What has clearly emerged two weeks after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Attahiru Jega, announced new dates, March 28 and April, for the general election, is that the ‘mess’ surrounding the permanent voters cards (PVC) throws up more challenge for Nigerians and INEC than the official reason given for the postponement of the election.
The INEC boss announced on the eve of the earlier scheduled February 14 date for the election that the commission had succumbed to the request by security chiefs to postpone the election because they could not guarantee safety.
BDSUNDAY investigations reveal a whole range of ‘mystery’ around the PVCs. Over 25 million eligible Nigerian voters are yet to collect their cards and the stories they share regularly, seriously questions the credibility of INEC.
But the most disturbing trend is the mis-education of Nigerians about the PVC, which has resulted in a huge black market for PVCs across the country.
Nigerians are divided as to whether INEC is to take the entire blame for the on-going racketeering of the card, but few believe the electoral body will ever find a lasting way to deploy the card even in the future.
Jega, still appears to be in a dilemma and uncertain whether the election would hold and some analysts suggest to BDSUNDAY the spate of events and as well as the mess surrounding the PVC has pushed the INEC boss beyond the limit.
Jega told the National Assembly February 17 that he could not commit himself to the sanctity of the March 28 and April 11 dates, a statement many believe underscores the pressure of conducting the election without questions around its credibility given the PVC crisis.
Jega, who appeared evasive, said only the military could determine the sacrosanctity of the March 28 and April 11 dates, and that INEC was still awaiting about 1 million permanent voters cards (PVCs) yet to be produced from China.
Although he confessed that the postponement had offered the commission the opportunity to make extra preparations, Jega, however, reiterated his stand that INEC was ready for the poll.
But recent events have suggested that INEC was never ready to conduct the polls and that there could have been more hullabaloo if the exercise had taken place this month. While barely 67 percent of PVCs had been distributed before the postponement, about one million cards were not yet printed in China, while several other cards could not work, valid points Jega himself admitted.
When compared with door-to-door distribution of voter cards by India’s Electoral Commission in 2013, one may also easily pick holes in INEC’s process that would have ended up disenfranchising many voters in a charged atmosphere
However, Jega had shifted the elections on the basis of security advice. He had also told the Senate within the week that only military could determine sanctity of rescheduled elections.
Questions now arise as to what happens if the security officers say they also cannot guarantee elections on March 28 and April 11. Then again, what happens if less than one month to the handover, security worsens or security chiefs say they cannot also guarantee the safety of electoral officers and voters?
But Maiha Aliu, a retired politician from Adamawa State, said it was difficult to really say the elections will hold as scheduled going by the seeming conflicting comments from Jega.
“I watched Professor Jega’s speech at the Senate. I found it very difficult to decode him. My concern is where Jega said that he cannot guarantee the possibility of the election on March 28, yet he said INEC was ready. He also told the Senate that fresh one million PVCs were being awaited from China. That simply means that INEC is not telling the whole truth on the process. There are many issues: what is happening to those who abandoned their residences as a result of the insurgency in the North for other places- the so-called internally displaced persons (IDPs); are there arrangements to reissue them with new PVCs? Jega is telling us to hold the military responsible if the March 28 date does not materialise?” Aliu said.
David Egbeama, a social commentator, said: “16.6milliom outstanding PVCs is still a very high number. INEC should intensify efforts to ensure that more registered voters, particularly in the Southern states, are allowed unimpeded access to pick up their PVCs before the closing date of March 8. Secondly, on the subject of Internally Displaced Persons, whether owing to the insurgency in the North East or resulting from threat of violence which compelled hundreds of thousands of Southerners residing in the North to move away from locations of their PVC registration, INEC should again ensure that all such registered voters are enabled to use their PVCs or reissued new PVCs in the event of loss for use in any part of the country where they may be temporarily relocated. No registered, eligible, willing voter should be disenfranchised. Lastly, measures should be put in place to ensure that underage voters who were allegedly fraudulently issued PVC are disallowed/disqualified from voting on election days. Jega needs to be seen to be above board and fair to all sections of the country. All we ask is a level-playing field for all political candidates. No hanky-panky please for the sake of peace in Nigeria.”
