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Thu, 22 Aug 2013

Our constitution does not yet allow electronic voting - Jega

- Admin

 Prof Attahiru Jega, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is a man of many parts. Way back in 1992, during the military era, Jega was the tall, slim and unassuming President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), who led his colleagues in a tough negotiation with the federal military government team, that produced the famous 1992 FG/ASUU agreement. The late Prof Aliu Babatunde Fafunwa, was the country’s Education Minister at that time. He was later to become the Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, where, now in a reverse of roles, he had to contend with the unions, including ASUU. He managed and found a way around them all. Now, despite having three degrees in Political Science from three different countries, and having served in various capacities, Jega thought he had seen it all. Not until he got to INEC. Upon resumption as its Chairman, Jega soon discovered that dealing with Nigerian politicians is an entirely different kettle of fish. He had to re-adjust. In this extensive interview with The Guardian’s quartet, comprising MADU ONUORAH, ROTIMI LAWRENCE OYEKANMI, ADAMU ABUH and AGUNZEH EZEOCHA, Jega unbundles his experiences and what INEC has been doing so far to ensure a credible electoral process. Excerpts.

From being a vice chancellor to becoming the head of INEC; how did you handle the metamorphosis?

I think I underestimated the challenges of the job in INEC.  When I was appointed, I thought that as a vice chancellor, I had seen it all because I had dealt with the students, I had dealt with professors and that it would be easy to take up the new challenges.            

But very soon, it became clear to me that dealing with Nigerian politicians is totally a different ball game. But I quickly adjusted and did my best to ensure that as a commission, we relate with politicians as it exists in the legal framework; to do things very openly and very transparently; to avoid doing anything that will be misconstrued as being partisan or in support of one group against the other. I think with that kind of framework, we have been able to handle the challenges. 

We have not been insulated from unnecessary attacks on our character and integrity, but at least, it is clear that whatever we have done, we have done it humbly and transparently.  

I am happy to say that in the last three years, increasingly, we are building trust and gaining confidence in one another. Our hope is that, by the time we get to the 2015 general elections, our politicians would have cured themselves of the mind-set of do-or- die politics and will more appropriately conduct themselves in the concept of the existing legal framework of the electoral process. It is very important, for the maturity and deepening of our democracy.

When our politicians come into the electoral process, they must run a programme that is pro democracy, characterized by civility, in the way they relate with one another, with clear attitude and respect for the rules of the game. 

We have been doing our best with the renewed engagement with political parties, to get them to cultivate that mind-set. And I am happy to say that things have improved and hopefully and God willing, by the time we get to the 2015 elections, we hope to see a better environment for the political contest,  devoid of rancour; more civil, more peaceful and even more lively, in terms of what political contest should be; in terms of advocating and promoting the party manifestoes and programmes, in such a manner that the citizens can make a choice, in terms of which party to support and which candidate to support.

So, what will you describe as your first real test?

My first real test, and I don’t want this to be personal, it involves the commission, and I must say we worked as a team to face our challenges. So, it is not Jega or any individual. We all worked together to face the challenges. 

The first major challenge we faced was the need to change the negative image of the commission, which was prevailing at that time. There was this belief, when we came in, that INEC was a rotten, corrupt organization, populated by people who did nothing but sold results to the highest bidder. 

We believed, when we came in, that unless INEC is cleansed of that image, it would be a herculean task to be able to conduct free, fair and credible elections. So that was the major task that we had to confront. 

And the way to confront it was, first of all, to examine the commission thoroughly.  And in doing so, we came to the conclusion that, really, a substantial majority of workers in the commission, whether at the headquarters or in the states, are actually honest people, doing honest job, under very difficult circumstances. That only a small number of staff had given the commission this very bad, negative image. 

We devised a strategy in which we found the bad eggs and also found a way of dealing with them. Where it was possible for us to draw the line, we drew it, and said, if you cross it, we’ll deal with you. Where we had to take disciplinary measures on the basis of past conduct; where we had very clear evidence, we went through the disciplinary process and we give room for fair hearing. If it required disciplinary action that meant, either warning, suspension or termination or dismissal, we did it. 

