Elections: Any Further Shift From March 28 Is Unconstitutional, But… – Jega

Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Professor Attahiru Jega yesterday declared that any further shift of the general elections from the March 28 rescheduled date is unconstitutional.”I don’t see how anyone would contemplate shifting the elections now because it is unconstitutional.Our hope and prayer is that in the next six weeks, things will improve and there would be elections”, he declared when he appeared before the Senate today. The electoral Commission had shifted the elections from February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11 in controversial circumstances.

While asked by Senate minority leaders, George Akume to give a guarantee that the new polls dates of March 28 and April 11 remain sacrosanct, Jega said the answer to that can only be provided by ‘appropriate quarters.’

“There are things that are under the control of the Commission and there are things not under our control. What’s not under our control, it’s futile, fruitless to give guarantee on things not under our control. I think that question should be directed appropriately”, he added, stressing that the Commission had already foreclosed the possibility of using temporary voters cards (TVCs) and remains committed to using only the Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs).

 He also explained that the PVC has a 10-year life span and “can be used for the 2019 general elections,” and also insisted that neither the Electoral Act nor the 1999 Constitution prohibits the Commission from using the card reader. “Nothing says you cannot use electronic devices during the voting process”, he stated.

The INEC chairman, who had an interactive session which spanned three hours and 35 minutes, also disclosed that over four million people who were caught in multiple registrations and electoral offences have been removed from the voters’ register. He told the Senate that although 75.9 percent of voters for the general elections have collected the Permanent Voters Cards (PVC), 800,000 to 1 million cards are yet to be produced.

He also informed lawmakers that the postponement of the election is a blessing in disguise as all PVCs could now be produced and distributed to voters. Shortly after Senate resumed for plenary, Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) moved a motion through Order 17 to allow Jega and his entourage enter the chamber.

The motion approved, after introductory remarks from Senate President David Mark, Jega informed Senators that the Commission received a letter from the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, who wrote on behalf of the nation’s security chiefs and asked for the six weeks extension since they could not provide security for the polls.

On the card readers, Jega disclosed that a test pilot was done in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and 13 states of the federation with some of the INEC Commissioners as coordinators.

In reaction to a question from a Senator, Jega insisted that purchase of PVCs by politicians is a criminal offence even though he reiterated that such cards are useless as they cannot be used for the elections.

The card reader, he said, has provision for verification of thumb-printing of the owner with an embedded chip with details of the voter. “If the PVC cannot be read by the card reader 99.9 percent, then, it’s a cloned card. The PVC is a simple device which operates on battery. When fully charged, it lasts for 12 hours. From our tests, the likelihood of failure of our card reader is minimal”, he stressed.

The electoral boss also said that through the test run of the card reader, the battery does not run down because when it is not in use, “it goes on safe-mode.” He, however, noted that the problem with PVCs is not that of production but that of collection as the voting public has left them uncollected for too late.

“Buying of PVCs by politicians is useless, we are producing and replacing snatched or stolen PVCs because it is useless for whoever has stolen or snatched or purchased one.

“If you allow TVCs, they will come to the polling area, wave their TVCs and insist on voting. We’ve already made progress, there’s no reason to use TVC. Only people with PVC will be able to vote”, he stated further.

Speaking on the modalities of using the card reader, Jega said each card reader, which was designed by the Commission was built in China and tested in the United States of America.

He also said that the card reader has been programmed in such a way that if any voter comes after the accreditation period, it will not work. He added: “Every card reader is configured to a particular polling unit. During elections, we configure the card reader to that particular polling unit before taking it there.

“That’s why we said we will use this period of extension to do additional tests. We do have a comfort level and we feel comfortable that these card readers can be used and they can  add value to the electoral process. It cannot be perfect, it may not read every finger and that’s why we agreed with the political parties that if it doesn’t read a finger, what do you do?

“We are buying about 182, 000 card readers. Some of them will not work. There’s what they call dead on arrival from the factory and there’s always a percentage that you have to give for that. As I speak with you, of the total number of card readers we ordered and configured, only 503 have failed which is what you can call dead on arrival. So, we have acceptable margins.”

He also disclosed that for the first time since voting started in Nigeria, this year,  national voting demographics, including the number of women, men, rural and urban voters, voters between 18 years to 30 years would now known through the card readers and made public.

He told the lawmakers that inability of electoral officers to use the card reader is a criminal offence for which there are appropriate sanctions. For the accreditation process, only a minimum of 10 seconds and 30 seconds are required per voter, he said in response to a question from Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe.

Jega also affirmed that internally displaced persons (IDPs) as a result of the insurgency in the North east would be allowed to vote. “On the IDPs in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, there are more people living in host communities than in camps. There are designated polling stations that are placed outside the camps so as to enable people vote. If stakeholders feel there’s more security inside than outside, then, we are prepared to go with them.”

In his closing remarks at the interactive session with Jega, Mark urged the electoral commission to conduct elections that would be universally acceptable. “We hope that INEC would take the best decision on the election and conduct an election that would acceptable. Those of us who are standing for elections in this chamber would also want free, fair and credible elections.

“Nobody seated here, I can tell you that, wants to come back through the back door. As I said at the beginning, it is for us to assist you to conduct a free, fair and credible election and whatever we can do between now and the date you’ve chosen for the election, please, don’t hesitate to come back to us.”

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