Text of a paper delivered by the State Director, National Orientation Agency, NOA Edo State. Directorate. Mrs Magdaline Umunnah, at the annual citizens’summit of the National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) at the NAS Anchor Point No. Irhirhi Road, Off Oko-Ogba Road, Benin City, on Saturday, January 10, 2015.
FIRST, let me express profound appreciation to the National Association of Seadogs for the invitation extended to me to present a paper on “Voting Process”. I sincerely appreciate the invitation because it is timely and the subject I have been requested to dwell on is critically relevant and quite expedient as we gradually approach the 2015 General Elections.
I have taken the liberty to amend the topic assigned to me as you will observe on the cover page, in order to effectively situate this discussion within the context of the forthcoming 2015 General Elections. The invitation extended to me specifically requested that I present a paper on “Voting Process”. I have amended the topic to read “2015 General Elections:
Voting Process.” This amendment is justified because the term “Voting Process” can not be adequately discussed in isolation. It should be discussed within a contextual framework. For the purpose of this paper. it shall be discussed within the purview of the guidelines for the conduct of the 2015 General Elections in Nigeria. In carrying out this task, this paper will briefly examine the concept of election, as well as, the rights and responsibilities of the voter, who are initial, is the principal actor in the voting process. The paper will also gloss through the relevant section of the Electoral Act which empowers the body charged with election management to determine the voting process to be adopted for an election.
Before I proceed, permit me to commend the National Association of Seadogs for the choice of the theme of this sensitization programme. The focus and attention of the theme on “Electoral Credibility” as well as the search for “The Way Forward” are in consonance with the vision, commitment and determination of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s transformation agenda in the political sector, and indeed, Nigeria’s electoral power house – the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC – to effectively deliver on their promise to conduct free, fair, transparent and credible elections in 2015 Beyond this the choice of the theme, is in tandem with the deep concern of international and national stakeholders in the Nigerian electoral process on the need to ensure that the pulls in February 2015 adhere to global best practice in election management.
On this note, I wish to acknowledge and commend the significant role and active participation of the organisers of this Voter Education platform in bring issues of public interest to limelight as well as contributing to nation building. The deep interest your
association has shown in disseminating election information and the deepening of the country’s democratic experience through information sharing and sensitization efforts such as this are quite commendable. I urge you to keep up the spirit. Your engagement and partnership like those of other non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations and community based organisations are the impetus which Government requires to effectively implement its transformation agenda, especially in the political sector.
As the nation prepares for the 2015 General Elections, it is important to understand and appreciate the true essence of the exercise. It will amaze some people that a good number of our citizens do no know what election is all about and why there is a need for the exercise to take place with in a democratic environment. The term “Election” has been described as the process of selecting a person to occupy a position or office. It is a key element in democratic practice globally. Since Nigeria transited from military dictatorship to democratic rule 1999, the nation has witnessed other general elections in 2003, 2007 and 2011 pockets of gubernatorial elections as well as bye-election into various state and national assemblies have been held outside the General Elections years mentioned earlier elections have also held at the local government levels. The concept or idea of an election is no longer new to Nigerians. It is a concept that has come to remain and will be used continuously to determine those who will govern the nation at all levels. In accordance with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. elections into public officers such as that of President, Governor, members of the state and federal legislatures must hold at the end of their tenure every four years.
Essentially, an elaborate meaning of an election covers all the processes which include accreditation of voters, casting of votes or one’s preferred candidate, counting of votes, collating and announcement of results. In some cases, it also extends to the final determination of cases arising free litigations. From the foregoing .. it is very clear that voting alone in a unit or polling booth does constitute an election in itself but the voter is king in an election. The choices they make determines who emerges as the winner.
For an election to be free, fair and credible . all stakeholders are required to abide by the rules set out by the Electoral empire. The umpire is also expected to adept a non partisan
posture from the beginning to the end of the process. Special courts referred to as Tribunals deal with petitions arising from the election.
