National Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission, Hajia Amina Zakari, said in Saturday in Birnin Kebbi, the Kebbi State capital, that the outcome of next month’s presidential and governorship elections would be announced within 48 hours after the close of voting. Zakari said this during a public sensitisation and practical demonstration of the accreditation and election processes, meant to familiarise the electoral officers with the voting procedure.
She said the changes in the election timetable had enabled the commission to perfect the process, explaining, “The commission would treat observations and ensure smooth conduct of the election proper and to avoid hitches and criticisms.”
Former military president Ibrahim Babangida has also expressed optimism about the ability of INEC to conduct the elections as rescheduled. He spoke in Minna in Saturday when he received the members of Arewa Citizens Action for Change.
That was as the divergent views by the political parties on the use of the permanent voter cards and electronic card readers continued at the weeked. While the main opposition All Progressives Congress is vehemently supporting the use of the PVCs for the coming elections, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party is urging INEC to consider the use of the PVCs alongside the temporary voter cards to enable eligible voters who may not have gotten their PVCs before the elections to participate in the exercise. PDP hinges its call for the use of the TVCs on what it considers the sloppy distribution of the PVCs by INEC and the need to ensure that no one is disenfranchised on account of inability to get the PVC.
The national chairman of PDP, Alhaji Adamu Muazu, said on Friday, during an interactive session with the African Union Observer Group that his party was opposed to the use of the card readers for the March 28 presidential and National Assembly elections as well the April 11 governorship and House of Assembly elections. Muazu explained that there had not been any test run of the device to ascertain its effectiveness. He accused INEC of trying to use Nigerians as guinea pig for the electronic device.
However, APC believes the combined use of the TVC and PVC would set the stage for confusion and possible electoral fraud.
The TVCs do not require the use of card readers for accreditation of voters.
APC’s national publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said, “The card reader was used successfully in Ghana, why can’t it be used in Nigeria? The same people who anchored their argument on the non-availability of the PVCs have now started saying that they should use the TVCs. When are we going to begin to have a credible election? It is clear that the PDP does not want a credible election…
National secretary of Labour Party, Mr. Kayode Ajulo, tended to echo the PDP position.
“We advocate an all-inclusive voting method that will enable all eligible voters to participate in the election. We do not mind whether it is the PVC or the TVC or both, but what the party is seeking is that no voter must be disenfranchised on the account of sticking to any of the methods,” Ajulo said. But he said, “We believe the card reader being introduced by INEC may not be entirely effective considering its limited lifespan of eight hours.”
But the All Progressives Grand Alliance believes INEC should be allowed to exercise its constitutional power of determining the voting method to use and not being dictated to.
APGA national chairman, Chief Victor Umeh, told THISDAY, “INEC should be firm with its stand and if the commission decides that card reader be used for the election, so be it.”
Meanwhile, as debate over the PVC and card reader rages, with some claiming that the use of card readers for the next general election is illegal, INEC has said it has powers under the constitution to use the electronic voting device. INEC’s Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, and the chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, said in separate comments that the commission was empowered by section 49 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, to use the electronic card readers for the polls.
Section 49 (1) of the Electoral Act says, “Any person intending to vote with his voter’s card, shall present himself to a Presiding Officer at the polling unit in the constituency in which his name is registered with his voter’s card.
“(2) The Presiding Officer shall, on being satisfied that the name of the person is on the Register of Voters, issue him a ballot paper and indicate on the Register that the person has voted.”
But section 52 (1b) of the Act states explicitly, “The use of electronic voting machine for the time being is prohibited.” This appears to be where the PDP is hinging its objection to the use of the card reader for the coming elections.
However, Idowu said the interpretation of section 49 of the Electoral Act was that the eligible voter shall present him or herself to the polling officer who shall be satisfied that the person is an eligible voter. He further said that the only way the polling official shall be satisfied that the prospective voter is eligible was through verification with the card reader.
Some lawyers have also argued that there is nothing in the constitution that barred INEC from using the card reader for elections.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Sebastine Hon, said, “This then means that INEC has breached no particular portion of the constitution by insisting on the use of card readers. Rather, paragraph 15 of part I of the first schedule to the constitution has given the INEC untrammelled power to register voters and also to ‘organise, undertake and supervise all elections’ to the offices of the president, vice president, governor, deputy governor and into the various national and state legislatures.”
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr James Ocholi, spoke in a similar vein, stressing that anyone against the use of card readers must have an ulterior motive, which is to rig.
THISDAY learnt that INEC had produced in China a total of 182,000 card readers for use at the 120,000 polling units across the country. A source in INEC said a card reader is programmed to last 14 hours uninterrupted usage, while the battery has a lifespan of four days if used for off and on sessions. He said INEC had also made provision for backup battery for the card readers for every polling unit during elections.
The source said the cost of each card reader was between N27, 500 and N31, 000, depending on the fluctuating value of the naira. He added that the card readers had only been tested within the Federal Capital Territory.
On what would happen if the card reader is stolen or carted away during election by hoodlums, the source said, “It has been agreed by all political parties that when such happens, the election would take place the next day.”