Penultimate week, Kaduna State Electoral Commission (KAD-SIECOM) postponed the local government election again, making it three times that the electoral body has shifted the council election. What is the guarantee that the election will hold on September 4 as promised?
Yes, KAD-SIECOM has postponed the local government election three times and each time we did, we said why we did so. You are aware that Kaduna state is the first state in Nigeria and indeed in West Africa, to deploy electronic voting in its local government election. We did that in 2018. Now, those machines that we used operate with batteries. These batteries have a life span and they have expired. We conducted the first election in 2018 and the batteries were produced even before then. In fact, the batteries were produced in 2017. So, we cannot use the batteries this year; already they have developed swellings and have virtually broken down. So, we needed to get new batteries for our machines.
Ordering these batteries took some time because we had to pay in foreign currencies and we had to obtain approvals. So, those batteries didn’t come on time. The first date that we set was in May, and that was three years after the previous local government election held. The law says that Local Government Councils will last for three years. So, at the end of three years, we were expected to conduct another election. Unfortunately, the batteries had not arrived. So election was postponed to June. June came and still batteries had not arrived because of challenges along the way. So, it was moved to August with the consent of the political parties, during our stakeholders’ meeting. August came, batteries had not arrived at the beginning of the month. Batteries finally arrived on the 2nd of August.
Even with the arrival of the batteries, we have a lot of things to do. We have to install the batteries in the machines, we must prime the machines, install a new software because we want to improve on the 2018 election, we must train the staff of the commission, we must also train over 16,000 adhoc staff. We can’t do that in 14 days. And so, that was what informed our moving the date to September. We know that people are anxious about the election; we are anxious too. If we had a company in Nigeria that could produce the batteries for us, to fit into machines that were produced by another company, we could have gone there. But you know, manufacturers have an issue with what you can put and what you cannot fit into their devices. So, that was what delayed us. But now that the batteries are here, we have been having all kinds of strategy meetings to beat the limited time. We are pushing ourselves to ensure that we deliver credible local government election.
Is this final word on this election date, meaning will local government election hold in Kaduna state on September 4th as you promised?
By the special Grace of God, like a friend of mine usually says, this is the final word. The batteries were the main things delaying us. We have even tested our machines twice; on Monday (August 2) with stakeholders and we took them to a sensitization programme on Wednesday, (August 4). The software that will be fitted into the machines is also here, the fitting will be completed today or tomorrow. We will then prime our machines to be ready for election.
Did these postponements have the backing of the law or they were just done based on understanding of stakeholders?
We have a legal department here at KAD-SIECOM and we have a seasoned legal practitioner who heads that department and he advises us on what to do. Suffice it to say that under section 22 of KAD-SIECOM Law number2 of 2021, election can be postponed on account of breakdown of law and order, emergencies or natural disaster. So, the non-arrival of the batteries which necessitated the postponements falls under an emergency.
The opposition parties alleged that KAD-SIECOM is just giving the ruling party time to put its house in order, that is why it kept postponing the elections. How true is this allegation?
That is very false. But you see, opposition parties will say anything to justify whatever they want to put out. I don’t know if the ruling party’s house is not in order. We are an independent electoral commission and we give all parties a level playing field. So, there is no truth in that allegation whatsoever. We must give credit to whom credit is due. When we assumed office in our first tenure in 2015, His Excellency, the Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai (OFR), said that he is not going to interfere with our operations in any way. And he said that if anybody says that the governor said this, just know that it is not true. And to be fair to him, he has kept his word. He never interfered with the election. And up till now, he has not interfered with our operations. And he has tried as much as possible, to release our funds as and when due, given the availability of funds.
One of the problems that you encountered in the last election was the inability of KAD-SIECOM to get a credible voters’ register from the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). Has the problem been solved?
We didn’t have that problem. We got the credible voters’ register from INEC. What we could not get was the Smart Card Reader. But we are not going that way this time. We couldn’t get the card readers in 2018 because INEC said that they had an election which was coming up 100 days after ours and so they couldn’t release them to us. This time, we will just use the hard copy of the register which they have already released to us and we have made photocopies and sent to the local government headquarters. But we are not using the Smart Card Reader.
Our machines will not view the chip in your permanent voters card but it will view the card. And will record what it has seen so that the card cannot vote again. This was an issue that we had before because of the authorization. Some people compromised our staff, they were even kidnapped and so on.
Have you bought new Electronic Voting Machines or it is just the new software that will take care of these changes that you have just talked about?
