IT is no longer news that Nigerians have just few hours to choose their new set of leaders who will pilot the affairs of the country for the next four years.
To start with, this is an election which has taken lump of healthy months and years to be prepared, an election for which N189 billion was approved by the Senate, an election where a total of 84,004,084 are registered to cast their votes, an election in which 73 political parties fielded presidential candidates, an election in which 1,848 candidates (1,615 males and 233 females) are vying for 109 Senatorial seats in the National Assembly, while 4,635 candidates (4,066 males and 569 females) jostle for the 360 seats in the House of Representatives, plus many other bizarre qualities that characterize the poll.
Among all odds the election seems to be the most anticipated one since the history of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not only because of the qualities highlighted above, but because of certain factors, which include: the calibre of people involved, the situation of the country, the already overheated temperature of the polity, among others.
Antithetically and worrisomely however, despite all these associated with the election, one may still wonder if every necessary measure has actually been put in place to ensure the success of the highly anticipated poll, with regards to the preparedness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and electoral materials, sensitization and education of the electorate on the salient things they need to know ahead of the election, most importantly with regard to the electoral guidelines; what and what actually constitute electoral offenses, how to cast votes successfully, the actual commencement and closing time for voting, how to conduct and comport oneself before, during and after the election, among others.
Clearing the air on these, the Head, Voters Education and Publicity, INEC, Anambra State, Mr. Leo Nkedife ,who noted that election will start by 8.am and end by 2.pm, also highlighted what are contained in the electoral guide recently released by the commission thus:
Step 1: Upon arrival at the polling unit, join the queue and present yourself to the INEC official (APO111) at the polling unit who will determine whether you are at the correct polling unit and check if the photograph on the Permanent Voter Card (PVC) matches your face.
If satisfied, he/she will direct you to the next INEC official (APO1).
Step 2: The official (APO1) will request for your PVC to confirm that your card is genuine and your details, using the smart card reader. He/she will ask you to place your finger on the card reader to confirm that the PVC belongs to you by ascertaining, the card reader will contain the name, photograph and finger prints of all those registered in their polling unit.
Step 3:You will then meet the next official (APO11) who will request for your PVC to confirm that your name and details are in the voter’s register. Your name will be ticked and your PVC returned to you.He/ she will then apply indelible ink to the cuticle of your appropriate finger for that election to show you have been accredited to vote.(If your name is not found on the register, you will not be allowed to vote).
Step 4: The presiding officer (PO) stamps, signs and endorses the date at the back of the Ballot Paper.The PO will roll the ballot paper inwardly with the printed side inwards and give to you. He/she will then direct you to the voting cubicle where you vote in secret.
Step 5:You will stain your appropriate finger for the election with the ink provided then use your stained finger to mark the space or box provided on the ballot paper for your preferred candidate/party.Roll the marked ballot paper (in the manner the PO gave to you).
Step 6:Then leave the voting cubicle and drop the ballot paper in the ballot box in full view of people at the polling unit.
Step 7:You will then leave the polling unit and go, or wait meters away if you wish to watch the proceedings of the election up to declaration of results, provided you would be orderly comport yourself and avoid being instrumental to any form of electoral violence.
Mr. Nkedife who debunked and described as fake, the rumour currently being circulated that INEC has changed the well-known pattern of voting with thumb to a new pattern of voting with index finger without majority of Nigerians being aware of that, also highlighted what and what constitute electoral offenses, which he said may be committed by INEC or security officials, political parties or their officials, electorates, candidates, observers, journalists/media houses or the general public.
These according to him, include, but are not limited to: registering more than once, unlawful possession of a voters card, selling or buying of voters card, unlawful possession of a ballot paper, illegal printing of ballot papers, illegal production or importation of ballot boxes, unlawful giving of a voters card to some other person for use at an election other than an officer appointed to do so, being in possession of more than one voters card, announcing or publishing of false election results, paying money to any person as bribe at an election, receiving any money or gift for voting or to refrain from voting at an election, displaying ballot paper to a third party after voting, interfering where a voter is casting his vote, inciting violence or acting in a disorderly manner during election, snatching or destruction of any electoral material, impersonation during election, campaigning in public earlier than 90 days before election day or ending it in less than 24 hours to the election, political parties advertising in newspaper radio or TV less than 24 hours before election day, accepting money or any other inducement during an election, among others.
