Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega
By Ike Abonyi
The Commonwealth Electoral Network (CEN), an organ established by The Commonwealth to promote global best practices in elections, has elected Nigeria to its steering committee.
Nigeria was named alongside South Africa and Kenya to represent Africa in the eight-member committee chaired by Canada.
Other members of the committee include Australia, Jamaica and India. The new committee members replace Ghana, Bangladesh and Zambia whose two-year tenure in the apex organ has just ended.
The Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, will hold fort for Nigeria in the steering committee.
The change of guard was announced at the just-ended biennial conference of the CEN in Toronto, Canada, where Jega said INEC would ensure 100 per cent voter authentication in the 2015 General Elections to prevent multiple voting.
At the conference, the Chairman, Electoral Commission of Ghana, Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, handed over to the Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada, Mr. Marc Mayrand, as Chair of the CEN Steering Committee.
The Toronto conference featured plenary sessions and breakout group meetings, in one of which the INEC Chairman gave a Lead Presentation on the role of Information Technology in Voter Registration.
He said with chip-embedded permanent voter cards which INEC is working on issuing to voters, the Commission would ensure 100 per cent voter authentication in the 2015 General Elections. This will, in effect, prevent multiple voting and further guarantee the credibility of the elections.
A statement from INEC in Abuja said that the Chairman Professor Jega noted that though the 2011 voter registration, just like the General Elections, has been generally hailed as perhaps Nigeria’s best, it was not perfect.
He said: “There was the challenge of tapping the full potential of biometric voter registration. Because of the little time that we had, we paid attention to issuing temporary voter cards that were used for voting in the 2011 General Elections. Now that we have a little more time, we are working to ensure that by 2015, we will have 100 per cent authentication; so that when a voter comes with his permanent card which is chip-based and has all the information that we have in the data base, we will use card readers and when you present it, it will be read, with your fingerprints and all other embedded details.
“This will ensure 100 per cent voter authentication. And this is very important in Nigeria because fraud in elections has always been associated with multiple voting and the misuse of the voter cards.”
According to the INEC Chairman, the permanent voter cards will have an added advantage of being easily adaptable to electronic voting when the country gets round to it.
In response to a question on the prospects of Diaspora voting, he said: “The cards we are producing are also compatible with certain models of electronic voting, and so could be very useful in the future. The only thing is that now, our laws prohibit electronic voting. But there is a process on-going regarding amendments to the Constitution and the Electoral Act, and maybe that aspect will be looked at. If that happens, we will be in a position as we prepare for 2015 to start experimenting with some form of electronic voting.”
Professor Jega also said INEC was fine-tuning the procedure to be adopted for continuous voter registration, “because it is very important to continually update the register. There are many models out there: either you do it at a particular time once in a year like India does it, or you set up machinery whereby anyone who turns 18 anytime within a year can walk in and get registered.”
In his introductory remarks at the Toronto conference, which was attended by 49 out of the 53 member-countries of The Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Mr. Kamalesh Sharma, said a major objective of the platform was to foster best practices that would make elections acceptable to the electorate and, thereby, contribute to the strengthening of democratic governance institutions in member-countries.
The CEN is a creation of The Commonwealth of Nations to facilitate experience sharing, encourage peer support mechanisms and promote good practice in election management among EMBs.
The organ was endorsed by Heads of Governments in The Commonwealth at their 2009 meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, and was formally established at the 2010 Commonwealth Conference of EMBs in Accra, Ghana.
Ghana’s Afari-Gyan is the pioneer chairman of the steering committee.