THE RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE VOTER
A voter in every election occupies and plays a very important process, the voter in an election is a person who has the right to vote. In the context of this paper, since our focus is on Nigeria, the person must be a Nigerian citizen who has attained the age of l8 years and is duly registered to vote. For the purpose of the 2015 General Elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission has announced that only persons with the Permanent Voters Card, PVC, will be eligible to vote. In effect, anyone who does not possess the Permanent Voters Card stands disqualified and can therefore not participate in the voting process.
Chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution details the rights of every Nigerian citizen. The same constitution guarantees the right of every citizen who is of age to register to vote. It also provides for the right to vote and be voted for. To be voted for, a person must put himself forward as a candidate for an elective office and must the sponsored by a political party. The voter also has the right to recall an elected representative. In addition the voter has the right to cast his ballot in secret.
Rights come with responsibilities. For the voter, it is his duty to ensure that he is duly registered and for the purpose of the 2015 General Elections, it is his duty to ensure that he collects or takes possession of his Permanent Voters Card. It is the responsibility of the voter to also conduct himself in an order manner throughout the voting process. Beyond these, the voter is expected to obey all electoral laws as well as report all cases of electoral malpractice to the appropriate authorities.
The rights and responsibilities of the voters are very crucial. They are the planks upon which the voting process and indeed democratic practice thrives.
THE VOTING PROCESS
The 2014 Electoral Act empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission, the body charged with the management of elections in Nigeria to determine the form of voting it chooses to adopt, whether it is electronic or otherwise. Section 152(2) of the Act which is the product of a recent amendment stipulates that “voting in an election under this Act shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Independent National Electoral Commission.’ indications emanating from the Commission suggest that in the near future, the body may adopt Electronic voting. The gravitation from manual to electronic voting processes is already manifesting with the intention of the Commission to use Card Reading machines for the accreditation of eligible voters in the 2015 General Elections.
The current voter register is electronic driven. Each permanent voters card contains the biometric data of its owner’. The prospective voter is expected on the election days to go to the polling booth where he registered with his permanent voters card. At the point of accreditation, he is executed to present his card to the Presiding Officer who will insert it into the card reading machine. As soon as that is done, it will pop up the data, which is an indication that it is an INEC card. If the data does not pop up or show in the screen means the card is not from INEC. It was probably cloned.
If the data pops up when the permanent voters card is inserted, the card holder must be finger printed. If the finger print does not match the one that is embedded in the chip in the card, the card will be rejected. Obviously, the card holder must be carrying and using another person’s card what are the implications of the introduction of the card reading machine for accreditation purposes’? what are the merits of INEC’S insistence that the Permanent Voter Card is the only card that will be acceptable for accreditation during the 2015 General Elections? These questions must be answered against the backdrop of INEC genuine intentions to ensure that the Forthcoming elections are devoid of those negative features which bedeviled previous polls before now and mitigated against the Commissions commitment to conduct free, fair, transparent and credible elections.
The advantage l the accreditation process using the permanent voters cards along with the card reading machine is to enhance voter authentification at each polling booth/unit. It is also designed to guard against electoral fraud. It is also intended to checkmate the incidence of multiple registration as well as multiple voting. The security features that come along with Permanent Voter’s Cards make it absolutely difficult for those allegedly buying or stock pilling voters cards for the purpose of rigging during the forthcoming election.
The Voter Identification Number on each card is unique to the card holder. The embedded chip in the card is the one that harbors the biometric data of each voter. There is no way any one can change the biometric data of another person. That is the security feature developed to ensure that only genuine card holders can effectively use their cards on the voting day.
In order to further enhance the credibility of the voting process. the card reading machines have been designed to record, store and transmit information on the number of accredited persons during and after the accreditation process from each polling booth to the central Data Base of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Abuja. The stored information on the card reading machine also provide the Presiding Officer with the required information on accreditation which is expected to be entered into the relevant results sheets at the polling booths/units before they are taken to the respective collation centres. Moreso, the number of votes cast can not be more than the number of persons accredited by the reading machines.
