From Noah Ebije, Kaduna
Although no specific date has been fixed by the Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission (SIECOM), for the conduct of the local government elections, the plan to condu ct the exercise electronically has been generated heated debate among the members of political class.
The election would pick the chairmen and the rest of the political office holders in the 23 council areas of the state. Ahead of the exercise, SIECOM alongside all the registered political parties in the state, met to rub minds on the need to adopt the electronic system for the conduct of the election in the state.
No fewer than 20 political parties attended the meeting, but the leading opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was visibly absent. As if that had not spoken enough, some of the representatives of the political parties that attended pointedly accused SIECOM officials of doing the bidding of the state government, led by the All Progressives Congress (APC).
They also said that electronic voting system was not full proof, fearing that the outcome of the election may be manipulated by SIECOM in favor of government and the candidates of the ruling party. Also, a majority of the stakeholders picked holes in the planned use of civil servants as ad-hoc staff during the exercise, insisting that their neutrality was in doubt as they (civil servants) were 100 percent loyal to government.
Chairman of SIECOM, Dr. Binta Dikko-Audu, disclosed that electronic voting system was in use in 10 countries of the world, including Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Curacao, Haiti Mexico, Philippines, USA, Venezuela and Zambia. She added that the commission was in Brazil to understudy the voting model, while adding that they had made arrangements for the mass production of electronic machines from China.
She explained that the choice of the Brazilian model of electronic voting was informed by the fact that the country was equally a third world country like Nigeria and had similar features in terms of population. She maintained that Brazil, which had the same level of literacy like Nigeria, had recorded success in the use of electronic voting system, wondering why the same model would not succeed in Nigeria and in Kaduna State in particular.
Dikko-Audu, while highlighting some of the features of the Brazilian model, disclosed that the model ensured that children were registered at birth and were eventually allowed to cast their votes as from the age of 16 even as they were compulsorily required to vote at age 18.
She added that the Commission’s visit to Brazil had afforded them the opportunity to learn a few new things among them the identification of political office contestants by their numbers and the implementation of sanctions against those who did not cast their votes. She also listed the benefits of electronic voting system to include the speed of the counting process, guaranteed security and its ability to cut out blank and void votes.
Long before the stakeholders’ meeting was convened by the umpire, a number of stakeholders and groups expressed doubts about the proposed electronic voting system. One of the groups was the PDP. The party argued that system was not full proof and was, therefore, amenable to manipulation and distortions by the umpire and their ally. It also held that it would encourage under- aged voters during the election.
State chairman of PDP, Mr. Hassan Hyat, said as long as the state government was involved in the procurement of the electronic voting materials, then something was wrong: “The government is talking of electronic voting. We have asked one simple question and the answer has not been provided.
“SIECOM does not have the names of registered voters. They rely on INEC. What they are doing now is that they have collected the voter’s register and are transferring the names into their card reader. The issue is that for any election to be credible there must be a voters’ register, which you will display for people to go and see.
“I asked them, can you display it from the card readers and their answer was No. Now, if you cannot display from the card readers what you fed in, how are we sure that it was what you collected from the INEC that you fed into the card readers? Therefore, we will not accept that. Certainly, we shall not accept it.
“Secondly, SIECOM has gone to China and were shown how it works and it has stopped there. The state government had taken over the process through the office of the Secretary to the State Government. How the machine will be configured SIECOM is not aware and it is SIECOM that is going to conduct elections, not the state government.
“Therefore, for the state government to be involved in the procurement of the materials that will be used leaves a question mark. It simply shows that it is the government that is conducting the elections and if the government is to conduct elections, we will not accept it.
“Yes, of course, SIECOM was established by law and members there are appointed in accordance with the law. And it is that law that says they are independent. They are therefore supposed to be independent. If they allow themselves to be controlled by government it is a different thing altogether. It is that independence that we want to see.”
But Professor Nkom, spokesman of the commission, had a contrary view: “The whole world is turning to electronic voting now. It is essentially the best way to ensure there is no rigging, snatching of ballot boxes and that everybody’s vote is accounted for.
“The details will be given when we are ready. When we are ready we will carry out the second phase of our responsibility, which is voters’ education. We would talk about how are we are going to do the election, what we are going to use and which people are going to be involved.”
As to when the election will hold, he responded: “You don’t fix election dates until you are sure that everything is in place. The moment you announce the dates, you have exactly 90 days within which it must hold.
“So if you announce the election date without adequate preparations, you may end up in trouble and that is why we are waiting. We want to be adequately prepared before announcing election date.
“Our job is to conduct election into positions in the 23 local governments. The positions are those of chairmen and councilors. People have been asking questions concerning the delay, but it is not about the delay, it is a question of readiness.
“Our main concern has been how to correct certain lapses that we noticed in the electoral process which has to do with misconception on what electoral process is. The moment we talk about electoral process in this country, people think we only talk about election, but electoral process covers more than just election.”