Jega: I can’t guarantee polls’ll hold on March 28

The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission Prof Attahiru Jega, on Wednesday, reiterated
his preparedness to conduct the general
elections as scheduled but maintained that only the military
could guarantee the sanctity of the March 28 and April 11
dates. Jega, who appeared before the Senate to
explain the level of INEC’s preparedness for the elections,
however, stunned many of the lawmakers when he revealed
that one million Permanent Voter Cards had yet to be
received by the commission from the manufacturers.
The Senators had thoroughly grilled him after he made
about three-hour presentation and demonstrated how the
card readers work.
Responding to a question by the Minority Leader, Senator
George Akume, to give a clear assurance on the dates, Jega
replied, “I think it is a very difficult question to answer.
“I have said consistently that there are things under the
control of electoral commission and there are things that
are not under the control of electoral commission. For
things that are under our control, I can give definite and
categorical assurances.
“On what is not under our control, it is futile, it is fruitless
and useless to give a definite guarantee on them. I think that
question should be directed appropriately. The questions of
security, I will leave it, I don’t think I am competent to
answer it sufficiently.”
Asked how he would respond if the security agencies
requested a further delay, Jega said doing so would be
illegal.
He then made reference to a constitutional provision that
requires elections to be concluded at least 30 days before
May 29, when a new government must be sworn in.
“Every Nigerian knows we want elections to hold… within a
constitutional time frame. The security agencies are (made
up of) patriotic Nigerians. Let’s give them the benefit of the
doubt,” he told the senators.
He added, “We should be fair also to the military. Soldiers
are also patriotic Nigerians. I don’t see how anybody will
contemplate any extension beyond these six weeks.
“There is no constitutional grounds upon which you can do
that. For us, we work by the constitution, by the law . That is
what is guiding us and we should all put the interest of the
nation at heart.
“The human factor is always significant, it is always
important but we believe that working together with security
and other stakeholders, we should be able to prevent
negative human intervention that can create problems.
“I kept saying consistently that INEC is not a security
organisation. We are an election management body; so we
rely a lot on security to be able to ensure that things are
done well and that there is no disruption of the electoral
process.
“We have been working very closely with the inter agencies
consultative committee on election security and that is why
for us, if the service chiefs say that we can’t guarantee
security, give us more time, what is the alternative security
arrangements ?
“If we consulted with the stakeholders and we cannot find an
answer, what happens? We are going to use close to 700,
000 ad hoc staff. We can’t send people to the field in that
kind of a situation.
“Our prayer is that in the next six weeks, there will be
significant improvement in the security situation for us to
hold the elections all over this country in a very secure
environment.
“There are certain questions that we are not really
competent to answer. Certain questions should be directed
to the military; they can answer them better.”
The INEC boss expressed confidence in the effectiveness of
the card readers, stressing that their use for accreditation
during the elections would not contravene any provision
either in the electoral act or in the constitution.
He also said that anyone who clones and tries to prevent
the use of the card readers would be treated as a criminal.
Jega said, “We have done the functionality and durability
tests on the card readers with a local partner, with their
technical partner in Texas in the United States. There were
13 specific tests that were done about their functionality,
durability and versatility. The card readers passed all the
tests.
“We have done some few tests and the result we have is
about 90 per cent successful. We feel comfortable that the
card readers can be used. They will add value to the
electoral process.
“It cannot be 100 per cent perfect. It may not be able to read
every finger and that is why we agree with political parties.
We bought 182, 000 card readers. Some of them did not
work.
“Of the total number of card readers that we ordered and
configured, only 503 had failed to work. That is 0.03 per cent
of the total. The agreement is that if a card reader fails
during accreditation, then, we will try and repair it within the
time of accreditation which is between 8am and 1pm.
“If a card reader fails around 10am , before 1pm, we will do
everything possible to replace it but if we are unable to do
so, the time lost will be added to the accreditation period
and extended.”
On the high rate of PVC collection in three states under
emergency rule in the North-East, Jega wondered why
Nigerians were heaping the blame on INEC.
He said, “Why should anyone blame INEC for that? There is a
need for us to have clarity on this matter. In Yobe State, only
two local government areas are under emergency rule and
the state is among the second phase in the distribution of
the PVCs.
“In the state and about 11 others, we distributed cards as
far back as July 2014. So if the rate of collection is very high,
I don’t see why that should be seen as a problem. In
Adamawa State, only four LGAs are inaccessible and we
deviced a system where PVCs were distributed to Internally
Displaced Persons.
“So, as many as had been displaced but who had registered
have been able to collect their cards. But when you look at
the way newspapers do their analysis, they tend to project it
as if there is regional slant in the distribution of the cards.
“When we designed the distribution of cards, we did it in
such a manner that we took two states each from each geo –
political zone to make a phase and we did it in three phases
just to avoid being accused of having regional slant in the
distribution of the PVCs.
“It will be wrong to assume that Yobe State or any other
state has higher rate of collection. If people come out to
collect and others did not , why should INEC be blamed for
that.
Jega, who said there was no case in court that was capable
of preventing INEC from holding the elections as scheduled,
added, ‘‘As I speak to you, 800,000 to one million cards are
yet to be produced.’’
He however gave assurance that the PVCs would be
produced and delivered to their owners before the days of
the elections.
The INEC boss described the purchase of PVCs by some
people, especially politicians, as a criminal offence .
He said, “If we have information on criminal purchase or
cloning of the cards, we will invite the security to investigate.
People can clone our cards but if they are not issued by
INEC, then they would not be read by our own card readers.
“The PVC carries the information of the voter which is in our
database. We refrain from using the card readers for voting
because the constitution is against it. We have cases where
corps members were forced to alter accreditation figure but
now if the number of the votes cast is different from the
number accredited, the entire result of the polling units will
be cancelled.
Jega said that if security would be guaranteed in IDPs’
camps, INEC could make arrangements to take care of them.
He said, “There is an online system where people can find
out details of their registration. Ghana used card readers
and it was relatively successful. Likelihood of card reader’s
failure is very remote.
“Its usage will not violate either the electoral act or the
constitution. There is difference between voting and voting
process. We are well advised we are on solid legal standing
on the issue.”
He added that INEC did not ask for card reader usage in the
Electoral Act because it was not necessary since the existing
law guarantees the arrangement.
He said the PVCs would be permanent because it could last
for 10 years, adding that “by 2019 we hope that the National
Identity Card project would have materialised so that INEC
could draw out the data of people of voter age from the
NIMC database.”
Jega added, “Whereas section 52 of the Electoral Act
prohibits the use of electronic voting, the card reader is not
a voting machine and it is not used for voting, it is merely an
electronic device introduced to improve the integrity of the
voting; process.
“It should be remembered that sections 78 and 118 of the
1999 constitution grant INEC powers to register voters and
to conduct elections in Nigeria. Using the card reader has
enormous advantages; first, once it is configured, it can only
read PVC issued by INEC at the polling unit that it has been
configured. Second, it reads the embedded chip card not the
back code.
“Third it enables authentication of the identity of the voter
by matching his or her fingerprint with the code on the chip
of the card. Four, it keeps a tally of all cards read and all
cards verified or authenticated with all their details,
including the time when this was done.”
The demonstration of the card readers on the floor of the
Senate was commended by Senators Bukola Saraki and Ita
Enang, who said the development had shown that INEC was
fully prepared for the polls.
Senate President, David Mark, in his closing remarks said
the Senate had confidence in the ability of the electoral
umpire to conduct free, fair and credible elections.
He, however, urged the management of the commission to
feel free to contact the leadership of the National Assembly
for any assistance that would make the elections a huge
success.

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