold the mother hen for exposing her children to danger. If INEC had handled the administrative side of the party registration according to the dictates of the law, the YDP will not have any legal right to call for the postponement of the elections or reprint of about 70 million ballot papers.
It must be stated that the implications of INEC acceding to either of the requests made by the YDP are grave. Should the election management body agree to reprint the ballot papers, where will it get the funds to do that? Was that planned for? If the funds are even available, what about the procurement bottlenecks? The commission cannot reprint about 70 million ballot papers without getting due process certification from the Bureau of Public Procurement. Can this be done in the two weeks remaining to the national elections date? If it otherwise postpones the elections, will it be on the basis that it hopes to get supplementary budget to reprint the ballot papers from the government? The socio-economic and political costs any further poll shift will cause this country are better imagined than experienced.
Already tension is brewing in the country as the air of uncertainty pervades the country. The economy is haemorrhaging as investors’ confidence in Nigeria’s markets (trade, investment, financial) becomes shaky. Billions have been lost to capital flight at the Nigeria Stock Exchange while the naira continues to depreciate against international currencies such as the dollar, pound and euro.   Public confidence in INEC to deliver credible elections will dip should there be a further shift. More and more court injunctions may be procured by some political interests against some aspects of the electoral plans such as banning of the use of the Permanent Voter Cards and Smartcard Readers. There could also be heightened insecurity as a result of the raging insurgency.
We must not also forget that as a result of the deregistration of 28 political parties on December 6, 2012, some of these political parties went to court to seek revalidation of their recognition as registered political parties. In fact, in a suit filed by Fresh Democratic Party and its presidential candidate in the 2011 presidential election, Rev. Chris Okotie, a Federal High Court in Abuja presided by Justice Gabriel Kolawole on July 29, 2013 nullified the deregistration of political parties by INEC. The court also declared Section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, which says parties must win seats in the state and National Assembly elections as null and void. INEC has appealed this decision and should the Court of Appeal uphold the high court judgment and order the 28 deregistered political parties to also be on the ballot like the YDP, then INEC may have to reprint the ballot papers for the third time.
I do not know how INEC will handle the conundrum of the YDP’s request. Whichever way it does, this is an avoidable mess and someone or some persons within the commission must be made answerable for putting this country in this tight and unpleasant situation.
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Thursday, March 5, 2015

The costs of the 2015 elections postponement

All seems set for the conduct of the 2015 polls on February 14 and 28 before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega announced a six weeks postponement on Saturday, February 7, 2015. INEC chairman cited the fact that the military had written to him through the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (Retd.) that they will not be able to provide adequate security for the elections should the elections go on as earlier scheduled. The military wanted more time to rout the insurgency in North-East Nigeria which has 14 local governments under its control. It would be recalled that the National Security Adviser had earlier advised INEC to shift the polls to enable about 30 million Nigerians who are yet to collect their Permanent Voters Card to do so. He said this on January 22 while speaking at Chatam House in London.

It’s been some three weeks into the postponement. Was Jega right to postpone the polls? Was INEC actually ready for the February 14 and 28 elections? What are the cost implications for the polls shift? With the benefit of hindsight, INEC chairman has no choice but to do as suggested by the NSA. He couldn’t have pressed on with the elections when the Nigerian military had patently informed him in writing that they would not be able to provide security for the polls. It would be recalled that Nigerian military and some other paramilitary organizations numbering about 16 altogether are members of the INEC Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security. ICCES provides both logistic support and security for poll workers, election materials and the electorates. It’s practically impossible to conduct elections in Nigeria today without the support of the security agencies.

On the second poser, INEC was not fully ready for the elections in February.  However, it must be noted that lack of readiness by INEC was not entirely its making. Funding was not made available to the commission as and when due. As at first week in January this year, an election fund of N75billion has not been released to INEC. The Punch newspaper of January 3, 2015 stated thus “Six weeks to this year’s general elections, the Federal Government has yet to appropriate the remaining N75bn out of the N120bn budgeted for the conduct of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission.”

Indeed, there are several costs to the election postponement. They are social, political, legal and economic costs. The social cost to the poll shift lies in the doubt it had created in the minds of the electorate about the proficiency of our governance institutions. The situation has created a confidence deficit and cast a pall of distrust on our key democratic institutions such as the electoral management body, political parties, National Assembly (Electoral Act and constitutional amendments yet to be concluded since 2012) and the security agencies.

