Feuding Verdicts On The Card Readers
IN a manner of speaking, if Nigeria is a reading nation, the controversies over the needfulness or not of using the card reader for the 2015 elections should not have arisen. But the challenge is made worse by the declining standards of education, where examination malpractices have become a near permanent feature of the nation’s academic system.
To a very large extent, examination malpractice, also known as Expo is the social equivalent of electoral malpractices called rigging. The novelty of the card reader is the endpoint of the search for a solution to the malaise of election rigging. And that is why the noise has attained a deafening level and the polity is already very charged over this new development. As such it is not easy differentiating the views of vote riggers who want retention of the status quo, or noise makers, who lack deep technical knowledge of the card readers or even partisan commentators who echo their parties’ stand (grandstanding, much like). However in examining the verdicts on the mock operationalization of card readers, it is necessary to understand the conflicting viewpoints.
As part of its efforts to improve the credibility of elections in the country, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), introduced what it called permanent voter cards (PVCs). And having devised that system, there came the challenge of ensuring that the card, if cloned, stolen or bought; does not retain its usefulness to such unauthorized possessors.
It was in INEC’s bid to jump that huddle that the novelty of card readers materialized. The electoral umpire explained that it decided on the card readers for the purposes of accrediting voters by verifying the bona fide owners of the PVC before voting. The device, according to INEC, would forestall impersonation, proxy voting and ballot stuffing during the general elections. And because the issue of rigging and ‘election’ of unpopular candidates has remained a sour point in the nation’s democracy, the novelty received a subtle acquiescence from the populace.
But as the election earlier scheduled for February 14 and 28, 2015 drew closer; it became doubtful whether INEC could make good its promise of deploying the card readers. The hiccups encountered in the production and distribution of the PVCs raised public apprehension. INEC had also, as part of its reorganization of the electoral system, declared that no polling unit would have more than 750 registered voters. No sooner had some watchers of the nation’s electoral environment observed the fact that the curious technological marvel, card readers, had not been test-run, than sentiments arose. Allegations and counter accusations of lopsided allocation and distribution of PVCs met with concerns for the use of the PVCs and inadequacy of the card readers.
In the midst of the cacophony of voices, word came from faraway Chatham House, London; suggesting that a shift in the election timetable could remedy the suspicious preparedness of INEC as per the distribution of the PVCs and stabilize security in northeastern part of the country. With the benefit of hindsight, the shift in poll date provided more than a saving grace to INEC and the nation from an imminent electoral debacle.
Consequently, taking advantage of the adjustment in timeline, INEC decided to put its joker -the card readers- into public test through a mock election situation in select wards in 12 states of the federation.
As was to be expected, the outcome of the public display followed the well-defined pattern of partisanship and technical second guessing. The two frontline political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) as usual, took divergent stands. While APC hailed the exercise as a big success, stressing that the use of the smart card readers for authentication in the coming general elections would guarantee credibility, PDP noted that the hiccups noticed in certain states vindicated its position that the innovation should await further perfection.
National publicity secretary of PDP, Mr. Olisa Metuh, contended that the “worrisome fall-out from the test vindicates earlier widespread calls by stakeholders that the card readers should be thoroughly tested to ascertain their workability for free, fair and credible elections before being deployed for the actual polls”. Agonizing further over the noticeable hitches in the trial of the card readers, the PDP spokesman pointed out the following as examples of the hitches: “Non-verification of voters’ fingerprints even after authenticating their PVCs, slow accreditation process as a result of poor internet server operations in some locations, and apparent inadequate knowledge of the card readers by both INEC officials and voters”.
He however stated that his party awaits INEC’s official final decision in response to “such defining challenges”.
From the outing in Ekiti, the APC described the exercise in glowing terms, pointing out that card readers would assist INEC to “conduct fraud-free poll devoid of acrimonious disputes arising from flawed electoral exercises of the past”. Yet the Vice President, Arc. Namadi Sambo, noted that instead of opposing the use of the card out of fear, his party-the PDP- was only insistent that no eligible voter should be disenfranchised by the innovation. There are genuine fears as well as positive aspects of the introduction of the card readers.
Though INEC indicated that it would repeat public demonstration of the Smart Card Readers, in Ebonyi State, it is obvious that the high rate of failure to authenticate voters’ fingerprints poses a great challenge. The time taken to accredit one voter is also a source of genuine worry by commentators.
Should INEC have waited till this nick of time to start the experiment? What of the suspicion that the card readers may have been pre-programmed to reject voters in particular areas? These observations may have informed the call by some analysts for the card readers to be tried with upcoming elections in Edo, Ondo and Anambra States before deploying it in a general election.
The other concern about the battery longevity could also mar the positive elements of the SCRs.
One moot question about the card readers’ ability to ensure credibility of elections is how far they could help to check incidences of under-aged voters.
Despite the quarrels over the deployment of the SCRs, there seem to be a consensus of opinion that it is a well thought out initiative. But the snag is the timing and the fact of the great division and animosity the 2015 election has engendered in the polity.
If it is possible that all registered voters have collected their PVCs and that those who turn up to vote on the election would be accredited within the six hours allotted for that purpose, the SCRs may turn out the panacea to rigging that Nigerians have been waiting for.
It is surprising that in 1993, INEC under Prof. Humphrey Nwosu conducted what was adjudged the fairest election in the country without recourse to the mumbo jumbo of card readers. Conscious of this, it is arguable if Prof. Jega has not compounded the system by both the timing and lack of proper experimentation of his innovations. Given these concerns, the middle course suggested by some observers that the modified open ballot system whereby all registered voters are accredited and votes cast and result marched against the number of those accredited be applied to the rescheduled election, becomes plausible. This path could help Nigeria cross the jigsaw the 2015 election has become with naysayers and ayes ranging towards a tie!