Expect Credible, Transparent, Inclusive And Verifiable Election In 2023- Yakubu

Expect Credible, Transparent, Inclusive And Verifiable Election In 2023- Yakubu

Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, has promised that the commission will intensify the deployment of suitable technology for the conduct of elections in order to reassure Nigerians that the general election of 2023 will be credible.

“Our vision for the 2023 general election is to conduct one of the best general elections conducted in Nigeria, which is going to be free, fair, credible, transparent, inclusive and verifiable,” he declared.

At a session with the Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) yesterday in Lagos, Yakubu referred to the provisions of the new Electoral Act, which gave the commission the authority to make judgments like the use of technology, as progressive.

“We are not only going to continue to deepen the deployment of technology, but we are going for appropriate technology because inappropriate technology may create its won problems,” he said.

He claimed that the commission was preparing for 95 million voters in the elections of 2023. However, he refuted claims that the commission had altered the voters’ list by revealing that INEC had not yet added the 12 million new registrants to the list.

His words: “Elections are only one of the many aspects of our democracy, yet it is perhaps the most significant indicator of our democracy. There can’t be a democracy without elections. So, democracy can’t exist without elections. But the importance of elections is not difficult to understand. In a single day’s event, the lives and livelihoods, in the case of Nigeria of at least 200 million people, will be impacted upon for the next four years, for better or for worse. The beauty of democracy is that this determination, whether for better or for worse, is made by the people themselves.

“Now, elections test the collective capacities and weaknesses of a country to its limit. Election preparations, deployment and implementation constitute the most expensive mobilisation that could happen in a country whether in peacetime or war. Election happens in every nook and cranny, every village, every part of the country at the same time.

“For the 2023 general election, INEC is making preparation for approximately 95 million voters. Yes, we have 84 million voters now; we have registered fresh 12 million. None of the fresh registrants has been added to the register. We are cleaning up the register.

“Few days ago, some people said that they discovered so many fictitious names on the register. When I heard that, I asked myself: Which register? We have not even compiled it. We are cleaning up the data so how come that someone already knows the register, which is supposed to be compiled by the commission? It is a very serious matter for us, because it touches at the heart of credible elections.”

A credible election begins with a reliable register of voters, according to Yakubu, who argued that a legitimate election does not occur on election day.

“So, some of the people who, out of mischief, say what they say know what they are talking about. But let me assure Nigerians that no name from the recent Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) has been added to the register of voters. The law requires us to clean up the data, which we are doing. Thereafter, Section 19, subsection 1 of the Electoral Act says we should throw the register open for Nigerians for claims and objections, so that citizens can also help the commission to clean the register further. This will be done for at least one week in all the 8,809 wards in the 774 local councils in the country. We haven’t done so yet, but we will do that so that Nigerians will have the opportunity to look at the new registrants before we add them to the new register. So, there is no new register as such; we are still in the process of cleaning up,” he added.

The INEC chairman acknowledged that there had been a problem with the collection of PVCs and revealed that the commission had met with all of its Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC) and Administrative Secretaries in Lagos within the previous week to develop strategies for ensuring a smooth distribution of PVCs.

“We really want to make it a pleasant experience for citizens. For the new registration exercise, we collected data including email addresses and telephone numbers for those that have, including those in rural areas. We will reach them either by means of text messages, emails or voice calls to tell them the specific locations where they can pick up their cards. We will also activate the portal for collection of PVCs. So, those who are savvy can click and know where to collect their PVCs. So, we are ready to make it a pleasant experience for citizens,” he assured.

He said there will be 176,846 venues across the nation where people could cast their ballots.

He continued: “Any Nigeria who is at the queue before 2.30pm will have the opportunity to vote even, if it means voting going into the night. Now, doing so requires recruiting, training and deploying staff that number several times more than the entire Armed Forces of Nigeria. For the 2023 general election, we will engage at least 1.4 million ad hoc staff, which is bigger than the size of the Nigerian Armed Forces. We are going to deploy this number twice; first on February 25 for the National Elections and on March 11, for State Elections. We are going to manage election into 1,520 positions in 2023. So, it’s a huge undertaking.

