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JEGA ON THE EDGE AS CARD READER GENERATES CRISIS

JEGA ON THE EDGE AS CARD READER GENERATES CRISIS

By Ifeanyi Ottah

No National electoral Commission at least since Nigeria’s independence has suffered so much pressure and intense attacks over its tactics than the current Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) led by Prof. Attahiru Jega.

Since last year when the electoral commission made public the use of Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and the Smart Card Reader, Jega and his team are faced with severe attack from the various political gladiators who felt threatened one way or the other, seeing the new methodology being canvassed by the INEC boss as a war on their interests.

The bulk of the attacks are coming from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who is accusing Jega of being independent minded and ungrateful. Obviously, Jega was appointed in 2010 by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who eventually is the leader of the PDP but, Jega is working for Nigeria.

Since INEC was boxed into a tight corner and forced to postpone the election, from the earlier fixed February 14 and 21 to March 28 and April 11, a new wave of opposition suddenly came up against the plans by the electoral umpire to make use of the PVC and the card readers.

The INEC boss allegedly fell out of favour with the PDP after President Jonathan had toured the entire country on his presidential campaign and realized that he does not have the full support of Nigerians and if the elections were to go on following Jega’s plan to use the card reader for free, fair and credible poll, his chances of winning the presidential election is ’50 50′.

This development however, necessitated not only the call for Jega to resign or proceed on terminal leave but also for the Card Reader not to be used in 2015 general elections as planned by the electoral body. PDP was the first to openly reject the use of the new technologies and quickly received support from some lesser political parties.

Speaking the spokesman for the PDP presidential campaign organization, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, said the ruling party would resist moves to go ahead with the use of card readers during the elections.

“Our position remains that the machine has not been tested in any election and there are basis for joining concerns over the use of the card reader for the first time in a crucial election of this magnitude.

“We are aware of plots by the APC to use the card readers to frustrate accreditation in some part of the country while not enforcing strict use of the machine in other parts,” he said.

The Director General of the PDP Presidential campaign organization, Amadi Ali, also re-echoed Fani-Kayode’s comments days after when he criticized the electoral commission for the postponed elections saying electoral body was not fully ready for the polls. Ali, who spoke at a press conference which was also attended by Fani-Kayode, did not mince words in criticizing the planned use of card readers for the elections.

“There are also reports that the PVC readers are not fully distributed and tested. How can INEC handle cases of faulty card readers?

Do they have a credible plan B in situation where voter line up and the card readers refuse to work? Ballot boxes are reportedly inadequate.

Adequate training of INEC’s members of staff for the election had not been concluded and other problems facing INEC. Quite clearly the shift in election date is meant to save INEC from monumental embarrassment. I would like to reiterate that the PDP is ready for the election any day,” he said.

Recently the PDP Governors Forum also condemned the use of card readers for the forth coming elections.

The governors condemned the INEC under the leadership of Prof. Jega over its preparedness of the elections.

The governors said this at an interactive session with the media and civil society organizations themed “Sustenance of Democratic values and National Development” in Lagos last week Tuesday.

The PDP GF usually holds its meetings in Abuja or PDP states but this was the first time the governors would hold a forum in Lagos which is a stronghold of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Speaking at the Forum, Governor Goodswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State and who is also the chairman said Lagos was chosen because it is the headquarters of the media and activism.

Akpabio said, Lagos had been plagued by the propaganda of the APC and the and the PDP wanted to showcase its achievements.

He said the postponement of the elections were justifiable. Although the governors did not canvass for the use of Temporary voter cards, they maintained that people who do not have PVCs should be allowed to vote.

Akpabio said Nigerians should be grateful to the PDP for ensuring that Nigeria had the longest span of democracy (16 years).

He said, “The continued quest of the PDP led Federal Government for free, fair and credible elections are witnessed in Jonathan’s robust support through adequate and sustained funding and indeed the free hand given to INEC to operate. But surprisingly, in our own opinion, INEC appears ill-prepared for the 2015 elections.

For example, at that time the polls were shifted due to security concerns, over 23 million registered voters had yet to collect their PVCs and you know there are some countries with populations of about just three million.

