*Logistic challenges emerge
*Jega’s plan for free, fair polls in trouble
*960,000 election-day staff needed
Facts emerged, yesterday, suggesting that Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was grappling with problems which may have compelled it to postpone the February 14, 2015, presidential election, had the National Security Adviser, NSA, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, not publicly called on the electoral body to consider the option of postponement.
This is authoritative.
Sunday Vanguard was made to understand in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, that the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, had summoned an emergency meeting of Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, penultimate week, to review the Commission’s preparedness for the election, as well as look into areas requiring urgent attention.
Conscious of legal latitude, INEC was said to have called an emergency meeting to review its operations on Monday, January 26, 2015, with the notice sent out a week earlier, based on the executive assessment of readiness for the election by its Board. The assessment by INEC’s Board had identified some challenges with meeting deadlines and was going to share it with the wider body of policy implementers who also had their concerns based on their field assessment on the level of preparedness. Given this background, all the Commission’s stakeholders were shocked to hear the NSA make reference to possible postponement without consulting with the electoral body.
And whereas an INEC insider disclosed to Sunday Vanguard that “but for the statement of the NSA which they claimed gave a colouration of politics to the issue, INEC was possibly going to make its own independent adjustment to the time-table, to avert a repeat of the postponement of election after already deploying personnel and materials as was the case in 2011 when there was a shift from 2 April till Thursday the 4th and again shifted to the 9th of April – that postponement was necessitated by the failure of contractors to meet supply schedules”, another source within the Commission made Sunday Vanguard to understand that indeed the NSA may have been doing his job innocently, “the Commission Chairman was already adamant just as was the case in 2011 when the nation was sent on a wild goose chase only to return to the path of sanity by eventually postponing the election”.
The latter source further insisted that the NSA with his bird’s-eye view of the security situation in the country may have just attempted to try to try to shield the Commission from public opprobrium regarding the laxity to effectively distribute PVCs since last year by pre-empting the issue of postponement.
Sunday Vanguard was made to understand that that issue is still one of the key challenges identified by the INEC Board assessment.
Another technical problem that is emerging include the fact that although the electoral body, on its part, has placed orders for the production of ballot papers, it was restrained by the legal window which was tied to the outcome of the party primaries and the window for substitution of candidates which only terminated on December 30, 2014. After the primaries and substitution were done, the Commission had to compile the outcomes and confirm with the parties, as indicated by development of January 26, 2015, which saw INEC, through a press release, dropping some parties candidates for not meeting the legal requirements of Section 187 of the constitution, with reference to nomination of running mates for the gubernatorial election.
By that development, it was clear that the Commission’s final list of parties involved in the election and their candidates was only just being finalised, and therefore “the Commission could not have ordered for definitive ballot papers without such crucial information”.
“Taking the latter development into account”, the usually dependable INEC source continued, “it means that the production of the ballot papers was only just ordered. This is a process which is outside the full scheduling control of INEC. Caught between legal constraints from the Electoral Act and Constitution, as well as the technical challenges from contractors engaged with the production of ballot papers, result sheets, electoral forms and envelopes that are currently being customized, to enhance the fidelity of the process, and the inability of politicians to move them from one polling area to another, INEC is currently faced with a heavy burden to meet the February 14 date, without organizing a shambolic election”.
According to the very server INEC official, “Professor Jega is bent on organizing a free, fair and credible election but his hands are currently being tied by the politicians who are playing games with the integrity and fidelity of the process”.
Had those been the only challenges confronting INEC, opinion would still have been divided.
Worse to come is the fact that the Commission, the source continued, “is yet to commence training of election-day personnel for the polling unit activities. This is more serious when it is considered that a new technology – the electronic card reader authentication – is being introduced to the process.
“This means that thousands of NYSC, post-NYSC and federal civil servants as well as lecturers have less than 15days to be recruited, indoctrinated and technically trained to handle these devices and possible contingencies that may arise if there are technical failures when using this innovative devices.”
Stemming from that, the source disclosed, “is the number of ad-hoc personnel that are required due to the need to create more accreditation points or voting points. This arose because many polling units now have 1,000 to 2,000 voters, which require being broken into more points of accreditation which insiders call voting points.
“As a result of this”, Sunday Vanguard was told, “each polling unit may now require not less than eight personnel instead of four that were previously needed.
“When this is multiplied by 120,000 existing polling units, it means that the Commission may need to recruit about 960,000 ad-hoc personnel nationwide within the next two weeks and train them on normal electoral processes and the added technical challenges related to the card reader that have been highlighted above.
“In addition to the requirement to train this massive number of people, INEC personnel also have to be committed to the ongoing distribution of PVCs, particularly to those who were registered in the Continuous Voters Registration exercise expected to be delivered to the country this week, just a week to the election – these will need to be received, sorted out, before distribution nationwide to appropriate registration areas in 120,000 places, and the problems arising from the distribution simultaneously addressed”.
Due to these diverse challenges, Sunday Vanguard discovered that the Commission was already considering what to do to address then, before the NSA compounded the issues, that appears to have now barred INEC from taking such decision for postponement independently only because it may not want to be seen as being dictated to by the government through the NSA.
As things stand, the source declared, “this may now result in the Commission being stampeded into going ahead with the presidential election despite the worries by many electoral Commissioners nationwide. Most are yet to receive critical materials required for the election. The Commission may be braving the risk of a fatally flawed election.
The source then warned:“if it goes ahead despite these lapses, politicians may now take advantage of the lapses. It is quite possible that the Commission may have actually fallen into a grand trap which was intended to force it to stick to the time-table, so that the plans to strengthen the process cannot be perfected”.
One of the main issues INEC had to worry about is the constraint of meeting the legal requirement with regard to the time-frame for conducting the election. In this connection, unlike 2011 when it had to go to the National Assembly, the Commission had some time within which adjustments to the time-table can be accommodated in line with Sections 76, 132 and 178 of the Constitution, which are to the effect that “the Independent National Electoral Commission shall have the power to conduct election, not earlier than 150days and not later than 30days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of the that office”. Under this time-frame-the Commission had the 28th of April, 2015 as its maximum time bar, which means it has enough time within its own allowable time-frame under the Constitution without reference to the National Assembly.