MID-WEEK ESSAY: To Postpone or Not to Postpone? – That is the Question

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  • MID-WEEK ESSAY:  To Postpone or Not to Postpone? – That is the Question
    by
    Mobolaji E. Aluko, PhD
    February 5, 2015



PROLOGUE
By the time you read this essay on Thursday, February 5, 2015,   all indications are that Nigeria’s Council of State must have met – or will be in a crucial meeting – in Abuja.  The main agenda will be the ongoing electoral process that should begin on February 14 with Presidential and National Assembly elections, and end on February 28 with Gubernatorial and State Assembly elections.  One can imagine that key discussions will follow a thorough briefing – by INEC Chairman Prof. Jega or his designated proxy or pinch-hitter –  and will include information about
(1)   the total number of Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs)  available for distribution vis-a-vis the Eligible Voters count of 68,833,476.  Ideally these two numbers should be equal.  INEC now says that indeed that is the case, and that  it has printed all 68.8 million cards. Fine, but have ALL the latest printed cards – that is, largely for those who registered AFTER June 2014 –  now been distributed to ALL the states yet, and signed for, someone in the Council of State will ask?  Can they all be distributed before February 14?
(2)   the number of PVCs actually collected by eligible voters vis-a-vis the number of PVCs already available for collection.  Again, these two should be equal.   INEC says that at 45,098,876 collected, this represents a respectable 66%, which could increase by February 8 or even by Feb 13 if need be to 70-80%.  That is not 100%, but much higher than traditional turnout rates in Nigeria of 30-50%.
(3)  the number of card readers available in each state.  There should be at least one per polling unit PU and/or voting station VS  (VS = 1 to 3 x PUs, the latest innovation by INEC).  There are 120,000 PUs in the country, and   INEC states that it has sent ALL needed card readers to the States, which has been attested to by a number of REC (Resident Electoral Commissioners).  Finally
(4)  the  Boko Haram situation in the North-East geo-political zone (particularly in the besieged states of   Borno, Yobe, and Bauchi, and parts of Gombe and Adamawa) which has led to many internally displaced persons (IDPs) – as many as near 1 million –  with fear that they and even others not displaced will be discouraged from coming out to vote, and hence disenfranchised.  INEC states that it is doing everything to include the IDPs under special arrangement.
Despite all of INEC’s assurances, my gut feeling now is that the elections will be postponed from six to eight weeks framed by the Easter season by the Federal Government under cover of the Council of State, but within constitutionally-allowed period before the sacrosanct hand-over date of May 29, if “tenure elongation hidden agenda” is not to be claimed. Elections will most likely now hold April 11 and April 25 AFTER Easter – which is Sunday April 5 this year.
AN IMPENDING TERRIBLE DECISION
This decision will be a terrible one for three reasons:
(1)  it will be another major blow to Nigeria’s credibility and image as a competent nation.  After all, we knew about these elections four years ago, and why is it now all so suddenly problematic?   Why cannot we for goodness sake fix some dates and stick with them?
(2)  it is likely that a major casualty would be the hapless INEC Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega, who has staked his personal reputation on conducting free, fair and credible elections ON SCHEDULE.  He may jump – resign – or be pushed – asked to step aside, go on “accumulated leave”, and hence not be on the driver’s seat as Chairman during a postponed set of elections, since his term ends in June 2015.
Most importantly, I fear that
(3)  nothing much would have changed on the ground in Nigeria after six to eight weeks of postponement, and we might again be talking of another postponement in six to eight weeks time.  So we might as well get it over with now.
Let me explain, starting from the Boko Haram security situation in the North-East.
The government argument could be that it needs this time to launch a major offensive in the area – starting from Sambisa Forest, where the Chibok girls are held or were once held –  to finally drive BH away from the territory.  This ostensibly would enable the return of the IDPs to their homes, and them make them feel sufficiently safe to obtain their PVCs and vote from the safe confines of their homes like every one else in the country.  The interesting situation though is that despite the difficulties so far, according to INEC data, the NE represents that the geo-political region with the highest percentage of PVCs distributed as of January 27:   73.2% compared to the national average then of 62.28% (See Table 1 below.).  That is counter-intuitive.  One hopes that it does not portend some “mago-mago” – but that is the data that we have to go by.  Besides, when it comes to military operations, no guarantees can be given by any side, no matter how powerful, that in six to eight weeks it will have achieved a certain military advantage.  Surprises do happen which, God forbid, might make things worse, not better – so what would happen then to the postponed elections?

