7 May, 2013
Re: ‘INEC and Voters’ Card’
I write this rejoinder to the Editorial commentary in The Guardian newspaper edition for Monday, May 06, 2013, which was titled ‘INEC and Voters’ Card’. As the title suggests, the commentary apparently aimed at a critique of the plan by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) to persons currently listed on the National Register of Voters; but the piece ended up taking issue with the economics of the voter registration exercise of 2011, and conflated that with an alleged plan by the Commission to conduct a fresh registration exercise. With due respect, the Editorial commentary paraded a confused jumble of issues that really are distinct, and which were taken out of their respective context. I endeavour here to separate these issues and illuminate their respective circumstance – for proper information of your newspaper and the education of the reading public.
Let me, first, say that INEC appreciates and fully shares your newspaper’s concern over the huge financial costs of elections in Nigeria. Indeed, a major thrust of its strategic planning presently is to seek ways of remarkably cutting back on expenditure while safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process. INEC has, thus, been looking at cost-saving international best practices that can be adapted to Nigerian peculiarities without exposing the system to abuse. But that is not to say the Commission has been on a needless spending binge. On the contrary, every expenditure by the present INEC under the leadership of Professor Attahiru Jega has been necessitated and strictly undertaken as an investment – with an eye on saving the country further costs in the future. That was the reality of the 2011 voter registration exercise, the cost of which your newspaper took a strong exception to.
The Editorial commentary took off by decrying the recent Federal Executive Council approval of N2.1 billion budget for INEC to produce 33.5 million PVCs that will be issued to registered voters. The suggestion by the commentary is that this cost requirement is isolated and needless; but, in truth, it is neither of these. The approved fund is for the second batch of PVCs being produced for the 73.5million eligible voters registered by the Commission during the exercise conducted in January-February 2011. The government had last year (2012) approved N2.6 billion for production of the first batch of 40 million cards, while the latest approval is for the second phase of the same project.
You could, of course, ask: Is the PVC project at all necessary? Well, the history of Nigeria’s electoral system proves that it is. The PVCs will replace the cold-laminated Temporary Voter Cards that were issued during the voter registration exercise in 2011. Experience has shown that these temporary cards are not only fragile, but also susceptible to abuse by unscrupulous persons, who were in the past reported to have illicitly massed up the cards and put them in the hands of cronies to use in manipulating elections. Procedures put in place by INEC since the 2011 General Election have considerably lessened the susceptibility of these cards to such abuse. But the PVCs the Commission will in due course issue to registered voters are far much more fraud-proof. They are chip-based, with the chip on each card containing all the biometric data of a legitimate holder. During elections, the PVC will be swiped with a card reader at the polling unit to ensure 100 per cent authentication and verification of the voter before he/she is allowed to vote. In effect, only a legitimate holder can present the card at a polling unit to cast his/her vote; while an illegitimate holder can be detected and prevented from using the card.
As for its economics, the PVC is being produced at a modest cost of about N65 per card, and it will have an average life span of ten years. It is precisely to prevent a fresh outlay of capital after the expiration of this life span that the INEC chairman, at the FEC meeting where approval was given for the second batch, pointed the way to making the National Identity Card the document for voter identification in future elections in Nigeria. The expectation is that by the time the PVC’s life span expires, the national ID system should have come fully on stream and there should be no need for the country to incur fresh costs on separate identity document for voters.
The most confused logic in your newspaper’s Editorial commentary is the connection made between the PVC project and a fresh registration exercise INEC is alleged to be contemplating. For avoidance of doubt, sir, there is no plan for any fresh registration exercise and there is certainly no cause for one. Contrary to suggestions by the commentary, the 2011 voter registration exercise was successful and provides a solid basis for this country to finally discard the expensive cycle of massive registration exercises usually undertaken before General Elections in the past. The data of 73.5 million eligible voters gathered in the 2011 exercise is widely adjudged the most credible in this country’s history, and the Commission has ever since been cleaning up and consolidating the data to eliminate cases of duplication or multiple registration. All that INEC plans now is the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) mandated by Section 10 of Electoral Act 2010, as Amended. This procedure, which is a global best practice, allows for regular update of the National Register of Voters with the data of persons who freshly turned 18 years; while the records of those who are certified as deceased get cleaned out. Incidentally, the electoral laws of this country have always provided for the exercise, but the provision was always observed in the breach until the present Commission came on board and resolved to implement it as prescribed. The CVR will be rolled out by INEC nationally in the course of this year and will remain a permanent feature of the country’s political process.
A word on the cost of the 2011 elections and the registration exercise that your Editorial commentary denigrated so strongly: The cost, truly, was relatively huge – regrettably, but inevitably. However, contrary to lingering speculations, the actual cost of the 2011 elections, including all costs involved in the voter registration exercise, is N66.3 billion for Recurrent Expenditure and N56.6 billion for Capital Expenditure – making a total of N122.9 billion or, if you like, $800.6 million at an exchange rate of N153.5 to $1 which prevailed at the time. (Note: This represented a savings of some N9 billion on a total of N131.4 billion that was appropriated, and a far cry from N566.2 billion speculated in the Editorial commentary.) Recall that this present Commission came in June 2010 to inherit a voters’ list that no Nigerian wanted kept at whatever cost, and it also had a challenge with the legal timeline that allowed it barely six months to the 2011 General Election. Faced with the national consensus against the existing register and the severe time constraint before the elections, the Commission had to adopt a methodology requiring that Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines be deployed in all the 120, 000 polling units nationwide, plus ten per cent redundancies in the event of breakdowns. That explains the 132, 000 DDC machines procured for the voter registration. There were, of course, additional cost implications with the massive workforce (i.e., 450, 000 ad hoc staff) enlisted to conduct the exercise. If comparison must be made, as the Editorial commentary did, INEC captured the data of 73.5 million eligible voters in barely three weeks; whereas Bangladesh gathered the data for 80 million persons in 11 months, aided by the country’s military. INEC had previously explained the logic of the huge cost of the 2011 exercise, and it bears restating here for accuracy of the records of history. Let me assure you that this Commission is fiscally responsible, and it is for that reason it recently negotiated the sell-off of 78, 000 units of the laptop component of DDC machines it will not need for the CVR to some state governments.
INEC is assiduously working and will spare no effort to upscale the integrity of Nigeria’s electoral system beyond the modest achievements recorded in 2011. Already, the Commission is pursuing plans and programmes that will make the 2015 elections the best in Nigeria’s political history. We can confidently say that the future of Nigeria’s electoral system can’t be brighter.
Kayode Robert Idowu
Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman
Cc: (i) Editor-in-Chief, The Guardian
(ii) Chairman, Editorial Board, The Guardian