The raging controversies between concerned political parties and their gladiators on the one hand and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on the other, over the ongoing slipshod distribution of Permanent Voter Cards in some states of the federation are frightening indicators that the road to achieving the desired free, fair, fair and credible poll in 2015 may be strewn with thorns.
Although all the phased distribution exercises in the over 20 states, including Abuja, had been problematic, the third phase, which was held from November 7 -10, had been most excruciatingly problematic given the enormity and political implications of the inherent and observed anomalies.
According to INEC, 1.4 million names were missing from the voter register in Lagos State out of the 6.1 million captured in 2011. PVC distribution was not carried out in 20 local government councils in the state. The exercise had to be extended till November 10 in Nassarawa, Ogun and other states.
This untoward political development sparked protests from political stalwarts in the All Progressives Congress-led Lagos State. A former governor of the state, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, and the incumbent Governor BabatundeFashola, SAN, had fired back at INEC, accusing the electoral umpire of deliberately delisting eligible voters and colluding to rig the 2015 general election.
INEC was also accused of failure to capture persons who are 18 years and above in spite of the time constraint and the Electoral Act’s requirement that comprehensive voter register be displayed for a minimum of 30 days.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner in Plateau State, Habu Zama, said, for instance, that INEC had yet to capture over one million of the 2.3 million prospective voters. The general election is less than four months away.
In a statement laden with denial, apology and assurances, the Chief Press Secretary to the Chairman of the Electoral body, Mr.Kayode Robert Idowu, promised that “no duly registered person has been delisted from the Register of Voters; neither will any be denied his / her PVC” and that “Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) is scheduled to hold in the same states from Wednesday, November 12th to Monday, November 17th, 2014.”
Mr.Idowu said: “The Commission deferred the distribution of PVCs in four other states it had earlier listed for this third phase because the cards for those states have not been fully delivered by printers. It is partly for the same reason that the Commission rescheduled the distribution of PVCs in limited areas of Lagos and Nasarawa states. The outstanding cards will, however, be certainly distributed in good time before the 2015 general election. They are presently being produced and have been scheduled for distribution under the fourth phase of the exercise from Friday, November 28th to Sunday, November 30th, 2014.”
On the allegation of willful deletion of eligible voters’ names from the register, INEC said, “It is completely false that INEC has removed the records of 1.4 million persons from the Register of Voters compiled in 2011 in Lagos State. It is true that at the end of the 2011 general registration exercise, the Commission announced a figure of 6.1 million registrants in the state. But when that data was subjected to the Automated Fingerprints Identification System (AFIS) software, 82,892 multiple registrations were eliminated. Also, there was the technical challenge of loss of data and incomplete data affecting about one million records – mostly in 1,792 polling units that were identified and made public before the present exercise. That was why / how the Post-Business Rule figure for Lagos State (on the basis of which PVCs were printed) came down to about 4.6 million registrants.”
INEC said the loss of and incomplete data of some registrants are not issues of ‘conspiracy’ as is being alleged in some quarters but “a back-end technical challenge that is far from sealing the fate of affected persons, and for which INEC has already put in place measures to ensure redress.”
Mr.Idowusaid the Commission had made provision for eligible persons for whom PVCs could not been printed due to data loss or defective data to come out from Wednesday, November 12th to Monday, November 17th, 2014 for their data to be recaptured during the CVR.
He also said that in special consideration for the 1,792 polling units in Lagos State where the challenge of data loss is much pronounced, the CVR would take place at the polling unit level, as against the Registration Area (RA) level in other parts of the state. He restates the Commission’s determination to ensure that the 2015 general election meets up to global best standards, and solicits the cooperation of all Nigerians in this regard.
But while some of the current allegations against INEC may be outrageous and outright political, there are strong indications that the electoral body may have paved the way for the vituperations through outright incompetence and sloppiness, thus giving arsenals to aggrieved parties to make even the most ridiculous allegations sound sublime.
It is unfortunate that at a time when the nation should be consolidating on its preparations for the 2015 general election – less than four months to the contest – the PVC, a significant feature of registration of voters, which INEC has rightly described as the “the most important bedrock of the credibility of any election,” is tearing the electoral umpire and some political parties apart. Can this position deliver an election that will not only be transparent but will also be seen to be so?
Also disheartening is the fact that, despite splitting distribution of cards in the 36 states into three phases for administrative and logistics convenience, INEC has yet to perfect the process as some of the sundry challenges identified in Phase I ran through the subsequent phases, with fresh hiccups occurring along the way. Why is it difficult for INEC to take the peculiarities and perceived challenges of states into consideration?
It is even more disturbing that the PVC invented by INEC as a solution to the November 16, 2013 Anambra State governorship election, which was marred by missing names and, consequently, massive disenfranchisement, has yet to effectively get off the ground, one year after.
It will be recalled that when an enraged nation lambasted INEC over the Anambra governorship poll, the electoral body said the challenges were necessitated by the use of Temporary Voter Card and therefore came up with the PVC option.
During the clamour and controversy over the use of Reader Card for the just-concluded Ekiti and Osun polls, Mr.Idowu, had said in part in a statement entitled, ‘PVCs, Not Card Reader, Will be Used in Ekiti, Osun’, “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.”
As Nigerians would witness and attest during the said polls, the pledge was achieved in its breach as many persons were disenfranchised as a result of logistic and sundry technical problems.
Now, less than four months to the 2015 general elections, INEC’s promise that persons “whose names are on the webometric register and for whom PVCs have been produced , will be able to exercise their franchise in the imminent elections,” PVC distribution is pitting the electoral umpire against concerned political parties.
INEC must move away from broken promises and be faithful to the assurances contained in its statement in the interest of the nation. Beyond the challenge-ridden PVC distribution exercise, INEC should do pilot-testing of the card readers, which it had promised Nigerian to use to deliver a credible poll in 2015, to ensure that they are effective at detecting multiple voting and allied electoral malpractices at every voting point. PVC and card reader are the twin anchors for a credible election in 2015.
The failure of INEC to deliver a smooth and fool-proof process for the conduct of previous and forthcoming elections is at the root of the needless controversies and allegations by some aggrieved political parties, which have learnt not to trust the electoral body and thus suspecting it at every turn and move. But while INEC might be short on logistics and other success-delivering variables, it cannot be held responsible for the identified multiple registration and other foibles that resulted in the de-registration of some persons as in the case of Lagos where over 1.4 million voters were removed from the register. Politicians of all divides must, therefore, steer clear of acts that will unnecessarily put INEC and the nation under unnecessary pressure.
The aggrieved parties must know that the challenges INEC is facing in the distribution of PVCs cut across the 36 states and could therefore not have been targeted at some political parties.
If the controversies are not amicably resolved, they may be setting the stage for a contentious election and providing an arsenal for naysayers who are waiting on the sidelines to see the nation collapse next year as already predicted.
There is, therefore, a need for it and concerned political parties to exercise restraint and seek a common and mutual ground to resolve the identified challenges in a transparent and mutually agreeable manner in order to achieve the desired free, fair and credible poll.