Much Ado about PVCs

The 2015 Elections in Nigeria kicked off on Saturday (March 28) with the presidential, senatorial and House of Representatives’ polls. The Elections would continue on Sunday for areas where voting could not commence or could not be concluded. In the midst of the massive election dust, one vital item on which INEC hinged increased credibility has failed Nigerians. 

The permanent voters’ cards (PVCs) in conjunction with the card readers were supposed to help end decades of impunity in the nation’s electoral system. After years of massive rigging via multiple thumb printing, many Nigerians heaved sighs of relieve when INEC announced that it was implementing a system to thwart the evil deeds of many politicians, and help put voters where they ought to be—at the heart of the electoral system.

With PVCs at the background, promising one man-one vote, politicians embarked on massive campaigns to woo voters. The campaign handbook was revised with the notion that the PVC-card reader biometric checks would allow only duly authenticated and accredited persons to vote. Hence, voters had to be lured to support respective candidates.

As Nigerians hailed INEC’s initiative, the PDP and some other political parties raised objections to the new system, claiming that the system would disenfranchise many voters. Many Nigerians were cynical of their motive, suspecting that the real grouse was the impediment to free flowing rigging. To allay fears, INEC conducted a test-run in some states, and pledged to fix the challenges that were noticed during the test-run.

Move forward to the Election Day. The first omen of a rough day was when live on television, the Nigerian president could not be accredited using his PVC and four card readers. INEC resorted to manual accreditation for him (on self-recognition). Though some areas had no problems with the new system, reports of card readers failing to function as intended started pouring in from various parts of the country. It was noticed that the lenses of many card readers still had their protective films on them. An advisory was quickly issued for officials to remove the offending films. It helped some polling units, but the general problem continued.

At various polling units with card reader issues, officials started bypassing biometric verification, while some even ditched PVC authentication. Later, INEC issued a statement authorizing the use of manual accreditation—the very system it was trying to change. The godfathers of rigging immediately put their shenanigan capabilities into full gear.

Where did INEC go wrong? Just like many Nigerian policies, the problem was not policy, but policy implementation. After spending billions of naira on the new system, Nigerians have been deprived of the benefits. I believe that INEC’s biggest mistake was the lack of a structured deployment plan. The card readers should have been tested in a large mock election. Then, the various gubernatorial elections that held last year could have been used for real life testing of the system. Each test would have provided challenges to be solved during the next test. This way, most challenges would have been resolved before this year’s general polls.

The statements above are just conjectures. I do not know whether INEC had enough funds to have facilitated an earlier deployment of PVCs and card readers in last year’s elections. However, INEC’s chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega’s oft-repeated claim that INEC was prepared for the elections, is a noose round his neck. This fiasco does not show much preparedness, though I must be fair in saying that INEC tried.

The evil-stopping PVC-card reader system has failed in its debut. Nonetheless, just as any sports’ fan knows, a bad debut does not mean a bad career. Can INEC fix these problems within the two weeks before the next set of polls? Time would tell, though I seriously doubt it. However, we can be assured that our democracy is deepening. Rigging may last for a night, but clean polls would come in the morning. Soon, Nigeria would get to Planet Clean Polls.

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