The Ondo State governorship poll was adjudged peaceful, free and fair. There were no major hitches, except the malfunctioning card readers that slowed down voting in some polling units. Assistant Editor LEKE SALAUDEEN examines the performance of the card reader in the accreditation and how it could be improved.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has improved on its performance with the conduct of a peaceful and transparent governorship election in Ondo. Stakeholders commended the commission for improving on its preparation, compared to its outing in Edo State.
In spite of the success recorded in Ondo, observers believe INEC has not found solution to the malfunctioning of smart card readers (SCRs) in the electoral process. For instance, the major contestants were unanimous in their observation that the card readers failed in some polling units. They expressed disappointment at the malfunctioned card readers.
The governor-elect, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), expressed worry over the development, saying INEC had enough time to prepare for the poll. He said: “there are few hitches here and there, which have to do with the failure of the card readers in some polling units. I expect INEC to have properly overhauled the card readers because we are having only one election.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) flag bearer, Mr Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), alleged that INEC conspired to rig the election by disenfranchising voters in the PDP strongholds by deliberately using bad card readers. The Alliance for Democracy (AD) candidate, Mr Olusola Oke, expressed similar view on the malfunctioning of the card readers in some polling units in Ilaje Local Government Area. He alleged that most of the SCRs were pre-loaded while many eligible voters were denied accreditation.
Perhaps, the major casualty of the malfunctioned card reader machine was Governor Olusegun Mimiko. The machine rejected his finger print. But, he was allowed to vote after filling the incident form given to him by INEC officials at his polling unit. Irked by the development, Mimiko alleged it was a plot to rig the election.
However, the Ondo State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr Olusegun Agbaje, debunked the allegation that INEC planned to rig the election through the use of malfunctioned card readers. He said the problem had to do with the punching of the devices, which he described as a minor problem and not fraud. He said the commission had more than 250 spare smart card readers to replace the bad ones.
Agbaje said wherever he received complaints about the card readers, he sent his men to rectify the error promptly. “I called on the Head of ICT to get smart cards for areas with smart card challenges and they were replaced instantly. Card reader is not a major challenge because it can be addressed within 10 to 20 minutes; we had over 250 smart card readers for exchange in case of malfunction.
“There was no booth where election didn’t take place because of the card reader; it only delayed the process a little bit. In the 3,009 polling units, the units I was told that they had problems with card readers were not up to seven. Politicians are just making noise to cause unnecessary confusion. There was no place in the entire state where election did not hold because of the card reader, it was only delayed”.
Agbaje said the card readers were not pre-loaded as alleged by the AD candidate. According to him, they displayed figures were not properly punched saying that nothing was designed to perpetrate any electoral fraud.
Observers are worried that two years after the introduction of card reader , INEC is yet to perfect the operation and maintenance of the machine such that every election it creates moment of anxiety in the voting process. What should be done to improve on the application of card reader in election process.
A lawyer and human right activist, Mr Monday Ubani is disturbed that INEC has not been able to find permanent solution to the problem of card reader failure. According to him, there is no election that people have not complained about the malfunctioning of the card reader.
Ubani, the second National Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association, pointed out that the card reader failure is not wide spread. it occurred in isolated cases in most elections since it was introduced. “Even though it is minimal, we have to correct the error, it is technological error; we should make it error-free even if we have to pay for it”.
“Though the INEC procured the card readers from China nothing stops us from getting remedy through European technology. We should approach European countries that have the technical know-how instead of relying on China. I am not condemning Chinese technology but what I am saying is that we can get remedy on the card readers elsewhere, we should go for it.”
To Professor Ayo Olukotun, we should find out the cause of card reader failure before we can proffer solutions. According to him, the problem could be from the manufacturer side or lack of organisational control or poorly trained INEC ad-hoc staff.
Olukotun, who teaches Political Science at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, believes the ultimate solution to the problem of card reader failure is to embrace electronic voting as being practised in advanced countries.
He said if we must avoid the embarrassment card reader failure cause us in every election, the way to go is electronic voting which will necessitate a review of the electoral act.