But we did it quietly, without making it a public issue, because if we had advertised it, that you have dismissed one person, the (newspaper) headlines will blow it and some people will use it to justify that entire negative image. But quietly and systematically, we cleansed INEC of those few bad eggs that were creating a negative image for INEC. 

We have also created a new framework for work. We made it very clear that we, as a commission, will do our best to do things right; that we will not break the rules and regulations. We will respect them and expect every staff of INEC to respect them and of course, whoever acted to the contrary would have himself or herself to blame. And I think by so doing, by living up our commitments and words, by really doing what we say, we have succeeded in having people, who have also been doing things the right way. 

However, you can never say that things are perfect. You cannot say that there are no people that would do things that are worrisome. But we have the machinery in place, to quickly identify wrongdoings, go through the due process and take a decisive action in that regard.

We have been very satisfied with what we done so far, but we still take bashing; unnecessary allegations and accusations. Fortunately, it is the nature of things and we take it in our stride. Everyday I open newspapers, particularly these days online, there are new accusations and allegations that I am being targeted, rather than the commission, but we take it in our stride.

There has been so much about 2015, and about electronic voting. What is the situation? Are we going to use it for 2015? And if not, why?

The constitution expressly prohibits electronic voting. Until and unless that prohibition is lifted, we cannot even contemplate doing electronic voting. But we have made a recommendation to the National Assembly, in the ongoing review of the constitution, for them to remove that prohibition. Once that prohibition is removed, it will give us the opportunity to begin to think about how and in what manner we will introduce electronic voting in our country. 

And it is only when we do that, that we can introduce it. This is because there are so many models of electronic voting in the world. We have to look at them, choose the one that is adaptable to the Nigerian circumstances, then we pilot them, and eventually procure the ones that can be used in Nigeria. 

Actually, it will take a very long process. But we cannot even begin that process, until that prohibition is lifted. To tell you honestly and frankly, we are now in mid 2013, even if the prohibition is lifted before the end of this year, I am not too confident that we may begin to introduce electronic voting in the 2015 elections. But we hope and pray that the prohibition is lifted. Once it is lifted and we apply ourselves to it, then we’ll know what is possible and what is not possible. 

So much has also been said about the permanent voter’s card. But barely two years to the 2015 general elections, little has been heard about it. Has the project been abandoned? There is also the issue of delimitation of constituencies. What is happening in that regard?

As for the permanent voter’s card, we have been working very hard to produce them. As I speak with you, over 50 percent of the permanent voters’ cards have been produced and we have taken possession of them. We have them in our stores. 

We gave the first contract for the production of 40 million permanent voters’ cards. Later, early this year, the Federal Executive Council approved the production of the remaining balance of 33, 500 000. The first 40 million have been produced and delivered to us, but we do not want to begin the process until virtually most of the cards get to us. Our hope is that, before the end of this year, we will begin to distribute the cards. 

Now, before we can produce one permanent voter’s card, we have to make sure that in our database, there is no duplication. We have to make sure that all the information contained in the card, is properly verified by the commission, and we have to make sure that there is a minimum of two fingerprints in the chip, for this card to be produced. 

So, it is a very careful, tedious job that we are doing, so that by the time we produce that card, and distribute them to the states, it will be useful for what we want to do in 2015. 

We intend to use the cards for the verification and authentication of voters in 2015. We will use card readers. When a voter comes with a card, that card will be scanned with a card reader, and then, he or she will put his or her fingerprint, which will be verified by a chip, that will determine whether that individual is the actual owner of the card or not. 

We believe that this will be a tremendous improvement of the electoral process, because if there were ghost voters before, there will none now. You cannot gather cards from people and give it to other people to come and vote. If politicians have the tendency to purchase voters’ cards, obviously, they cannot be used by other persons, unless you bring such persons to come and vote for you. 

