Mashi Awaal Mohammed is the Administrative Secretary at the Kaduna State office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In this interview with Correspondent, Jubrin Miachi, Muhammad said the commission will not be lured into taking side for whatever reason, but will maintain the history of delivering free, fair and acceptable election at all levels, come 2019. He therefore urges contestants and electorates not to be jittery just as he pleaded against words and actions that could lead to breakdown of peace within and after the election. EXCERPTS:
In Kaduna, INEC has a record of conducting free, fair and credible election since inception of this republic. In view of the fears about the forthcoming election, how would you sustain that standard in the State?
It is all a matter of perception. Somebody asked me similar question recently that certain things are making him to be a little bit jittery over the conduct of 2019 election. I asked him precisely what, he couldn’t tell me. Now, since you have asked whether we can maintain the tempo of having a peaceful, credible and acceptable elections in Kaduna, which you rightly mentioned yourself has been the kind of trend in state, I will like to guaranty you as well that we are going to maintain that tempo. As a matter of fact, we are going to add to that. As you might be aware, let me be a little bit generalist for us to have a holistic approach. The commission has between 2015 and now conducted by-elections ranging from State to Federal levels, close to 360 or thereabout. I am sure you will agree with me that we have had improvement over the years especially in respect of the smartcard readers, the conduct of our ad hock staff and transportation system has improved through our Memorandum of Understanding with NYSC and the National Union of Road Transport Workers. All these were aimed at improving our elections. In 2019 you will see that the ballot papers that we will use for elections in Kaduna state will be different from the ones that we are going to use in Lagos, the ones in Osun will be different from the ones that will be used in Enugu and so on and so forth. Even the vehicles we are using, we have a centralised and computerised mode of observing them. If a vehicle stops for one minute or longer than necessary, we are seeing that stoppage in our computers and we will call them to ask why are you stopping? So, all the problems that have been bedevilling the conduct of election in Nigeria, we have overcome most of them
Your response brings me back to the fears being expressed by most Nigerians. You may have read or heard that smartcard readers have been programmed in favour of a particular political party. That is the situation that bothers the minds of the people of Kaduna State ahead of the elections
Nigerians will ever remain Nigerians. Every day, you hear people making allegations, in most cases, preposterous insinuations. This is the first time I am hearing this. The smartcard readers, it might interest you to know, cannot be programmed beforehand. We can only programme the smartcard readers during the elections and the main ingredient of activating a smartcard reader is the Permanent Voter’s Card. If anybody tells you anything contrary, tell them they are lying. We can only activate the workings of the smartcard reader with the PVC, belonging to the potential voter. On the election day, at the polling unit, the prospective voters will come with his/her card and present it to the presiding officer who will collect and insert it into the smartcard reader. The prospective voters will then go and put their thumbprints which have already been programmed earlier during the verification exercise that ended a few months ago. That permanent voter’s card belonging to that person can only activate that smartcard reader if it truly belongs to him/her. All these preposterous insinuations by politicians, like I said, Nigerians will ever remain Nigerians, are not true insinuations. Nobody can tamper with smartcard reader. Nobody can fix anything into or out of the smartcard reader without the PVC belonging to a prospective voter. One other thing I think you should also know during election is that what is happening at the polling unit level is automatically transferred to the collation centre so that ultimately, if you go back it is the number of people you have accredited to vote that you will get in our computer articulation centre. Therefore, you cannot change whatever happens at the polling unit.
After the last continuous voters registration exercise, how many voters do you have on your register for 2019 election now in Kaduna State?
Going back to 2015, we registered 3.47 voters for the general election. Now, during the continuous voter’s registration for the general election which started in 2017, precisely April 27 and ended August ending 2018, we had about five hundred and thirty-seven thousand plus people that were registered. Now we have to tarry a while. If you total the two, it will give you about 3.93 million. We have had a programme recently. It is called clean-up exercise. After that exercise, we realised that there were some people that were reported to have died, I think about 2000, and we had people that were registered improperly because still pictures were used during the registration process. There were also under-aged people. Even some none Nigerians were registered but here in Kaduna, we don’t have any figure to that effect. All that this is telling you is that we are going to have a reduction in the figure of 537,000 plus that I have told you. There is also going to be what we called Automatic Finger Identification System, whereby people that have registered many times will be eliminated to reduce their names and that means we are going to have a reduction, even though it is not substantially. Like I said, here in Kaduna we have about 3.9million but that number is going to drop by the time these exercises are finished. Nationwide,
The problem associated with smartcard readers which you and I know is power. Have you taken care of that problem?
As I told you earlier, we are always moving forward, having reflected from what we did wrong or what shouldn’t have happened in order to ameliorate the problem now so that in the future, such problem should not arise again. What we have realised now is that the batteries which were using then were of very poor quality, but now we have received very far more better and superior batteries and they are the ones we are going to use during the forthcoming elections. If you have been to states where we have had by-elections, you would have realised that there is massive reduction in the incidence of smartcard readers dying off as a result of battery. There was also the problem of taking long before people are verified. We have now gotten some software which was installed into the smartcard readers to make all the problems a thing of history come 2019.
What are your challenges before the election and plan for a smooth exercise?
The major problem we are encountering is that people are not coming to collect their PVCs The voter’s card is like the door to enter a room. No matter how intelligent you are, you cannot enter into a room through the wall, but through the door. In the same vein, you cannot cast your ballot on election day if you do not have a Permanent Voter’s Card. We have not less than 300,000 voter’s card here in Kaduna that is lying fallow in all our local government offices. I will like to appeal to the good people of Kaduna State who have not collected their voter’s card to please in the name of God to go and collect their own from our local government offices. In line with our plan and programme of event, we have written to the various institutions and organizations we have entered into agreement with to submit names of potential ad hock staff. After we have made the recruitment, then we will be thinking of training.