Against the background of some controversies that followed the 2011 elections conducted by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and considering some warnings on the imperative of fair polls in 2015, Ruth Yamta who attended the recent Democracy Day National Symposium held at the State House, Abuja examines the electoral umpire’s readiness in this regard.
INEC Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega has admitted that the absence of internal democracy among the political parties is the bane of the body. Jega disclosed this last month in Abuja at this year’s Democracy Day National Symposium held at the State House.
The theme of the symposium is: Our Democracy: Progress and Challenges. A former Secretary General of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, was the chairman of the event.
Jega also alleged that political parties are abusing the provisions of Section 31(1) of the Electoral Act 2010, which gives the final power to the parties on which candidates to choose for elections.
He said INEC is working to expunge an amendment to the section,noting that the section “has been abused by political parties, which provided that the commission shall not reject or disqualify candidate(s) for any reason whatsoever”.
He boasted that INEC has made progress in conducting free, fair and credible elections, citing the 2011 polls as a yardstick and identified the prosecution of electoral offenders as another key area that should be perused with the creation of a Special Electoral Offences Tribunal.
Jega said over 870,000 multiple registration cases were recorded during last year’s elections, adding that INEC has prosecuted only 200 of them.
The INEC umpire acknowledged that it is difficult conducting a flawless election in Nigeria because of its size and ethno-religious challenges.
The INEC chairman said last year’s polls were conducted under difficult circumstances with the commission grappling with sundry challenges. Despite the challenges, the commission faced, he said it successfully concluded the polls with the support it received from the National Assembly.
The Federal Executive Council in its wisdom has established a Special Electoral Offences Tribunal to trial electoral offenders.
Another weighty question is, how credible can this be? While assuring that INEC was more determined to improve on the electoral process with a view to conducting more credible and transparent election in 2015, Prof Jega called on the legislature to fast track legal framework for the tribunal to take-off.
According to the electoral umpire, “things have been so far for so long”, but regretted that Nigerians were in a hurry to get things right.He noted that all must be committed to improve the electoral process.
Jega has assured Nigerians that INEC is intensifying efforts at ensuring that politicians change their attitude and the electoral body is more resolved to ensure conduct of credible and transparent election come 2015.
Jega further promised that the 2015 general election would be the best ever conducted in the country, based on strategies now in place. But, Nigerians do not believe in words but in actions, having received adequate hollow promises. It is apparent that 2011 polls were better than the previous elections, but still not good enough.
“We expect 2015 general elections to go as far as satisfying 70% of the electorate. Between now and 2015, the commission will put many structures in place to ensure that the 2015 elections are not only the best in the history of our country but also the most accepted by our citizens.
I assure Nigerians that the commission will achieve seamless integration of the data of voters and institutionalise continuous voter registration before the 2015 general election,’’ INEC boss boasted.
The Federal Executive Council (FEC) on April, approved N2.6billion for the printing of 40 million permanent voters card by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). President Goodluck Jonathan has said that the issuance of the permanent voters card is in line with the 2010 Electoral Act.
Jonathan also explained that the approval was only for the first phase, as INEC is expected to produce more cards next year to meet the required number of voters in the country.
The permanent cards, which will replace the temporary voters’ cards issued by the Commission for the 2011 general elections, carry microchips containing voters’ biodata and will be valid for a minimum of 10 years. The contract to print the new cards was awarded to ACT Technologies Limited and is expected to be delivered within seven months.
The new cards are expected to prevent multiple voting and thus strengthen the government’s efforts to clean up the nation’s electoral process by achieving more credible and transparent polls.
“Next year, INEC is expected to bring a proposal for the production of another batch of voters’ card to the Council for approval.
The electoral process is one of the key programmes of this administration. We saw from the last election that our electoral process is getting cleaner by the day,” Information Minister Labaran Maku said.
“Post-election cases were down by more than two-thirds, so the electoral process will continue to receive the attention of this administration. We urge INEC to ensure that the cards are printed as soon as possible and are distributed to voters so that they can be ready for other elections between now and 2015.”
Meanwhile, INEC has commenced the process of printing 40 million permanent voters’ card at a cost of N2.6 billion. The Director, Information, Communication Technology (ICT) of INEC, Mr. Chidi Nwafor, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) last two months in Abuja that the contract was awarded to an indigenous printing company. Nwafor, who gave the name of the company as Art Technology Limited, added that each card would cost N65.
According to him, the company has been paid 15 per cent as mandated by the law for the commencement of the job. He said that the company had gone to France to source for the materials for the production from its technical partner ``Obature”.
The Director said that the voters’ card would contain voters’ biodata; age, sex, address, finger prints and phone number among others valid for a minimum of 10 years.
``Some of the electronic card features are micro testing security, hologram, finger prints and it will be an electronic card to be used for identification, authentication and for voting. The cards are expected to prevent multiple voting, fraud and also strengthen INEC’s efforts to clean up the nation’s electoral process by achieving more credible and transparent polls.
``There are 73.5 million eligible voters but for the first phase we will print 40 million and another part of it for completion is in the budget for 2012,” he said.
``The states that will share the first 40 million have not been decided, but they will definitely go to the list of states that INEC has concluded both their voters register consolidation,’’ he said. Nwafor said the production of the cards, would be continuous process to enable those whose names were missing to register “so that nobody will be disenfranchised”.
Another impressive thing INEC has done as of late is the suspension of the ongoing voters’ registration in Edo. He made this known at a press briefing after a four-hour meeting with political stakeholders from Edo on the on-going voters’ registration exercise and the July 14 governorship elections.
Jega said the exercise would continue after the elections. He said the suspension became imperative in view of series of allegations which trailed the exercise. Jega said the governor of the state, the PDP governorship candidate, the PDP secretariat and two other unidentified groups had petitioned INEC on the exercise.
According to him, ``the allegations are against individuals, political parties, groups and individuals, including INEC officials, said to be working illegally to subvert the electoral process. We consider the allegations weighty enough to commence thorough and meticulous investigation and immediate measures will be taken for redress.’’
Jega said that evidence was required for most of the allegations to be determined and those making the allegations were bound to provide the evidence. He said the outcome of the stakeholders’ meeting had brought about mutual trust and confidence for INEC to go ahead with preparations for ``transparent, free, fair and credible elections in Edo.”
Jega said that the meeting had become necessary because the commission announced the date of the election and political parties had expressed concerns about INEC’s preparedness for the election.
He said the unfolding political events in Edo portend danger for the July 14 governorship election, adding that the happenings in the state had over heated the polity.