The National Commissioner, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in charge of transport and logistics, supervising Yobe, Bauchi and Gombe States, Colonel Mohammed Hamanga, in this interview with Ruth Yamta, talks about the commission’s view on electronic voting and also the measures it has put in place to ensure the security of corps members and its staff.
What are the logistic problems facing INEC ahead of the Edo and Ekiti States Governorship elections?
Normally, the delivery of sensitive and non-sensitive materials and deployment of our staff to the polling units on the election day but because we have experience from the 2011 general elections, which we have addressed so many issues and we have corrected some of these wrongs that happened there, that delayed the delivery of materials, providing security to its perfection and trying as much as possible to stop violence in the course of the delivery of materials.
We have also done some delivery earlier to some of the areas that will be difficult so that the polling units will start as early as 8:00am as scheduled. We’re prepared for early printing of ballot papers and the procurement of other materials. The areas where we can’t get vehicles, we can hire vehicles, provide security and other things.
In the wake of the death of some NYSC youth corps members in the 2011 post-election violence, the leadership of NYSC is demanding a full assurance from INEC to guarantee the security of corps members. What is the commission doing to guarantee this?
Yes, actually, when it happened we had a conversation with the DG, NYSC. They all came here, we discussed the issue and it is unfortunate that it happened especially in Bauchi because of violence and of course, it was a sad event and it has happened nationwide in some cases, but this issue is even being addressed very seriously discussed because we have to ensure proper security and protection and initially, the DG, NYSC was reluctant to continue with this process but later thought it was a national issue and the only neutral staff we can get is the NYSC because they are graduates, they can easily understand the learning process. So, that is why they are the most relevant people to employ in this exercise. And in fact, we have addressed so many issues, in addition, we’ve also discussed with the security agencies to give us more protection and more voter education and to enlighten the people, telling them that look, this is an issue of national interest and to start going out to attack people, who are innocent, is not the best solution for democracy. People can understand accidents can happen quite okay but this case is addressed very well and we’ll make sure that this doesn’t happen again.
Ahead of the 2015 general elections, is there any likelihood that electronic voting will be introduced? If no, why and if yes, what are the financial implications?
Well, it is not in the constitution or the electoral act. The law has not allowed it yet but we have every foundation. If we want to go for it, fine! The law will change and say okay go electronic and we go electronic because what we have now is electronic voter registrar. We have all the provision for that.
Are you saying that we cannot vote electronically?
No, I am not saying so because the law is a matter of policy. It is not the decision of the commission but we can make a proposal, if it is easier, then we go for it because to go electronic, you’re either fail or make it. So, you have to be very cautious, we either have to examine it to see how it goes before we can go into it fully. Countries that have gone electronic did not start it one day because if you start it one day you fail one day and everything will collapse and all the credit you are getting will now disappear. I think it is something that has to be decided by the law.
Sir, you have not answered my question.
No, I can’t answer that question of whether we’re going electronic or not. I can’t. But, what I’m saying is that we have every foundation to go for it.
What is the likelihood of the commission conducting future elections without using corps members as ad hoc staff?
Yes, maybe, many years to come. If we don’t use ad hoc staff, we are going to use permanent staff, which we are going to employ 400,000 staff. Presently, the strength is about 12,000. We have 120,000 polling units, if we take 3 staff to every polling unit, then you have 360,000 and you can imagine some polling units are so large that you have to fix them into voting point, which means we’ll still employ staff.
If you mean permanent staff, you have to employ about 400,000 staff in INEC; you pay them salary, you give them welfare, give them everything they are entitled to. But, ad hoc staff are just ad hoc staff during election, where you give them when they do the work and pay them off. It is a voluntary work.
Are you saying that even in future, you will continue to use ad hoc staff?
Yes. At least, I know we need ad hoc staff during the 2015 general elections. In other counties like Ireland and other places, they don’t even have a commission. It is during election that they come together and the president appoints electoral umpire and he will now mobilize volunteers. After that day, no more INEC again.
During the 2011 general elections, so much money was committed in printed ballot papers outside the country, why was it not possible to print them here since we have national mint print and supply?
Yes, they can be done here but during the time we had our last elections, there was no time. The commission was appointed in June. By the time we settled, that was the end of the year and the following year was election. Now, we have to change voters’ registrar, we have to change everything to give you credible details.
What has your commission learnt from the 2011 general elections?
One of the things we’ve learnt is the introduction of the accreditation has failed us. We have learnt also primarily, there were a lot of crises and problems within the practice and the funding has also been improved. Those are some of the advantages we got from the government support and also, the use of NYSC corps members. They were very important to us. Another thing is that we used professors, universities dons and lecturers for determining and collation. That was very important and before it was not done like that. We also carried the political parties along. We made sure that at every point they were invited and informed to make sure that everything was transparent. Civil society organizations were interested and got involved. We had also donors and partners. We had all the security agencies together. We coordinated them. We also intensified our voters’ education.
What measures have you put in place to ensure that these logistics problems you mentioned do not recur?
We try to overcome these logistics problems before the next general elections, that is, by making sure we do our things timely. We print our materials early, follow the procedure early and we get sufficient funds to cater for the area we feel we need money for and also to get the security agencies. We’ll also make sure that we plan early to ensure things are done properly.
What is your expectation for Edo State gubernatorial election?
I will expect a better election because we are going to make sure that we deploy as many national commissioners and resident electoral commissioners as possible to make ensure that there are through supervisions at every polling unit and get materials early in order to make it transparent and make sure the political party agents are registered properly and they participate in the conduct of the election.