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May 20, 2014
The Editor,
The Nation Newspapers,
27B Fatai Atere Way,
Matori, Lagos.
Re: 'A Case for e-Card Readers'
Permit me to provide explanation on certain processes of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) related to the upcoming governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states, which formed the subject matter of the editorial comment in your newspaper issue for Tuesday, May 20, 2014, titled as above. Your paper argued in essence that the impending governorship elections might not be credible unless the Commission deploys electronic card readers for the particular elections. But I will proceed to show that the credibility of the said elections is not fundamentally linked to deploying card readers. In other words, the Commission has put in place sufficient safeguards to make the Ekiti governorship election on June 21st and Osun governorship election on August 9th, 2014, free, fair and credible, even as electronic card readers will not be deployed. What is required now is for all stakeholders, especially the political gladiators, to commit themselves to scrupulous conduct in the processes of the elections.

Your editorial cited a recent comment by INEC's Resident Electoral Commissioner, Ambassador Rufus Akeju, on multiple registrants in Osun State as the basis for your doubting the credibility of the impending elections unless card readers are deployed. First, a clarification about figures: The editorial credited the Osun REC with saying at a recent forum in Osogbo that no fewer than 800, 000 voters have been found to have registered more than once in the state. Well, I have checked with the REC and truth is that he said no such thing. And official records clearly illustrate the implausibility of that claim. The total voter registration for Osun State from the 2011 exercise, by INEC's records, was 1, 355, 393. After subjecting the data to de-duplication with the Automated Fingerprints Identification System (AFIS) software, 37, 273 multiple registrations (representing 2. 75%) were detected and eliminated; leaving a balance of 1, 318, 120 voters. The Commission has some business rules for producing Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) that will henceforth be used for all elections, including the impending governorships in Ekiti and Osun states. Among them is that the biometric data of every voter for whom the card will be produced must contain at least four fingerprints â€' two from each hand â€' to make the card machine-readable when card readers are deployed in 2015. Upon the application of these rules, the valid number of registrants for whom PVCs were produced in Osun State came down to 1, 256, 569; meaning that 61, 551 (4. 6%) persons had defective data and needed to have come out for re-registration during the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) conducted from Wednesday, 12th March, 2014 to Monday, 17th March, 2014 â€' along with persons who newly turned 18 years and those who did not come out for registration in 2011 even though they were 18 years and above. The data of 149, 089 persons captured during the recent CVR is presently being treated with AFIS, to arrive at the final voter tally for Osun State.

Even though your editorial gave no figure about the voter population in Ekiti State, permit me to restate it here for public record. The total voter registration from the 2011 exercise was 766, 559. When the data was treated with AFIS, 77, 609 multiples (10. 12%) were detected and eliminated, leaving a balance of 688, 950 registrants. Upon the application of business rules for producing PVCs, the figure came down to 657, 256; meaning that 31, 694 registrants (4. 60%) had defective data and needed to have come out for re-registration during the CVR conducted in March simultaneously with Osun State. (By the way, that is the sense to make against the needless hysteria by some Enugu State partisans lately alleging 'disenfranchisement' of prospective voters, whereas all that has happened is that some have defective data and only need to come out for re-registration during the CVR commencing next week.) The data of 78, 875 persons captured during the CVR in Ekiti State has been treated with AFIS and the final voter tally is being announced in the state about now.

You would see the point, I hope, that there could not have been 800, 000 multiple registrants in the pre-CVR voter population of 1. 3million. But, without doubt, the impunity with which some compatriots commit electoral offences has needlessly compounded the political process in Nigeria and makes the task of INEC in conducting free, fair and credible elections much more arduous than it should be. That is what motivated the present Commission to devise elaborate strategies to check abusive tendencies. The editorial asked: how did unscrupulous persons get to register more than once? They did so by going to different polling units in different geographical locations to register, for whatever political gains they had hoped to make; because no one could register twice on the same Direct Data Capture (DDC) machine given the software loaded on the machines by INEC. But the Commission has been able to check this abuse with the use of AFIS at the progressive levels of data consolidation and de-duplication. The Commission has the records of persons who engaged in the malfeasance and will prosecute as many as is possible within its limited capacity under the subsisting legal framework.

For avoidance of doubt, cases of multiple registrations have been eliminated from the register, with only one instance retained for the culprits so that they are not completely denied the opportunity to vote. But they are ripe candidates for prosecution; and they would have only themselves to blame if they show up at polling units where the duplicates have been eliminated, because they will not find their names in those polling units. The painstaking processing of the registration data by INEC is what assures the integrity of the current National Register of Voters and makes it among the best that could be found anywhere on the African continent.

INEC will not use card readers for the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections and has never promised to do so. And the reason for this decision should be obvious: the Commission will be introducing Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) for the first time in Nigeria's electoral process during the two governorship elections. These are major elections, with prospects of high contestation; and it would be overreaching to introduce electronic card readers at the same time with PVCs. The Commission's plan is, and has always been: to introduce the PVCs in the upcoming governorship elections; pilot the card readers with PVCs in smaller by-elections that will come up before 2015; then, deploy the card readers with PVCs for the general election. The wisdom of this incremental procedure should be obvious from lessons learnt from other countries; for instance, the 2012 general election in Ghana where challenges that arose from simultaneous introduction of voter smart cards and card readers compelled the country to shift voting in some areas to the following day before the election could be concluded. Experiences are meant to be learnt from, and one way of learning from experience is to redesign approaches towards the same objective.

But let us be clear that the non-deployment of card readers will in no way detract from the credibility of the Ekiti and Osun elections. The procedure that INEC put in place for collecting the PVCs was designed to ensure that only legitimate holders are handed the smart cards; and as such, only legitimate holders can present the cards on Election Day. No one will be allowed to vote with a PVC that is not his or her own; and no other card beside that issued by INEC will pass the test of identification at the polling units. The real challenge is to get every duly registered voter to collect his/her PVC before Election Day, as the Commission will not be accepting Temporary Voter Cards (TVCs) for voter identification in the governorship elections. The use of PVCs should also lay to rest the incidence of people showing up at polling units on Election Day and claiming not to find their names in the register. Every eligible voters must be in possession of his/her card before Election Day, and therefore knows for sure that his/her name is in the register.

Rather than seek to pressurise INEC to deploy card readers in the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections (which it will not do), what stakeholders â€' including politicians and the media â€' can do to add value to the process is sensitise the voting populace on their civic responsibility, and mobilise persons who are yet to do so to collect their PVCs from designated points so at to be in good position to exercise their voting rights on Election Day.

A Word about Vanguard Editorial
Much of the explanation provided above should show how severely the editorial comment by Vanguard newspaper issue of Tuesday, May 20, 2014, and titled 'INEC Can Do More' suffers from lack of information. INEC has never said more than four million fake names were taken out of the voters' roll. That claim was made by Vanguard's own writer last Sunday (Jide Ajani) who was working with spurious statistics. The trend indicated for Ekiti and Osun states is not much different from what obtains for all other states across the country.

In any event, instances of multiple registrations that had not been eliminated as at the time the 2011 elections were conducted did not necessarily translate to multiple voting, given the Re-modified Open Ballot System (REMOBS) procedure that was adopted for the elections. If you had to queue up in one particular polling unit at a particular time simultaneously with every other voter across the country, you could not have gone around to other polling units and profit from your malfeasance even if you registered more than once. That is the futility of the whole multiple registration endeavour that this INEC has been calling attention to.

Written By Kayode Robert Idowu
Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman

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