From the foregoing, it is clear that this is the first time the Independent National Electoral Commission will be using card reading machines in an election in Nigeria. It is an attestation to the fact that the nation is gradually moving from manual processes to infusing technology into its voting process and election culture. This development is in deed a milestone. It is radically different from what many of us used to know.
Beyond these novel introduction into the voting process all other elements relating to format, and sequence of the election processes remain unchanged. Officially Polls will open at 8.00am and close at 4.00pm. Voting commences at 12.00 noon upon the completion of accreditation. Voting will as usual be guided by electoral officials led by the Presiding Officers. Security personnel will also be on hand to maintain law and order.
At the point of voting, each accredited voter will be issued with a ballot paper. The voter is expected to thumb print in the column of the party or candidate of his choice. The must be done in secret without anyone influencing the other. It is an offence to canvass for votes at the pulling unit.
INEC’S REFORMS REQUIRE OUR SUPPORT
It will be recalled that at the end of the 2011 General Elections, independent International and domestic observer groups noted that despite the challenges that confronted the conduct of the exercise, the elections were among the most credible the country has ever witnessed.
To a very large extent, the of the elections reflected citizen’s choice at the ballot box. Majority of the polling stations across the country functioned property, just as INEC demonstrated greater transparency in the ballot counting process and the first time election result posted at the polling units all of which contributed to citizen’s confidence in the outcome of the election.
Since the April 2011 General Elections, a number of state gubernatorial elections and bye-elections into the state and National Assembly seats have been held. I refer here to the elections in Edo, Ondo, Anambra, Ekiti and Osun States and the outcome of the elections in most of the cases have so far confirmed this trend toward INEC’s commitment to conduct a more peaceful transparent and credible election process. The introduction of an electronic driven voter register and the deployment of card reading machines for the 2015 General Elections must be seen therefore as a giant step in the drive by INEC to significantly reform the nation’s electoral process. They require the support of all stakeholders to succeed.
The point must be made here that whenever elections are scheduled to hold in Nigeria the genuine concerns and demand for a credible and transparent exercise transcends the boundaries of this nation. Just as Nigerians would earnestly wish that the outcome of the elections reflect the wishes of the people, in the same vein the international community would want to see that the electoral process leading to the outcome of the elections at every stage is credible transparent and in accordance with global best practices. In this regard, it is important to appreciate the immense pressure under which the Independent National Electoral Commission is working to meet the aspirations of all stakeholders. We must give our electoral body the support it deserves and requires from us. We must help the Commission to educate the public and prospective voters to accept the new reforms intended to make our electoral process more transparent and credible.
There are barely 35 days to the Presidential and Gubernatorial elections; and 49 days before the state and national assembly elections. Sharing information on the voting process for the elections is good enough. It is also important that we continue to sensitize the public on the need for persons who are yet to collect their permanent voters cards to do so urgently. People who are yet to register. especially young persons who have just come of age should take advantage of the on-going continuous registration by INEC to register and collect their cards. Following a presidential directive a few days ago, INEC has decentralised the on-going distribution of the permanent voter cards to the ward levels. Before now the distribution was done at the local government area office of INEC. It is expected that this measure will enhance access by persons who are yet to collect their cards.
This paper will be incomplete if one fails to make appeals in respect of the need for all stakeholders to promote the ideals of peace and good sportsmanship during the 2015 General Elections. For certain, there will be winners and losers after the elections, that should however not be an excuse for anyone to take to violence. Destruction of lives and properties won’t do us any good.
Key players in the mobilisation and sensitization of voters must also take adequate time to educate their supporters on how to properly thumb print ballot papers in order to reduce the incidence of void votes. This too will enhance the credibility of the voting process.
Finally I wish to thank the organisers of this event once more for the opportunity to make this presentation. I thank you for your time and patience.