But, an electronic engineer, John Ezechukwu said Nigeria lack facilities for electronic voting. According to him, the epileptic power supply would make non-sense of the electronic voting. Besides, lack of maintenance culture has always made it impossible for technological innovations to survive in Nigeria, he said.
Ezechukwu sees nothing wrong with the card reader but lack of maintenance. INEC should not wait for another election to ensure the card readers are in perfect condition. It is a machine that must be serviced regularly.
On his part, Dr Ajibola Basiru blamed the card reader failure on the lack of diligence preparation for election on the part of INEC. He said election is not an emergency thing, we don’t conduct election every day, it is periodical, INEC has ample time to prepare for any election.
Basiru, a legal practitioner, advised the electoral body to always put in place quality control measures in terms of checking the card readers before the voting day to know those that are functioning and those that are not. Besides, the commission should engage in simulation ahead of election, he suggested.
“Card reader is a simple machine, there is no complication. If INEC had prepared diligently they should have known the state of the card readers before deploying them to the field. Lack of diligence on the part of INEC is what is causing card reader failure. When the card reader failed in a polling unit where a major contender in an election is to vote, they accuse INEC of conspiracy to rig the election”.
Youth activist AbdulKadir Musa observed that some of the ad-hoc staff employed by INEC do not know how to operate the machine either because they were not properly trained or they were incompetent to handle the new technology.
Musa narrated his experience in the last Kogi governorship election at a polling unit where he voted. He said voters had queued as early as 7.30 a.m. to perform their civic duty.
“The INEC officials opened the poll at 8 a.m. The card reader rejected the finger print of the first 35 people that presented their permanent voter’s cards (PVCs) for verification. The officials had to stop the election process until one of the INEC Information Communication Technology (ICT) personnel came to put them through. It was a minor error. It was discovered that the man operating the card reader didn’t know how to punch it. That was what made us to spend almost two hours on queue before we could cast our votes.”
He advised INEC to give adequate training to its staff on the use of the card reader. It is not all of them that do not function, but for the ignorance of the operators. INEC, he said, should deplore excess card readers to the field in order to replace the non-performing machines.
Proffering solutions to the problem of card reader failures, the President of Nigeria Voters Assembly (VOTAS) Comrade Moshood Erubami said with adequate and proper training of the handlers the equipment can improve for effective usage in future elections.
Erubami said the card must not be left idle when not in use as it must be serviced regularly while it should not be kept in humid environment but kept in accordance with conditions stipulated in its manual.
On the importance of the card reader, Ubani said it was an innovation that has sanitised our electoral process. “We should continue o use card reader. It has eliminated rigging to certain extent, particularly multiple voting. It has exposed the difference between the number of registered voters and the real eligible voters. For instance, about 1.5 million people would have registered in a state but when the election is held, you find less than 500,000 casting votes. May be, the others are ghost voters that could not come out for fear of being apprehended.
Ubani said we should go fully technology in our election process; full scientific electoral process which is the trend in modern democracy. I know it has to be gradual because of the poverty of infrastructure like power supply; we shall get there, he stated.
The youth activist observed that what made the last general elections to be adjudged free and fair by international observers was the use of card reader. “There was no room for multiple voting as it was the practice before then and if the data on your PVC do not correspond with those on voters’ register, you can’t vote and such person stand the risk of being arrested by the police to face criminal charges in the court of law. The politicians that encourage multiple voting have abandoned the course”.
Musa noted that, where the card reader failed, the polling officer allow the voter’s to vote through the manual accreditation. This is on condition if the data on his PVC tally with those on voter’s register. He said INEC is improving in the use of card reader particularly in the just concluded Ondo governorship poll where cases of card reader failure, according to the resident electoral commissioner, were only experienced in only seven polling units throughout the state. INEC should continue to use card reader in future elections, he suggested.
Aligning with the suggestion, INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner for the Federal Capital Territory Professor Jacob Jatau promised that the commission will continue to use the SCR in order to improve on our elections.
Jatau said: “During the last FCT elections, we didn’t encounter much problems and we have kept on improving on the use of the card readers. We want to say that they have actually helped us to conduct these elections transparently and freely, so we will continue to use card readers so that we will be able to improve on our elections”.
Source : ThenationonlineThenationonline