So, we are doing everything possible to strengthen the integrity of the electoral process. We have also started awarding the contracts for the card readers. Already, the Federal Executive Council has approved the first batch; we are now doing the due process for the second batch. By 2014, we would have got all the card readers. By 2015, we intend to deploy a card reader and extras in each polling unit, to avoid the problems of battery or machine failure, so that the verification and authentication of voters can be done properly. 

On constituency delimitations, we have produced a programme of action for it that has already commenced. But there is still a lot to be done before you get the actual delimitation.

We started with sensitization. Recently, we had a retreat in Sokoto with all members of the committees on INEC, where we briefed them on our plans. After that, we had another retreat in Enugu, where we gathered all stakeholders and discussed the same plan. Then, we met with the different government agencies that we believed would necessarily partner with us for the delimitation exercise, such as the Surveyor General, the Population Commission, and even the National Space Agency. We have already exchanged the Memorandum of Understanding with them, to sort out the framework to do the constituency delimitation. 

The next stage is to have a general sensitization of the leadership of the National Assembly. From there, we’ll move to the states. Sensitization is very important because constituency delimitation is necessary in representative democracy. But in Nigeria, its purpose has been historically misunderstood or misconstrued. 

The whole idea about constituency delimitation is to ensure that constituencies are demarcated in such a manner that representatives of each constituency is near equal in population as the others. To ensure equality, or near equality of representation, which means that you have to define constituencies in such a manner that, plus or minus, it will not be so staggering. 

In Nigeria, we have 360 representatives in the National Assembly. If you divide the total population of Nigeria by 360, you will have a representative portion of close to 400,000 or more. So, a federal constituency should, barely, be about that number. But here, you will never have equality of representation because of so many variables, due to community interest, which is often taken into consideration. 

It is a very technical thing. It can be done scientifically, but unfortunately in Nigeria, when you begin to demarcate electoral constituencies, people think you are adjusting administrative boundaries. And you know the administrative boundaries are used for resource allocations. So, everybody will be up in arms, whether at the local government or even traditional rulers. They will start insisting that they will not want to be separated. It becomes politically charged.   

That is why we are doing a lot of sensitization. We want people to realize the objectives of the delimitation exercise for effective representative democracy. 

The sizes of constituencies differ. The disparity is so wide: from a federal constituency that is less than 200,000, to one that is almost over one million. The disparity is so wide that it looks at double the other one. It is important to do this, as contained in the constitution, which says, it (delimitation) should be done not less than 10 years after conducting a new census. 

If you look at that framework, we have exceeded when these things should be done. The last time it was done was in 1996. Other commissions attempted, but could not complete it. 

So, the last time we demarcated constituencies was almost 18 years ago, and it was even done during the military rule. It was not done properly; they just sat down and carved out areas and that explains these disparities. The last census was done in 2006, so we felt that let’s do it, because it is required by law and also important for our representative democracy. Our hope is that we will be able to finish it in good time, latest by the second quarter of next year before the 2015 election. 

What is your take on the idea of holding elections for all elective offices on the same day in the 2015 polls?

First of all, INEC has the power to set what they call the sequencing of elections. We are free to decide what combination of elections we would do, but it is implied in that provision of the Electoral Act that the elections would be staggered.

But the clear implication is that, it would be done sequentially. Unless that provision is amended, we cannot contemplate doing elections on a single day. If the constitution is amended and we are asked to do it, we would do our best to do it. But I can tell you that there are remarkable challenges in a country of our size, given our population and terrain, to be able to do all the elections in one day.     

I want you to just think: how many elections are we talking about? About six different elections. If you count: national assembly elections, Senate and House of Representatives, governorship, and then presidential elections, just imagine the ordinary average illiterate Nigerian on election day, being given five different ballot papers and being asked to go and put them in five different boxes. There would be a lot of errors, a lot of mistakes, even though we would do our best to minimise them. But they are almost unavoidable given our level of literacy. 

Secondly, it would now take longer to declare results and I think in Nigeria, what we want is quick counting and declaration of results. 

