Precedent to the appearance of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, before the Senate last week to explain his commission’s level of preparedness for the March 28 and April 11 rescheduled general elections, there had been campaigns from powerful quarters against the use of card readers for the forthcoming poll.
This campaign provoked renewed fears, apprehensions and anxieties about the fate of the recently-postponed elections as it heightened the varied satanic rumours: that the elections might not be held after all; that an interim government might be installed; and that the poll might be shifted the second time or might be mindlessly rigged, if eventually conducted. This was a sombre atmosphere for a nation notorious for election violence and political impasse.
Opponents of reader cards had said that INEC was not ready as far as logistics goes to use the cards for the general elections. According to them, the cards were not available or had not been sighted, the reader cards’ batteries would not be able to withstand the long hours of election as they are incapable of lasting for more than five hours, ad hoc staff had yet to be trained to handle the reader cards, the cards might disappoint on election day. The criticisms were legion.
All this was in addition to the alleged low and slipshod distribution of Permanent Voter Cards by INEC. But Jega was able to clear the air on all fronts. Using the card readers of some distinguished Senators as specimens, including Sani Ahmed Yerima’s, Chris Ngige’s and Bukola Saraki’s, the INEC Chairman successfully proved the functionality of the card reader to the Senators, the nation and the world.
Jega also shed light on the other grey areas: “We have done the functionality and durability tests on the card readers with a local partner, with their technical partner in Texas in the United States. There were 13 specific tests that were done about their functionality, durability and versatility. The card readers passed all the tests.
“We have done some few tests and the result we have is about 90 per cent successful. We feel comfortable that the card readers can be used. They will add value to the electoral process.
“It cannot be 100 per cent perfect. It may not be able to read every finger and that is why we agree with political parties. We bought 182, 000 card readers. Some of them did not work. Of the total number of card readers that we ordered and configured, only 503 had failed to work. That is 0.03 per cent of the total. The agreement is that if a card reader fails during accreditation, then, we will try and repair it within the time of accreditation which is between 8am and 1pm.
“If a card reader fails around 10am, before 1pm, we will do everything possible to replace it but if we are unable to do so, the time lost will be added to the accreditation period and extended.”
On the legality of the card reader, Jega said, “Whereas Section 52 of the Electoral Act prohibits the use of electronic voting, the card reader is not a voting machine and it is not used for voting, it is merely an electronic device introduced to improve the integrity of the voting process”.
He itemized the advantages of card reader: “First, once it is configured, it can only read PVC issued by INEC at the polling unit that it has been configured. Second, it reads the embedded chip card not the back code. Third, it enables authentication of the identity of the voter by matching his or her fingerprint with the code on the chip of the card. Four, it keeps a tally of all cards read and all cards verified or authenticated with all their details, including the time when this was done.”
A demonstration that the election czar’s presentation was convincing to the Senators who are the representatives of Nigerians was the applause that greeted the presentation and the parting words by the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark.
Mark said, “We have so much confidence that you will organise free, fair and credible elections; indeed all of us who are standing for election in the Senate will like to come back. We will like to win our election but we want to win free, fair and credible elections. I can say that nobody seated here wants to come back through the back door.
“It is for us to assist you to conduct free, fair and credible elections and whatever we can do between now and the date you have chosen for us to go for the elections, we will not hesitate to do.”
Ordinarily, these developments should put paid to the controversies, fears and anxieties surrounding the use of card reader during the March 28 and April 11 general elections and should nudge the nation to embrace its use. This is even more so that it will afford the nation the opportunity to clear its name from public and international odium that had attended it following fraudulent conduct of elections since independence.
But the nation’s and INEC’s experience during the pre-and post-election shift drama should teach the nation not to go to bed with its two eyes closed. Now that it has been established that card reader will guarantee the integrity of elections, the people, the civil society and the media should insist on its use.
It should also teach INEC to go beyond rhetorics in the conduct of its duties. Apart from continuously and properly training the ad hoc staff that will handle the card readers during the elections, INEC must engage in massive campaigns on the use of card readers, including letting the public know that the card reader has the capacity to work for 12 straight hours and its ability to go into the hibernating mode when not in use and thus function for 24 hours during this period.
Now that, two weeks into the poll shift, collection of PVCs has entered over 75 per cent, security operatives have massively run over the Boko Haram insurgents and the doubts have been cleared over the readiness of INEC to use the card reader for the elections, there can be no excuse for not holding the March 28 and April 11 elections as rescheduled, creditably and peacefully with the use of the card reader.
The world is waiting to witness the nation’s first free, fair, credible and peaceful election 55 years after independence. When this happens, there will no vanquished or losers. We will all be winners – the government, the election contestants and the people.