Ondo State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Olusegun Agbaje, in this interview with our correspondent,OLUWOLE JOSIAH, highlights INEC’s preparedness for the general elections, among other issues
What have you been doing with the window provided by the postponement of the general elections?
One of the things we have been doing is going round the local government areas, which I was unable to do hitherto, because the preparation for the elections was so much on us that I did not have the time. But I have been able to crisscross the 18 local government areas to ensure that all the materials from the state headquarters safely arrived there and in safe custody. I also visited some registration centres where we usually camp our ad hoc staff, our permanent staff, security personnel and the electoral materials for the centres.
INEC recently procured extra 20,000 card readers. How many of such extra card readers are due for Ondo State?
Before the arrival of those 20,000 card readers, we had over 100 extra. But with these new arrivals, our Head of Department, ICT, has been asked to join his other colleagues in Abuja where the card readers will be shared to the states. It is when he gets there that we will know how many of the extra card readers we are going to get.
What measures have you taken to ensure that the card readers don’t fail on election day?
We have done testing both in-house and at the various stakeholders meeting. We tested it before media practitioners, we tested it when we met with traditional rulers and market women. But we still have plans to go to some communities. We are hoping that some of the cards we are waiting for will arrive so that, in the process of distributing the cards, we will go with card readers to test Permanent Voter Cards.
Some political parties are suggesting that INEC should not use card readers. What do you think is the cause of this fear?
I think the major fear of politicians is that the card readers might fail. But why should we always be so pessimistic? We should be optimistic. We also hope and pray that the thing will work well. We have done our work to ensure that this thing will work. We have tested it at the National Assembly. During meetings with various stakeholders, we tested it and those who came with their cards tested theirs, so why should our politicians be pessimistic about the reliability of the device? I don’t know why they will not work, because once they are fully charged, they will last for 10 hours just like our handset. It is only for accreditation and not for voting. It is just to show that the cards for voting were issued by us. The politicians brought the idea when they said some cards have been cloned and that some others are buying cards. When you bring the card, it will show that the card was issued by us, and by thumb-printing, it will show that you are the genuine owner of the card. We have even gone ahead when we discovered that during the testing in the FCT area, some farmers had their fingers mutilated and so we have agreed that once the person’s picture agrees with the person who is voting, he or she should be allowed to vote.
Some politicians have expressed the fear that they might be at a disadvantaged position and lose elections if the card readers are used. What’s your reaction to that?
How will they lose election? The card readers, as I said, are to ensure that the cards brought to the polling centres are genuine cards. If all the cards brought for voting are genuine cards, then there is no reason to fear. It has nothing to do with voting.
Some political parties have made allegations of card cloning. Is INEC not concerned about this?
If people are cloning cards and they bring them to our card readers, such cards will not be accepted by the card readers.
But this could even create confusion on that day and disrupt the process?
That is why we have security agents there. The party agents are also there to see that the cards used are genuine.
What’s your view on the issue of card buying among the political class?
We have been using our voter education to enlighten the public on the importance of the PVC which is to enable an eligible voter to vote on election day, besides other advantages. For instance, in Akungba-Akoko area, where we went, we saw a woman that came and said she wanted to collect her PVC, but she did not have her TVC, so we asked her to fill a form, by the time we checked for it, we found out that she had collected. She later confessed that she collected and sold her PVC and thought she could collect another one. So, we have many of such examples. That is just one example; I was physically present when she came. It was one of her relations who revealed that they came together when she collected her card; that was when she said yes, that she has collected it, revealing that some people came and gave her N10,000 or thereabout for the card.
INEC has warned that people should not sell their cards. It is left to people to heed INEC’s warning. It is my right as a person to elect somebody that I like. If you sell your card, it means you are ready to suffer for the next four years.
What is the guarantee that the cards that were bought won’t be used on election day?
That is where INEC card readers will come into play. It will say this is not the owner of the card. By the time they look at the picture, it will not be the same.
Why is it difficult for INEC to apprehend and prosecute electoral offenders?
It is not that it is difficult to prosecute electoral offenders. INEC is not tailored or structured to carry out prosecution of offenders. Meanwhile, the retired Justice Mohammed Uwais Commission advocated for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and our Chairman, Prof. Attahitu Jega, has said so and I have been saying so. When you talk of prosecution of electoral offenders to the police, you have to talk of arrest. Where do you keep them? We don’t have holding facility to keep people. Like in Kogi State during the 2011 elections, they handed over 7, 000 electoral offenders, we could not prosecute all because the police could not keep all of them perpetually in their custody.