Look at Kenya. What is the population of Kenya? The population of Kenya is not more the population of one state in Nigeria. They did all their elections in one day and it took them more than seven days before they could declare the other results. In Nigeria, you can imagine the anxiety, confusion and tension that would arise, if you take so many days before you declare results.     

But what is even more interesting is that, recently, the chairman of the Kenyan electoral commission and I attended a conference in Cambridge University and he was asked a question during that conference that, ‘if you were to do anything differently, having done a successful election in Kenya, what would you do?’ He said, ‘I would stagger the elections.’ He would not do elections on the same day. That is Kenya with a small population. 

After the seminar, I went to him and said, ‘I will invite you to Nigeria to come and tell Nigerians this story,’ because people are saying Kenya and Ghana have done their elections in one day, why can’t Nigeria do it? There, in Kenya, they have done their best, but they are saying, if they have the opportunity, they would not do it again. 

The Anambra governorship election is about three months away. How prepared is INEC?

We are very much prepared. We are starting the continuous voters’ registration this week. We have finished training the youth corps members and our staff, who are going to do the continuous voters’ registration. The objective of the exercise is, first, to meet the requirement of the law that says that the register should be periodically updated before an election. 

Second and most importantly, to give an opportunity to those who did not register in January 2011 to register, and also to give the opportunity to all those who have become 18 years since that time to be able to register. 

Also, we are working very hard to make sure that through this continuous voters’ registration, we have also captured all those whose names were not on the electronic register, because there were all over the country; people who have registered legitimately but are not on the electronic register, maybe because the machine was faulty and the data was lost and we could not retrieve it. But we have the manual records that they registered and we have given them temporary cards. 

We know the areas, because when we did the elections in 2011, we used addendum registers. So, in Anambra state, we are working very hard and we are using the opportunity during the continuous voters’ registration to ensure that, wherever there was a faulty machine or missing names, or where addendum register was used, we would deploy equipment and ensure that all those people are given the opportunity to be captured again. We have given them this opportunity, but if they don’t use that opportunity, then they cannot come during the election in November and say that they should be allowed to vote. 

If you are not on the electronic register, you would not vote in the Anambra elections, and of course, what we are doing in Anambra, we would do it nationwide before the 2015 elections. Our hope is that to ensure that all these complaints about missing names are solved once and for all, and there is no question of addendum afterwards. 

We are doing quite a lot to ensure that the Anambra elections are remarkably much better than the Ondo, Edo or Ekiti elections that we have done. In every election we conducted, we learn the lessons and we factor them in for the next election.

Can you shed more light on the lessons learnt in the Ondo Ekiti and Edo elections?

The lessons were very clear. I think the persistent lesson we have been learning is about late commencement of elections. For example, we assume that registration would start, say about 8am and then voting would start at 12.30pm. Consistently, we have been improving, but we still need to do a lot to improve, such that we would reduce the complaints over late commencement. Those are some of the lessons. 

We have seen, in different countries, how poll workers sleep in polling units; they just wake up in the morning, clean themselves up, set up the place and do their election. Unfortunately, our schools and the places where we do our elections are not as good as those of the other countries that we have seen. 

Up to Edo and Ondo, all the materials, facilities and personnel would sleep at the wards, and in the morning, they go to the polling units. What we have been doing is to keep on refining the time. 

If you look at the percentage of the polling units that did not open by 8 am in April 2011, and you compare it to the percentage of polling units that did not open by 8 am in Edo, and you compare that with Ondo, there has been a remarkable improvement. 

By the time we did Ondo, over 85 percent of the polling units had opened by 8 am. But, ideally, every polling unit should open by 8am. The challenge is that, I am sorry to say, Nigerian reporters are looking for faults. If one polling unit did not open by 8 am, that makes the headlines, not taking into consideration the totality of the operation. 

But we are still doing our best to keep on improving. There are lessons with regard to training. We have discovered that when we train our ad-hoc staff normally, and again, because the expenditure for training is huge, you have to gather all the corps members, you have to provide them all with transport allowances; you have to pay them allowances for a number of days, it’s huge.

