As part of its strategic plan of action for the general elections starting on February 16, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will on Monday release its revised guidelines and voter register to the nation’s 91 political parties.
The commission’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Festus Okoye, confirmed to THISDAY Wednesday that the revised guidelines were ready and would be unveiled for the consideration of the political parties next week.
“We are going to officially release voter register to the political parties on Monday and we are also going to use the opportunity to hand over guidelines and regulations for the conduct of elections to them,” he said in an interview with our correspondents.
Our reporters had obtained a copy of the guidelines from a reliable source last Tuesday. The rules, among others, retains the use of smart card reader and the controversial incidence form.
The Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018, which was vetoed four times by President Muhammadu Buhari, had sought to extensively reform the electoral process by incorporating mandatory use of smart card reader to the exclusion of incidence form as the mode of accreditation of voters.
The amendment bill also sought to clean up the results collation process, providing for electronic transmission of results from polling units to collation centres.
Following the presidential veto and expression of disappointment by opposition parties INEC National Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had contended that the extant law was sufficient to guarantee a transparent electoral regime, stating that whatever further reforms were needed to straighten out the process would be accommodated by the revised guidelines.
The revised rules obtained by our reporters, left the opposition parties with little to cheer about as it retained the main features of the guidelines used to regulate the 2015 elections.
The electoral body stated categorically that the regulations and guidelines supersede all other regulations or guidelines on the conduct of elections issued by the commission and shall remain in force until replaced by new regulations or amendments supported by a Decision Extract of the Commission or an official gazette.
It said, “The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) herein referred to as “the Commission” issues the following Regulations and Guidelines for the conduct of Elections (general elections, by-elections, re-run elections and supplementary elections). These regulations and guidelines are issued as a Decision Extract of the Commission of the 21st day of the month of December 2018.”
The regulations and guidelines, it said, would apply to the conduct of elections to the office of the President and Vice President; Governor and Deputy Governor; National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives); State Houses of Assembly; Chairmen and Vice – Chairmen of FCT Area Councils; and Councillors of FCT Area Councils legislatures.
The electoral umpire said that voting in any election to which the regulations and guidelines apply would take place at polling units and voting points.
It added that in the case of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), voting would take place at Polling Units (PU), Voting Points and Voting Point Settlements (VPS).
INEC explained that Voting Points (VPs) are created out of Polling Units based on multiples of 500 and a maximum of 750 registered voters or as may otherwise be determined by the commission.
It also noted that Voting Point Settlement (VPS) might be created by the commission to facilitate access to voters in new settlements not currently served by a PU, stressing that where a VPS is created, it shall be treated as a Polling Unit.
On accreditation of voters on election day, INEC states in Clause 8(b) that; “No person shall be allowed to vote at any Polling Unit/Voting Point Settlement/ Voting Point other than the one at which he/her name appears in the Register of Voters and he/she presents his/her permanent voter card to be verified by the Smart Card Reader, or as otherwise determined by the commission.
It stated further, “10(a) In accordance with Section 49 (2) of the Electoral Act, a person intending to vote shall be verified to be the same person on the Register of Voters by use of the Smart Card Reader (SCR) in the manner prescribed in these regulations and guidelines.”
It warned, “Any poll official who violates the provision of Clause 10 (a) shall be deemed to be guilty of an offense and shall be liable to prosecution,” adding, “The accreditation process shall comprise reading of the Permanent Voter Card (PVC) and authentication of the voter’s fingerprint using the Smart Card Reader; checking of the Register of Voters and inking of the cuticle of the specified finger of the voter.”
The guidelines in Clause 11(b) retains the use of incidence form, stating, “Where a voter’s PVC is read but his/her fingerprint is not authenticated, the APO I shall refer the voter to the APO II who shall: (i) request the voter to thumbprint the appropriate box in the Register of Voters; (ii) request the voter to provide his/her phone number in the appropriate box in the Register of Voters; (iii) continue with the accreditation of the voter; and (iv) refer the voter to the PO or APO (VP) for issuance of ballot paper (s).”
It added, “Where a voter’s PVC is read but the name of the voter is not on the Register of Voters, APO I shall refer the voter to the PO or APO (VP) who shall issue a Tendered Ballot (TB) to the voter.”
It said, “In the event that the PVC fails to be read by the Smart Card Reader, the APO I shall refer the voter to the Presiding officer or APO (VP) as the case may be, who shall request the voter: (i) To thumbprint in the appropriate box in the Register of Voters; (ii) Provide his/her phone number in appropriate box on the Register of Voters if available; and (iii) Thereafter refer the voter to the PO for the issuance of Tendered Ballot.”
The guidelines also made provision for possible failure of the Smart Card Reader, stating in Clause 13(a) that, if it fails a replacement has to be procured, and where that is not achieved by 2p.m, polling would have to be postponed till the next day for a functional card reader to be provided.
On the use of Cell phone on election day and as part of effort aimed at curbing vote buying, INEC in Clause 11A(iv) said that the polling officer would request the voter to remove his/her cell phone or any photographic device before proceeding to voting cubicle.
INEC also made it clear in the regulations and guidelines that a Polling Agent who aids and abets election malpractices at a Polling Unit or Collation Centre would be disqualified and on the instruction of the Poll Official/Collation Official would be removed from the Polling Unit/Collation Centre and shall be liable to prosecution.