All these offenses, according to him, have their respective penalties clearly spelt out in the “ABC of Electoral Offences and Penalties”
On the recurrent cases of card readers failure, and what the electorates will do when such happens, the INEC guru has this to say:
“We have upgraded the softwares of the card reader. As much as possible, we don’t envisage any of such failures this time. Nevertheless, in a situation where the smart card reader fails to authentic your fingerprint, that will not make you lose your voting right, we will now ask you to thumbprint on the space in the voters register. Then we write down your phone number on the voters register, not on the incidence form; and you will be given ballot papers to cast your votes.
“However, assuming there is failure on the part of the smart card reader, the presiding officer will immediately contact the Presiding Officer, or the Supervisory Presiding Officer in charge of the area and notify him of such. Then, they will hurriedly bring a replacement, because we have reserves of these smart card readers.
“But if there is consistent failure of the smart card reader up to four times, up to 2.pm, then the Presiding Officer will now announce to the people that the election of that polling unit at that particular day has been postponed; and then, we will make up for the smart card reader.
“But this is when there is a consistent failure maybe after replacement from the reserve. And we don’t envisage that because we have what we call technical officers in all the wards, in case of any malfunctioning, and they will be the one to look into the error”
According to him, the commission, in collaboration with and through the assistance of some civil society organizations, has made most of these things known to the populace through various means which include: Radio/Television programs, voters education leaflets, symposiums, sensitization campaigns and other awareness programs.
Among the most recent of these in Anambra state are: the ‘Vote Not Fight’ campaign rally championed in Awka Metropolis by the Anambra State Library Board, in collaboration with other CSOs in the state, Voters Education Campaign which took place at Ekwuluobia, where the National Orientation Agency (NOA) took the sensitization to motor parks, among others.
However, researching on people’s familiarity with such salient information, it was discovered that while some electorate admit they heard of such, some (mostly rural dwellers) said they never knew there was even a device called smart card reader, let alone knowing that showing a party agent where one thumb printed is a punishable electoral offense.
Mrs. Paulina Amatizu, a rural farmer in Ebenator, Nnewi South Local Government Area of Anambra State said:”I have not heard of this thing you are calling smart card reader before, and they did not show us that where we registered our voters card. In fact, as I am talking to you, I don’t even know the steps for voting this year or how many elections we have this coming Saturday, now that everything is changing in Nigeria. All I know is that on Saturday, I will go to the Central School where I registered my voters card and see how others are doing their own”
Mr. Ikechukwu Obiefuna, a commercial bus driver at Awka Metropolis said: “I always listened to different radio stations everyday, and that is the only way through which I have heard how to vote in this election, what and what I should not do that day, the time the election is starting and ending, when they would stop giving out PVC’s, plus some other things I need to know as an armed Nigerian electorate”.
Justifying the preparedness of the commission for the election, the top-ranking INEC officer, Mr. Nkedife further noted that they have done virtually everything that ought to be done, in terms of the preparation for the election, ranging from the recruitment, mobilization and training of her ad-hoc staff to the procurement of sensitive and insensitive electoral materials, the deployments and conveyance of which will commence today, Thursday to the various local governments units where they can be used.
He also said that they have printed voters registers (which are right now at the various local government offices); hired vehicles that will convey men and material on the day of election; published the names of candidates standing in for the election; all of which attest that the commission is indeed ready for the February 16th poll.
However, given the recent horror that befell the Anambra State branch of the INEC at Awka, where fire gutted and consumed two huge containers of card readers already coded for the election, with similar cases recorded few days ago in Abia State and Plateau State where the INEC offices were engulfed and razed by fire which consumed thousands of PVC’s, plus other sensitive and insensitive materials; the suspense of the Nigerian electorates is now peaked, as to the preparedness for elections in those states.
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