But because of the funding constraints, we have been spending an average of three days – two days for trainings, one day, hands –on. But as we move to Anambra for example, we said the more trained they are, the less mistakes that they are likely to make. So this time, beginning with Anambra state, we are doing five days of training: they have two days of theory and three days of hands-on. 

Is INEC getting the funds it requires to implement its objectives?

You know government funding comes from a common basket. There has to be revenue and once there is that revenue, then competing needs are addressed. 

All I can say is that, we go to the government, we go to the National Assembly and we present our budget. We do our best to defend what we have presented and hope that we are given the resources that we need to do our work. 

To be honest, since the April 2011 elections, we have received less and less funds than we have defended as what our needs were. Our hope as a commission, as we prepare for the 2015 elections, is that our needs would be looked at properly, so that our funding requirements are met. 

We have been having discussions with government agencies in charge of preparing the budget and we would do our best to defend the budget. They keep saying there isn’t money there to meet the needs of most government organisations and we appreciate the difficulties they have. But for us, if we don’t have a certain level of funding, we may not be able to do the excellent job that we want to do over and above what we did in 2011. 

So, it is give and take. We are still in discussion, but what is clear is that we are asking for a lot of money in 2014 because the elections are going to be early in 2015 and unless we get all the resources to do all the procurements in 2014, the money in 2015 would be too late for the elections. 

Those are the engagements we are doing. In other words, we are asking for money that is given in two budget years, but the money has to be given to us in one budget year because of the special peculiarities of what we need to do. The Budget Office and the Ministry of Finance are sympathetic, but they have their own challenges. I am sure they understand how important it is to continue to do better and have more credible elections, and I am sure they would be doing their best to see how they can support INEC to do that.

In the 2011 polls, INEC discovered up to a million election offenders, but only about 200 of them were prosecuted. What happened to the others?

I have said it consistently that first of all, the close to a million electoral offenders that we have, most of them are with regard to the biometric registration. They did multiple registration and we discovered it when we did the advanced finger print identification system. About 870, 000 cases are purely on multiple registration. We have the evidence, but it is what lawyers call open and close. Our legal department in INEC is small and at any time, they are busy with either pre-election, tribunal or nomination cases. 

So frankly, one will be right to say that INEC is overwhelmed in terms of prosecuting electoral offenders. That is why we have also made a recommendation to the National Assembly, in this review exercise that they are doing, that they should please take that recommendation of the Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais committee on the need to establish an Electoral Offences Commission, which would be saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting election offenders, so that we can concentrate our energy in doing other things. But until the law is reviewed, INEC is saddled with that responsibility and we would do it to the best of our ability, and that is why we are able to do up to 200 cases. 

Until this commission came in, there was not a single record of a successful prosecution of an electoral offender. There isn’t. We haven’t found it and nobody has shown it to us. But we have done our best by prosecuting slightly more than 200 cases, and we are determined to do more. 

Now that we plan to do continuous voters’ registration, we are going to prosecute even more. We have already instructed our Anambra state office to prosecute. We have sent them a list from the database, of all those who have done multiple registration in Anambra and we said, prosecute as many as possible, because we want it to be a lesson. And we are going to do it in each state as we launch continuous voters’ registration. 

What is your view on the renewed call for the government to fund political parties, as a means of checkmating the antics of moneybags that often hijack the parties to achieve their selfish interests?

Normally, funding of political parties is done under a legal prohibition. Neither the constitution, nor the Electoral Act has required INEC to fund political parties. 

When we came in, we found that the previous commission was funding political parties and we asked for the legal provision and there was none. We said, look, we are law abiding, we cannot do things like that. Even if they are good for the system, if there is no legal backing, we should be careful about doing it. 

Beyond that, when we came in, there were about 63 registered political parties and we discovered that many of them really were registered purely for the purpose of collecting the money that was being given to them. They were getting about N6 million annually and we felt that, it was serving as a disincentive for them to organize, because all they would do was to come collect the N6 million and just go away without mobilising anybody. 