A former presidential aspirant who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity blamed the “confusion” being experienced on some outside influence that is allegedly trying to manipulate the process.
“I listened to Jega during his appearance at the Senate. He told the senators that the commission is ready to conduct the elections. Mind you, with the number of PVCs that has been collected, election can hold. There is no way you can have 100 percent voters. Even among those that have the PVC, many of them will not vote that day. So, in essence it is not the PVC that is delaying the election. It was the military that are giving signals that there are certain security issues to be addressed first. Jega does not want to antagonize the President or the military. It is very clear that the signal is coming from somewhere. Some people were also trying to fault the commission on the proposed use of the card reader machines; in fact, they wanted to shoot it down. The machines are just to check electoral fraud, and it is only those with something to hide that are kicking against it,” the former presidential aspirant said.
Wale Ogunade of the Voters Awareness Initiative, believes that Jega is still in the eye of the storm.
“We saw how he was talking yesterday (Wednesday), it shows that INEC is not yet ready for the election. What is special about PVC, is it not like issuing an ID card? They just gave it a big name- PVC- to create an impression that it is different from the usual ID card. We also heard him say that it is the security chiefs that will determine the possibility of election as scheduled,” Ogunade said.
He advised INEC and others involved in the planning to ensure that the rescheduled elections are held without further shift.
According to him, “There should be no Plan B. All the stakeholders must play their role to ensure that the March 28 stands and that May 29 handover is sacrosanct. Except they want to plunge Nigeria into constitutional crisis and trouble, Jega and all the service chiefs must deliver the election on the rescheduled dates.”
Norrison Quakers, a legal practitioner and senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), advised that despite the seeming imperfection, particularly as it borders on the PVC, the election must hold, emphasising that the INEC cannot continue to shift date because some people do not have their PVC.
Quakers noted that a good number of people were yet to collect their PVCs and have refused to do so despite pleas from government and the INEC.
In a Channel Television interview monitored by BD SUNDAY, the legal practitioner wondered why there is so much fuss about the card reader machines, urging that since Jega has explained that the machines have been tested and cloned PVCs were exposed “why can’t we try it out first rather than continue saying it is not possible?”
On the propriety or otherwise of the deployment of soldiers during election, Quakers advised government to stay within the recommendation of the constitution.
“We must follow the constitution that specifically says it is the responsibility of the police to provide the security for election. The use of the military is not allowed in law either for the sake of strengthening the police effort or for joint action.”
Some other legal experts maintain that the Electoral Law does not empower security agencies to determine the fate of elections or the military to protect electoral officers during polling. According to lawyers in this school of thought, it is the sole responsibility of the police to protect electoral officers and voters as the Electoral Law demands, an issue the appeal court which handled Ekiti election petitions stressed.
But others insist that INEC has chosen to listen to security agencies because the police have proved to be ineffective in securing lives and property.
“The police have the duty to protect lives and property, but it is on record that they have been sent to insecurity-prone areas yet could not guarantee safety of lives and property,” said Samuel Oyigbo, legal practitioner and public affairs commentator.
“The situation justifies it. There is what is called Doctrine of Extraordinary Emergency, which may empower INEC to use the military because they are in the best position to ensure security. The Electoral Act may not have this but the situation warrants it,” Oyigbo further said.
But some political watchers see Jega’s languages so far as evidence that he does not want Nigerians to apportion blame on him and place him in historical ignominy as an INEC chair that supervised a botched election.
Jega had told the Senate that some people do not want card readers used. Even though he did not name those who do not want the newly introduced card readers deployed, it is on record that the All Progressives Congress (APC) has backed the use of card readers while the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has opposed it. Analysts wonder whether Jega believes that PDP, which has his employer as its presidential candidate, is plotting to cajole the body into rigging the election.
But despite the INEC chairman’s demonstration of the use of card readers, pundits have said malfunctioning of these machines will affect the credibility of the election and toughen politicians who will eventually fail, claiming that they have been rigged out.
Zebulon Agomuo and Odinaka Anudu