Anxiety Mounts Over Card Readers As States Go To Polls

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• Votes won’t count without device, says INEC
• Seeks return of stolen machines in Bayelsa

Ahead of the governorship and state assembly elections tomorrow, there is anxiety across the country about the use of the smart card readers.

One of the allegations raised to discredit the Presidential and National Assembly elections was that while the use of the card readers was strictly enforced in the southern part of the country, to the effect that those not accredited by the machines were not allowed to vote, the rule was relaxed in the northern states, leading to a higher number of votes cast to determine the winners.

As the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) insists that no election will hold without the card reader, there is concern over the functionality of the device at the critical time so that eligible and registered voters will not be disenfranchised.The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room yesterday lauded the INEC’s stand, but called for an effective and uncompromised use of the device.

At a press conference yesterday in Abuja, the head of the situation room, Clement Nwankwo, said given the concerns raised regarding the use of the card readers in the presidential and National Assembly elections, INEC should make public the data captured by the technological device to ensure transparency in the election process.

“The situation room expects an improved administration and management of tomorrow’s elections and asks the INEC to take steps to hold its staff to account for any partisan activities or behaviour.“INEC should also enforce the provisions of its guidelines that restrict the role of security agents to that of providing security for its officials, party agents and observers rather than reported incidents in the previous election where security personnel became active participants in collation and sometimes undermined it.”

The Delta State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Dr. Cyril Omoregbe, urged political parties participating in tomorrow’s elections to educate their members on the need to ensure they use the smart card readers, or forfeit such votes, irrespective of the Supreme Court’s ruling that card readers are not a constitutional provision.

“Any voting unit where smart card readers are not used, such votes won’t count, We have had several meetings on how best to conduct a free, fair and credible elections. We don’t expect anyone to sabotage this election, because the failure of card readers is attributable to human error. So if you don’t use the card readers, your vote won’t count.

“This is not a do-or-die affair. My job is to ensure that no one steals your votes. I like to also appeal to the electorate to vote their conscience. No one should buy your votes for another four years, as you will remain the losers,” Omoregbe said.According to him, “political party agents have been told not to sign wherever card readers were not used. From the last experience, we have a back up and where all fail, elections in those places will be repeated the next day. We will also get the machines tested before deployment. Because of that experience, we are moving them early, and by Friday (today), they will be properly tested, and by Saturday, the card readers will be ready.”

Also, the Campaign for Democracy and Development (CDD) yesterday insisted on the use of the card readers across the country.The Director, Idayat Hassan, argued that its stand is in line with the provisions of section 49 (2) of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended.Decrying the selective use of the card readers during the February 23 elections, the group enjoined INEC to avoid a repeat of the infraction to ensure the conduct of a free and fair governorship and state assembly polls.Hassan spoke yesterday as INEC declared a two-day amnesty to the card readers thieves who are still with the remaining devices stolen during the last elections in the state.

The Resident Electoral Commissioner, Tom Udoh, who gave the ultimatum, warned those still with the machines to return them of face the full wrath of the law. Udoh, who declared the amnesty while addressing stakeholders yesterday in Yenagoa, disclosed that the commission has retrieved 22 card readers out of the 64 stolen by thugs in the February 23 election. He warned that the management would take strict actions on areas where card readers are yet to be recovered.He explained that out of the 24 missing in Nembe Local Government area, only 14 were recovered while in Sagbama, three have been recovered out of eight. In Southern Ijaw Local Government, only two out of the 24 stolen were recovered while two were returned out of the six missing in Yenagoa.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) also demanded the recovery of the card readers. APC’s Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yekini Nabena, who briefed reporters in Abuja accused the People Democratic Party (PDP) leaders in the state of masterminding the alleged disappearance of the card readers to be used to rig tomorrow’s elections.

Besides the worry over use of card readers, there is also the fear of attack by political thugs.A cross section of traders at the popular Lagos market, Alaba International, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) yesterday that following the attack on some of their people during the February 23 presidential and National Assembly elections, they were not likely to participate in tomorrow’s elections.

The spokesman of F Line in the market, Mr. Chima Achike, said though the majority of them were eligible voters, they would not want to risk their lives for any election.“Our people were attacked in the last election for expressing their rights to vote for a candidate of their choice by political thugs who perceived that they were voting against their own choice candidates and party.“Instead of going out to vote on Saturday, our members that I spoke with have expressed indifference to it, citing the February 23 incident as reason,’’ he said.

Achike, who condemned election violence and voter apathy, said that there was no general circular from the market leaders and associations for people to stay away, but the response and opinion of traders were tending towards political apathy.Another trader, Mr. Augustine Chiduele, said that one of his relations escaped being lynched during the polls.“Although it was strenuous for me to cast my vote that day, now that violence has been added to the whole thing, it is no longer fun to vote,’’ Chiduele said.

The recent military attack in Karim Moundi village of Karim-Lamido Local Government Area in Taraba State may tell negatively on tomorrow’s elections as the people have vowed to boycott the exercise, pending when the military personnel are called to order.The faceoff between the community and the soldiers who are currently being camped in a nearby primary school in the area was said to have begun from the market square before spreading to the nooks and crannies of the town.

The attack, which led to the death of three persons, and left many others injured, is now making the people of the community to have a second thought over tomorrow’s elections.For fear of more attacks, some persons who spoke to our reporter during a visit to the village yesterday, alleged that soldiers were making them to live in fear “despite our peaceful coexistence here.”

A man whose two sons were killed by stray bullets during the upheaval urged the government to bring to book all the soldiers that carried out the mayhem that led to the loss of lives in the community. The man, who did not want his name published, said: “When they shot one of my children, my second son rushed to the scene to rescue him only for them to shoot him too. While one of them died on the spot, the other one died in the hospital.”The Special Adviser to the governor on Community Health, Dr. Garba Badina, said the incident “will definitely affect Saturday’s elections.”

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