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Towards credible governorship election in Anambra

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The Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has reiterated the agency’s commitment to a democratic, credible and peaceful governorship poll in Anambra State during a meeting with representatives of political parties in Abuja.

During our last meeting held on 17th June 2021, we focused mainly on the resumption of the nationwide Continuous Voter Registration (CVR). More specifically, we discussed the schedule for the exercise as well as the Commission’s proposal for a two-tier online and in-person or physical registration of voters. We also presented to you two technology-driven innovations to facilitate the CVR exercise in the form of a portal for online pre-registration of voters as well as the new INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED) for physical registration.

Since the resumption of the CVR online on 28th June 2021, we have been giving Nigerians weekly updates on the progress of the exercise which has entered its 11th week today. As of 7am today, Monday 6th September 2021, 2,729,819 fresh voters have pre-registered online. Similarly, we have been giving weekly updates of the physical registration in our State and Local Government offices nationwide. We started on 26th July 2021. So far, 717,947 Nigerians have completed their registration at the designated centres.

With the benefit of technology, we have also been providing detailed information on the cumulative distribution of registered voters by age, occupation, gender and disability on weekly basis. By doing so, we hope leaders of political parties will use the information in articulating your manifestos and planning your campaigns to target the concerns of specific categories of citizens. For instance, in terms of age, young Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 34 constitute 65% of new registrants and 72 percent of completed registrations so far. In terms of occupation, students constitute 32 percent of the new registrants and 42 percent of completed registrations and remain the largest category since the exercise began 11 weeks ago. The latest detailed statistics have been uploaded to the Commission’s website and social media platforms. Hard copies are also included in your folders for this meeting.

Today’s meeting focuses on the Anambra State Governorship election. When the Commission released the Timetable and Schedule of Activities eight months ago on 19th January this year, we informed Nigerians that the election will hold on 6th November 2021. Today, it is exactly two months (or 60 days) to the election. As you are aware, the Commission devolved the CVR to the 326 Registration Areas (or Wards) in addition to the 21 Local Government offices and the State Office of the Commission. The physical exercise was suspended yesterday, i.e. 60 days to the election as required by Section 9(5) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). However, the online pre-registration option will continue to be available but no appointment for completion of registration can be scheduled until after the election.

The Commission will use the next few weeks to compile the register of voters for claims and objections, clean up the data, print the PVCs for collection by registrants and compile the register for each of the 5,720 polling units in the State. I want to assure every newly registered voter in Anambra State, including those who applied to transfer from within and outside the State or for the replacement of damaged or lost PVCs that their cards will be printed and made available to them for collection before the election. Each political party fielding candidates in the election will be given a copy of the voters’ register on 7th October 2021 as published in the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the elections.

While working on the register of voters, the Commission has also been continuously innovating on how to strengthen the credibility of voter accreditation and result management during elections in Nigeria. As always, the deployment of appropriate technology is crucial and desirable. The introduction of the machine-readable PVC combined and Smart Card Reader (SCR) were important innovations. So too is the uploading of polling unit results in real-time on Election Day. The reality is that technology always advances with the passage of time. Consequently, the Commission must keep pace with the ever-changing world of global information and communication technology. We are at one such crossroad at the moment.

For some time, many stakeholders, including leaders of political parties, have called on the Commission to strengthen the voter accreditation process during elections, especially with reference to the use of incident form where the SCR fails to authenticate the fingerprints of a voter. Such concern is legitimate given the fact that the SCR successfully verifies any card that belongs to the polling unit for which it is configured irrespective of who presents it. Their apprehension, therefore, is that using the incident form to cover those whose fingerprints are not authenticated by the SCR, a voter may be able to use another person’s PVC to vote during an election.

To address this concern, the Commission attempted to introduce the facial biometric authentication during accreditation of the voters, using the Z-Pad tablet to complement the fingerprint process through the Card Reader before the Edo Governorship election in September 2020. However, the Commission was not entirely satisfied with the pilot held in the Nasarawa Central State Constituency bye-election a month earlier in August 2020. We therefore suspended the idea to enable us to do some more work. Over the last one year, we reviewed the situation and we think we have found the appropriate technology to address it. The Z-pad was therefore only used to upload Polling Unit results to the IReV portal during elections.

The functionality of the Z-pad has now been integrated into the IVED currently used for voter registration. On election day, the same device will used for the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) for fingerprint authentication during accreditation and where it fails for facial authentication. We believe that this multi-layer process will eliminate the possibility of voting by identity theft using another person’s PVC. Where the voter fails both the fingerprint and facial authentication, he/she will not be allowed to vote. In other words, no electronic authentication, no voting. We are convinced that the new machine is robust enough to further guarantee the credibility of voter authentication and transparent management of results during elections. Accordingly, the Commission intends to carry out a pilot exercise using the new device in Delta State during the Isoko South 1 State Assembly constituency bye-election holding this weekend (Saturday 11th September 2021). The BVAS will now perform the functions of both the SCR and Z-Pad in the bye-election. Thereafter, it will be deployed in the Anambra Governorship election in November. There will be a presentation of the new device and a practical demonstration of its functions to Chairmen and leaders of political parties at this meeting.

I cannot conclude my remarks without touching on the issue of litigations, particularly the conflicting orders emanating from Courts of coordinate jurisdiction. I am aware that some of the cases are still in Court and therefore sub judice. I must say that some of the decided cases are making our work difficult and we have been crying out loud for a long time. In particular, some pre-election litigations relating to the nomination of candidates for elections were not determined until after the elections. Consequently, in some instances, political parties were declared winners without candidates to immediately receive the Certificates of Return on account of protracted and conflicting litigations or where Courts rather than votes determine winners of elections. This situation is compounded by cases on the leadership of political parties, thereby making the exercise of our regulatory responsibilities difficult. It appears that in a number of electoral cases in Nigeria today, the settled law is now unsettled and the time-honoured principle of Stare decisis does not seem to matter any longer. What is most disconcerting for us is that the more INEC strives to improve the credibility and transparency of our electoral process, the more extraneous obstacles are put in our way through litigations. However, the Commission appreciates the recent statement by His Lordship the Chief Justice of Nigeria as well as the strongly worded concern by the Nigerian Bar Association. We will work with both the Bar and the Bench to defend the electoral process in the best interest of our democracy. By the same token, as Chairmen and leaders of political parties, you have a role to play. I wish to remind you that INEC is both an umpire and a regulator. The Commission is an umpire in dealing even-handedly with political parties collectively, but when it comes to the management of intra-party affairs, it is a regulator. We will play our role decisively.

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