Nduka Nwosu in New York
INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega has said it would be difficult for politicians to rig the 2015 election, assuring that in spite of the general insecurity in the North-east, no part of the country would be disenfranchised.
Jega, who was in the US to monitor the mid-term elections, said in an exclusive interview with THISDAY that all the good things the commission did in 2011 would be repeated in 2015.
“We shall be using card readers which we believe will add tremendous integrity to the electoral system. We are using NYSC, lawyers and retired judges. We are bringing more people of integrity. We did biometric registration and we issued permanent voter cards. The idea is to use card readers with electronic chips that will help identify the person who was actually registered,” he said.
Jega said politicians would no longer be able to buy cards or use the cards of dead people to vote: “The biometric card reader will add tremendous integrity to the electoral system. We have used eight months to clean up the register, which is one of the best in the African continent.
“We are saying that in 2015, if anybody rigs the election, that person will be apprehended and punished. Rigging will not determine the electoral fortunes of anybody. Let me also add that from all perspective, operationally and logistically, we are ready for the 2015 elections from the perspective of the electoral management body and we are working closely with all stake holders to address some of the outstanding challenges.
“Security is a major challenge. However, we are working with the security network to ensure that elections are held in every part of Nigeria including the North-east. We implore everyone to come out and register and elect the right people to office. My advice is that all stakeholders should be actively engaged in the process and stop being sarcastic but should work towards ensuring the true choice of the people emerge in 2015.
“We have done so many things including cleaning up the register of voters. In 2011, we had barely eight months to clean up the register but now we had four years to do this and we put the four years to good use.”
According to the INEC Chairman, the mid-term elections offered him a rich repertoire of experiences which have evolved over 200 years with so much trust and confidence that no one suspects the electoral bodies of compromise.
Jega who later held a press conference at the press room of the Nigerian Embassy, said many electoral commissioners from other countries benefited from an exchange of ideas with many of them applauding the great reforms the Nigerian electoral system has undergone since 1999.
The INEC boss added: “We have to earn the confidence and trust of voters in our country. Sadly Nigerian politicians suspect everything we do but we have to make it clear we are working towards a transparent electoral system, letting them know we work towards having a level playing field for everybody.”
Jega also commented on the bashings he is receiving over the new polling units that favoured the north with more polling units and less for the South: “I feel bad because in Nigerian politics, people bandy all sorts of allegations and when it comes to your territory you have to defend yourself. When I am accused of doing what I did not do, I feel bad but all I need to do is to clarify the issues with additional information. But the mischievous remains unrelenting. I am not a religious bigot. I have conducted myself as chairman of INEC with impartiality and non-partisanship along with other INEC national commissioners. We are working together to deliver the best election for our country. So we refuse to be distracted.”
On the accusation by Christian Association of Nigeria President Ayo Oritshejafor that he was disenfranchising Christians, Jega said there was no truth in it.
He said he was not favouring one group over the other through the creation of more polling units which he said reflected the actual number of voters in the electoral register.
On the complaints of Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola on the distribution of Permanent Voter card, Jega stressed that the objective of the electoral body was to produce enough voters’ cards for all the local governments and that if the distribution process had not covered everyone; it only meant the cards were not ready.
“Nine local governments in Lagos State were not excluded. We distribute cards that are ready within a time frame. Any cards not distributed are sent to the local government headquarters. It is not possible to exclude anyone based on religion because there are two electoral commissioners from each zone and decisions are taken collectively. I have never taken a decision on my own to the exclusion of these zonal commissioners each of whom holds a sensitive position in the electoral body.”