The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said its decision to embark on an online registration of voters next month does not guarantee an automatic transmission of election results.
The commission, which claimed that the automatic transmission of election results must be approved by an amendment to the current Electoral Act, also expressed concerns over the burning of some of itsoffices by hoodlums in different states, describing it as a great danger to the early preparations to the 2023 general election.
This is as the Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, has said the hitch-free conduct of the recent Ijaw National Congress (INC) election was an indication that Nigeria could hold rancour-free national elections if only she embraces electronic voting.
But INEC, in an apparent reference to the PDP, said online registration of voters was different from the amendment of the electoral act.
The PDP had in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, noted that since INEC said it was now in a position to deploy technology to conduct online registration of voters, which included electronic transmission of voter’s data to its central server, the commission could also conduct an electronic transmission of results directly from the polling unit to its central server.
“Our party calls the attention of the commission to the fact that it no longer has any excuse not to employ the direct transmission of results from polling units, which will ensure credible elections by eliminating manipulations, alterations, switching and disappearance of election results during manual collation processes,” the PDP said.
The opposition party, however, insisted that if INEC could use the electronic platform for registration of voters, it could as well deploy the same technology for electronic transmission of results in future elections, including the 2023 general election.
But, in an interview with THISDAY, INEC national commissioner in charge of Publicity and Voter Education, Festus Okoye said, “The amendment of the Electoral Act has nothing to do with online registration of voters. The Commission does not share this power within any agency or organ of government. Our voters’ register is already in electronic format. There is no section of the Constitution or the law that forbids or prohibits the Commission from online voters registration.
“The register of voters does not vote. Amendments to the law will focus on Electronic Voting and Transmission of Results. We are simply compiling, maintain and updating the register of voters”, Okoye stated.
Addressing the spate of arson at INEC properties in the states, Okoye said, “We are worried and concerned that our electoral materials are being burnt. We are worried that our generators, electoral materials in terms of cubicles, ballot boxes and other sensitive materials are going up in flames.
“We are worried, because we just finished auditing our materials in all the local governments and states preparatory to off-cycle elections and the Continuous Voters Registration. We are worried,because we resolved to start early preparations for elections and these spates of fire incidents are a setback to our preparations. We are worried because of the anxiety and fear being created in relation to these incidents”, Okoye stated.
The INEC National Commissioner further said, “Our offices are national assets and symbols of democracy. Our offices are staging posts for the conduct of elections and delivery of electoral services. The offices enable the Commission to understand the local peculiarities and dynamics of Registration Areas and Polling Units. Our Electoral Officers are the Managing Directors of elections in the 774 Local Government Areas of the country.
“Our Local Government Offices are indispensable in our preparations for elections. It is the Local Government Offices that carry out the conversion and relocation of polling units. The local government offices and the local government staff of the commission will be the prime movers of the Continuous Voters Registration. The local governments are the staging posts of the bulk of electoral activities.
“Burning down the offices of the commission at the local governments will prevent the commission from domiciling non-sensitive materials at the base level and prevent early deployment on Election Day. Burning down the offices of the commission is a clear and present danger to the early and professional preparation for elections and is an attack on our democracy and democratic institutions. The Commission is one of the symbols of democracy and a national asset and must on no account be targeted for destruction.”
However, he explained that the commission would not be intimidated as the national commissioners and the chairman are courageous in the conduct of their duties, adding that INEC would remain focussed despite what looks like acts of intimidation.
Okoye said, “We will remain focused and committed to our responsibilities to the Nigerian people. The offices were built with the taxpayers’ money. Due to dwindling resources, their reconstruction may take sometime.”
On the planned Online Voter Registration, he said the commission was the only federal executive body empowered by the constitution to arrange and conduct the registration of persons qualified to vote and prepare, maintain and revise the register of voters for the purposes of any election under the Constitution.
According to him, “Section 10(1) of the Electoral Act gives the Commission the power and mandate to carry out continuous registration of persons with the qualifying criteria to be registered as voters. Proactively, the Commission, as part of its efforts to deepen the use of technology in the electoral process retired the Direct Data Capture Machines and in its place are a new generation of voter enrolment device known as IVED.
“The Commission will also deploy online registration portals that enable registrants to start their registration online and complete their biometrics and facials at the Registration Centers. This duality is in conformity with section 10(2) of the Electoral Act that provides that each applicant for registration under the continuous registration system shall appear in person at the registration venue.
“This duality will decongest the registration venues and enable the Commission play a commanding role in the observance of COVID-19 protocols. Presently, the voters’ register is in electronic format. The Commission is not jumping the gun or doing anything in contravention of the law. The Commission should be commended for being creative, innovative and proactive,” Okoye explained.
On his part, Diri, who spoke during the inauguration of the new INC leadership at the Ijaw House in Yenagoa, urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to adopt electronic voting to avoid conflicts during elections.
A statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Daniel Alabrah, noted that the failure of the country’s electoral body to adopt e-voting has led to the politicisation of revered state institutions and disrespect to such institutions.
The governor also said the adoption of e-voting would provide an opportunity for Nigerians in the Diaspora to choose their leaders through the ballot.
His words: “I am an advocate and supporter of electronic voting system. Many Nigerians have been denied the right to vote, because they are not in Nigeria and cannot participate in choosing their leaders. It is a challenge to Nigeria. Let the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) be challenged. If the Ijaws can do it, the federal government can also do it.
“If Ijaws can enfranchise Ijaws in Europe and America to be part of deciding, who leads them, INEC can equally do it. It will check violence, criminality and state institutions being politicised.”
Giving his charge to the new executive council of the apex Ijaw socio-cultural body, the governor stressed the need for the body to advance the cause of Ijaws to achieve equity and fairness in Nigeria.
In his inaugural address, the new INC President, Professor Benjamin Okaba, assured the people that the body would work for the progress of the Ijaw people.
Prof. Okaba also said the INC fully supported the recent pronouncement by governors of southern Nigeria prohibiting open grazing in the region, saying the organisation would provide the necessary support to ensure adherence to laws aimed at protecting the people and their land against invasion from external forces.
Okaba, who stated that INC would collaborate with other ethnic minorities that share the same experiences with the Ijaws to achieve their dreams, said the ethnic group was aware of surreptitious moves by some groups to annex territories in the Niger Delta, because of its resources, but that no part of Ijaw would be ceded or conquered.
“The INC wishes to use this special occasion to and in an unequivocal term remind and warn such characters that the Ijaw territory was never and will never be ceded or conquered. We belong only to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Should there be a compelling necessity to pull out of the present Nigeria, we shall go our separate ways in fulfilment of the dreams of our ancestors,” he said.