The Independent National Electoral Commission will today test the card reader in 12 states amid controversy over the use of the new device in the conduct of the next general elections.
The ruling Peoples Democratic Party and the opposition All Progressives Congress have been engaging in war of words over the use of the card reader in the forthcoming polls.
While the Director of Legal Affairs of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, had said that the party did not support the use of the device because it is illegal and unconstitutional and that it had not been tested in any election in the past, the APC described the PDP’s rejection of the use of the device as a vindication of its claim that the ruling party was desperate to rig the general elections.
Fifteen political parties and five presidential candidates participating in the forthcoming elections had also opposed the proposed use of card readers.
But the electoral body said apart from the fact that the card reader was designed to function effectively, it would also enhance the credibility of the polls.
The INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, while appearing before the Senate a few days ago, explained the importance of the usage of the device and assured of its reliability, contrary to the fear nursed by some people that the machine might malfunction in the course of accreditation of voters.
To further assure Nigerians of the reliability of the card reader, the election management body has scheduled the field-testing of the card readers in 225 polling units and 358 voting points across 12 states of the federation for today.
The commission selected two states from each of the six geo-political zones of the country for the exercise.
The states selected for the exercise are Ekiti, Lagos, Anambra, Ebonyi, Delta and Rivers. Others include Kano, Kebbi, Bauchi, Taraba, Niger and Nasarawa.
According to the INEC, the card readers will be tested in two wards in each of the states.
In Delta State, the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Anidi Ikowak said the exercise would take place between 8am and 1pm in 14 polling units in the Umuezei Registration Area, Ward 4 in Oshimili South Local Government Area.
The 14 polling units, he said, would be located in two centres – Asagba Primary School (10 units) and Niger Mixed Secondary School (four units).
The INEC spokesperson in Anambra State, Mr. Frank Egbo, told one of our correspondents that the test would take place in 22 polling units in Igbo Ward 1 in Aguata Local Government Area of the state.
“The essence is to test the efficacy of the card readers,” Egbo said, adding that police and other security agencies had been duly informed to provide security for the exercise.
Though the REC spokesperson in Rivers State, Antonia Nwobu, could not give the exact number of card readers that would be deployed for the exercise, she said 23 polling units in each of the two wards would be used for the test.
Nwobu, however, did not name the wards.
The Head of Department, Voter Education and Publicity of INEC in Niger State, Mr. Madaki Wase, said the exercise would start with the usual accreditation at 8am and end by 1pm at Gwada in Shiroro Local Government Area.
Wase said, “We have 22 polling units and 22 card readers available for the mock test. We also have two back up card readers in case of any disappointment.”
He said the inter-committee on election security and other security agencies would provide security for the exercise.
Fifty card readers are expected to be tested in Lagos State today.
The INEC spokesperson for the state, Mr. Femi Akinbiyi, said the mock test would be carried out at Onigbongbo Ward 1 in Ikeja.
He assured that adequate security would be provided to prevent the disruption of the exercise by hoodlums.
Akinbiyi said, “We are not carrying out the mock test in all the polling units in Lagos State; we are only carrying out the test at Onigbongbo ward 1 in Ikeja Local Government of Lagos State. Other parts of the state will not be affected.”
No fewer than 96 policemen and 46 card readers will be deployed for the test in Ekiti State.
The spokesperson for INEC in Ekiti, Alhaji Taiwo Gbadegesin, said the card readers would be tested in 46 polling units.
He said, “We are going to deploy 46 card readers for the 46 polling units in the state. The exercise will begin by 8 a.m. Only those that make it to the polling units before 1p.m will be allowed to participate.”
The state REC, Sam Olumekun, said the mock test would take place in Dallimore Ward 09, Ado Ekiti.
No fewer than 37 polling units are selected for the exercise in Nasarawa State, according to the REC, Mr. Abdullahi Danyaya.
Danmaliki Ward in Kumbotso Local Government Area of Kano State was selected for the exercise. The state REC, Alhaji Mukaila Abdullahi, said the ward has 32 polling units.
The police, however, assured of their readiness to provide security for the exercise in order to prevent it from being disrupted.
The Delta State Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Celestina Kalu, and his Niger State counterpart, Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, who spoke on behalf of their colleagues, told one of our correspondents that they were prepared to ensure the smooth running of the test.
Meanwhile, the Afenifere Renewal Group and a constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay, described the mock test as a welcome development, but said the success of the exercise would not prevent those who initially opposed the use of the device from planning to rig the next elections.
ARG spokesperson, Mr. Kunle Famoriyo, said abandoning the use of the device would amount to a waste of resources.
He, therefore, called on Nigerians to protest any plan to scuttle INEC’s agenda for the elections.
Famoriyo said, “We are behaving like uncivilised people, like people who do not want progress. The card readers have been used successfully in some other countries even in West Africa, so it shows our propensity for being dubious. We don’t want transparency.
“It is the PDP government that funded the procurement of the card readers. So are we now going to squander that? It shows we’re prodigal children and that this country is full of jokers. It shows we don’t care about our resources.”
Sagay described those campaigning against the use of the card readers as dishonest.
He blamed the PDP for sponsoring the parties that are against the use of the cards.
Sagay said, “The people know it will be successful but they are crooks and dishonest people. The gang-up may continue because they are desperate not to have free fair and credible elections. They want to rig elections, so nothing will ever satisfy them.”
Also, a human rights lawyer, Fred Agbaje, said antagonists of the card readers would “bury their heads in shame if the test-run is successful.”
He said, “Certainly, if it is successful in the 12 states, I’m sure the antagonists will bury their heads in shame. Any new thing that is being introduced for the first usually elicits negative reactions from people.”