In the news report titled: “No card reader, no election in 2019 – INEC” published on page 12 of Nigerian Pilot of Tuesday, June 5, 2018, an INEC official said, ‘the smart card reader helps the commission in three ways: getting to confirm that the permanent voters card was issued by INEC; that the biometrics of the holder are correct, and that the identity of the holder is authentic through the finger print.”
INEC’s insistence on the use of only the card reader for the 2019 general elections as contained in the said news report is not a welcome news at all. It seems to confirm fears that the 2019 general elections would be massively rigged.
It is a well established fact that the smart card reader has proved to be a dismal failure. The smart card reader cannot read most of the present INEC PVC’s as stated by INEC staff while giving evidence during the hearing of electoral matters arising from the 2015 general elections.
The reasons given by INEC staff include: inability of the smart card reader to read damaged cards, inability to pick finger prints efficiently which is a major problem, network failure, and inability to promptly issue Voters Accreditation Report.
For instance, during the 2015 governorship election in Akwa-Ibom State, the total votes cast was 1,222,836. The smart card reader was only able to accredit about 438,127 registered voters. This accreditation result could not be relied upon because according to INEC staff, the card reader accreditation report is only available on request, and when downloaded from the INEC data base, cannot be accurate because of network problems and other factors.
Upgrading the functions of the card reader to make it more efficient and effective in reading biometrics without upgrading the capability of the card reader to promptly issue Voters Accreditation Report immediately after accreditation would not eliminate the ugly experiences of the past. For instance, a POS machine gives the user print-out of any transaction on the spot. The smart card reader cannot do this.
Section 73 of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended, requires INEC to issue guidelines for step by step recording of the poll in forms prescribed by the commission. The poll is the process of voting at an election. The voting process is in two stages. The first stage is the voter’s accreditation stage. INEC is required to keep record of accredited voters. It is from this record that the Voters Accreditation Report or Result is extracted as a summary of the accreditation record.
The VAR states the number of male and female voters and the total number of registered voters who personally attended to vote on election day.
The second stage of the voting process is the casting of ballots or voting stage. The voting result states the scores of each of the candidates that contested the elections and the total votes cast for all the candidates.
The procedure for the poll which INEC implements is very dangerously prone to manipulation with or without the use of smart card reader. It is not the use of the smart card reader that guarantees transparency and credibility of the elections. It is the whole process of the poll as implemented by INEC that guarantees the transparency and credibility of the elections.
The Electoral Act, 2010 as amended; prescribes a procedure for the poll which, if implemented by INEC, can effectively and efficiently put an end to rigging in all the presently known patterns.
It is important to note that there is no way INEC can insist on the use of the smart card reader alone for voters accreditation in 2019. The commission cannot do away with manual accreditation of voters because the Act provides for manual accreditation. In several decided electoral cases, the courts have held that the smart reader cannot replace the use of Voters Register for voter’s accreditation. The courts also observed that the use of the smart card reader alone for voter’s accreditation needs legal backing which INEC presently lacks.
The Senate in amending section 49 of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended, in March 2017, provided that, “The presiding officer shall use a smart card reader or any other technological device that may be prescribed by the commission from time to time for accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate.”
Recently, the House of Representatives came out with a different position by making provision that only the card reader should be used for accreditation of voters, adding that, where the card reader deployed fails in the unit, the presiding officer shall suspend the election and retake the election in another twenty four hours.
The House of Representatives’ position is an invitation to chaos. To postpone an election for twenty four hours because of smart card reader failure is to create much room for election results to be doctored.
Certainly, the position of the House of Representatives and the Senate on the issue would have to be harmonized before the amendment could be forwarded to the President for assent before it becomes law. It is only when the amendment to section 49 becomes law that INEC can say it is only the smart card reader that would be used to accredit voters provided the amendment says it should be so.
The Senate’s position on the amendment being made to Section 49 of the Act is the best, but it still puts Nigeria at the mercy of INEC. I humbly pray the National Assembly to scrap the use of the smart card reader completely for the following reasons: (i) Without the smart card reader, INEC can confirm the Permanent Voters Card in the possession of a registered voter.
(ii) Without the smart card reader, the authenticity of the identity of the holder of PVC issued by INEC can be confirmed. The image of the holders of the PVC is in the Voters Register. So, as long as the image on the PVC and the image in the Voters’ Register are the same; the identity of the card holder is confirmed.
What is needed for efficient and effective voter’s accreditation is a technological device that has the capability to confirm the demographics and biometrics of a voter without any hitch; capture the image of an accredited voter for online transmission to INEC data base, and effectively block manipulation of the accreditation process, impersonation and underage voting which the smart card reader is not able to perform.
We also need a device that can print out the Voters Accreditation Report on the spot, immediately after voter’s accreditation for authentification and circulation before commencement of voting; as required by sections 62 (1), and 74 of the Act. This is the purpose of voter’s accreditation.
There are cheaper, affordable, good quality, compact and more reliable technological devices than Smart Card Reader that can excellently perform the required functions.
If INEC is very serious and truly committed to the conduct of transparent, credible, free and fair elections in Nigeria, the commission should do the right thing.
The right thing for the commission to do, is to give effect to the provisions in the Act which effectively and efficiently block vote rigging, starting with the Ekiti governorship elections scheduled for July 14, 2018. No amendment is needed before the relevant sections can be effected. Section 153 of the Act empowers INEC to give effect to the sections of the Act that block rigging.
Rev. Dumo wrote in from Freetown Street, Port Harcourt.
Asiemia E. Dumo