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INEC AND THE MODIFIED OPEN-SECRET BALLOT SYSTEM

By NBF News
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In its resolve to ensure that the April general polls are free and fair, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has adopted the Modified Open Ballot System (MOBS) for the conduct of the elections. This is the outcome of the recent meeting the commission held with the 37 Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in Abuja.

As explained by INEC, the MOBS is a modified version of the popular open ballot system used in the June 12, 1993 elections, widely acclaimed as the freest in the annals of the country. The Commission said that the difference between the two is that while the open ballot exposes to everyone at the polling booth the choice of a voter, the MOBS, though open, allows voters make their choice secretly.

Under MOBS, accreditation and release of ballot papers to a voter could be done openly, while the voter would thereafter retire, alone, to a private place to exercise his franchise. During the elections, accreditation of voters will commence at the same time throughout the country while voting will take place immediately after accreditation simultaneously across the federation.

After accreditation, nobody will be allowed to join the queue again. This is to prevent unaccredited persons from voting. Voters are enjoined to stay and ensure that their votes count. After voting, all votes must be counted and the results announced at the polling units before being entered into the Form EC40, which would be signed by representatives of the various political parties, security agents, INEC officials and other relevant stakeholders and pasted on the voting unit walls.

Also agreed at the parley was the appointment of Supervisory Polling Officers (SPOs) to monitor clustered wards during elections and ensure sanity and transparency. To this end, all the Polling Officers (PO), and Polling Assistants (PA) at the ward level are to report to the SPO.

The choice of MOBS was informed by the fact that it would stem the tide of malpractices in addition to guaranteeing the right and independence of voters to secretly make their choice during elections.

We heartily welcome the adoption of the MOBS for the forthcoming polls. In fact, INEC decision is in tandem with our earlier position on the issue. We think that anything that will help make this election transparent should be encouraged and supported by all.

But, we hasten to add that the success of MOBS will, to a large extent, depend on the people that will man the various posts during the elections. Like in previous elections, the area that is always problematic is the collation of results. It is here that most of the electoral frauds and infractions are committed. What Jega is postulating may appear reassuring but the truth is that the taste of the pudding is in the eating.

Therefore, let not Jega and his officials relax just because MOBS is in place, or think that they have got everything right. MOBS can only work and prove efficacious against rigging if those entrusted with conducting the polls do so with utmost integrity and honesty. Jega should evolve ways of dealing with unscrupulous INEC officials that would not mind bending the rules of the game for filthy lucre. Such misfits should be shown the way out. The open ballot system worked for Prof. Humphrey Nwosu and his officials in 1993 because they were committed to ensuring free and fair polls. They were not ready to compromise their position and integrity.

Jega should match words with action. He should talk less and act more. So far, he has spoken eloquently on his intentions for the polls. Very soon, all his theories will be tested on the field. It is there that we will know whether his theories hold water or not. Let Jega ensure that the first election goes well. He must put his best foot forward in the first election. If it sails smoothly, there is every likelihood that the rest will fall in line. If that happens, Nigerians will have confidence in the commission.

Besides, all Nigerians should cooperate with INEC to ensure that the polls are hitch-free. On no account should the elections be seen as INEC affair, alone. We must see ourselves as stakeholders by trooping out to vote and ensure that our votes count. We should not allow political hawks to hijack the ballot. Let INEC embark on massive enlightenment campaigns on the MOBS and other election-related matters. This should be done in English and other local languages so that the electorate will be well-informed about the modified open ballot system of voting.