In terms of political cost, the postponement has given more time for the political contestants to malign, discredit, abuse, and destroy their political opponents.  As at February 25, there are 10 court cases filed at various high courts seeking the disqualification of APC presidential candidate, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Retd.)  from contesting the March 28 presidential polls. (See The Punch of February 26, 2015). Should this happen to a strong contender like Buhari  at this point in time, the backlash among his supporters is better imagined. Also, it was reported that the some persons and organizations had filed suits in the court seeking the stoppage of INEC from the use of Card Readers for the forthcoming elections. This is because it is viewed as infringing section 52 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) which bars the use of electronic voting.  This suit is coming after INEC had procured 182,000 units of the Card Readers. Should the court bar INEC from its use, that will be millions of Naira down the drain. All these would possibly not have happened were the election to hold as scheduled in February.

The economic cost is also very huge. According to The Punch newspaper in its February 10 edition, “The postponement of the elections has cast a shadow on the naira’s outlook, pushing the forex (foreign exchange) market into a panic mood…” A dollar now officially exchange for over N200 at the official market.  Therefore, the polls shift is hurting the economy.

At private level, candidates and their parties have to re-plan and re-strategise. They have to pay more for the services of their campaign teams. If they had gone to lease or hire campaign vehicles and aircraft, they have to pay for additional six weeks which was probably not budgeted for ab initio. They have to produce and air new jingles and advertorials; pay more for their private and public security, etc.

Even when the elections were fixed for February, many politicians were reported to have sold off their property in order to raise money for their campaigns while those who did not have much to sell had to go a-borrowing by taking bank loans or borrowing from money lenders as well as friends and families. The greater implication of extended campaign finance is that political corruption will become an attractive option when these politicians assume power after their elections.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Jega, PVC distribution and card readers