TABLE 1:  Update on PVCs Distributed by INEC – by Geo-Zone

 

State

No. of

Reg. Voters

NRV

 

PVCs Printed

And Received

By INEC

by

Jan 9

 

PVCs

Distributed

by

Jan 9

PVCs

Distributed

by

Jan 27

Diff.

in

PVCs

Jan 27 minus

 Jan 9

New %

PV

Distributed

Of NRV

by

Jan 27

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
SW 13,731,349   10,602,164   6,270,736 6,403,530 132,794  46.35%  
SE 7,665,859   6,082,994   3,915,241 4,378,329 463,088  57.11%  
SS 10,059,347   8,360,814   5,756,018 6,214,977 458,959  61.78%  
TOTAL SOUTH  31,456,555   25,045,972   15,941,995 16,996,836 1,054,841 53.89%  
                   
NW 17,620,436   14,155,693   12,013,961 12,784,880 770,919  72.56%  
NE 9,107,861   6,403,291   4,886,499 6,678,148 1,791,649 73.32%  
NC 9,767,411   7,886,294   5,520,001 5,947,633 427,632 60.89%  
TOTAL NORTH  36,495,708   28,445,278   22,420,461 25,410,661 2,990,200 69.63%  
                   
FCT 881,472   850,360   411,935 459,913 47,978  52.18%  
                   
TOTAL COUNTRY 68,833,735   54,341,610   38,774,391 42,867,410 4,093,019 62.28%  
                   

 

 

