Thirty six days to the presidential elections scheduled for February 16, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has given Nigerians assurances that it is in control of the task of delivering free and fair elections. The assurances were contained in INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu’s statements at an INEC regular meeting with political parties on Monday.
At the meeting, Professor Yakubu allayed Nigerians’ fear on card reader by saying its use in next month’s elections was sacrosanct. According to him, “The Card Reader shall be used to authenticate the fingerprint of the voter as an additional confirmatory procedure. If the fingerprint is not authenticated by the card reader but the PVC is confirmed as genuine and the voter’s personal details are consistent with the manual register, he/she shall be allowed to vote.”
This explanation has allayed the fears expressed in multiple quarters, including opposition political parties, that the failure of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill last month could foreclose the use of card reader and render the elections vulnerable to manipulations. Also, the clarification that Incident Form will not feature in the elections in case the card readers fail to register the fingerprints of duly registered voters has closed another possible loophole. In 2015 elections, mischievous politicians deliberately tried to sabotage the use of card reader so that election officials must resort to the use of Incident Forms, thereby denying the poll of further voter authentication by card reader and its transmission of the accurate number of accredited voters.
The issue of vote buying and the creative approaches that politicians have devised to enhance it remains a source of concern. There are reports that politicians in some states are mopping up Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) for use during the elections. Professor Yakubu admitted this prevailing practice in his statement, saying, “We have received credible information that some partisan actors are now going round buying up PVCs from voters or financially inducing them to collect the Voter Identification Numbers (VIN) on their PVCs. In some instances, telephone numbers and details of bank accounts of voters have been collected. By collecting the PVCs, their intention may be to deprive the voters of voting since no one can vote without the PVC.
“By collecting their phone numbers and bank details, the intention is to induce voters by electronic transfer of funds to their accounts since it will be difficult to buy votes at polling units. By collecting the VINs, they may be acting on the mistaken notion that our system can be hacked into and the Card Readers somehow preloaded ahead of election and compromised. We want to reassure Nigerians that we are aware of the new tricks. It is a futile effort. We will work with the security agencies to deal with the violators of our electoral laws, including those who may be trying to compromise our staff responsible for making the PVCs available for collection by legitimate voters.”
It is disturbing that while the electoral body is aware of the activities of such criminal elements, they have not yet been brought to book. Security personnel should be charged with the challenge of fishing out these PVC buyers, have them arrested and punished in accordance with the law. There are fears that if the PVC mopping is not halted, the ugly and criminal act of ballot box stuffing could resurface, especially because Nigeria’s electoral law does not envisage forensic examination of fingerprints on ballot papers, in case of disputes over stuffing of ballot boxes.
The success or otherwise of the crucial 2019 elections depend largely on the integrity and seriousness of the electoral umpire and the commitment of security operatives to deal with any violation of the law. INEC commissioners and officials who work on the polls should take preventive measures instead of waiting for evil politicians to prevail and later lament.