“Twenty-three million would amount to disenfranchising more than five West Africa countries in their own elections.

“It would be recalled that even the INEC chairman admitted on the floor of the Senate that over one million PVCs had yet to be printed in far away China. According to the INEC Chairman, the postponement was a blessing in disguise. How then can Nigerians reconcile the purported readiness of INEC for the February 14th Election with the testing of card readers more than a month after the postponement? More than three weeks after the elections have been shifted they are then testing the card readers that would have been used. Given the failure rate of the card readers during the recent mock exercise, it is apparent that many Nigerians will be disenfranchised even when they are registered to vote”.

The PDP governors who had erstwhile deputy national chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George and other stalwarts in attendance at the meeting were also rasing issues on the term of INEC chairman, Prof. Jega.

Governor Babangida Aliyu of Nigeria State, who was present, canvassed at the beginning of the meeting that Jega should leave office three months to the end of his tenure in accordance with public service rules.

Governors present at the meeting were Governors Goodwill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Jonah Jang (Plateau), Babangida Aliyu (Niger), Ayo Fayose (Ekiti) and Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo). Also present were Mukthar Yero (Kaduna), Ibrahim Shema (Kastina), Liyel Imoke (Cross River), and the party’s governorship candidate in Lagos State Jimmy Agbaje.

Consequently, a group of political parties also expressed their opposition to the use of card readers for the elections as they said it had not been tested and as such could not be trusted. A group of fifteen political parties were the first to join PDP in opposing the proposed use of card readers in accrediting voters by INEC in the elections.

The aggrieved parties supported by five presidential candidates participating in the elections in stating their opposition at a press conference insisted that the use of the electronic devices would not only be against 1999 constitution, but also the 2010 Electoral Act (As amended) which prescribed electronic voting in the country.

The parties threatened not to participate in the elections if the INEC insists on using card readers, saying they “observed some obvious but dangerous developments in the proposed use of card readers” by the commission for the conduct of the elections.

Speaking through their spokesperson and Acting National Chairman of Advanced Congress of Democrat (ACD), Dr. Onwubuya Break Forth said: “These important observation, if not well considered by the commission, has the propensity to detail the 2015 polls.”

He said the card reader is a device which is susceptible to manipulations to favour particular candidates and in the process, disenfranchise many registered Nigerian voters or potential election winners.

According to Break Forth they consider the card reader a relatively new technology that should be sufficiently tested before use.

They said: “The concept of using card readers for these corning elections as being planned by INEC, has a lot of implications which may negatively impact on the conduct of a credible, free and fair elections on March 28 and April 11. If the card reader should develop some technical problems, there is a possibility that the consequences of such development would affect about 40 (forty) or 50 (fifty) percent of the polling booths nationwide.

“Because of the tendency of the card reader device to develop some technical fault anytime during the voters accreditation process, that was the reason why all the political parties agreed with INEC recently, that the election should be postponed in polling booths where a substantial number of card reader defaults wee recorded because it would disrupt the entire election process.”

The parties advised INEC to manually confirm every voter during accreditation process. They said while they are not against a faster and improved way of conducting the elections, but that it should not be used in the general elections.

The parties further demanded for the removal of the chairman of INEC, Attahiru Jega, urging him to proceed on terminal leave, as they accused him of exhibiting unprofessionalism and poor Judgement.

“Since Prof. Attahiru Jega has shown lack of professionalism and good judgement in his actions so far in the conduct of the 2015 elections and since he has about three months to the end of his tenure as INEC chairman, we the stakeholders urge him to quietly consider proceeding on terminal leave so that a more competent person can handle the current election process,” the parties said.

The parties warned that the use of card readers, which INEC says will help check voting fraud, will negatively affect the credibility of the elections.

However, while majority of the smaller political parties pitched their tents with PDP, the major opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) took a different option, insisting that INEC must use the new technology in eliminating electoral fraud.

At different fora, the APC had taken on the PDP and lambasted the ruling party saying it was afraid of electoral defeat in a free and fair election.

The position of APC on the use of the card reader was supported by the chairman of the Inter Party Advisory Council, IPAC, Yunusa Tanko, who said the parties opposing the use of the technologies did not present IPAC, the umbrella body of political parties.