“Let me also say this; there are 15 countries in West Africa, including Nigeria. Excluding Nigeria, the voter population in the other 14 countries as at last year was 73 million. The voter population in Nigeria as at 2019 was 84 million. So, there are 11 million more voters than all the other 14 countries combined. So, each time Nigerians go to the polls, it’s like the entire West Africa voting. This also gives an idea of the size of what we are facing. So, it is the accumulation of these complexities that INEC must manage and administer as we approach the 2023 general election.”

But Yakubu emphasized that the commission would hold reliable elections in 2023.

“The quality of elections in Nigeria has been generally improving although I admit that challenges remain. These are not changes that will happen in a revolutionary way. In those days when we were doing aluta, we thought that overnight we would change Nigeria; we are now older and wiser. But there have been incremental improvements in this process such that if you reflect on how elections were conducted in 1999 or 2003, it’s as if it is no longer the same Nigeria that you knew. There were moments when winners were declared while voters were still on the queue. It will never happen again.

“We have deliberately deployed technology to make rigging very difficult if not impossible. People can sit down and see the result of their polling unit online from the comfort of their homes. What follows subsequently is tallying the result at the various collation centres. The most important place during the election is the polling unit; once you protect the integrity of the process at the polling unit, what you need to do is just to protect the processes of collation,” he said.

The INEC boss reiterated that the organization would follow its timetable of election-related activities, saying,

“We have released the timetable for the election; we have published the notice and we have started implementing some of the activities. The next activity will take place in the next four days where we publish the final list of candidates for National Elections both Presidential and National Assembly.

“Two weeks later, on October 4, we will publish the final list of candidates for State Elections – governorship and state assembly. Then on September 28, campaign in public by political parties for National Elections will commence, while state elections campaigns will start two weeks afterwards.

“Some of you may wonder why the variation in dates – it is because of the legal requirement of when to start campaign in relation to the timetable and schedule of activities. We have given ourselves two weeks between the National and State Elections. So, the provision in the timetable must be adjusted to reflect that reality.”

On circumstances that might affect how the elections are conducted, he said: “The first one is the security situation in the country. We have to deploy to all nooks and crannies of the country. We have been speaking with the security agencies and will continue to speak with them, because it is their responsibility to secure the environment for the commission to deploy for the elections. So, we are keeping our eyes on the security situation in the country. In the last two elections, 2015 and 2019, insecurity was confined to a particular zone – the North East – even so in three states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. This time around, it is more widespread. So, the security situation is going to be a big challenge.

“The other one is the social media. The events of the last few days have driven this idea home. There was a report that INEC PVCs were found in drainages and inappropriate locations on social media. We set up a committee and they are about rounding up this investigation and there were interesting findings. But we ask those who made these revelations to as a matter of patriotic responsibility deliver those allegedly discovered PVCs to any of our 774 local government offices or 36 state offices so we can look at those cards and make some determinations. We are still waiting on them and we have seen that the clip is mutating with changing locations.

“The third one is the attitude of the politicians. You can’t have a flourishing democracy without democrats. Sometimes, I am amazed that when someone votes in an election, immediately he or she loses, he will say that his mandate has been stolen. But power in a democracy belongs to the people; you don’t come with it from your house. So, if you don’t get it, it must have been stolen. So, the attitude of the political class is another big challenge.

“So, there are big tasks ahead of us; we have no time. We have 161 days to go today. We can make it work. It’s the people actually that make it work. Once there is citizens mandate protection, the system is going to be fortified even further.

“Take it from this INEC that we are committed to electoral justice. We have introduced reforms that we believe have taken us out of Egypt. We will never go back to Egypt.”

Yakubu had previously been informed by Mustpaha Isah, President of the NGE, that members of the Guild were prepared to work with the commission to hold credible elections in 2023.

