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‘INEC needs complementary patriots to succeed’

A vital requirement in an election is an accurate voter’s register. But inclusion of unlikely names such as Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Michael Jackson and…

A vital requirement in an election is an accurate voter’s register. But inclusion of unlikely names such as Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Michael Jackson and so on, in voters registers in Nigeria shows evidence of inaccuracy. This happened in the case of Anambra State where the governorship election took place last week. What happened?

A lot of issues come up in this voters roll. Those who are making this point do not realize that some efforts at correcting certain problems either throw up unintended problems of their own or highlight problems that were not easily noticed. Prior to the introduction of the present electronic voters register, you could register as Obama and anything and nobody would know. We are seeing these things now because our new system lays them bare. Fortunately, you really don’t need to worry because people can register such funny names but can’t come forward with cards bearing the names and be allowed to vote. They can get up to much mischief when the voters roll is being prepared but they can’t   come out to vote in questionable identities. In the past when there were no photographs, when we had no stored photographic means of identifying the registered voter, a man could answer fictitious names and probably get away with it. We’ve overcome all that. You can’t come out now and claim anything that you are not and have the opportunity to vote.

How, in the first place, do such strange names get into the voters register?

It’s just mischief by people who want to rubbish the efforts of INEC. Some people feel, ‘Ok you are introducing this and you say it’s a very good system, let’s see just how good it is. Let us show you that we can put any name there. We will do it in collaboration with people from even your own side.’ But they know that such is how far they can go. They can’t show up to vote in such false names. It’s like when we heard that some people were buying up voters’ cards in Anambra State. We said, ‘You are buying cards of other people. It is bad enough, but you can’t use the cards that you buy.’ Buying up cards or using fictitious names are all attempts by people to subvert the system and do multiple voting. But we see to it that they don’t succeed.

It is still difficult to understand. Must people use names that sound so unlikely and therefore raise doubts instantly?

It’s because some people who want to cheat are not intelligent enough in the way they go about it. In a specific case in Anambra, a surname was repeated over a hundred times. They ran out of names and got stuck with one family name repeated several times over. One thing it shows is the extent to which dubious characters go to in attempts to mess up the whole thing. They give us extra jobs to do. In other countries people often compare us with, they don’t have the kind of setting that we have. Everyone ought to do the right thing if our job is to be easy. There is no way the commission alone can deliver the election we always cite as good examples if as we are working some people are equally working to saboutage the system. Every day, people are attacking you and hoping to see how the commission will collapse.

Many people in Anambra State complained that they were not allowed to vote in the election of last week.

Some people did not tell the whole truth. There was problem with voters register, in terms of a  name not being in the register or so. But there is one thing that the commission said: Anybody who had valid voters registration card was allowed to vote. That was the rule. So, all these people who are saying they were not allowed to vote, if you said your name was on the register but you don’t have a card, then of course they would not allow you to vote.

Some said they were disallowed from voting when it was past three. They said it was not their fault that voting commenced late in some places.

Let me tell you what the rule says and what obtains. If you start election by 9 o’clock, or if materials arrive late and you start by say 11 o’clock, that election will not end until all who are on the queue to vote finish voting. The voting can drag on for quite a while but it is not an issue. It can’t be true for anybody to say I came and lined up to vote with my card and I wasn’t allowed to vote because voting closed. It can’t be true. Voting will not close till all who are around to vote finish voting

People actually protested that polling closed while they were still waiting to vote. It was on television.

That’s strange. It’s strange because the law says anybody who comes to vote must vote irrespective of whatever time fixed to end voting. The time limit applies only in situations when people no longer come for voting. If you say closing time is 4 pm and it’s 4 pm and you see nobody asking to vote, then of course you have done your job for the day. But your job as a poll official does not end till voting ends, when people have finished voting.

What about the matter of election materials arriving late and delaying start of voting? Nigerians say INEC has no excuse because it was after all just Anambra State. What happens next year when elections will be taking place all across the country?

Election materials. You know some of these issues. We can’t get tired of explaining them. All non-sensitive election materials got to Anambra State two weeks before the election. The sensitive materials, by which you are talking about balloting paper and everything, got to Anambra at least three days before the election. They were all there.

What then happened?

On the morning of election, our staff were all available to go out. But what the law says is that you can’t move any of those materials without police escort. The Police deployed a large number of officials and men for the Anambra election, but I think on the morning of the election the Police were having a problem of not paying their men early enough, or whatever it was, and those men did not turn up for materials early enough. Nobody can say rightly that the materials were not available. They were there. The Police had to be there to accompany those to move the materials. In Anambra or wherever election is holding in Nigeria, if you do not involve the Police, if you move those materials without police escort, the materials will disappear. People will hijack them.

There is this insinuation that INEC has no reason to celebrate the Anambra election, that abracadabra marked the emergence of winner and losers.

In Nigeria, losers in election see abracadabra. For the man who wins, it’s a good election. But there is abracadabra for the people who lose. In Anambra all party agents were involved in all arrangements, the movement of election materials, the voting process, counting and announcing of votes, all through. We said ballots should be announced at the polling booths. The agents were there to verify the results and to sign. We insisted that all these things must be the practice. We try by all means possible to make these things transparent but if people will not believe, what do you do again? What else can you do?

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