2015 Elections And Need To Vote Right - by Jide Ojo

It’s 72 hours to the Election Day and what seems like an unending journey to polls will finally take place on March 28 and April 11, 2015. When the Independent National Electoral Commission chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, announced a six-week polls shift on February 7, it seemed like eternity but here we are. 

There is a saying that only a date that is not fixed does not come. In the intervening period, we have seen the Nigerian armed forces breaking the backbone of the insurgent group, Boko Haram, recovering lost territories from the Islamic sect and boasting that never again will the terrorist group be allowed to lay claim to any part of Nigeria. Though the military seem to have gained the upper hand in dealing with the insurgents, the question on the lips of many analysts are, why do we have to wait for this long to deal fatal blow on Boko Haram considering that the sect had practically been operating with impunity since 2009?

The six-week shift has also afforded INEC an opportunity to cross the t’s and dot the i’s of its preparations. Among other things, the electoral body has been able to improve significantly on the collection rate of the Permanent Voter Cards from the about 60 per cent as of February 7 to 82 per cent as of March 21, 2015. INEC has also been able to conduct a field test of the Smartcard Reader through a mock accreditation exercise in 12 states on March 7. Hands-on training of poll workers has also been done while several review meetings were also being held by the commission.

It is noteworthy that a few things are unique about the coming elections, the fifth general election since the advent of the Fourth Republic. One of such is that with the merger of three political parties to form the All Progressives Congress and the approval of the merger by INEC on July 31, 2013, Nigeria now has a de facto two-party system even though de jure, we are a multiparty state with about 29 registered political parties. Another peculiar thing about the coming elections is the unpredictable outcome of Saturday’s presidential election. Three days to the poll, the bookmakers are uncertain where the pendulum of victory will swing.

At INEC’s end, it is the first time a permanent voter card embedded chips (machine readable) will be used for elections in the country. Hitherto, INEC had grappled to have an electronic voter registration exercise which contains the biometric information (picture and fingerprint) of the voters. INEC is advancing on that and had procured 182,000 smartcard readers for the verification and authentication of the voters. All these are meant to check electoral fraud. This is also the first elections in Nigeria where millions of Internally Displaced Persons will be allowed to vote at special voting centres which had been created for them by the electoral commission.

An additional novel thing INEC is doing in preparation for the forthcoming elections are the appointment, training and deployment of Political Finance Desk Officers to track campaign finance of political parties and contestants. Prior to that, INEC in 2013 published the “Guidelines and Regulations for Political Parties”. It is the first time since inception that INEC will be tracking the campaign finance of political parties and in addition, that of candidates.

The elections are perhaps the most expensive for political parties and their contestants. The Centre for Social Justice on March 11 at a news conference in Abuja accused the frontline political parties, especially the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress of breaking campaign finance rules by overshooting the ceiling for permissible expenditure for presidential candidate which is N1bn. According to group’s Lead Director, Eze Onyekpere, “The PDP expended N3.5bn on publicity between December last year and February this year while the APC spent N1.42bn during the same period.”

From all indications, the forthcoming polls will be the most keenly contested in Nigeria’s electoral history and I will not be surprised to see contestants losing by narrow margins including by one vote. It is therefore imperative for all those enthusiastic voters who had endured INEC’s sloppiness to collect their PVCs to come out en-masse this Saturday, March 28, 2015 to exercise their power of voting for leaders of their choice. It is time for action and walking the talk. It is time to cease being social media juggernauts who indulge in arm-chair criticisms of the rot and decay in our society. It is time to vent our anger against bad leadership, lack of democratic dividends, ineptitude, greed of the political elite and other similar ills of society. We have heard their campaign promises at the political rallies, town hall meetings, debates, interviews, via newspaper advertorials, radio jingles, sponsored television documentaries and on the new media. It is thus time to make our ideal choice of leaders.

I enjoin all of us who had collected our PVCs to vote right on Saturday. Accreditation of voters will commence at 8am nationwide and close by 1pm. There will be two layers of accreditation, first is the verification of the PVCs with the smartcard readers while the other is the finger authentication. If the SCR could not authenticate a voter’s finger, an incident form would be filled for the person and they will be allowed to vote. After close of accreditation, there will be a 30minute voter enlightenment session during which the Presiding Officer will do the following: Explain the voting procedure to the voters; invite all voters accredited to form a single queue; where the culture does not allow men and women to mingle in a queue, separate queues are created for them; the PO shall count loudly the number of accredited voters in the queue, and record the number.

To vote right, there’s the need to vote on the basis of one’s personal convictions or as it is commonly said “according to the dictates of one’s conscience.” Vote not on the basis of primordial sentiments such as ethnicity, religion, social status, gender bias. Make sure the ballot paper you are issued has the Presiding Officer’s signature, INEC official stamp and date on its back. The Presiding Officer is supposed to fold the ballot paper vertically with the printed side inwards before giving it to you. In case he does not, do it yourself. Fold the ballot paper vertically and not horizontally to prevent ink blot on an unintended space which might be for another political party. Make your choice secretly at the voting cubicle that will be provided for you and cast your ballot in the open. Don’t go away with the ballot paper.

Make sure not to thumbprint in more than one space. Don’t write your name or sign on the ballot paper. Don’t vote outside of the space provided. Don’t vote in-between lines. If you do any of the aforementioned or you fail to make any choice on the ballot paper, then your vote will be counted as invalid. Thus, it will not count in the election of any of the contesting candidates. Kindly note that on Saturday, there will be three ballot boxes at each of the Polling Units. There will be red, black and collapsible green. The green box is meant for House of Representatives position; the black box will be for Senate while the red will be for the presidential candidate. On April 11, the black box will be used to collect the votes for the State House of Assembly position while the red will be used for the governorship election. The three ballot papers that will be giving to you will each have a colour corresponding to that on the box and therefore ballot papers should be dropped in the box with corresponding colour.

The underlisted are some of the electoral offences voters should avoid committing on Saturday: Canvass for votes; Persuade any voter not to vote for any particular candidate; Be in possession of any offensive weapon or wear any dress or have any facial or other decoration which in any event is calculated to intimidate voters; Use any vehicle bearing the colour or symbol of a political party by any means whatever; Loiter without lawful excuse after voting or after being refused to vote; Snatch or destroy any election materials. Anyone who commits any of the highlighted crimes is guilty of electoral offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for six months for every such offence. Remember that ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Vote right!