The ongoing controversy between Governors Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, both All Progressives Congress candidates in the June 21 and August 9 governorship elections respectively in the two states on the one hand, and the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on the other, over the use or otherwise, of card readers in the elections must be amicably resolved before the elections are conducted in the interest of the credibility of the elections and the people of the two states.
Going ahead to hold the elections without resolving the concerns of the actors in the electoral process will amount to sowing the seed for a contentious poll. As a rule, elections must not only be free, fair and credible but must also be seen to be so.
This nation has had enough of battered image as a result of stalemated and fraudulent polls. In a nation where there is mutual mistrust between INEC and political parties on electoral matters, obvious contentious matters must be given the attention they deserve and be decisively addressed to save the nation from the huge embarrassment of rejection of election results, prolonged and unnecessary litigations and consequently, credibility burden, which have attended the nation’s elections since 1999.
Reports quote Governor Fayemi as saying, “We will go to any length not only to ensure that the votes of the people count but the votes must be counted at the spot where they have chosen to elect the leader for themselves and we will do anything to ensure that INEC is forced, not only encouraged to use the card reader for these elections in Ekiti and Osun.”
Governor Aregbesola on his part urged INEC to test-run the card reader machines in the Ekiti and Osun elections, saying the electoral body only needed to provide 3, 500 machines in the two states to ensure credible polls.
The two governors were reacting to a report that the Acting Chairman of INEC, Dr. Ishmail Igbani, had said INEC would use card readers for the two elections, which was later debunked by the Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu.
Mr. Idowu had said in a statement titled, ‘PVCs, Not Card Readers, Will Be Used for Ekiti, Osun,’ that “Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) will be used for the Ekiti State governorship election on June 21, 2014 and the Osun State governorship election on August 9, 2014; but the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will not deploy card readers for the governorship elections. Rather, the card readers will be used along with PVCs for the 2015 general election.
“This is to correct reports in some sections of the media on Thursday, May 1, 2014, that card readers will be deployed for the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections. The reports misrepresented Acting INEC Chairman, Dr. Ishmael Igbani, as having said card readers would be deployed for the governorship elections.”
With the benefit of hindsight, INEC had introduced the Permanent Voter Cards in Ekiti and Osun States to correct the problems encountered during the just-concluded Anambra State governorship election where thousands of voters ‘ names were missing in the register and the election was initially inconclusive as a result of the use of Temporary Voter Register. The All Progressives Congress had vehemently protested the election, which, together with other parties, it later lost to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party.
Mr. Idowu had explained in his statement: “The use of PVCs for Ekiti and Osun governorship elections will ensure that all duly registered persons, whose names are on the biometric register and for whom PVCs have been produced, will be able to exercise their franchise in the imminent elections. The CVR (Continuous Voter Registration) was an opportunity for eligible persons who were previously not on the biometric register to get their data captured, and their PVCs will shortly be produced.”
Card reader, an initiative of INEC, is one of the core elements of ensuring credible polls as it contains microchips – fingerprints, photographs, etc – of voters and are capable of checking double or multiple voting and allied electoral malpractices.
Both parties agree on the propriety of card readers in prosecuting a free, fair and credible election, but the point of departure is the timing of the introduction of the electoral initiative.
It is clear that Governors Fayemi and Aregbesola on the one hand and the INEC on the other are being careful from their respective sides of the divide. But the point must be made that each has a good point and a right to protect its interest. However, dialogue must be employed to amicably reach a compromise.
Fifteen years into the nation’s renascent democratic project, actors in the electoral process should allow and deploy the kernels of dialogue and compromise as essential ingredients of engagement. It is in doing this that, together, we can achieve a robust democracy.
As progressives, Governors Fayemi and Aregbesola should encourage INEC to appreciate the need to use card readers in the June and August 2014 elections.
This should be so given what transpired in the November 16, 2013 Anambra governorship poll during which many voters did not find their names in the voters register, and were thus disenfranchised, a development which also embarrassed INEC.
INEC’s statement on the card reader issue is rather terse. The electoral body has to explain to not only Ekiti and Osun people but to Nigerians and, indeed, the world, the reasons it will not employ card readers in the Ekiti and Osun elections, an initiative the body said it devised to guide against the Anambra episode in subsequent elections in the country. Does INEC think introducing the Permanent Voter Card and the card reader at the same time will be counter productive? Does INEC want to perfect PVC before introducing the reader card to avoid the Ghana experience where introduction of the two in the same election, among others, resulted in stalemated polls? Is the reason for not wanting to use reader card in the state elections around logistic problem? It is only when acceptable reasons are given that the matter can be laid to rest and a level playground created for the electoral contests.
Besides explaining why it will not use the card reader for the Ekiti and Osun elections, INEC should be able to convince the political parties that introducing the Permanent Voter Card will guarantee the much-desired free, fair and credible poll.
For the nation to have free, fair and credible polls in 2015, INEC may have to test-run the card reader in smaller polls like bye-elections so that it can have a smooth turn out.
Ekiti and Osun elections are the last governorship elections precedent to the 2015 elections and thus a test case for the 2015 poll. They are the signposts of how the general elections will turn out. All the players in the Ekiti and Osun elections must therefore play the game according to the rules and make noble sacrifices in the form of compromises to assure the nation and its friends that there will be smooth transition and peace in 2015 and beyond.