They were not even maintaining offices in Abuja, which is a requirement of the electoral Act and the constitution. So, we said look, until there is a clear and categorical legal framework that says, fund political parties, and then the money is provided to fund political parties, we have to stop it. 

In some countries, parties are funded and they are funded because it is assumed that it is better for the state to fund parties than to allow individuals to fund them, in order to help ensure there is some funding foundation for all parties. It is good for democracy, but if we have to do it, we have to do it with very clear guidelines about how it should be done. 

For example, in some countries where it is done, it is not every party that is funded. But if you win a seat in the National Assembly, then there is a formula on the funding you get, depending on the number of seats or the percentage of your seats in the parliament.

There are different models out there about how political parties can be funded. The challenge for us is to look at those models and choose what best suits Nigeria and then to have a clear legal framework that supports that. 

What measures is INEC putting in place to nip in the bud, the sort of violence witnessed in previous elections in the country?

I think in November 2010, we had an international conference on the challenges of security in elections and the idea emerged that we should establish an inter-agency representative committee on election security. We made a proposal, it was accepted by all the security agencies and we established the inter agency committee on election. 

At the national level, it is co-chaired by the National Security Adviser and myself. We have representatives of all the security agencies – the military, para-military, State Security Service (SSS) including the Civil Defence, Customs, Prisons and the Fire Service. We have met regularly and it has been most useful in terms of coordinating the activities of the different security agencies and in terms of working together to achieve synergy and harmony in dealing with security challenges as they have emerged. I believe that effort has really helped us in dealing with the incidence of violence on election day. 

If you look at election day incidences of violence, they are not totally eliminated, but they were remarkably reduced, compared to what we had in 2007. As we moved from Ondo, Edo and Ekiti governorship elections that we have done, it (violence) was also less and less. 

It would never be perfect; there would always be some violence and aggressive youths out there, who are either acting on their own or are funded by some patrons to be disruptive. I must commend the security agencies. They have done remarkably much better in our previous elections. 

What is the way forward on the recent inconclusive polls in Oguta, Imo state?

We have issued a statement and said that we were not pleased with the activities of politicians during that election. There was supposed to be no movement; there was a clear order, since 2011, that politicians were not supposed to move around on election day.     

In Oguta, we have evidence that politicians, whether they are officials of the state government or national assembly members, or some leaders of political parties, were moving from one place to another and sometimes mobilizing thugs to disrupt the electoral process. 

Because of those activities, we had to cancel a number of results from certain polling units and the legal requirement is clear: if the number of cancelled results is such that it can make a difference in the declaration of results, then you do not declare the results. You consider the results as inconclusive until you hold elections in those places, where results were cancelled. 

That was what happened. We cancelled so many polling units and wards and by the time we did the tabulations, the difference between the party that was leading in votes and the next one was, I think, about 2,000 votes. The cancelled votes were, I think, about 4,000. So, clearly, there was no conclusive winner. 

Therefore, a return was not made because until a Returning Officer makes a return, election is not concluded. We are now supposed to conduct another election in those places. We are ready, but we need an absolute guarantee that the unwholesome and really condemnable activities of politicians would not repeat themselves again.

What do you make of the renewed clamour for Nigerians in the Diaspora to also be able to vote?

We have had series of engagement with Nigerian groups in the Diaspora and we are amendable. As a commission, we know that the global trend worldwide is to allow citizens in the Diaspora to participate in the electoral process. 

It is good practice. It is a trend and we would want to see it happen in Nigeria. Unfortunately again, our legal framework needs to be amended before we can even plan how we can do Diaspora voting, because our legal framework is clear: You have to register at a polling unit in Nigeria and you can only vote in the polling unit where you have registered. 

Until and unless those legal hindrances are addressed, we cannot even begin to plan the issue of Diaspora voting. But it is one of our recommendations to the National Assembly, to consider and review those provisions to ensure that those prohibitions are lifted.

Culled from Guardian

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Disclaimer: Content is the Opinion of the Author and is not in anyway representative of the Opinions of the Nigerian Election Coalition, WANGONeT, or the MacArthur Foundation except otherwise stated.


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