NIGERIANS will on Saturday February 14, 2015 be filing out to elect their President to manage the affairs of state for the next four years. Also to be elected that day, are those who will be making laws for the nation at both chambers of the National Assembly, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Closely following this all important date is February 28, a day the electorate would be obliged to elect the state governors and members of states Houses of Assembly.
However, there are concerns over the readiness of the electoral umpire to midwife the process given the array of challenges confronting it, particularly the seeming shuddy distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) to the electorate who has the responsibility to utilize same to vote candidates of their choice in the forth coming elections.
Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Professor Attahiru Jega, a man known for his unwaivering integrity has repeatedly maintained that the commission is ready to conduct  free, fair and credible polls in February despite obvious hiccups which have presented themselves in the form of the poor permanent voter cards distribution, loss of data of eligible voters necessitating a re-registration.
There exist instances where data involving the entire voters in a polling unit is lost and every affected voter was compelled to re-register. As we speak, the permanent voter cards for this category of voters are yet to be produced and released for distribution to their respective owners who are expected to use them for the February 14, 2015 presidential election.
The electoral commission is obviously walking a tight rope in the sense that its quest to maintain its integrity and avoid a repeat of the hurried 2011 polls shift, owing to its failure to deliver the sensitive materials needed for the conduct of the National Assembly elections initially slated for April 2nd, 2011.
The experience of the adjustment in the dates of that year’s polls saw the National Assembly election shifted to April 9, 2011, while the presidential and gubernatorial elections dates were moved to April 16, and 26, from their original scheduled dates.
Despite the initial outrage that greeted the failure by the INCE to ensure the conduct of the polls as scheduled, Nigerians found reasons adduced by the commission as cogent and verifiable.
Two weeks to an all important election, the presidential election in Nigeria where the president that will manage the affairs of the over 170 million people will be chosen, over 20 million voters are yet to access their permanent voter cards (PVC).
According to statistics released by the INEC on Tuesday January 27, 2015, out of the 68, 833,476 registered voters whose PVCs had been issued by the electoral body, only 42,779,339 eligible voters representing 62.15% had collected their PVCs.
This number does not include the over five millions voters who had to be re-registered following the loss of their data from the INEC’s data base, whose cards are yet to be delivered to them.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammad Saad Abubakar III and Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State belong to this last category of eligible voters who might not have the opportunity to cast their ballots to candidates of their choice should the status quo ante remains.
To this category of voters, their enthusiasm to participate in the general elections not withstanding, the electoral umpired has hamstringed and disenfranchised them from performing their civic duties.
Many have continued to ask when did INEC get it wrong this time around? Even as this question can be perceived to be a hasty conclusion on the electoral umpires performance regarding its preparations towards the February polls as there are other laudable and lofty innovations introduced to ensure a fraud-free election, many believe that the electoral body had under estimated the enormity of the burden of the permanent voter cards distribution which it allocated a paltry three-day on its schedule of activities leading to the polls.
Analysts believe that the INEC apart from failing in its decision to alot only three days for the distribution of 68 million cards, it was also a serious error of judgement in its refusal to return the cards distribution process to the polling units where the voters can easily pick up the cards; rather, it chose to dump the cards at the respective INEC Local Government Offices across the country.
Many prospective voters who thronged these locations for their PVCs were not all successful as many could either not found their names on the INEC register or could not find their cards despite the presence of their names on the electoral umpire’s register.
The question on the lips of many now is what explanation the INEC is offering those enthusiastic Nigerian electorate who through no fault of theirs will not be able to participate in the elections especially now that the PVC distribution exercise has officially closed.
To answer these questions, several suggestions have been put forward. While some are made in the light of a possible postponement of the polls by one month or so, to allow the INEC ample chance to produce and distribute the PVCs from the Continued Voter Registration and Re-registration exercises, others wish the use of the Temporary Voter Cards (TVCs) that were used in the 2011 elections.
Advocates of the use of the TVCs including members of the House of Representatives believe that it would check the iminent disenfranchisement of willing voters who are yet to procure their PVCs.
But this position has been faulted by those who believe that the use of the TVC will encourage a repeat of incidences of over voting and possible ballot boxes stuffing which patriotic Nigerians are currently born against.
The National Security Adviser Col Sambo Dasuki (Rtd) had last week stirred the honest nest in his suggestion of a possible postponement of the polls to enable the electoral body to deal decisively with obvious challenges currently facing the commission’s plans for the all important election.
While some out of genuine concern for things to be done properly support the call, the opposition party particularly the All Progressive Congress is vehement in its opposition to the idea of poll shift, accusing proponents of the idea as flying the kite for the Jonathan Administration to lash on to order a shift in the polls dates.
The APC accuses the PDP federal government of plotting to shift the election from the original scheduled dates because it has discovered it won’t win the elections if they are conducted as scheduled.
The party’s Publicity Secretary Alhaji Lai Muhammed has been upbeat in linking Col Samble’s call with what he called the Jonathan administration’s plans to scuttle and manipulate the processes leading to the polls.
These kind of fears are not un expected from an opposition political party desperately wishing to take over power from an unwilling sitting government to ceed power to opposition party.
But both the PDP and the Federal Government had described Col Sambo’s call in his lecture to the Chathan House, London last week, as innocuous and one made out of genuine concern for a free electoral exercise in the face of daunting challenges confronting the electoral umpire regarding its preparations towards delivering on its promise of credible elections.
But one is not surprise at the position of the opposition APC and those opposed to possible shift in the dates of the elections following fears in some quarters that such a development would have a damning impact on the current temple of activities among the critical stakeholders, particularly the political parties which might have to incur more cost in terms of mobilizing support in the event of a shift in the election dates.
As germane as this view might be, the thought that some enthusiastic eligible voters who after subjecting themselves to the processes of the INEC would still be disenfranchised calls for a deliberate step to accommodate them in what ever way possible without necessarily violating the Electoral Act or compromise the plans by INEC to deploy the technology of the card reader which will boost the credibility of the polls
INEC has it as a duty to do all within its constitutional powers to stave off current inter party wrangling over the feasibility or otherwise of the polls dates shift by coming out clean with possible options to accommodate the interest of every stakeholder in the electoral process. The only way to do this is the return of the distribution of the PVCs to the polling units where the voting public can easily collect them.
The electoral umpire has got a lot of lessons to learn from present case scenarios.
Save for the tested integrity and commitment of Professor Attahiru Jega to the sanitization of the nation’s electoral system, the commission would have best been described as lousy and inept in its approach and preparation towards the 2015 polls.
This is because the commission had a whopping four years to prepare for the fourth coming elections but refused to act when it needed to thereby plunging the nation into these unnecessary controversies.
Let us believe the INEC who despite obvious lapses still maintains that the scheduled election dates are sacrosanct.

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