SOME MORE EXPLANATIONS – OF CRs and PVCs
I now proceed to the larger explanation – about card readers (CR) and PVCs.
For the first time yesterday,  I visited an INEC office, and  personally HANDLED a CR – and later also inspected a PVC.  I was even given an INEC offical guide manual, as well as a first-hand thorough explanation of how things are IDEALLY supposed to work on Election Day, and educated fully about all the challenges being faced by INEC with respect to voting citizens.  I believe that I now FULLY understand what has been going on with these CRs and PVCs.
First, if everything works out ideally as planned, every eligible voter armed with a  PVC goes to his or her PU on Election Day first to pre-register between 8 am and 1 pm (used to be till 12 noon).  The first step in pre-registration is the use of the CR (which is key-coded to a particular PU) to scan the RFID (bar-code)-enabled PVC to AUTHENTICATE the card electronically.  Any cloned card cannot be authenticated and is useless. Then the voter places his right thumb on the biometric glass window of the CR to VERIFY the voter – ie to ensure that the person who brought the card has his or her biometric data in the database.  If the authentication and verification steps are successful,  then a potential voter’s count is recorded, and that potential voter is given a token, with which he or she can return after 1 pm to get a ballot paper,  thumb-print it in confidence, and drop it in one of three separate ballot boxes (for President, Senate and HOR, on February 14) or two separate ballot boxes (for Governor and State Assembly, on February 28).
All well and good so far – for those who want the system to work perfectly.  But for those who have RIGGING on their minds – and I fear that there seems to be many desperate ones this and every election season in Nigeria –  the PVC-CR combination has become a MAJOR IMPEDIMENT that must be thwarted via Nigerian “crookery.”
Clearly, the first hurdle is that the maximum number of voters in a particularly PU cannot be LARGER than what was AUTHENTICATED and VERIFIED by the relevant CR – which is PART of the official record, and can be demanded at tribunals – so the potential RIGGER MUST
          (1)  have possession of VALID PVCs by hook or by crook;
          (2)  be able to “stuff” the CRs illegally by scanning these wrongly “possessed” PVCs at will;
          (3)  be able to thumb-print as many ballot papers as possible either on-site or off-site, but if off-site, bring them to the PU for counting in front of the world.   But the sum of all votes must not be greater than the number of authenticated and verified albeit wrongly “possessed” PVCs.
But how does the potential rigger obtain wrongly “possessed” but valid PVCs?
GROUP 1:  The first is at REGISTRATION – by registering BOGUS voters, that is non-existent “ghost” voters, that somehow INEC has PVCs for, either through internal collaboration or some unfathomable “crookery”.  However, when these BOGUS voters are now asked to come forward PHYSICALLY to actually GET/COLLECT their PVCs, they are no where to be found.  Although it is bound to be true that SOME gap between PVC availability and collection is due to voter apathy or actual difficulties of visiting retrieval sites, I am now convinced that the GREATEST gap is due to COMPLETE ABSENCE of real eligible voters connected to these uncollected PVCs.  This accounts for a large reason why despite REPEATED appeals to registered voters to come and collect their voters cards, it appears to fall on deaf ears.  In fact, it appears that in many INEC offices, there are MILLIONS of un-collected – and uncollectable – PVCs.
GROUP 2:  There is another set of people who have not been able to get a hold of their PVCs, despite availability:  those WHOSE cards have been COLLECTED by bulk “rigging” agents!  I am aware of at least two colleagues who have been directed to   GO to some fellow somewhere – not an INEC official – to “see” whether his card, which was confirmed to have been appropriately sent to his ward – is in the pack.  One of them was able to retrieve his PVC from this unofficial agent after threatening hell and brimstone.  What this means is that there are MANY Nigerians who have gone to INEC offices, and have been told that their cards SHOULD be available, but when a search is made of the card stack, their cards cannot be found, and they are asked to come back, which they do repeatedly until they get frustrated, or else they are asked to go and see some “fellow” who may have their card!
GROUP 3:  The last set is largely those who registered “late” AFTER June 2014 – roughly about 14.5 million or so – and whose now-printed PVCs arrived only within the past week.  The claim by INEC Headquarters is that they have received this balance (68,833,735 eligible voters – 54,341,610 printed as on January 9), and these have now been sent to the states for distribution.  Whether these state offices have ACTUALLY taken delivery of these newest cards is doubtful;  clearly, they will need time to get them into the hands of eligible voters – provided again some of them are not “ghost” voters, or the cards do not fall again into the hands of bulk rigging agents!
EPILOGUE
I have gone to this length to explain what I now understand is going on. It is an epiphany that lets me understand that a POSTPONEMENT will not SOLVE the problem of “ghost’ voters, or thwart the efforts of bulk rigging agents, or guarantee that the North-East will be cleared on Boko-Haram insurgents sufficiently to guarantee the safe unfettered voting of the residents.  Rather what  should be done is to allow INEC and the security forces to do their work between now and February 13 to;
(1)  ensure that as many LIVE voters as possible get a hold of their PVCs; at this stage, we should pledge to go to elections with whatever number we have.  [Any cards not claimed by live voters should be held under lock and key by trusted INEC Officials.]
(2)  only those LIVE voters are authenticated and verified and pre-registered for voting at polling units;  [No “bulk” authentication and verification OUTSIDE INEC polling units (ie card reader ‘stuffing”), no Card Reader surreptitious substitution must be allowed.]
(3)  only those authenticated and verified voters get ballot papers that they themselves (and no one else) thumb-print.
(4)  in the North-East, a security blanket is thrown to enable as many IDP and non-IDPs as possible to vote.  Whatever number we get is what we get.   After all,  the situation is not as bad as Afghanistan or Iraq, where voting did occur not too long ago.
A word is enough for the wise for ALL the political parties involved, who I believe are all somehow jostling for some “rigging” advantage in this PVC-CR election saga.
And there you have it.  Let us pray.
Bolaji Aluko

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