The Independent National Electoral Commission has confirmed the procurement of about 20,000 backup card readers and 35,000 backup batteries as part of measures to tackle possible challenges during the accreditation and election exercise scheduled to hold on March 28 and April 11.
Recently-held elections in countries like Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Cote D’Ivoire, Uganda, Bolivia, Venezuela, Guatemala and Colombia, which made use of similar biometric technologies, were marred with challenges like data manipulation, poor mobile networks, and breakdown of card readers.
In an interview with jounalists, Mr. Kayode Idowu, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, however, said with the procurement of backup devices, among other precautionary measures, it would limit the challenges that may arise during the election exercise.
He said, “We have learnt specifically from Ghana’s experience that with regard to the design of the card readers, there could be battery problems. As a result, some of those card readers could not function and thus, elections had to be rescheduled to the following week because the (political parties) and the commission agreed that there would be no voting without accreditation. In Nigeria, we have also taken all that into account.
“The first of the three plans is that for each card reader, we have backup batteries. In Ghana, it was batteries that failed. The design of the card reader is such that the battery, when in continuous use, would last 12 hours. But accreditation is for five hours. So, if the battery is fully charged, there is no way you can exhaust the battery capacity. Despite that, we have spare batteries; more than 35,000 batteries have been procured so that if, for whatever reason, there may be a challenge with the battery, one can replace it.
“We also have spare card readers, in case the problem is the entire device. That aside, we have done integrity tests, several of which were carried out in Texas, us, showing that they don’t fail easily and that they are of the highest quality. In spite of that, we have bought nearly 20,000 spares, in addition to 152,000 active card readers, so that if for any reason the card reader malfunctions and can no longer continue, the spares would be deployed at the wards for the exercise.”
Idowu explained that whatever time was lost in the deployment of new cards would be added. He added that if, for instance, the replacement resulted in a one-hour delay, the five-hour accreditation exercise would thus be extended from its scheduled closing time of 1 pm to 2 pm.
He noted that in addition, if a card reader cannot be replaced before the time for accreditation is over that day, the exercise would be repeated the following day.
“Rather than reverting to manual, the political parties agreed on this. The reason is obvious: if we say we should revert to manual, human factor will come in, because there are so many people who don’t want these card readers to be used,” he said.
The CPS further ruled out data manipulation as a challenge, explaining that INEC would receive real-time information on the accreditation exercise and that the system was fool proof.
“Each card reader is preconfigured to a polling unit. In other words, before polling officials get to the polling units on election day, technical staff of INEC would have configured the card reader to that polling unit for them to use. The card reader is also programmed such that if one were to use it between 8 am and 1 pm, for instance, and attempt to use it again at 8 pm, it will not work. That’s part of the configuration.
“The second thing is that when voter cards are read and people are accredited, it instantly sends the data on accreditation to a central server ahead of the counting of the ballot papers. Therefore, before ballot papers are cast, the commission at the back end already has the information of how many people were accredited.
“Previously, immediately after accreditation, officials were to enter the accreditation figures before voting starts. But in reality, there would be a delay in sending the accreditation figures and, when ballot papers are cast, funny deals would be made resulting in false accreditation figures. That is no longer possible because the card reader sends the information to a central server,” Idowu noted.
He also said poor mobile connection would not be a challenge as the card readers make use of sim cards.
According to the Jega’s spokesperson, the card readers are designed with built-in memory due to areas that may have poor network coverage.
Meanwhile, INEC in Ondo State has said it has so far distributed a total of 1, 064, 156 Permanent Voter Cards to registered voters.
This was said by the state’s Resident Electoral Commissioner, Olusegun Agbaje, who told one of our correspondents on the phone that a total of 430, 013 cards were awaiting collection by their owners as at Thursday.
He said the figure represented 71.22 per cent of the total cards received by the state, leaving a balance of 28.78 per cent.
According to him, Ondo State received a total of 1, 494, 169 PVCs, and the rate of collection has been on the increase given the window of the postponement of the elections.
“Our centres are still very much open for collection and we urge voters to come forward to collect their cards,” he said.