Tanko, who is also the national chairman of National conscience Party, said his party was not opposed to the use of card readers during the elections.

But as soon as the smoke of opposition to the card reader and PVC started rising, the APC came out boldly to accuse the PDP led Federal Government of plotting to use some political parties which it branded as “satellite” organs of the ruling PDP to seek a fresh shift of elections.

APC warned the Federal Government against further shift in the election dates, saying the “Party will resist such a move” while it also warned that the card reader and the PVC must be used by INEC.

The Party in support of Jega and his plan to use the card reader also took time to lambast other parties that opposed the INEC plans.

Lai Mohammed, the National Publicity Secretary of the Party said that “in an apparently choreographed show, some 15 portfolio political parties called a press conference to also announce that they will oppose the use of the card reader, vowing to boycott the elections and use a legal process to prevent the use of the machine.

“These syndicated threats are the latest indications of the mortal fear in the corridors of power about the machine that has now become the nemesis of election riggers and manipulators worldwide.”

The APC said contrary to the claim by the PDP, Nigerians are ready for a free, fair and credible elections to be made possible by the use of the card reader, and will massively resist any move to dump the machine.

“Nigerians have sacrificed all they can to obtain their PVCs, which is now their most prized possession. They have also hailed the plan by INEC to use the card reader to give Nigeria credible polls.

“Only dishonest politicians, those who plan to rig, those who have engage in a massive purchase of PVCs and those who have something to hide are opposed to the use of the machine.”

The Party’s statement said: “For the avoidance of doubt, our party is ready for any tool, including the card reader, that will ensure that the votes of Nigerians will count in the forthcoming election. In this regard, we sincerely hope that the nationwide tests of the machine to be carried out this week by INEC will not be sabotaged by those opposed to it.

“The card reader has been demonstrated to work, including at the Senate, and no one must come out to tell Nigerians anything to the contrary.

Some weeks back, the INEC boss was a guest of the Nigerian Senate where the workability of the card reader was tested. At the end of the day, the Senate, though, dominated by members of the PDP, eventually agreed that the INEC has done a good work in the plan to use the controversial technology. The clean bill of health from the Senate did not satisfy the antagonists of the INEC, and the commission was forced to stage a mock testing at various constituencies, for the card reader with the hope of assuaging the anger of the doubters of its preparedness.

It would be recalled that the exercise which held penultimate Saturday brought about different reactions from the opposing camps.

While the PDP expectedly denounced the exercise, describing it as a failure, the APC commended INEC for doing a good job.

The PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, issued barely five hours after INEC concluded the exercise on Saturday said it has noted a series of complaints by Nigerians regarding lapses experienced during the exercise.

The Party therefore challenged the commission to tell the public the outcome of the testing.

It claimed that the fall-out of the test “vindicated earlier widespread calls by stakeholders that the card reader should be thoroughly tested to ascertain their workability before the general elections.”

The PDP expressed worry over the alleged lapses which it said included but “not limited to non verification of voters’ fingerprints even after authenticating their PVCs, slow accreditation process as a result of poor internet server operations in some locations, and apparent inadequate knowledge of the card readers by both INEC officials and voters.”

Meanwhile, following the penultimate Saturday’s test run of the Smart Card Readers the INEC boss assured that the commission will meet the aspirations of Nigerians for credible and transparent elections.

The INEC chairman, who spoke when he and the National Commissioners met with the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) to review preparations for the forthcoming elections, said that INEC would examine the gaps and other things to do in the next few weeks, stressing that “the commission is doing its best to ensure free, fair and credible polls.”

The meeting comes barely 24 hours after INEC declared its satisfaction over the outcome of the field test of the card readers penultimate Saturday in 12 states.

According to the INEC chairman, it was to have a final review for the preparation of the elections that the commission is meeting with RECs.

He said the meeting would review outstanding matters to the distribution of PVC and the mock demonstration of card readers.

However, a chieftain of the PDP, Waliu Taiwo, has filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos seeking to stop the use of Electronic Card Readers during the general election.

The plaintiff, in the suit numbered FHC/C/CS/296/15, is seeking an order restraining the INEC from using the card reader during the polls.