The machines are the same ones that were used in 2018 but it is a new software that we have developed, to do what we want it to do. The machine is versatile, it can do many more things than this.
You have been given another five year mandate as the chair of KAD-SIECOM, what will you do differently this time around?
Number one, is using the new software in the machine because as an electoral commission we are to ensure that all the political parties that indicate interest have a free and a level playing ground. That is what we plan to do. And the way to do that is to get a machine and software that will ensure that and that is what we have done and I’m very happy about it. We are now recruiting ad hoc staff online, we had issues with payment the last time, which we will resolve this time by paying them online. Last time, we had issues with people who claimed that they worked for us and there was no evidence that they did. So, we have resolved that issue by saying, any ad hoc staff that will work with us, must have his data on our portal, including his or her bank details. So, when they complete their assignments with us, we will transfer their money directly to their accounts. So, there will be no case of somebody worked and somebody else collected the money.
Of course, we have talked to our staff and read the riot acts to them. After the last election, we conducted various surveys and investigations and a few staff that were found wanting, were sanctioned in various degrees. We had a staff that was dismissed, we had staff that we demoted, we had staff that lost salaries. Different kinds of sanctions were meted out. We hope that they will learn from that and do their best. The politicians should also toe the line of integrity. We are in it with them together. We have been trying to sensitise them to please give democracy a chance. Let the people choose who they want. Don’t force yourselves on people. If you believe that you have something to offer, then allow the people to make their decisions. Don’t go about kidnapping Presiding and Returning Officers.
We are also working on sensitising the electorate, including the political parties and every stakeholder; voters and even those who do not vote but who are residents of Kaduna state they are all stakeholders. The NGOs, CSOs and everybody is a stakeholder. We are taking this sensitisation to every local government. We will talk to the people on the need for peaceful elections and the consequences of violence and giving them a chance to see the Electronic Voting Machine and actually vote on it.
Can you give a step by step procedure of how voting will be done electronically in the local government election?
It is very simple. In fact, it is as simple as using a mobile phone. When a voter comes to the Polling Unit, he or she confirms his or her name on the displayed voter register, then the Assistant Presiding Officer checks his name on the voter register and marks it there. Thereafter, he or she proceeds to the next stage, where the Presiding Officer grants him access, that means opens the machine. The voter will place his or her voter’s card on the machine, or even brings it close to the machine and the machine will display the list of political parties. The voter will them make his or her choice by touching the screen, on the logo of the party of the candidate of his or her choice. After that the voter presses ‘’ok’’. That’s for the Chairmanship election. After making the choice, the machine will then open the next page for the councillorship election. It will also display the parties’ logos and the voter will make his or her choice and press ‘’ok’’. If a voter makes a mistake in his or her choice, there is a ‘’cancel’’ button that will nullify the vote and return to the home page. With the new software that we have installed, a voter cannot use the same voter’s card twice; the machine will reject it.
After each vote, a slip is generated which can be viewed on the left hand side of the machine before dropping into the ballot box, signifying that the vote has been recorded. In addition, every vote cast will be transmitted to the server at our head office. At the end of election, a summary slip is generated which will show all the activity that was carried out on the machine, showing which party got which votes. If there is a disagreement, the slips that were generated after each voting session can be sorted out and counted. It’s as easy as that.
-Voting on the Electronic Voting Machine is foolproof
- A voter checks his or her name on the displayed voter register at the Polling Unit;
-The Assistant Presiding Officer confirms his or her name on the voter register and marks it;
-The Presiding Officer grants him access by opening the machine;
- The voter places his or her voter’s card on the machine, or even brings it close to the machine and the EVM will display the list of political parties;
The voter will them make his or her choice by touching the screen, on the logo of the party of the candidate of his or her choice;
Afterwards, the voter presses ‘’ok’’ (that’s for the chairmanship election);
-After making the choice, the machine then opens the next page for the councillorship election.
-It will also display the parties’ logos and the voter makes his or her choice and presses ‘’ok’’;
-If a voter makes a mistake in his or her choice, there is a ‘’cancel’’ button that will nullify the vote and return to the home page;
-With the new software, a voter cannot use the same voter’s card twice because the machine will reject it;
-After each vote, a slip is generated which can be viewed on the left hand side of the machine before dropping into the ballot box, signifying that the vote has been recorded;
- In addition, every vote cast will be transmitted to the server of KAD-SIECOM office.
-At the end of election, a summary slip is generated which will show all the activity that was carried out on the machine, showing which party got which votes.