He did point out that the partnership would not prevent the media from watching how the commission conducted itself and how closely it adhered to the applicable electoral rules.

Nigerians have praised the electoral body for its meticulous efforts, which led to the delisting of duplicate and ineligible registrations from the voter list.

Experts in information and communications technology (ICT) have just given advice on how the commission can prevent similar activities in the future.

One million of the 2.5 million new registrants that the electoral body had registered between June 28, 2021, and January 14, 2022 had been deemed to be invalid and had been removed from the register, according to an announcement made last Tuesday.

According to the commission, it found a number of double, multiple, and invalid registrants.

According to the breakdown, 645,206 of the 1,126,359 delisted new registrants are from the North, while 481, 243 are from the South.

According to geopolitical zones, the South-South had the most removals (317,588) while the North-West came in second with 197,345. With 187,052 invalid or multiple registrations, the South-West was next, followed by the North-Central with 160,864.

Additionally, the commission delisted 140,466 and 123,034 registrations from the South-East and North-East respectively.

With 88,950 and 88,630 respectively, Bayelsa and Osun had the most double registrants or ineligible voters, according to a breakdown by state.

Imo and Yobe recorded the lowest number of delisted applications (7,145 and 10, 395), while Delta came in second with 70,230.

Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of the Information and Voter Education Committee, commented on the issue and noted that the Electoral Act 2022 clearly defines the idea of ineligible registrants.

In his opinion, non-Nigerians and minors are ineligible registrants.

“Section 10 of the Electoral Act 2022 makes it mandatory that only Nigerians that present themselves to the registration officers are eligible to be registered.

“They must have attained the age of 18 years. In other words, the Registration Officer must ascertain their nationality, identity and age.”

“After registration, the Commission cleans up the register using the Automated Biometrics Identification System (ABIS) to remove double and multiple registrants. Furthermore, if we notice age discrepancy, pictorial discrepancy and gender discrepancy, we carry out adjudication using our business rules and resolve the discrepancy. Non-Nigerians and under-aged individuals are ineligible registrants,” Okoye said.

Okoye said that there were various technologies for voter registration and voter record cleaning, which shed light on why the commission was unable to identify additional registrants at the point of registration.

He explained: “The Commission used the INEC Voter Enrollment Device for the registration of voters. IVED is not configured to perform the work of ABIS. The system can surf our database for those making inquiries. Individuals can also use their mobile phones and computers to check their voter registration status. Our registration officers were well trained. Those that report lost or damaged PVCs are scheduled for reprint.

“Those that ask for transfer are transferred. Those that claim they are new registrants are registered. Fidelity to the system and honestly are key elements in the registration process. Those that give correct information and ask questions do not experience challenges.”

Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, a former INEC Director of voter Education and Publicity, praised the commission for delisting multiple and ineligible registrants and claimed that it did so within the bounds of the law.

He said that the commission had established guidelines, some of which were derived from the Electoral Act.

“For example, you can’t have more than one PVC or register in more than one place; either of them that person is committing a criminal offence. The commission gives room for transfer of voter registration. But some people who had registered before, instead of doing transfer, went ahead and did fresh registration either out of ignorance. Some Nigerians may blame the commission for lack of sufficient voter education, but I know that the commission on its website was transparent enough. If after running the AVIS, the commission realised you have registered before, they will knock you out of the system,” he said.

Cynthia Mbamalu, the program director for YIAGA Africa, attributed the high number of candidates who were delisted to insufficient communication during the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) process.

Mbamalu advocated for a more centralized database for the country’s registration system, describing the development as alarming.

In her opinion, the electoral authority needs to develop a system to identify multiple registrations at the registration place.

