Smart card reader controversy and e-voting




Last week, the Independent National Electoral Commission (lNEC) declared its resolve to sustain use of the Smart Card Reader in all elections subsequently thereby dropping the hint that it is not averse to use of electronic voting devices. Emeka Nzeh and Abdulrahman Zakariyau write

Smart card reader has outlived its usefulness

The Independent National Electoral Commission (lNEC) has reasons to restate its commitment to “continue to use and deploy the Smart Card Reader (SCR) in all elections an alleged impression created by the comments made by its National Commissioner in-charge of Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye Esq at a programme organised by the Situation Room.

Okoye’s remarks were assumed to mean that smart card readers were no longer useful in the electoral process. 

Last Thursday the INEC issued this statement which further added that “this clarification has become necessary in the light of remarks attributed to the National Commissioner in-charge of Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye Esq at a programme organised by the Situation Room.

Speaking for the commission, Okoye said the smart card reader, whose introduction into the electoral system in 2015, is seen as a game changer, has outlived its usefulness.

Okoye gave the agency’s position on this issue at the Nigeria Civil Societies Situation Room (NCSSR)’s review of the Kogi and Bayelsa states governorship elections in Abuja, last week.

In response to the argument that INEC ought to have cancelled the Kogi election as a result of the pervasive violence that characterized it, the top officials said the agency lacks the power to cancel an election after being held.

Okoye said the smart card reader has lost relevance because even the courts do not recognise it as a means to prove over-voting. He said the courts still rely on voter register and election results as means to prove over-voting.

“We must also find solution to the issue of smart card reader. The smart card reader has lost its efficacy. The smart card reader has lost its vibrancy in relation to the electoral process, because the political elite have found a way around it.

“So, rather than use the smart card reader, they just ignore it, because ultimately, they know that when they get to the court, what the court will be saying is that: ‘you want to prove over voting? We want to see the voter register and we want the INEC forms and not the smart card reader’.

“So, as far as I am concerned, the smart card reader has become a redundant instrument and inconsequential,” Okoye said.

However, INEC swiftly acted to correct the alleged error or what poor impression the comments may have been assumed to mean.

But the commission opted to remind “political parties, candidates in elections, poll agents and the electorate that voter resistance to the use of the smart card reader and obstruction and resistance to the deployment/distribution of electoral materials constitute unlawful truncation of the electoral process, adding that zero votes will be entered for the affected .” 

Accordingly, the statement said Okoye that explained that the commission introduced the smart card reader in the electoral process principally as additional confirmatory and authentication tool to determine the authenticity of cards presented by voters and eliminate impersonation, which are serious challenges to the electoral process in Nigeria. 

“The SCR is, therefore, designed to strengthen the integrity of the electoral process and eliminate multiple voting.”

The INEC statement further said, “In accordance with Section 49(1 & 2) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and Clause paragraph 10(a) of INEC Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections, a person intending to vote with his voter’s card shall be verified to be the same person on the Register of Voters by use of the SCR. 

“Furthermore, by paragraph 10(bi of the said Regulations and Guidelines: “Any Poll Official who violates the provisions of paragraph 10(a) relating to the use of the Smart Card Reader shall be deemed to be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to prosecution”. 

“Political parties, candidates in election, poll agents and the electorate are reminded that voter resistance to the use of the Smart Card Reader and obstruction and resistance to the deployment/ distribution of electoral materials constitute unlawful truncation of the electoral process and zero votes will be entered for the affected

“The commission will continue to work with the National Assembly and all the critical stakeholders to reduce malpractices in our electoral process, including over voting. As part of this process, strengthening the legal basis of the use of the SCR, as well as other amendments that will advance the electoral process would be vigorously pursued. 

“The commission will also continue to work with the security agencies and other stakeholders to prevent individuals and/or groups from undermining the use and application of the Smart Card Reader in elections.”

Even then, the National Commissioner in charge of Information and Voter Education said on Thursday that contrary to this erroneous impression, he (the national commissioner) spoke in the context of attempts by some political interests to wilfully by-pass the smart card reader during elections to inflate their votes. 

The opposition fires back

However, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) took a different dimension to the statement insisting that INEC that its card readers were being circumvented confirmed its position that the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections, as well as the Kogi West Senatorial election, were allegedly manipulated.

PDP in a statement issued by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, Thursday added that “the confession by two INEC commissioners; Festus Okoye and Haruna Mohammed on Wednesday that the card readers were circumvented in elections conducted by the commission did not come to it as a surprise.

The statement in part read “the PDP had always held that no matter how much falsehood appears to thrive, the truth will always catch up with it.

“The confession by the commission vindicates the position of the PDP and majority of Nigerians that there were manipulations, alterations and circumventing of genuine data captured by the card readers and that actual results transmitted from polling units were  tampered with.

“The admission also brings to light why INEC had no convincing defence at the tribunal in the face of overwhelming discrepancies in the figures it declared in the Presidential poll.

“It is instructive to note that the confession by INEC has not only vindicated our party, it has placed a huge burden on the Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu.

“It is indeed unfortunate that INEC can suddenly claim that it has just realized that the card readers have lost steam in our electoral process after they have been used to manipulate voting processes.

“Prof Yakubu is now faced with the burden of how our electoral system has been corrupted by the manipulations in his INEC, all in the bid to serve group, rather than national interest.

“The INEC chairman should accept his failures and vacate office without further delay. This is because there is no way Nigerians can continue to repose confidence in the commission under his watch.