This came as Action Alliance, one of the political parties that filed the suit to stop INEC from using electronic card readers, yesterday pulled out of the case.

Taiwo, who is PDP’s candidate for the Ogun West senatorial district, claim that INEC’s guidelines which stipulate the use of card readers is unconstitutional and should be nullified.

He particularly faulted section 12(2) of the guidelines which states that in the event that the Permanent Voters’ card (PVCs) fails to be read by the Card Reader, the APO (assistant presiding officer)…shall file a report of the incident, inform the voter of the problem and that he/she cannot be accredited; and politely request the voter to leave the polling zone.”

The plaintiff wants the orders, when made, to subsist pending the hearing and determination of his originating summons.

The suit, which was filed on Wednesday, is yet to be assigned to a judge.

Meanwhile, Action Alliance which had filed the suit with three other political parties, yesterday pulled out of the case.

The conference of Nigerian Political Parities (CNPP) on the other hand, asked INEC to stick to the use of Card Readers.

The conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) on the other hand, asked INEC to stick to the use of Card Readers.

The conference, which gave advice in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, urged INEC to take note of the few lapses noted and improve on the device, so as to engender free, fair and transparent election.

The statement said: “The conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) wishes to unequivocally state that we stand on the use of Magnetic Card Reader for accreditation of voters in the 2015 general elections. The mock test of the Magnetic Card Reader, by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), even if the picture is the only identification matrix, has further emboldened and reinforced our resolve to adopt the device as the best device to avoid mangling and manipulating the electoral process.

“INEC should take not of the few lapses noted and improve on the device, so as to engender fire, fair and transparent election. This will put paid to those who would want to repeat in medical school after failing. We are making this declaration because in the absence of genuine reason, we adopt a device which has been used to conduct free, fair and transparent elections in many countries, like the US, UK, Brazil, Ghana and the 2014 Indian general elections, an election where 600 million Indian voters voted seamlessly.

“It is regrettable that those who a few years back, declared that telephone is not for the Nigerian poor are behind the call for the rejection of Magnetic Card Reader technology for accreditation of Nigerian voters.

“We had thought that the lesson today that both the groundnut seller and the rich are using telephone is enough lesson on adaptation of new technology to advance our electoral process, which in the past was marred by irregularities. CNPP concurs with the valid evidence that the use of Magnetic Card Reader for accreditation of voters will minimize, if not eradicate ballot-box snatching, thumb printing of ballot papers and snatching of result sheet.”

The CNPP faulted the PDP for its hysteria on Card Readers.

The statement added; “We are therefore at a loss why the largest party in Africa-Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a party that has ruled our dear country for the last 16 years is jittery and enveloped with hysteria over the use of the Magnetic Card Reader to advance our electoral process.

“To worsen matters, the PDP is desperately recruiting other political parties in this ignoble, undemocratic and unpatriotic on slaught on the nerve of our fledging democracy.

“Accordingly, we take exception to our membership political parties that are wittingly or unwittingly against the deployment of Magnetic Card Reader, hence threatening the survival of our fledgling democracy and, by extension, the corporate existence of our dear country. We have anxiously noted the nefarious, unethical and undemocratic agitations of some political parties in league with the PDP for either the removal of Professor Attahiru Jega or dumping of Magnetic Reader for no just cause.

“Penultimate week they canvassed with the PDP for postponement of the 14th February Presidential elections and it was granted, yesterday they headed for court, asking that Magnetic Card Reader should be discarded and today they are not only canvassing for another postponement, but querying the technical competence of the Card Reader and Jega’s head.

“The mock test invalidates their weak argument. May we ask, if the PDP leadership is sure of victory, will they have called for postponement of the 14th February presidential election date and suspension of Jega or the rejection of Magnetic Card Reader?

“Or is it morbid election-phobia stimulated in recognition of the core ingredient of election in liberal democracy, which is electoral referendum on the performance of the incumbent, which is making PDP Jittery?

“In sum, the CNPP will eject membership political parties that engage in unethical and undemocratic agitation and embark on mass action, if either Jega is removed, Card Reader deleted or even the Temporary Voters Card added for accreditation.”

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