Card reader aided success of presidential poll – Okoye | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Card reader aided success of presidential poll – Okoye

Posted: Apr 13, 2015 at 12:42 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Barrister Festus Okoye is a Kaduna-based constitutional lawyer. He is also the National Coordinator of Independent Monitoring Group, which monitored the just concluded Presidential elections. In this interview with SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, GABRIEL JOHN, he speaks on issues surrounding the exercise and sets agenda for the President-elect. Excerpts…

Barrister Festus Okoye

Barrister Festus Okoye

What role did you play in the Presidential election, and what are your views about the exercise?

I participated at two levels. I participated at the level of Independent Monitoring Group, and we deployed 1,500 observers across the country to observe the election. I am a member of the Independent Monitoring Group (IMG) and Human Right Monitoring (HRM) group. I participated in the civil service situation room. The civil service situation room is made up of 20 organisations from where observers are deployed to various states of the federation.  So, I participated as one of the analysts at the situation room that analysed the reports of the observers that were deployed across the country and issue report. So, that is the level of my participation.

How would you assess the election, compared to the 2011 presidential election?

I think that there was a great difference. The variables in 2011 are completely different from the variables now. In 2011, the President-elect was the Presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), which was one of the political parties that contested the presidential elections then.  At that time, the CPC had no sitting governor, no sitting councillor, no sitting member of the House of Representatives, and no sitting members of the House of Assembly. It was a newly registered political party. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) also fielded the presidential candidate. The All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) also fielded a presidential candidate and other political parties also had their own presidential candidates.  In 2015, the CPC, ACN, ANPP, together with some elements of APGA now came together under one platform to form the All Progressives Congress (APC). The APC has over 10 governors on its platform. So, the dynamics in 2011 are completely different from the ones in 2015. In 2011, the incumbent president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, faced a divided opposition and won completely. This year, he faced a united opposition and lost completely. That is the major difference between the 2011 election and 2015 Presidential election. Another difference is that in 2011, religion did not play a dominant role in the elections, in 2015, religion played a dominant role. In 2011, the spectrum of insurgency, the spectrum of so many Nigerians being on exile or refugees and the spectrum of so many Nigerians being internally displaced was not there. In 2015, the insurgency and internally displaced persons became a very big issue in the elections. So, I think that there are so many variables that defined the Presidential election this year. Also, you know that in 2011, card readers were not used for the elections.  In 2015, card readers were used. Despite that card readers malfunctioned in some states and also were undermined in others, it provided the level of flexibility for the electoral process and ensured that it was only persons, who are genuine registered voters that participated in the elections. To a large extent, I think the election was free, fair and credible, according to the level Nigeria is operating today. Though there were incidences of ballot boxes snatching, and cancellation of votes in some polling units, all these were minimal, as compared to the 2011 general elections. The new technology used in this election helped to facilitate the success of the exercise, but more still need to be done.

That means you support the use of card readers in future elections?

The card reader technology is the best and only way to go. The use of technology can only enhance our elections. It will improve the credibility and cannot diminish it. The card readers have to be used in future elections. Not only that, it is very important for us to amend our Electoral Act to introduce the use of voting machines in our elections; so that when you are registered as a voter, and when you pick up your Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and also use the card reader, the card reader will verify the biometric data of the voters to be sure that the voter card presented at the polling unit is the card issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The card will also indicate the biometric and finger print of individual voters. That will help in accrediting voters. That has eliminated multiple voting, people going to the polling unit with other people’s cards and so on. The next stage is to get the voting machines where in, after accreditation, you can use your Permanent Voter Card (PVC) to you vote. You vote the party you want to vote for, and it is recorded. By so doing, the manipulation of figures, snatching of ballot papers and corrupting electoral officers will be eliminated. The future of elections in Nigeria, the future of our elections credibility lies in technology, and technology can only enhance our electoral process and not diminishing it.

The Presidential election has been won and lost. The president-elect will be sworn in on May 29. What priority area (s) will you want the President-elect, General Buhari, to focus on?

I am sure the new President belongs to a political party. The political party has a programme, they have a vision, they have a manifesto and they have also made promises to the Nigeria populace. From my own point of view, the biggest challenge to the corporate existence of Nigeria, the biggest challenge to the Nigerian people is insecurity. Nigerian people want insurgency to be tackled decisively by making sure that Borno State, which is one of the North East states, is safe and there is be no more insurgency; that our people who are internally displaced or who are refugees in Cameroun, Chad and Niger can come back to their homes without fear of insecurity; that the people that are internally displaced can go back to their homes. What we need is a master plan of reconstruction, a master plan of stability, and a master plan of compensation, for the people of the North east so that they can rebuild their lives to ensure that the insurgency and suicide bombings become be a thing of the past. The issue of security and insecurity in the country is key to whatever the plan the President has for this country. The second thing is the issue of the economy. The Nigerian economy is on the verge of collapse. The drop in the price of oil at the international level has created a big gap in the budget. Figures are no longer adding up, so many things like constant payment of salaries to civil servants and teachers.  So many states owe salaries. We need a president that will tackle decisively the economic issues in the county and provide employment, which will invariably assist the Nigerian people to put food on their tables. The second issue relates to energy. Most Nigerians believe that if we have stable power supply, the informal sector will grow and boom. There will be fewer people depending on government for a living. For me, the key issues are security of lives and property, economy, and stable power supply. These are the key challenges that the new government must tackle as quickly as possible to give our people hope and direction.

Before the final results were announced, President Goodluck Jonathan called and congratulated the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari; what does his action portray?

What it means is that the electoral process is beginning to conform to both regional and international patterns. Here, the trend is very clear. The President saw the trend and knew when some of the results came in that there was no way he could catch up with his opponent in terms of majority of votes cast, and also in terms of the spread as provided by section 134 of the constitution. Section 134 of the constitution provides that before somebody can be declared as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in an election, he must score the majority of votes cast. Also, he must score a quarter of the votes cast across the states of the federation. What that means is that the highlight of the constitution wants a President with national appeal; not a regional president. It wants a president with a Nigerian mandate and that is what is important. So, President Jonathan read the trend, and to the good of Nigeria people, and to his own credit, congratulated the President-elect. His action lowered tension in the country, and also re-assured foreign investors and our friends at the international level that Nigeria is a stable country and that Nigeria can handle its transition programme more creditably and more decisively. For that, I congratulate him, and also wish him well.