It’s some 24 days to the rescheduled presidential and National Assembly elections and among the most trending issues are the planned removal of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, the controversies over the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards and the use of Smartcard Readers by INEC for accreditation purpose. Another trending issue is the proposed Interim National Government in the event that elections are not held as scheduled on or before April 28, 2015 in consonance with Sections 76 (2), 116(2), 132(2), 178(2) of the Constitution.
Starting with the call for Jega’s sack, this information which started as a rumour weeks back gained prominence when the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly, led by a one-time information minister, Chief Edwin Clark, made the demand at a press briefing in Abuja on February 5, 2015. The SNPA accused Jega of conniving with northern leaders to rig Jonathan out of the election. News report has it that the INEC chairman may be suspended or asked to proceed on three months pre-retirement leave this week. Many Nigerians including legal luminaries and a section of the opposition parties have stoutly risen in defence of Jega. While some of the lawyers said that President Jonathan has no power to sack or suspend the INEC chairman, others saw the planned move as a ploy by the Presidency to bring in a stooge who will do the bidding of the ruling party. It will be recalled that the immediate past INEC chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu, was removed unceremoniously in 2010 paving the way for the appointment of the incumbent in June 2010. Whatever conspiracy theorists are saying, I am opposed to the planned removal of Jega on the following grounds:
One, the exercise is a needless distraction which is already hurting our planned electoral process. Jega is not INEC’s problem and his dismissal will be counterproductive at this critical juncture. Jega, apart from the fact that he has security of tenure guaranteed by the constitution, is merely a primus-inter-pares (that is, first among the equals). The INEC board is made up of the chairman and 12 National Commissioners. This is the highest decision making organ of the electoral body. The commission also regularly consults the 37 Resident Electoral Commissioners before taking critical decisions. Has it ever been reported that Jega governs INEC as the sole administrator? When people engage in a “beer parlour” gossip that Jega plans to rig the forthcoming presidential election in favour of the All Progressives Congress candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, the question is how does he intend to do this? Is it by handpicking all the field officers who will conduct the election? How practicable is that?
For those who care to know, the INEC chairman is not in any way involved in the recruitment of ad hoc staff. INEC works through different departments and committees. The recruitment of poll workers is handled at different layers including state and local government levels. What INEC headquarters do is to set the guidelines for the recruitment. The most powerful role Jega may play in the forthcoming presidential election is that of the chief returning officer. Even at that, there are different layers of result collations starting from the ward to local government to state and finally at the Abuja head office of the commission. Jega with the support of other senior staff members will only do the final tabulation, announcement of result and declaration of the winner. If my memory serves me right, even this all-important role of returning officers has been ceded to academics from the universities. You will recall that the Vice-Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Prof. Bamitale Omole, was the chief returning officer for the August 9, 2014 Osun State governorship election.
Once again, I maintain that whatever challenges INEC is currently facing are as a result of institutional weakness. Removing Jega is not a panacea to that. There is a lot of vested political interests among the rank and file of the electoral commission militating against the success of INEC’s noble plans to deliver credible polls. It is noteworthy that whatever is the outcome of the electoral body’s conducted elections can still be subjected to judicial review via election petitions tribunals should the contesting political parties and their candidates feel aggrieved. I would rather the President wards off pressure to force Jega on compulsory pre-retirement leave and gives him the benefit of doubt to conduct the elections rather than risk international sanction and opprobrium. Removing the INEC chairman barely three weeks to the first set of elections is not ideal and may have unintended negative consequences for the polity and country at large.
There are several innovations being introduced by the Jega-led INEC. One of such is the introduction of the smartcard readers for the verification and authentication of voters. This electronic device is meant to be used for accreditation purpose only and not for voting. The objective is to enhance the integrity of the electoral process. According to INEC, some of the advantages of using the card readers include: First, once configured, they can only read PVCs issued by INEC. Second, they read the embedded microchip in the cards, not the barcode. Third, they enable authentication of the identities of the voters by matching his/her fingerprints with that stored on the chip. Fourth, they keep a tally of all cards read, all cards verified/authenticated or not, with all their details. Fifth, this information can be sent to a central server using an SMS. Sixth, the stored information on the server would enable INEC audit results from polling units, as well as do a range of statistical analyses of the demographics of voting, something INEC has never been able to do effectively. Seven, the RA/Ward Collation Officer can use this information to audit Polling Unit result sheets and determine whether accreditation figures have been altered (a common feature of electoral fraud).
Quite unfortunately, notwithstanding the aforementioned noble intendment of the commission in introducing the use of the card reader, some lawmakers and surprisingly the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and some of its cronies have been kicking against its use. Some persons and groups have actually filed a number of lawsuits aimed at getting court judgment to stop INEC from using the device. They hoe up a number of spurious claims ranging from being offensive to the electoral laws (they claim it is tantamount to using electronic voting which is prohibited by Section 52(2) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended). They also allege that the device has not been field-tested and that there is no sufficient voter education about its usage. A card reader is not an electronic voting machine.
Accreditation is not the same as voting and under the remodified open secret ballot INEC is using; the time for accreditation is different from that of voting. It is not simultaneous as we used to have prior to 2011. It is true that one would have wished for the card readers to have been used for a small constituency by-election to demonstrate their effectiveness, nevertheless INEC says they had been tested through pilot and mock elections and that the commission was satisfied with the results and their versatility and durability.
However, it is noteworthy that INEC procured 182,000 units of card readers even though the nation has a total of 119, 973 polling units. Why INEC did this is to have sufficient quantities to be deployed to voting points as well as having extra that can be used to replace any malfunctioning ones. The commission had also procured thousands of spare batteries for the device. Should the court forbid INEC from using this device, it will be a huge waste of scarce national resources. It is funny that some of the lawmakers kicking against the use of card readers actually forgot that INEC defended its budget before the National Assembly and among the items approved for the commission was the procurement of this device. Even if the device is tantamount to electronic voting, can’t the National Assembly which is in the process of finalising the amendment of the Electoral Act expunge the supposedly offensive Section 52(2) of the Act?
As regards the distribution of the permanent voter cards which had been sloppy and tardy, it is heartwarming to note that as of last weekend, INEC announced that the figure of those who have collected their cards stands at 55, 079,365. That is 80.02 per cent. The number will rise significantly by the time the exercise is brought to a close later this month. My admonition to Nigerian politicians is that they should work to safeguard and not scuttle this democracy.
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Monday, March 2, 2015

The unending controversies over Nigerian Census

This was my response to posers from Sunday Newswatch correspondent Kehinde Adegoke. The interview was published on page 11 and 12 of the newspaper in its edition of March 1, 2015 under the title’ NPC needs financial autonomy.’

No credible population census has ever been conducted in Nigeria

I agree with the position of Eze Festus Odimegwu that Nigeria has been lacking in accurate census since inception. We have had about 15 censuses to date and all of them have been steeped in controversies. This is because National Census has been a political and economic instrument. Political in the sense that it gives voting advantage to a more populous community. It also forms the basis of creation of state and local government council. It is also the basis for delimitation of electoral constituencies particularly State House of Assembly and Federal House of Representatives constituencies. Economic wise, it is the census figure that is used for national planning and resource allocation. Thus, during enumeration exercise many political and community leaders work hard to compromise the census officials to allocate higher figure to them than the number of people physically enumerated.  Little wonder that people are incentivized by their communities to travel to their homestead (place of birth) to be counted during census rather than being allowed to be enumerated at their places of residence.

