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Card Reader: Controversial Device That Proved Worthwhile

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WHETHER or not the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should conduct this year’s general election with the Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) and smart Card Readers was a major issue that dominated public discourse before the March 28 presidential and National Assembly elections. While the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was opposed to the use of the Card Readers for the accreditation of voters during the elections, the ruling-party elect, All Progressives Congress (APC), insisted on its use.

The PDP had opposed the use of the device on the ground that it could disenfranchise some people in the elections as it had not been tested and as such could not be trusted. APC on its part maintained that the objection to the use of card readers in the election by the PDP was a ploy by the party to either prevent the polls from holding or to rig it.

Nevertheless, after the field tests of the device in 12 states from the six geo-political zones of the country was adjudged successful, INEC stood its ground that smart card readers would be used to conduct the elections, although it conceded that only 59 per cent of voters who turned out for the demonstration had their fingerprints successfully authenticated.

“If we do not use the card readers, we will lose in many fundamental respects. We have done field and quality assurance tests on the card reader and we are confident of its capabilities.

“Many Nigerians who participated in the demonstration have expressed satisfaction in the use of the card readers. Nigerians should be confident that cloned cards cannot be used. The card readers will not read cloned cards,” INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, had said.

But the card readers turned out to malfunction in some areas across the country during the elections. This resulted in delayed accreditation of voters, late voting and subsequently the extension of polls till the next day in the affected places.

A voter in Polling Unit 013-7 in Ali Dada Street, in Okoto area of Lagos, who identified himself as James Okolo, had told The Guardian in the course of monitoring the elections at 3.00pm that unless everybody was accredited to vote, elections would not hold in the unit.

He said: “They got here on time and commenced accreditation immediately. I was here when they arrived likewise many other people; but up till now I am yet to be accredited. They have announced that those who are yet to be accredited should go but we have told them that if they try it, there will be no voting in this Polling Unit. They must accredit us; it is not our fault that the Card Reader is slow.”

The malfunctioning of the card readers had forced INEC to issue a statement allowing for manual accreditation.

Chairman of Information, Voter Education and Publicity Committee, INEC, Chris Iyimoga, said it came up with the plan to avoid disenfranchising eligible voters.

“INEC has been monitoring field reports on the accreditation process since commencement this morning.

“Whereas the process has gone well in several places, in some others it has encountered some challenges, especially the card readers. Consequently, accreditation has been slow in many places and has not commenced at all in some others.
“Even though the guidelines for the 2015 general elections provide that where card readers fail to work and cannot be replaced, elections in such PUs will be postponed to the next day, the scale of the challenge we have observed has necessitated a reconsideration of the provision of the guidelines.

“The commission has therefore decided that in problem areas where card readers fail to work, the Presiding Officer shall manually accredit voters.
“The Presiding Officer shall mark the voters register upon being satisfied that the person presenting PVC is the owner.
“Notwithstanding, in problem areas where accreditation was suspended to the next day in accordance with the guidelines, arrangements will be made for voters to vote tomorrow (Sunday), subject to the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010,” Iyimoga had announced.

The Guardian was reliably informed that the moment the Commission gave room for manual accreditation of voters, politicians seized the opportunity to manipulate the elections.

“Both voters and the politicians had faith in the usage of the card readers even though it slowed down the voting process. But the moment INEC announced that manual accreditation could be used where the card readers were faulty, politicians took advantage of the situation and started to do the accreditation in their old way of ticking the register for people that were absent,” the source said.

What this means is that in places where the card reader failed or malfunctioned, the chance is there the election was rigged, thereby affecting the overall result.

All in all, it appears the use of card readers in the conduct of the election impacted positively on the process and the final result. Not only was the election adjudged as free, fair and credible in most parts of the country by both local and international observers, its outcome, from every indication, also reflected the will of the majority of the voters. The jubilations across the country that greeted the announcement of the results meant that voters now have confidence in the system and would keenly participate in future elections.

And INEC has continued to receive commendation locally and internationally for its ingenuity in introducing the device.

Head, Political Science Department, University of Lagos,
Prof. Solomon Akingboye, recently told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the results of the presidential election has shown that the country’s democracy was on course.

Akingboye said that INEC has proven to the world that Nigeria could get it right, given the right playing field and an enabling environment.

“I want to call on other African countries to take a cue from Nigeria’s electoral process that set a platform for our Presidential, House of Representatives and Senatorial elections, which held on March 28.

“It simply means that if we are determined, we can do it and right. I am particularly highly elated over the outcome of the election and the process put in place by the head of the commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega.

“I want to say that the election has been adjudged by both the local and international observers as being highly transparent, credible, free and fair, which is what we all have been clamouring for,” he said.


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