The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said several months ago that it was ready for the 2019 general elections but the new amendment in the electoral act by the National Assembly which is suggesting electronic voting is raising issues. SUNDAY ISUWA writes.
As the countdown to the 2019 general elections continue, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Professor Mahmood Yakubu told Nigerians that the commission was ready for the conduct.
According to Yakubu INEC will raise the bar beyond the successes recorded in the 2015 general elections.
Registration of voters have been concluded with the Permanent Voter Card (PVC) distribution, inclusively already on top gear.
The funding was already ascertained with the approval of about N189.8 billion to INEC to conduct the 2019 general elections.
Even though the commission was also preparing for about four bye elections in four states of Bauchi, Katsina and Cross River, the electoral act amendment issue came with a demand of electronic voting in 2019 even though the commission did not prepare for it.
The speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara had declared consequential vacancies in the Toro Federal Constituency in Bauchi State and the Kankia/Kusada/Ingawa Federal Constituency in Katsina State.
The Cross River State House of Assembly also declared vacancy in Ikom II State Constituency following the death of the member representing the Constituency.
While INEC was in activity number 3 out of the 14 activities it earmarked in the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the general elections, the issue of the amendment came.
If president Muhammadu Buhari signed the amendment into law, it will required the 2019 general elections to be totally electronic.
But INEC activities which commenced on the 17th of August 2018 with the publication of the Notice of Poll as required by law, followed from the 18th of August to 7th of October with the conduct of primaries by political parties.
The third activity is the submission of nominations by political parties to the Commission. For the Presidential and National Assembly, the submission closed on 18th October while the last day for submission for governorship and State House of Assembly is 2nd November 2018”.
89 out of the 91 registered political parties submitted notices for the conduct of primaries to INEC.
To ensure that people illegible to vote in 2019 registered, the commission started the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise from 27th April 2017 until the 31st of August 2018 with14.5 million Nigerians entering the register.
This figure will be added to about 70 million voters from the 2015 general elections which will take the Nigerian voters to over 80 million for the 2019 general elections.
“For those who registered in the first quarter of 2018, we have also printed over 3 million cards and they are in the states and for those who registered in the second and final quarters of 2018, the cards will be ready by the end of next month. Collection will begin in December,” the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu said while giving an update on the preparation for the 2019 general elections.
“I want to assure all those who registered that the cards will be ready for collection well ahead of the 2019 general elections. Collection will begin from December for all those who registered until a week before the 2019 general elections,” he affirmed.
“I want to emphasize the importance of collection rather than distribution. The Commission is not going to distribute. If we distribute the cards may end up in the wrong hands because some will collect by proxy. Emphasis will be on collection so the onus is on the registered voter to collect. We have been working in the Commission to provide information to those who have registered because we have collected certain information as email, and telephone numbers so we will send bulk SMS to ensure that people know where to pick up their cards,” he said.
Even though the commission did not envisaged electronic voting, the bill to be passed to Buhari for assent included total electronic voting.
INEC had since pickup the drafts of the bill and begin to work in advance thinking the new Legal framework will be favourable but there might be difficulty in implementing those provisions if the president ascended to it.
INEC has said that the election won’t be entirely electronically considering the time limit it has.
According to the commission, card readers will be used for the 2019 general elections but added that the entire election won’t be electronic.
The National Assembly has recently passed some amendments into the electoral act which provides for electronic voting.
LEADERSHIP reports that if the amendment is ascended to by the President, INEC will be required to to adhere to the changes.
It was gathered that the N189.8 billion recently approved for INEC by the National Assembly for the conduct of the 2019 general elections did not captured electronic voting.
But speaking to LEADERSHIP, the spokesman of the INEC chairman, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi said that if the amendment in the electoral act is finally signed into law, the commission will implement some of the changes.
“Let me correct this impression that I did not say if card readers failed, manual process would be applied. What I said is that there is now time constraint for the commission,” Oyekanmi said.
“We will implement the new amendment but it will be impossible for total electric voting,” Oyekanmi added.
He said the commission prepared for the 2019 general elections without total electronic voting adding that if there should be total electronic voting, it will be for subsequent elections.
After concluding the election project plan, the Commission submitted a budget of 189.2 billion Naira as the cost for conducting the 2019 general elections. The budget did not included electronic voting.
With the Nigerian election remaining only about four months, pundits say adhering to the new Legal framework – if passed into law, might affect the process.
Among the 38 clauses recommended for approval by Senate committee on INEC headed by Senator Suleiman Nazif, which were adopted when Senate passed the bill for the third reading is the use of card reader for the conduct of the 2019 general election.
The Red Chamber said, while the card reader would be deployed for accreditation of registered voters, where the card reader malfunctions and another one is not deployed within three hours to the end of voting, election in such unit should be cancelled and a new card reader deployed within 24 hours for a fresh election.
During the 2015 elections, INEC deployed the card reader for the polls, though there was no such provision in the Electoral Act at the time.
The inclusion of the card reader in the Act was done through an amendment to Section 49 by inserting a new subsection (2) which states: “The Presiding Officer shall use a Smart Card Reader or any other similar technological device that may be prescribed by the Commission, for the purpose of accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate the particulars of the voter in the manner prescribed by the Commission.”
A new subsection (4) of the ACT provides that “where a Smart Card Reader deployed for accreditation of voter fails to function in any unit and a fresh card reader is not deployed 3 hours before the close of the election in that unit or units, then the election shall not hold but be rescheduled and conducted within 24 hours thereafter.”
However, a proviso under the same subsection states: “Provided that where the total possible votes from all the affected card readers in the unit or units does not affect the overall result in the constituency or election concerned, the commission shall notwithstanding the fact that a fresh card reader is not deployed as stipulated, announce the final results and declare a winner.”
Speaking, a political analyst, Dr Umar Duhu said INEC is on cause and well prepared for the 2019 General Elections.
“What is expected from INEC is to remain totally independent and refuse to take sides with any candidate of political part,” said while advising the commission.
“As law abiding citizens too, we are expected to give INEC our utmost cooperation and support to succeed in the task of consolidating Nigeria’s enduring democracy,” he added
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