Her words: “The news in itself is a bit worrying, because it is large number of people who have been delisted. So, while INEC has power to clean up the register, where the challenges have been is around the communication in the CVR process. While you have some people registering multiple times, for some of them, it is not about mischief, they don’t have the right information to engage the process. Going forward, there must be proper and clear communication on who is required to register afresh. For instance, some people lost their PVCs or moved to another location and instead of applying for replacement or transfer, they register afresh not knowing that one of their details would be cleaned up from the register.

“This also calls for a more centralised database on our registration system. We should look at deploying more technology in our electoral system. What it should have happened to avoid issues such as this is that there should have been a way to confirm if that person’s data is on the register during the registration process. That way, the initial verification will provide people with the right step on what to do. If that is done, the system would tell you that your data is already in the system and those seeking for transfer would just need to move their polling units to their new location.

“Even though INEC has the voter verification platform, that was not effective deployed at the verification points.”

She added that INEC ought to reach out to people who have been affected.

“Elections are sensitive. INEC must ensure that it handles this development with care by communicating to those who have been delisted and explaining to them why. This is because what this development means is that there would be a large number of persons who will not be able to vote but right now, they are yet to know that they are not on the voter register.”

Princess Hamman-Obels, team head of the Initiative for Research, Innovation, and Advocacy in Development (IRIAD), Electoral Hub, asserted that INEC was not to fault for the significant proportion of duplicate registrants who were delisted.

She claimed that the majority of individuals delisted did not fulfill the requirements for voter registration laid forth by the Electoral Act.

Hamman-Obels provided explanations for why the development won’t alter how the 2023 general election is conducted. “This is because Nigerians don’t come out to vote. In fact, most people just try to get the PVC as a means of identity, because it is one the cheapest form of identity where people don’t pay to acquire.

“Nigerians pay to get driver’s licence, international passport and others. So, most people won’t even come out to vote. If we have up to 40 per cent turnout, we should praise God. The law mandates INEC to print the ballot papers that are exact number of registered voters. That is huge considering the number on our register and if you look at it, in most elections, we don’t even have up to 50 per cent turnout. The same law also mandates INEC to damage the remaining ballot papers not used. So that is even costly on its own in a nation where there is limited resources like Nigeria,” she said.

Jide Awe, the founder of Jidaw Systems and an ICT expert, commented on the development and said that duplicate data was to blame for the double registration.

He said: “Various data collection points increase the chances of data duplication. It is a legitimate data quality concern. Data integrity problems cause significant inconsistencies. In this case, it appears to have occurred during data entry.

“As we can see, it can result in major consequences; data duplication is wasteful of time and resources. Now we can see the missed opportunities and huge costs incurred during the registration of voters. It is a major challenge facing projects of this nature.

“While human and other errors are inevitable, the system should stop ineligible and duplicate data from being collected and stored. Ideally, to eliminate duplicate data of this nature, data entered at one data point on the system will be instantly shared across all other authorised data points. It’s about ensuring data consistency and integrity throughout the electoral system, which is essential to fulfilling INEC’s mandate. This will also obviously result in significant time saving and improved productivity.

“The solution going forward isn’t about silver bullets. Planning and infrastructure adequacy are essential. There are design, infrastructure and system considerations. It will require a mix of relevant technological solutions, best data governance practices and effective organisational and project management strategies.”

Chris Uwaje, the Chairman of Mobile Software Solutions in Nigeria, asserted that system integrity and data security are more appropriate categories for the problem.

His words: “It is globally known as duplicate registration and not double registration. Therefore, a special embedded software solution is designed essentially for recognition and management of duplication of electoral registers.

“This problem is maximised in a nation such as Nigeria where you do not have a comprehensive National Population Data as birth-to-death citizens record system (in digitized form).

“Meanwhile, duplicate registration factors are also many – ranging from intentional duplication that may occur externally or internally through aiding and abetting by trusted insiders!

“External registration duplication can occur by deliberate intent of a citizen to try his/her luck to beat a porous election solution system. But the design or unique identification number, a robust software system should be able to detect that through a pre-clearance subroutine – usually enabled by an embedded algorithm and Blockchain solution.”

 

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