The recent discovery of a fake registration centre by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Offa, Kwara State has again raised concerns about the desperation of some persons to undermine the electoral process for selfish and individual gains. HEAD POLITICS, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM writes on the issue.
Last week, the news of the discovery of a fake registration centre by the Kwara State chapter of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) hit the polity like a thunder bolt raising concern about issues of credibility in the coming general elections in the state come 2019.
Since the matter hit the limelight, there have been many formulated hypotheses regarding the discovery that ranged from how many of such centres still exist across the state and what type of sophistication such fake registration points are bringing into the picture. Furthermore, although INEC has bragged about the use of modern and advance technology it has brought and will continue to exploit in the domestication of modern knowledge to right the electoral process, such exploit, if not well guarded and policed, can lead to a catastrophe of monumental proportions.
According to the Kwara electoral umpire in the statement concerning the issue, a copy of which was sent to Pilot Politics, the culprits were using a software application known as Corel Draw to change the particulars of a scanned INEC PVC.
According to the commission’s Administrative Secretary in Kwara state, Paul Atser, the discovery of the fake registration centre calls for vigilance from the people and advised they visit only designated centres of the commission to be captured in the ongoing exercise.
“It has come to the notice of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Kwara State that some unscrupulous persons are carrying out illegal registration of voters in Offa Local Government area.
“The perpetrators of the illegal registration were using Corel Draw application to change the particulars in a scanned INEC PVC. One suspect was arrested and undergoing interrogation by the police.
“The general public is advised to be watchful and ensure that they go to only INEC designated registration centres to be captured for the PVC. A list of all designated centres is available at the INEC State office as well as INEC offices in the 16 local government councils in Kwara,” Mr. Atser submitted.
Although, it is not clear for now whether the issue has any political undertone or motive, but considering the desperation of politicians and looking at the drumbeat for 2019 from both ruling and opposition parties, nothing can be ruled out. Expectedly, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition Peoples Democratic Parties (PDP) in the state have continued to trade blames regarding the issue, the police must look beyond any political consideration for or against to establish the fact and fiction behind the matter.
According to the chairman of the PDP, Iyiola Oyedepo who denied the party’s involvement in the whole issue, the PDP has no reason to want to rig, adding that the police should investigate their counterparts in the state to unravel if there is any hidden agenda. “They (APC) are the ones doing it and they want to label PDP as the perpetrator of the (electoral) evil. For us we don’t do anything of such and I hope the police is conducting its investigation thoroughly to unearth and know who the perpetrators are”, Oyedepo added. “They (APC) are the ones doing it and they want to label PDP as the perpetrator of the (electoral) evil. For us we don’t do anything of such and I hope the police is conducting its investigation thoroughly to unearth and know who the perpetrators are”, Oyedepo added.
Similarly, the spokesperson for APC in the state Alhaji Sulyman Buhari exonerated his party and called on the police to do its job to unravel the culprit and bring them to book.
“APC doesn’t need to rig registration process to win election in 2019 as the party enjoys overwhelming popularity in Kwara State. The insinuation that a member of our party engaged in such activity should be discarded because the APC has no agenda to rig the electoral process. The police should do its job”, Buhari noted.
But according to political pundits, the police already has its work cut out on this issue and must strive to prove whether the rhetoric of blame game between the two parties is to score political point or should spur the command to carry out a thorough investigation to get to the bottom of the matter. In order words, the police must be able to establish whether those involved are agent of political parties acting as a front for illegal recruitment to undermine the 2019 general elections or they are just there to fleece the people in order to make ends meet in a bid to respond to biting economic situation in the country.
Already the police said it has started investigation into the matter and the person arrested over the issue whose name is still unknown, is helping with investigation.
According to the Police PRO, Deputy Superintended Ajayi Okasanmi who confirmed the arrest of the culprit in a telephone chat, investigation was still ongoing over the matter.
“Yes, we are aware of the issue and have already arrested one of the culprits. That is what I can say on it so far and investigation is still ongoing to unravel the circumstances surrounding the whole issue.
“For now, until we are through with the investigation, we cannot establish anything yet (whether there is any political influence or not from the political parties). But once we are through, the suspect will be charged to court”, he added.
While the political parties have come under public scrutiny over the issue, what seems to have been established is the fact that the fraudsters whatever their motives are, have cashed in on the slow pace of the registration process by INEC, have exploited the people who were charged a fee for the print out of their registration.
In a recent visit to Kwara state to assess the progress of the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), the INEC National Commissioner in charge of North Central, Mohammed Haruna, admitted the commission still needs to do more to get the PVCs collected adding that from the over 7 million voter cards yet to be obtained nationwide, Kwara has about 240, 000 PVCs still unclaimed from that figure.
“Before the commencement of 2019 general elections, all the PVC will be ready; our problem is collection because we do not have facilities for distribution. We have close to eight million uncollected PVCs across the country and it will not be nice to disenfranchise these numbers of voters and INEC had put some measures in place to ensure that registered voters collected their PVCs. I appealed to those that had registered since the commencement of the exercise to check with their registration centres for collection of the cards. We are concerned about long queues of prospective registered voters in Ilorin West Local Government and we would do everything possible to improve on the situation. INEC had procured and distributed new Direct Data Capturing machines (DDC) to all the 36 states of the federation and Abuja to ease registration of voters. 10 DDC machines were allocated to Kwara and Ilorin West Local Government was allocated one to ease the registration procedure”, he added.
This DDC plea by the commissioner followed the appeal by the Electoral Officer in Ilorin West, Abu Uffene, for more DDC machine to ease the exercise in the area. He said Ilorin West, being a metropolitan local government, was the most populous in the state hence the influx of prospective voters.
While the DDC narrative is ongoing, INEC both at the national and state level must do everything to ensure that the process is made very less cumbersome and smooth to get people to come out and collect their PVCs instead of falling prey to fraudsters that might use such data to compromise the process. The police must look at the wider picture in their investigation to see if there are any sophisticated collaborators in this instance, especially in the light of the International Data compromise involving facebook that was deployed to influence the 2015 election in Nigeria.
This fake voting centre trend is however particularly disturbing considering the uncovering of similar incident in neighbouring Niger state.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state who was a former Governor, Professor Sam Egwu, told reporters in Minna in March that fake INEC voters’ registration centre has been uncovered in Zungeru, Wushishi Local Government Area of the state.
According to him, the police, through a tip-off, invaded the centre and arrested the alleged culprit with many temporary voters’ cards. Prof. Egwu said most of the fraudster’s clients were workers of a construction company who requested for voters’ cards or any document to ensure that they were duly registered to vote in the forthcoming elections. He said the fraudster usually charged certain amount of money before issuing the fake cards. He said the suspect was undergoing interrogation by security agents.
So far, both the suspects in the case of Kwara and Niger are undergoing investigations at the Police and commands but do everything to get to the bottom of the matter and unknot all the looped areas to know whether the trend has political undertone or was just a purely economical survival issue.