Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, was in Lagos recently for a series of meetings, aimed at kick-starting the commission’s implementation plan for the 2019 elections. On the sideline, he responded to a few questions on the commission’s level of preparedness.
Tell us the state of the collection of PVCs?
It is not getting the PVCs that come first; it is registration, availability of the PVCs and the collection of the PVCs. There are two dimensions to this issue. First is the ongoing Continuous Voters Registration exercise and then there are the uncollected PVCs from the past exercise, particularly the 2015 exercise. We have told the nation that we have a little over 7 million uncollected PVCs from the 2015 general election. We have also given the breakdown of the uncollected PVCs on state by state basis of which Lagos has the highest with 1.4 million. The commission has consistently operated the policy of collection of PVCs and not distribution of PVCs. If we are to distribute, in no time there will be no PVCs, and most will fall into wrong hands.
So we have placed emphasis on the registrants to collect their PVCs. As at the 14th of June, a little over 500,000 PVCs have been collected. But let me say categorically that the commission is not planning to burn the uncollected PVCs as there was a report attributed to one of our Resident Electoral Commissioners that the commission is intending to burn the PVCs. They are available for collection until close to the 2019 general election. We have tried a number of mechanisms to ensure the collection of the PVCs.
Like in Lagos before the last local government elections we collaborated with the State Independent Electoral Commission and our staff carried the PVCs from location to location; yet the rate of collection is still very low. Also, the law says that INEC should register Nigerians as they turn 18 on a Continuous basis. It also affords Nigerians the opportunity to replace lost, damaged or defaced PVCs and allow Nigerians the opportunity to transfer their registration. The law says you can only vote where you are registered. But the law makes provision for transfer and relocation. So we have been providing the opportunity for all these.
For the first time in our electoral history we are doing the Continuous Voter Registration Exercise as envisaged in the Electoral Act. We started on the 27th of April last year and as at 14th of June this year, we have registered 9,700,999 Nigerians. These are new registrants and if you add this to the about 70 million already registered voters you will end up with about 80 million registered voters
in Nigeria. We are planning the next general Election on the basis of a voter register of over 80 million Nigerians. These are the figures as at the 14th of June, 2018 and let me say this that the exercise is ongoing and by the time we do the backend processes the figures may go lower because these are pre-AFIS (Automated Fingerprints Identification System) figures. We have printed the cards for all those who registered in 2017 and added these to the number of uncollected PVCs from 2015 but instructed the Resident Electoral Commissioners to keep separate records. Understandably, because the 2017 was more recent, we have had higher uncollected rates for those cards than those from the 2015 exercise.
In 2015, we hear that some people notably in the South voted with card readers but card reader was not used in the north, are we likely to witness similar scenario in 2019?
I am really surprised to hear that. As part of our openness we made available to Nigerians statistics from the smart card reader for the 2015 presidential election. Each smart card reader stores information based on the PVCs, so we are able to know how many people voted and we are able to disaggregate the data and we have provided the information. The smart card reader performs three functions. One, it confirms that the card is from INEC, not cloned because the machine cannot read a card not issued by INEC. Two, it confirms that the person who presents the PVC is the actual owner of that card because once the card is inserted in the smart card reader, your picture shows, your personal details show, name, date of birth and then we cross check the information on the manual register at the polling unit. In addition, the smart card reader authenticates. By that we mean, it confirms your biometrics. People can look alike facially, can share the same address, share the same date of birth, but the only thing that distinguishes you from any other person is your biometrics. So, it confirms that you are the actual owner of the card. Given our previous history of multiple voting, dubious voting and all that, the smart card reader checks all that. However, if the smart card reader is unable to read your biometrics, we have the incidence form. The incidence form is supposed to be a further guarantee that the person whose card was read by the machine is the actual owner of the card. But if the machine is unable to read the card, you are not disenfranchised; you are given the incidence form. From all the 180 elections we have conducted since 2015, we realised that we had issue with the incidence form. We have now slightly redesigned the voters register and we are going to deploy this in Ekiti. There is now a column for incidence instead of a form. If the machine is unable to read the biometrics of the voter, the presiding officer simply ticks off and this will also enable us to have a superior turnaround time for voters when they go to vote. So instead of people waiting for them to fill the form, the presiding officer simply tick off.
