Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega
By Chuks Okocha
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has rolled out its plan for the 2015 general election, blaming its inability to effectively prosecute electoral offenders on insufficient funding and limited manpower.
Stating this yesterday in Abuja during a consultative workshop with civil society groups, the commission’s Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, said the commission had apprehended 870,000 electoral offenders, of which a meagre 200 or 0.02 per cent have been successfully prosecuted in the country during the course of various elections.
Jega said the prosecution was for offences arising from the 2011 voters’ registration and general election. One of such electoral offenders yet to be prosecuted is a serving senator from Bayelsa State, whom the commission said it caught with ballot boxes and thumb-printed ballot papers during election.
The INEC chairman said prosecution has been “a big problem,” because of paucity of funds and manpower, the News Agency on Nigeria (NAN) has reported.
“In actual fact, some of those apprehended have been prosecuted and convicted but the number is just too small compared to those remaining,” he added.
He said one of those convicted was “a youth corps member who was prosecuted and sentenced to jail in Ondo State for electoral manipulation.”
However, Jega defended the use of members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) as election officials, stating that they were better than using people from the streets. He also said that because of attacks on youth corps members during and after elections, arrangements have been concluded to provide them with 24 hours security their lodge.
The electoral body chairman said the police were in charge of prosecuting offenders until it was handed over to INEC, adding that the task was beyond the capacity of INEC and should not be left with the commission alone.
He said if INEC was saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders, its major mandate would suffer because the quantum of offenders would be too much for the commission.
Jega called on the government at all level to work on the “Uwais panel report on electoral reform which recommended that a separate body should be set up to handle electoral offences,” adding that the establishment of an election offenders commission to prosecute cases was desirable.
On the commission’s plans for the 2015 elections, he said INEC would commence with the delimitation of the 109 senatorial districts, 360 House of Representatives and state House of Assemblies constituencies before the end of 2014.
He added that the commission would also commence decentralised registration of eligible voters, while pledging that 40 million permanent voters’ cards with biometric features would be released in 2013.
According to the INEC chairman, “The last completed delimitation of federal constituencies was done in 1996, the previous Election Management Board tried to conduct delimitation of constituencies, but it was not successful.
“We are planning to conduct a delimitation of federal constituencies between 2013 and 2014,” noting that this was being done to reduce tension before the next general elections.
Jega said that during the delimitation exercise, constituencies would be merged or reduced or new ones created based on the population of the constituencies involved.
The chairman of INEC further said registration of voters would commence early in 2013, adding that during the exercise, “the registration of voters would be decentralised so that it would commence at the ward levels for all those that have turned 18 years of age.”
Jega said that the registration of voters would no longer take place at local government areas, as was the case in the past, adding that decentralised registration of voters would be cost effective.
He observed that the commission would not be purchasing direct data capture machines for the voters’ registration exercise, explaining that the commission has too many biometric machines and that they would be disposed off by giving them out to secondary schools, to enhance computer literacy in schools.
Jega said the commission would release 40 million permanent voters’ cards next year with biometric data, similar to those used on Automated Teller Machine (ATM) bank cards.
He said the voters’ register today had 73,528,040 eligible voters, but noted that it still needed to be updated.
Providing clarification on the permanent voters’ card, Jega said with the in-built features, it would be difficult for anybody to sell his card or swap it for money.
The INEC chairman said the commission would acquire special ‘reading machines’ that would make it impossible for anybody to sell his or her voters’ card, adding that all the machines would be in place before the 2015 election.
He said that INEC would procure 500 of the machines by 2013, while the rest would be ready before the 2015 elections.
Responding to questions on why the commission has shied away from staggered elections, in view of the success recorded from the exercise, the INEC chairman said: “There would be no basis to compare a general election with a by-election. The trend worldwide is to hold all elections on the same day.
“But as things are at the moment with the Nigerian situation, the staggered elections of holding the presidential, National Assembly and governorship elections will subsist.
“I have heard people suggest that because of the success of the staggered elections ordered by the courts, elections should be conducted on a zonal staggered basis. This is not acceptable, because the convention worldwide is to conduct all elections the same day. So it is not possible to accept the zonal staggered election as people are canvassing.”