All those who care for the success of Nigeria’s democracy and its key component, the electoral process, have strongly kicked against the decision of the election umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not to deploy the fraud – resistant voter card reader (VCR) technology in the Ekiti and Osun polls in 2014.
INEC Chairman Professor Attahiru Jega says however that the body is not discarding the use of VCR altogether but rather reserving it for 2015.In the strongest defence of his position yet, Jega told a ranking United States government official from the State Department that despite the clamor from well-meaning Nigerians, including the governors of Ekiti and Osun State, INEC is not ready to adopt the card reader system in 2014.
He declared: “It will not be wise to use a pilot scheme in an election (Ekiti and Osun in June and August respectively) that will be keenly contested,” pinning his hopes on the broader general ballot in 2015 for the test-run of the new technology.
But by popular claim here in Nigeria and beyond our shores, the voter card reader machine represents a great election invention that is capable of aborting any scheme meant to thwart the will of the electorate. It is ages ahead of the old (manual in relative terms) permanent voter cards (PVC) with which Jega has developed and immoral love affair. Used alone, the PVC has brought nothing but ignominy to our democracy and electoral system.
It is responsible for a thriving but illicit enterprise called ballot banditry. It allows votes not to count because results are concocted according to the whims and caprices of the electoral umpire and their sponsors. The net outcome is that the real choice of the people is relegated and supplanted. That was what was at play in Ekiti and Osun in the 2007 election until the law courts stepped in 2010 to usher in the real winners of the poll.
With usurpers in power for years in Ekiti and Osun as a result of the compromised ballot and apparatus applied, the suffering of the people of the two states was calamitous. They were years of locusts. Everything fell in to ruins. As they were not those voted in to power, the predecessors of the current governors in Ekiti and Osun had no clue as to what to do to push their people forward. It was a bitter and painful backward march in the two states.
The effect? Those who came after them upon the intervention of the judiciary have had more than the task of Hercules. They have had more to do than cleaning the Augean Stables. They met a run-down environment that looked as pillaged, violated and emasculated as a scene emerging from an atomic bomb attack.
Ask Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the governor of the State of Osun. He has experienced sleepless nights along with its team in government attempting to put in order the misdeeds of the past. In the face of dwindling recourses, his government is sacrificing comfort, time, leisure and personal resources so as to maintain their honor and to fulfill solemn electoral promises. They are denying themselves all the basic perquisites of office in order to make a difference.
All these because sometime in the past an election was held that brought in those who did not win the poll because of an in-built compromise in the system. It is not what we should allow to be repeated if we can help it.
To be sure we can help it with the aid of the card reader technology. It is the latest scientific method of the ballot. It has been observed that if handled with diligence and focus, the card reader can turn in the actual wishes of the electorate. It faithfully records the imprint of the voter and forestalls the danger and ill effects of double registration and multiple voting. Let us note that these are the areas where vote fraud is hatched.
Let INEC introduce the VCR in Ekiti and Osun in 2014 to demonstrate its status as an umpire of integrity fired by patriotic instincts. The result will then be analyzed and fine-tuned for application on the wider canvas of the 2015 general election. INEC’s argument that the poll in the two states has too much at stake to allow for test running the new VCR technology is myopic and disingenuous. Every election, local, state or national, bears the burden of influencing the polity for good or for bad.
Otherwise we would not have had the local Western Nigeria election of 1964-1965 triggering a stormy crisis that snowballed in to a national inferno and ultimately a civil war. So the question is: why would INEC plan for a bedlam with the potential to cost trouble again when it can make use of a system to save us from bad governance arising from marred poll?
Barrister Oyatomi is the Director of Publicity and Communications of All Progressives Congress (APC), State of Osun.