PRofessor Attahiru Jega, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and one-time national leader of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, alongside senior officials of the INEC were in Lagos last week for an in-house strategic retreat.
Held in close collaboration with the Democratic Governance for Development, DGD Project, the retreat, an initiative of the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, was to produce a strategic framework to guide the commission in its plans towards enthroning a regime of transparency in its management of elections in the country.
On the fringes of the retreat, Professor Jega in an interview, spoke on the commission's preparations for next month's gubernatorial election in Ondo State, the readiness of the commission to fully turn the chapter in the poor conduct of elections and the prospects of a new style in the commission. Excerpts:
What exactly is your agenda at this retreat?
By the time we finish this retreat in Lagos we would have come up with carefully prepared draft of a strategic plan that will guide all our actions between now and 2015 so that we can we have the kind of elections that Nigerians would be very, proud of and we have no doubt that given the commitment of all the staff in INEC and given all the preparations that we have been doing that this is an objective which we can attain.
What are the specific issues that INEC would be considering in improving the credibility of the voters register?
As we prepare for 2015, our efforts to bring remarkable improvements are all inclusive and they cover all key areas of the commission's activities.
Efficient election management
We want to be a very, very effective and efficient election management body, we want to be a body that creates a level playing field for all contestants and all political actors and we want to be a body that is transparent, that is committed and that has integrity in the way in which it delivers electoral services.
That means that we have to do a lot of restructuring and reorganization to bring better service delivery. It also means that we have to do a lot of training and re-training and we may also do some recruitment to bring additional competent hands to further improve on the efficiency and effectiveness of our work.
It also means that we have to do a lot of stakeholders' engagement. We have to improve our relationships with all the critical stakeholders, from the government to the National Assembly to the political parties to civil society organisations. And the strategic planning process we are working on creates a framework where all of these activities will be carried out on a more sustained basis in order to keep on bringing remarkable improvements as we move towards 2015.
We are asking about the voters' register?
As you are aware, when we did the registration in January and February 2011 we registered about 73.5 million voters. We intend to produce permanent voters' cards in two major batches to ensure that every registered voter has a permanent voter's card.
We have already given the contract for the first phase of this and as I speak with you, our hope is that before the end of this year we will commence the distribution of the permanent voters' cards for about 40 million registered voters and by next year we hope to complete the distribution of the permanent voters' cards.
The permanent voters' cards are very good and in fact, unique in the history of this country because it is a chip-based card. Each card will contain a chip, which carries all the details and information about the registered voter from his photograph to his fingerprints to all the additional information that have been captured about the voter.
Our hope is that by the time we get to the 2015 elections we intend to deploy card readers in each polling unit, such that any person who comes to vote will easily be identified whether he is the legitimate holder of that card. That will go a long way in reducing some of the irregularities that Nigeria is famous for when it comes to election and abuse of voters' cards.
How prepared are you for the Ondo election given reports that secret registration is already on?
There are all sorts of allegations and obviously, some of these allegations are for us to investigate fully and take remedial measures. And the security agencies are also to investigate these fully.
I can tell you that we received a petition, we investigated the petition and we have seen from the petition that some sort of registration is taking place, but it is not INEC registration, we are not doing any registration in Ondo State and we do not know the purpose for which that registration is being done.
In any case, even if people are doing fraudulent registration, of course the security agencies should be able to apprehend them and prosecute them successfully. But I want to assure you that there is no way anybody can do any registration and put that data into our data base. We have a data base in Ondo State and we have an exact replica of that base in the headquarters. At any point we cross check and see that there is any discrepancy in the data bases, we will identify them and it is easy to deal with.
Remember before the Edo elections there were similar allegations. There were allegations that some people had penetrated the Edo data base and had put illegal names and it turned out not to be true and I have absolutely no doubt that as I speak with you our data base in Ondo State and in the headquarters has integrity. It is intact and has not been compromised and if anybody attempts to compromise it, it is very easy to detect and apprehend him or her.
How prepared are you?
We are adequately prepared for Ondo and our hope and aspiration is that Ondo would be much better than Edo elections.