“Of course, not under an electoral commission that condones the invasion of polling units, suppression of voters and stuffing of snatched ballot boxes; an INEC that cancels results in places where election held peacefully while announcing fabricated results allocated to its favoured political party as valid votes.

“The PDP totally rejects attempts by INEC to shift the blames for its failures to other political parties. It is on record that our party had consistently pointed to infractions created and allowed by INEC to facilitate rigging in elections.

“While calling on Nigerians to remain calm, the PDP charges Prof. Yakubu and the INEC leadership under him to do the needful by vacating offices to save our electoral system from complete collapse”.

Is seems though that aside from agitation for proper deployment of the smart card reader for elections henceforth, some believe resort to e-voting could allow fuller participation and ensure some acceptable level of transparency and credibility.

Among the many persons agitating for the deployment of e-voting system is the former governor of Ogun state, Chief Olusegun Osoba, who has joined the bandwagon to call on the National Assembly to include electronic voting as part of the Electoral Act amendment, insisting that Nigeria has no excuse not to digitalise its voting process.

Osoba, who spoke at an event, organised by The League of Veteran Journalists, to celebrate 160 years of Journalism in Nigeria, in Abeokuta, the Ogun state capital on Monday, said it was regrettable that the electoral process in Nigeria had been bastardised.

Speaking on the theme, “Re-inventing the practice of Journalism in Nigeria with emphasis on the influence of the Social Media”, he said, “I’m shocked at what we have now (electoral process) because it is worse than corruption.” 

He renewed the call for the amendment of the electoral act, lamenting that vote buying, rigging, ballot box snatching among other electoral frauds had plagued the country’s electoral process.

In Osoba’s view, the inclusion of electronic voting in the Electoral Act would put an end to electoral fraud in Nigeria.

“The day we stop selling our votes that day we will get it right and that day we will start electing the right people into offices.

“That is why I have been pushing for the amendment of the Electoral Act. Let us all support and fight for the review of the electoral act. Let us fight for electronic voting”, Osoba added.

“When we stop selling our votes, we will get it right. We will get there, there is no collapsed country. Let us all be involved in politics, let us stop selling our votes”, the former Governor insisted.

Osoba said, “We need to go electronic in voting in Nigeria because Ghana has gone electronic, Kenyan has gone electronic, we have no excuse not to get digital in our electoral process, the day of analogue system is gone”. 

Initiate amendments to admit e-voting- PDP

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, stretched the argument further by challenging the INEC to initiate Electoral Act amendment to legalise electronic voting to enhance the possibility of transparent, free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.

As a party, the PDP strongly holds the view that the charade such as was seen in the November 16 governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states respectively and the Kogi West senatorial district re-run would continue unabated to the detriment of democracy in Nigeria.

Secondus, who made the call when he received INEC verification team at the party headquarters, Wadata Plaza, Abuja, Monday disclosed that “as an opposition party it has not been easy operating under a ruling party whose understanding of democracy is impunity, intimidation and coercion.

“We are standing vindicated in the eyes of many electoral watchers as all our fears and apprehensions ahead of election came to fruition in the general election of February and March this year, the preceding governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states earlier and the latest being the November 16, 2019 gubernatorial election in Bayelsa and Kogi states, he added 

The PDP chairman also lamented that, “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.

Secondus claimed “Nigerians have watched how the Electoral body unable to control the military relinquished their responsibility to them and still curiously went ahead to authenticate such fraud.

“I am not going to bore you with issues that are well known to your commission in your reviews of elections but I would like to urge your commission to move quickly and initiate Electoral Act amendment that will legalize electronic voting and remove the influence of the military as primary security on the Election Day.

“The ruling APC, unlike the PDP, is not disposed to any electoral law that will prevent them from manipulating the system. We, in PDP, expect INEC to be at the forefront of the process to have legal frame work for the conduct of free, fair and credible election.

“Such legal framework should address the issue of security, electronic voting and collation of results and punishment for electoral offenders.

Secondus also cautioned that the survival and sustenance of Nigeria’s democracy rest squarely on the integrity of the Electoral Commission which will derive from the character and the impartiality of its operatives. 

INEC is listening

On his part, the leader of the INEC delegation, Deputy Director Election and Party Monitoring, Musa Husunu, noted that they will convey all the grievances and suggestions of the PDP to INEC leadership.

Husunu explained that they came to PDP as part of the ongoing verification exercise for the 91 political parties In Nigeria. 

He said parties must show evidence of headquarters in Abuja, five copies of the constitution, list of NEC members, physical presence of all NWC members, Book of accounts, and then go round.

However, INEC chairman, Prof Yakubu believes reform or not the unruly behaviour of political actors during elections remains a key factor to having a transparent and credible election, stressing that electoral behaviour is not something you can legislate against.

“The basic problem is that of attitude. No matter how many reforms we do, so long as the politicians behave with impunity and get away with it

“This attitude thing is one of the problems. I don’t know how we are going to change it. Because even if you have the best laws. You have the best Constitution, the problem will still persist

The INEC chairman said no amount of reforms would address the challenges associated with elections unless the politicians change their ways.

He noted that the politicians are emboldened to act with impunity because “no penalties are provided in the electoral laws for most of the offences.

“For instance, the pasting of candidates’ posters and banners on public buildings and infrastructure as was the case in Kogi State, which amounts to using government’s resources to advertise, there is no punishment for that kind of act.

“Anytime you do a reform, it seems that any solutions you come up with, another set of problems will come and overshadow them.

He urged civil society organisations to focus more on the activities of the politicians who act with impunity and sponsor electoral violence.

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