THE Smart Card Reader (SCR) is a major route to an improved electoral system, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), said on Tuesday.
But the agency insisted that the SCR must be backed by law.
To achieve this among other reforms necessary to allow it conduct elections in a better atmosphere, INEC will spearhead a massive reform of the electoral law, its Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said.
Yakubu spoke against the backdrop of the lamentation by INEC’s National Commissioner (Voter Education), Mr. Festus Okoye, that politicians are circumventing the Smart Card Reader.
Okoye said the SCR has lost “its vibrancy” because politicians have found a way around it.
But Prof. Yakubu said INEC would engage the National Assembly to give SCR the legal backing.
Yakubu, who spoke at a meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs), said: “The judgment of the Supreme Court on the primacy of the voter register as the determinant of over-voting in law merely draws attention to the lacuna in the electoral legal framework.”
He added: “The status of the SCR must be provided for and protected by law. Similarly, accreditation data from the SCR should be used to determine over-voting and the margin of lead principle.
”The commission will present a proposal to the National Assembly on this matter as well as other areas in which further deployment of technology will deepen the integrity of our electoral process.
“Let me reiterate that the SCR has come to stay. It cannot be jettisoned or abandoned.
”The commission will seek ways by which its utility in elections can be enhanced for the triple objectives of verification of the genuineness of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), confirmation of ownership and fingerprint authentication of voters.
The INEC chairman also said 807 post-election cases arising from the 2019 general elections were filed at the tribunals. About 582 of them were dismissed, 183 withdrawn by the petitioners, 30 scheduled for re-run and 12 for issuance of certificates of return.
Yakubu said the commission was required to conduct re-run in 30 constituencies across 12 states of the federation.
He said: “In a majority of cases, elections are to be re-run in just a few polling units, some of them in only one polling unit in the entire constituency. Elections were held in 1,558 constituencies nationwide in the 2019 general elections.
“The 30 constituencies into which re-run elections will be conducted represent 1.92 percent of the total number of constituencies. The commission believes that we are making progress in this respect.
Yakubu frowned at the allegation by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) that the commission connived with ruling All Progressives Congress and the military to rig elections in some states.
He said it was inconceivable that INEC would want to sabotage itself.
Yakubu lamented that elections were threatened by impunity, which can only be curtailed by the enforcement of sanctions.
The INEC boss said that the only way to safeguard the sanctity of the electoral process was to ensure that offenders, no matter how highly placed, were severely punished when caught .
He, however, assured that INEC would continue to work with the National Assembly and other stakeholders to see to the realization of the Uwais Committee on Electoral Reforms (2008) on the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal.
He stressed: “It is inconceivable that INEC will make elaborate arrangement for the deployment of personnel and materials and then turn around to undermine ourselves in the field on election day. Impunity has become the bane of our elections.
“The best antidote to impunity is the enforcement of sanctions under our laws without fear and favour. Where offenders are not punished, bad behaviour is encouraged.
”The commission is deeply concerned that elections in Nigeria, especially for executive positions, are increasingly characterised by brazen acts of impunity. The commission plans for all elections to be successfully concluded and for the will of the people to prevail.
”The commission will continue to work with the National Assembly and all stakeholders for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal recommended by the Uwais Committee on Electoral Reforms (2008); the Lemu Committee on post-election violence (2011) and, most recently, the Ken Nnamani Committee on constitutional and electoral reform (2017).
”At the moment, INEC is saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders. We have drawn public attention to our constraint in this regard. We have no capacity to arrest offenders and conduct investigation without which successful prosecution is impossible.”
Yakubu lamented that politicians sponsored thugs who disrupted and circumvented elections.
He cited instances where those arrested for disrupting elections and perpetrating violent were never prosecuted.
Yakubu said: “Over the years, we have worked closely with the Nigeria Police Force. Since 2015, we have received a total of 149 case files, including 16 cases arising from the 2019 general elections. The cases are prosecuted in the states where the alleged offences were committed. ”Unlike pre-election and post-election cases, there is no timeframe for the prosecution of electoral offenders.
“A case may go on for several years. Some of the cases were dismissed for want of diligent prosecution while in some states, the Attorneys-General entered nolle prosequi to get the alleged offenders off the hook.
He added: “Even where the commission recorded the most successful prosecution of electoral offenders following the violence witnessed in the Minjibir bye-election in Kano State in 2016, it is unclear how many of the 40 offenders sentenced to prison with the option of fine actually spent time in jail.
“The fine was paid presumably by their sponsors. That is why we believe that the Electoral Offences Commission and tribunal will dispense justice dispassionately and speedily in the same way that the electoral court deals with violators in other countries such as South Africa.
”We also hope that the security agencies will get to the root of all violations and support the commission to prosecute not just the thugs that terrorise voters and INEC officials, snatch election materials at polling units and collation centres, but their sponsors as well.”
The move by INEC seems to be a U-turn from its earlier position that SCR, introduced in 2015 , had outlived its usefulness.
One of its National Commissioners, Festus Okoye had last month said, INEC must find solution to the issue of smart card reader. The smart card reader has lost its vibrancy in relation to the electoral process, because the political elite has found a way around it.
“So, rather than use the smart card reader, they just ignore it, because ultimately, they know that when they get to the court, what the court will be saying is that: you want to prove over voting? We want to see the voter register and we want the INEC forms and not the smart card reader.”