Against the odds of allegations of PVC cloning and sale in the open market, INEC leadership assures that it is ready to shame mischief makers out to subvert the electoral process and give Ekiti a free, fair and credible election, writes EMEKA NZE.
High hurdle to scale
At the quarterly consultative meeting on Wednesday through Friday between the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the 68 registered political parties, media managers and security agencies, respectively, topmost on the agenda was the off-season Ekiti governorship election.
While welcoming the groups in the separate meetings, the INEC chairman did not waste time to inform the gatherings that: “Today’s meeting is taking place only 10 days to the Ekiti State Governorship election holding on Saturday 14thJuly 2018, 80 days to the Osun State Governorship election to be held on Saturday 22nd September 2018 and 226 days to the 2019 General Elections.”
Although Prof Yakubu mentioned that there were also “five (5) pending bye-elections for which we are awaiting communication from the Taraba State House of Assembly in respect of Takum I State Constituency, Cross River State House of Assembly for Obudu I State Constituency and the National Assembly in respect of Bauchi South and Katsina North Senatorial Districts and the Lokoja/Koton Karfe Federal Constituency in Kogi State,” which the INEC chairman informed his separate audiences that the commission had already instructed our Resident Electoral Commissioners in the five (5) States to begin the necessary preparations for the bye-elections ahead of the formal declaration of vacancies.
He then concentrated attention on the most important agenda thus: “The focus of the Commission’s immediate attention is the Ekiti State Governorship election holding in 2,195 Polling Units spread across 177 Wards in 16 Local Government Areas. 35 political parties are contesting in the election.
“So far, the Commission has successfully implemented 12 out of the 14 activities outlined in the timetable and schedule of activities for the election released nine (9) months ago on 5th October 2017.
“The only outstanding activities are last day of campaign and Election Day scheduled for 12th and 14thJuly 2018 respectively. We shall continue to implement all activities on schedule according to our timetable. I wish to thank all political parties for your support.”
Using the opportunity to thank those especially the party leaders who have approached the Commission with important suggestions and observations on how our processes and procedures can be strengthened, he said the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), and political parties had embarked upon voter education and sensitization in Ekiti State in partnership with the Commission.
To him, “This is very important to our electoral process in particular and our democracy in general, especially in view of the large number of political parties fielding candidates in the election.”
According to him, “Through this collaborative effort, our national elections are getting better organised and the outcome reflective of the will of the people. I wish to reassure you that the Commission shall remain focused on the goal of delivering free, fair and credible elections.”
Is INEC sabotaging its effort?
Most worrisome, however, to Prof Yakubu was the belief in some quarters that officials of INEC were neck deep into sabotaging the electoral process.
A Twitter user, SAGE @olufisiayomi had on earlier tweeted about the sale of Nigeria’s PVC on an e-Commerce site, Alibaba and it had gone viral, prompting the opposition parties to raise alarm in the media as a way of sounding a note of caution INEC.
The INEC chairman was outraged by the allegation against the commission and could not stomach his grievances at the meeting.
He said “The claim that the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) are cloned and Smart Card Readers pre-loaded is simply ludicrous. The Card Readers are only configured to specific polling units 72 hours or less before an election, set to operate only on Election Day from 8am and is manually shut down for accreditation after the last person on the queue has voted or automatically by 8pm.
He said, “It is unfortunate that in certain quarters, there is still the fixation that INEC officials are involved in deliberately perverting the processes and procedures for partisan considerations. Instead of approaching us with evidence of any potential or actual infractions for remedial action in the interest of our democracy, some prefer press conferences in which the Commission and a handful of its officials are criticised and maligned.
“We should stop seeing INEC as a political party or its officials as rival candidates. We are not a political party. We have no candidate in any election. We shall continue to maintain our integrity as election managers.
The he assured them, “I wish to assure you that our electoral processes have gone beyond the capacity of our own officials to manipulate. The procedures are robust.
He further assured the impossibility of the process to be subverted by anyone or sabotaged by his own staff: “In Ekiti we are deploying the enhanced Smart Card Readers (SCRs), this process has not even commenced. It is impossible to pre-load the Card Readers, let alone do so with cloned PVCs. In any case, electoral officials at polling units on Election Day cross check the voter’s name on the Register of Voters which includes the voter’s photograph. The voter must be personally present in order to vote. It cannot be done by proxy or prior to Election Day.
