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INEC’s Smart card saga

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INDEPENDENT National Electoral Commission (INEC) smart card reader is a portable electronic voting authentication device configured to read only the permanent voter cards (PVCs) issued by the Independence National Electoral Commission. The card reader was designed specifically for the accreditation process, authentication of eligible voters before voting.

The machine was configured to read only the PVCs of a particular polling unit and can only work on Election Day. It indicates that PVCs cannot be used in multiple polling units. The device uses a cryptographic technology with an ultra-low power consumption and processing frequency of 1.2 GHz and uses Android 4.0 .0.

It was promoted by INEC as an anti-electoral fraud device. This device was introduced and used first in Nigeria’s general election on March 28, 2015, to enhance the integrity of the voting process and dissuade multiple voting, as only duly accredited and verified PVC holders can vote.

In spite the consistence hopes and promises made by INEC to Nigerians that the smart card reader would not cause any challenge at the general election which took off last Saturday,  National Light gathered from different parts of Anambra state that the malfunctioning of the device caused disappointments, delay and frustration to those who came out to cast their votes.

Addressing the aging case of card reader malfunction in most areas, an Assistant Polling Officer, name withheld, explained: “You know what happened to INEC in Anambra recently, the card readers packed in a container got burnt. There are some polling units that are over 1,000 voters. We have to collapse them into voting points because we do not have enough to vote with. Most of the ones we have, we borrowed them. And instead of the election not holding, we decided to make do with what we have. We need to collapse those ones normally supposed to be Voting Points ,bringing them in one unit but those that have more than 1,000…normally VP is 700…”.

A political party stalwart who claimed anonymity at Ayamelum alleged that the smart card pin code was tampered with before the election. He said: “The smart card pin code was changed prior to the election and the ad hoc workers were not informed. It was in the course of the job that they called out and got another password. The password they were given was different from what they later used. And the period of discovering this change and the period INEC official came took about two to three hours the scheduled time of the election. So, the act is a deliberate act to frustrate voters in most areas .Why didn’t INEC inform them earlier before now, that they had no hidden agenda”.

Most voters also expressed dissatisfaction with INEC over the malfunctioning of the card reader at different polling units. In polling unit square 5 at Umuike, Awka, in Awka South Local Government Area of Anambra State, voting did not start until some minutes after 9am as a result of smart card reader’s failure. The polling officer disclosed that one of the card readers was not working, saying that what they did was to merge together to enable voters vote.

It was a similar  experience at Umuokpu Primary School, Ward 2, in Awka South, where voting could not start as 10am.

The story was not different when National Light collated Chime Hall Square 5, Abagana, in Njikoka Local Government Area. The issue of card reader disrupted voting even at about 11:30am.The story was the same at Enugwu Agidi ward 2. Also, at Ebeakpu, Amawbia polling unit 3 and Nnewi North ward 2, the card readers were not in order, while at Amuokoro square 1 polling unit 012, Egbengwu, Nimo, in Njikoka LGA also witnessed the lack of ink for stamping ballot papers and thumb-printing.

It was also observed that these challenges did not only occur in Anambra State but applicable to other states across Nigeria. At Benlling ward in Pankshin Collation Centre, Plateau state, some card readers failed to function. The Collation Officer in the ward, Pam Philip, revealed that after the card readers packed up, it was taken to the INEC office in Pankshin Town to be rectified. He said: “When the card reader failed again, it was already 2 p.m”.

Again, it was gathered that some card readers malfunctioned in several polling units in some parts of the Federal Capital Territory. At PU 009, verification started at 8:09a.m. Stephen Iyodo, who came to cast vote said he was willing to exercise patience while the issue of card reader malfunctioning was resolved to enable him vote. “I got here and was told to stand aside while they sort it out. Whatever it takes to sacrifice for my country, we have to be patient”, he said.

Another place that witnessed this ugly incident was Dutse. Five out of the 13 card readers for polling unit 001 at Alhaji Area of Abuja malfunctioned. Report stated that there were no extra card readers to supplement the ones that were malfunctioning. The situation resulted to long queues of intending voters who were eager to vote even after 2 p.m., the time for closure of voting. Consequently, INEC adhoc staff could not operate the card readers while others simply used the voters’ registers to verify voters before they were manually accredited and given ballot papers to cast their votes.

Other reports exposed that in some polling units in kolokuma/Opokuma, Yenagoa and Sagbama Local Governments, materials arrived at 10:03 as against official 8.am fixed by INEC. In some of the units, card readers were malfunctioned and voters were disenfranchised.

At Igbawa square, unit 14 ward 7 in kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government, Timi Alaibe, former managing director of Niger Delta Development Commission was rejected by card reader before he was later accepted after several trials.

Also, the card reader for ward 2, unit 3 at Ifakiekiti malfunctioned in the early hours of the election. Reports disclosed that INEC intervened immediately by replacing it even though it resulted to long queue of voters to be attended to.

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