How do you respond to the issue of underage voting?
It was here in Lagos in February that I responded to the issue of underage voting after the Kano local government elections. There are two election management bodies in the constitution; INEC conducts national elections but INEC is the registrar and regulator of political parties and by the same token, INEC is the only body supposed to register voters. So, we provide the voters register to the states for the local government elections, but we have no responsibility over the conduct of local government elections.
In Kano before the local government elections we had by-elections in a state constituency and in that election there was no single incident of underaged voting, the election was conducted by INEC. Except for the integrity of the entire process, that shouldn’t necessarily bother me; we have a forum of election management bodies which is purely advisory. But we are interested because part of the allegations is that under aged persons voted using the INEC voters register. So we investigated and the committee has conducted its investigations, submitted its report and we found no connection between the INEC voters register and under aged voting in Kano. In fact, in virtually all the polling units they did not even use the voters register to accredit anyone. But these are outside the responsibilities of the commission and I assure you that we will soon release the full report of that investigation.
The INEC voters register is the largest data base of citizens in this country. It is a national treasure and as we speak, 70 million and soon to be 80 million, complete with finger prints and photographs, telephone numbers and addresses of citizens; this is the best voters register we have ever had. You know there used to be fresh voters registration for every election, but that has stopped and what we now have is continuous voters’ registration. So, we need to continue to strengthen the voters register. The law provides for the cleaning up of the voters register and this is a collective national responsibility. We paste the register nationwide for claims and objections.
Nigerians should go and see the register if there are ineligible persons as provided for in Section 12(1) of the Electoral Act. We will remove their names and clean up the register. As we speak not a single Nigerian has officially complained to INEC about the prevalence of ineligible persons on the voter register. The law also requires the commission to make available to each registered political party, a copy of the list of names registered in the previous 60 days into each year. So, for all those we registered in 2017, we have made available the list to each of the 68 political parties in Nigeria in February this year. Each political party in Nigeria has a copy of the voter register and as we speak the commission has not received a single complaint of the registration of ineligible persons.
In Ekiti, we have made available a copy of the voter register to be used in that election to each of the 35 political parties contesting the election. As we speak, we have not received a single complaint from any party. We have also done something that has never been done in our democracy. As we speak the entire voter register is online. You can now check the status of your registration online; any citizen can check it at www.inecnigeria. org and follow the prompts. It may interest you to know that the largest majority of those who voted in the 2015 general elections were the category of Nigerians who described their professions as farmers and fishermen.
I want to say that registration, production and collection of PVC is free and inalienable. So, if anybody is collecting money from any citizen, please draw our attention to it and we will deal with it. It is free. Under the law, nobody should pay one kobo for the service that we render for our democracy.
How many INEC staff have been prosecuted so far for electoral malpractice?
We want to make sure that only credible persons participate in our electoral process. And so anybody against who we find credible allegations, especially of the nature that was mentioned in the EFCC case, INEC would apply the provisions of the terms and conditions of service. That is why arising from the report of the EFCC, we interdicted 205 staff. That is the highest number of staff interdicted in the history of INEC. That means suspending the staff and placing him or her on half salary until he or she proves his or her innocence or guilt. I wish to also say that among the staff of the commission are some of the most dedicated and conscientious Nigerians that you can ever see. We work under extreme pressure. We have conscientious staff but at the same time, any infraction that comes to light will be seriously dealt with.
Working together with the police we have been able to successfully prosecute over 40 electoral offenders, the highest number of electoral offenders to be prosecuted in the history of our democracy. Since 2015, we have conducted 180 elections. The elections are getting better. 2019 will be a consolidation of the successes recorded in 2015 and a further maturity of our democracy.