“Is the Voters’ Register, already given to each of the 35 political parties fielding candidates in the Ekiti Governorship election, also cloned? Is the bearer of the cloned card also going to have a cloned face to match the original photograph on the register printed from our database?
“We appeal to Nigerians to discountenance this unimaginative theory which is similar to the allegation of “scientific rigging” before a previous stand-alone Governorship election in which the Commission was accused of deploying a special ballot paper that altered the voter’s choice within minutes after it has been dropped into the ballot box in favour of another political party.
“Similarly, the accusation that excess result sheets are being printed in order to surreptitiously alter results during collation is simply untrue. With lessons learnt from every election and the reports we receive from political parties, civil society organisations and other stakeholders, the Commission has been introducing new innovations to further protect the integrity of our processes.
For instance, the most important level of the electoral process is the polling unit. Ballot papers are sorted out and counted at each polling unit after voting by citizens. The Commission has consistently been issuing copies of the result sheets to agents of political parties at that level.
“However, other stakeholders have demanded transparency of the process. The Commission responded by displaying the result for each polling unit immediately after the counting of ballot for public information. Having found this a useful way of enhancing citizens’ mandate protection, we took it a step further by introducing the EC60E which is a large poster reflecting the result in each polling unit as recorded on the EC8A shared with agents of political parties. The poster is pasted at each polling unit immediately after the counting of ballot papers.
“Consequently, citizens now know the outcome of voting in each polling unit and can track the processes of collation leading to the final declaration of results. These posters were effectively deployed in all elections since the Anambra State Governorship election in November 2017. We shall deploy them in all forthcoming elections.
He also informed the audience about what the commission is doing to checkmate mischief makers who are bent on thwarting its effort at bequeathing the country a sanitized electoral process. PVCs cloning allegation
“Only a few days ago, Nigerians were legitimately outraged by the image of a blank PVC advertised by an offshore Company for purchase in the open market. Within a few hours, we contacted the online platform responsible for the advert which promptly removed it.
“What Nigerians may not know is that it was not a single advertiser. A second company was forced to remove a similar advert and only this morning a third one was withdrawn.
“We have extracted a commitment from Alibaba.com to stop this unwholesome practice forthwith and will continue to work with the security agencies to track down those responsible for the advert as well as any prospective buyers of which there are none so far. We suspect that many dubious enterprises will keep trying openly and in the dark web.
“We have anticipated these challenges and we are far ahead of the mischief makers. Our security source codes are not only robust but continuously enhanced. We wish to reassure Nigerians that our sensitive and non-sensitive materials, processes and procedures are secure.
As we approach the 2019 general elections, we need your support in many ways, especially voter education and sensitisation. With 68 political parties and 136 applications being processed, we need raise the awareness of citizens on the manifestos, logos and acronyms of political parties.
Similarly, we need to find different ways of managing the ballot papers for the general elections. As a proactive step, the Commission has been working on a number of options regarding the design of the ballot paper and the management of the ballot box. We shall demonstrate a number of options to this meeting for consideration and suggestions.
My life is not under threat- REC
After the meeting with security agencies at the the INEC headquarters, the exuberant Ekiti State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Prof Abdulganiyu Raji told the press that his commission governorship is fully prepared for the election.
Flanked by the Ekiti State Commissioner of Police, Mr Bello Ahmed, the REC who was fielding questions from reporters said he was neither under pressure nor was there threat of any kind against himself or any member of his staff.
“There is no threat. We are good to go in Ekiti State. All my staff there we are all in good mood and we want to thank the people of Ekiti State so far.
“Even if there are issues at all, it is not with INEC, they have been having issues among themselves as political parties which the security agencies have always been putting user control. So we are happy with the situation on ground.”
“As far as the Ekiti State INEC is concerned, we are fully ready. In fact if you get to Ekiti State now apart from the operational works all our offices are wearing a new look. We have distributed all the non sensitive materials to our local governments; we have trained all the necessary personal and they are doing their deployment by Monday (last Monday) which is going to be chaired by the INEC chairman. Everything has been put in place in Ekiti State. The only thing left that we are expecting is the cooperation of the people.”
Resident Electoral Commissioner, Raji who had said INEC in the state was fully prepared for the election dismissed allegations of rigging of the election in favour of any of the candidate adding that it is difficult for anybody to rig the election given stringent measures put in place to avert malpractices.
He said the commission has been to 14 local governments organising town hall meetings to explain the processes of the election which he said was well received by the Ekiti people.
According to Raji, the word “rigging should be erased from the dictionary of elections in Nigeria because I don’t know what you to rig again using the smart card reader we have put in place. If you have things like authentication done, verification from the voters register and accreditation using the smart card reader and then the total number of voters that have been authenticated by the smart card reader through the finger print, the biometrics, all these transmitted to the headquarters of INEC both in Ekiti state and the national headquarters in Abuja.
“While the election is going on, if it is 100 people that voted in a particular place, at the INEC office in Ekiti state we already know we are expecting 100 votes from the particular polling unit. If it changes along the way we will also change it.
“It is not as if we are waiting until they bring the papers. The number of people accredited will be known to us. Don’t expect the number of votes to be more than that after the votes have been counted. The votes will be recorded on the appropriate forms, all the party agents and security agents are there. That will be scanned and sent to us ahead, with the result sheet submitted at the collation centres. With all these it is difficult to rig any election or manipulate the process,” the REC explained.
Heavy security presence
This was as the state police commissioner said twenty thousand security personnel comprising 16,000 policemen and a mixture of other security agencies would be deployed to man the July 14 governorship election in Ekiti state.
Ekiti state police Commissioner, Mr Bello Ahmed and the Ekiti State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr Abdulganiyu Raji who spoke to journalists yesterday after INEC’s quarterly consultative meeting with security agencies expressed their readiness for the next Saturday’s governorship election.
The Ekiti state Police Commissioner disclosed that his men in the state have done threat analysis and were able to identify all the flashpoints, the individuals involved and everyone that is inimical to peace in the state.
“We have done threat analysis where all the flashpoints, individuals involved and everyone that is inimical to peace not only during the conduct of this election but the entire state of Ekiti have been identified and we have put in place a robust security arrangement to checkmate any threat to peace.
“With regards to personnel involved, we have 16,000 men and added to other security agencies 20,000;security and other personnel are going to be active during the forthcoming governorship election.”
The police commissioner announced that there would be the usual restriction of movement on the election day, warning observers and those on election duties in the state to ensure that they obtained INEC’s accreditation cards to enable the have free movement to any part of the state.
“You see there must be period of restrictions during the election and every observer must be accredited. You cannot just wake up saying I am this, I am that. Nigerians being what they are we must follow due process. There is a tag that will be given to you. After due verification of your accreditation, with that card you can be free to any part of the state to do your work.”
Prof Yakubu who warned all officials of the Commission both ad-hoc and regular to strictly remain neutral said INEC ‘shall not take any action to the advantage or dis-advantage of any political party or candidate.
‘’No election material will be tempered with. If anything, we introduced additional safeguard to protect the integrity of our manual and electronic processes and procedures. We introduced additional measure of transparency’’, he added.
Speaking on preparatory activities so far completed by INEC for the successful July 14 polls, Yakubu said ‘’the Commission has engaged and trained ad hoc staff required for the election, made arrangements for the delivery of personnel and materials to all polling units, undertook intensive voter education and sensitization, held many Town Hall meetings in Ekiti appealing for co-operation and support, identified potential areas of threat and discussed them at meetings with stakeholders, including the security agencies and generally reassured voters that the Commission is ready for the elections.
‘’I wish to once again assure you that choice of who becomes the next Governor of Ekiti is entirely in the hands of the voters. The votes will count. Only the choice made by people of Ekiti State and nothing else will determine the outcome of the election’’, Prof Yakubu explained.
In his remarks, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris also assured the readiness of the police to protect men, materials and voters before, during and after the polls and urged Ekiti citizens to be law abiding and support the conduct of peaceful elections.
IGP Idris said 30, 000 personnel would be deployed for the elections, urging politicians to play by the rules.
246, 270 PVCs yet to be collected
Still on preparations for the Saturday’s election, the REC in charge of the State, Prof Raji said out of the 913, 334 registered voters, about 667, 064 have so far collected their PVCs, leaving the Commission with the balance of 246, 270 uncollected PVCs.
The Commissioner urged voters who were yet to collect their PVCs to do so not later than Wednesday this week.
Comm. Raji warned politicians against attempts to induce election officials. ‘’Please do not congest the centres or induce our officials by whatever impression.
‘’We are going to conduct a transparent and credible election that will stand the test of time’’, he added.