It would be recalled that during the preparation for the 2006 National Census, while the Christian leaders and many southerners want religion and ethnicity as part of the data to be gathered during the census, Islamic leaders and opinion leaders from the north kicked against it.  If these two indicators had been allowed on the 2006 census checklist, it would have revealed the numerical strength of the adherents of different religions in Nigeria. Secondly, it would have also shown the population strength of each of the about 250 ethnic groups we allegedly have in this country.

Moreover, in order to validate the pronouncement of the sacked NPC chairman, the national census tribunal sitting in Abuja in 2013 nullified the 2006 census in 14 of the 20 local government areas of Lagos.

Need for amendment of the laws governing census in Nigeria

In terms of the call for the amendment of the census law, I do not know of any specific area in need of amendment.  In fact while section 153 (j) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria established the National Population Commission, section 158 (2) of the Constitution guaranteed full independence of the NPC by stating that:

“The National Population Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person:-  (a) in appointing, training or arranging for the training of enumerators or other staff of the Commission to assist it in the conduct of any population census;  (b) in deciding whether or not to accept or revise the return of any officer of the said Commission concerning the population census in any area or part of the Federation;  (c) in carrying out the operation of conducting the census; and (d) in compiling its report of a national census for publication.”

Perhaps Chief Festus Odimegwu wanted the census law to accommodate the use of proposed biometric-based census. It would be recalled that NPC under Odimegwu developed a national population data infrastructure that would cover all the 200,000 localities in Nigeria, stream the data through a Wide Area Network where every Ministry, Department and Agency of the Federal Government, state governments, local governments, the Organised Private Sector and all data users in the country would plug and play and get the information they needed for national development and global competitiveness.

In essence NPC had wanted a biometric based census especially one that would be centralised and synchronised with working technology, where if anybody registered twice, the system would take one. In explaining this, Chief Odimegwu had said that the biometrics will capture the face, iris, 10-finger digital signature and perhaps the voice of the person being enumerated. If we go by the current controversies over the use of card readers by INEC for the forthcoming elections because our electoral law forbids the use of electronic voting machine, NPC may actually want the census law amended to accommodate the use of biometrics which will also capture ethnicity and religion as part of questions on its enumeration checklist.

On whether accurate population is attainable in Nigeria

Yes,  it is if there is political will to do so. This political will include giving National Population Census free hand to operate. Aside administrative independence, NPC also needs financial autonomy. It is noteworthy that the conduct of nationwide census is a capital intensive exercise. For example the strategic architecture NPC formulated in 2012 with detailed operational plans has a cost component of N576bn covering the entire work of the commission for five years. Is this administration willing and ready to adequately fund the forthcoming census due next year? Will the government amend the legal framework as may be deemed necessary for the NPC to conduct accurate and credible population census? Adequate funding, sound legal framework, highly professionalised staff are some of the ingredients needed for us to have a globally accepted and standardised National Population Census.

On multiple birth registration

There is a way to avoid this and this is by an agency that should be responsible for the exercise. I think National Population Census should be the government agency to issue birth and death certificates. This is because NPC has offices in all the states and FCT as well as the entire 774 LGAs of this country. If we leave this important exercise to our various hospitals, it will be difficult because not all births take place at the hospitals. Some people give birth at homes, religious houses, public or private hospitals. This presents challenge of coordination which can be removed if NPC is allowed to do it. Also, there is need for sustained and comprehensive sensitisation of the citizenry on why it is important to register their births and deaths and where they can do it. NPC can do the enlightenment campaign in collaboration with the National Orientation Agency which is another agency of government with offices nationwide and in all the 774 LGAs. NPC can also partner with public and private media houses to do this for it as part of their corporate social responsibility.

Solutions to faulty enumeration in this country

As I have said earlier, there is need for political will. Also, there is need to embrace the use of contemporary technology in the conduct of our population census. Enumeration officials also have to be well trained and put on oath to be of good behavior. There should also be punishment for any erring staff of NPC be they permanent or ad-hoc who compromised on their duties.  Public enlightenment of the populace on the importance and benefit of accurate census should be explained to people so that they will stop subverting the exercise.

Jide Ojo, Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja.