Written by Lillian Akhigbe, Communications Officer, Alone

As the 2015 general elections approach, the Alone (Alone) wishes to add its voice to the calls on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to urgently address the matters arising in relation to the elections, and for Nigerians to collectively ensure a peaceful and non-violent electoral process. With less than two weeks to the commencement of the elections scheduled to hold on March 28 and April 11, 2015, there are some key challenges which have not been resolved by INEC and which must not by any chance, be overlooked by Nigerians, if we truly desire to have free, fair and credible elections.

One of these challenges, is the incomplete distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). INEC recently reported in a statement issued by its spokesperson, Kayode Idowu, that the level of PVC-distribution to voters has reached 81.22 percent. But it is very worrisome that some Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the country, have not received a single PVC. INEC has revealed that it was “yet to take delivery of the PVCs” meant for prospective voters in four LGAs in Edo State, namely Owan East, Owan West, Ovia South-West and Uhunmwonde. Hence, while the distribution of 81.22 percent of the PVCs by INEC,  may seem commendable, the realisation that the remaining 18.78 percent of uncollected PVCs, includes all the PVCs for some LGAs and the likelihood that the entire people in those LGAs stand a chance of being completely disenfranchised if INEC fails to take delivery of and distribute the PVCs early enough, warrants a serious cause for alarm.

Another nagging issue is the challenge posed by the inability of the smart card reader to successfully authenticate the fingerprints of 41 percent of legitimate holders of genuine PVCs, during the demonstrations recently conducted by INEC across 12 states in the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. INEC has assured Nigerians that where the card reader fails to confirm the fingerprint of a legitimate PVC bearer, the voter would not be disenfranchised on account of that shortcoming. Rather, the voter would be given an Incident Form to fill, after which he/she would be allowed to vote. While this manual validation exercise seems reasonable, it also gives one reason to doubt how effective it would be at curbing electoral fraud, considering the high incidence of PVC-theft reported in some states of the country. Many of these genuine PVCs which were stolen, have not been recovered by INEC. Hence, if there is a possibility for the bearers of stolen PVCs to connive with electoral officers conducting the elections, and they are allowed to vote with the PVCs after filling the Incident Form under the pretext that the card reader failed to confirm their fingerprints, doesn’t that weaken the assertion of INEC that the card readers will help combat electoral fraud? The fingerprint authentication is the most crucial aspect of the biometric verification by the card reader, in order to prevent electoral fraud. Although the card readers successfully identified all genuine PVCs during the demonstrations, they failed to confirm the fingerprints of some legitimate holders of genuine PVCs, which means that if electoral officers allow themselves to be compromised, a person bearing a stolen PVC could fill an Incident Form and be allowed to vote even when he/she bears no resemblance to the actual person captured on the PVC. As much as we may not want to contemplate this notion, it remains a possibility which INEC cannot afford to ignore.

“Alone is not opposed to the use of card readers in the conduct of elections in Nigeria. The innovation is a welcome development, but we are concerned about the likelihood of stakeholders within and outside INEC, taking advantage of the flaws in the card reader-system and the use of Incident Forms, to vote with stolen PVCs”, stated Dr. Isaac Osuoka, Executive Director, Alone.

We therefore call on INEC to expedite action in the distribution of PVCs to their legitimate owners in the various LGAs across Nigeria, as the elections are fast approaching.

We also make an urgent call on INEC to seriously re-consider the issue of the failure of the card readers to validate very many fingerprints and the danger which that limitation exposes the electoral process to, despite the availability of Incident Forms provided by INEC.

We finally call on all Nigerians to close ranks and collectively ensure that the 2015 elections are free, fair, credible and peaceful. Notwithstanding the heterogeneous nature of our society with diverse ethnic groups and political affiliations, it is expedient for us to think of ourselves first and foremost, as Nigerians, having a responsibility to protect and not destroy the Nigerian state, by shunning political violence and demonstrating our nationalism and patriotism as the countdown to the general elections commences.