With less than two years to the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission has proposed to buy about 200,000 electronic voting machines to cater for the 176,846 Polling Units in the country.
As such, the agency’s Electronic Voting Implementation Committee has been reconstituted and has commenced work.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr Festus Okoye, told Sunday PUNCH that a team of INEC’s in-house engineers were currently evaluating proposals submitted by 49 companies, both local and foreign, for the supply of the machines.
The commission said its engineering team would consider factors such as the machines’ ruggedness and design before short-listing any of the companies.
Okoye said, “As of today, we have 176,846 Polling Units in the country, and each polling unit must be serviced by at least one electronic voting machine. The commission must also acquire redundancies or backups.
“The decision on the number to acquire will be taken by the commission the moment a decision on the machines is taken and the constitutive legal framework amended to accommodate additional use of technology in the electoral process. But we are looking at and proposing around 200,000 machines.”
Asked how many companies had been invited to present supply proposals, Okoye said, “The commission has not invited and short-listed any company for the purpose of supplying the electronic voting machines.”
“A total of 49 companies were invited for a Request for Information demonstration. Our in-house engineers are evaluating all the submissions made during the demonstration and will advise the commission on issues of design and ruggedness (fit for purpose),” he added.
The commission stated that companies that came for the RFI demonstration were from Nigeria, the Netherlands, China, the United States, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and India.
“At the appropriate time, the short-listing and selection of companies that may supply or fabricate the electronic voting machines will be subjected to due process requirements and the Procurement Act. As of today, no decision has been taken relating to the manufacturers or suppliers,” Okoye said.
Asked the reason for the delay in short-listing the successful companies, the INEC commissioner cited factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, expansion of voter access to Polling Units, and the constitutive legal instrument backing up the deployment of e-voting machines in the electoral process.
Okoye said the resumption of the Continuous Voter Registration exercise had taken a lot of the commission’s attention, adding that an Electronic Voting Implementation Committee had been reconstituted and had commenced work.
“A new timeline is being considered for the implementation of the project,” Okoye added.
INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had said during the 2021 budget defence before the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters on November 4, 2020 that the commission would deploy the electronic voting machines “very soon,” possibly beginning with the Anambra governorship poll scheduled to hold in November this year.
However, the commission has been seeking an amendment of the legal framework that would enable electronic voting, noting that it remained committed to introducing electronic voting machines in the electoral process to replace the manual system that had put the commission under heavy logistics burden, including the printing of electoral papers and hiring of thousands of ad hoc staff, among others.
Although there had been divided opinions on whether Nigeria was ripe for electronic voting, Yakubu said at the inauguration of the 1999 Constitution Review Committee of the House of Representatives in October 2020 that elections in the country were “too manual, expensive, cumbersome and archaic.”
He added that “the encumbrance of the deployment of full technology in elections should be removed.”
Yakubu also recently said at a public hearing on the Electoral Offences Commission (Establishment) Bill sponsored by Senator Abubakar Kyari that the timetable for the 2023 general elections would be released in November 2021.
Commission begins facilities’ repairs ahead of Anambra gov poll
Meanwhile, ahead of the Anambra State governorship election slated for November 6, INEC said it had begun repairing its destroyed facilities in the state and replacing some of its non-sensitive materials affected by the destructions.
Gunmen had in the past few months launched attacks on INEC and other government facilities, particularly in the South-East.
The gunmen burnt the INEC office in Anambra State on May 23. During the attack, the commission stated that it lost its Collation Centre, seven utility vehicles, and 50 per cent of all non-sensitive materials.
However, INEC said it had started rebuilding its office to enable it to conduct the governorship election taking place in the state in less than five months from now.
INEC commissioner, Okoye, said, “The security situation in the country is fluid. The commission, in conjunction with the security agencies, will continue to evaluate the security situation of the country.
“We have started the process of rebuilding our burnt structures and facilities in Anambra State. We are also replacing some of the non-sensitive materials destroyed during the attack on the commission’s State Headquarters Office on May 23, 2021.
“Also, some of the communities have offered to rebuild or are already rebuilding some of our offices burnt or vandalised during the #EndSARS protest. We are evaluating and auditing the rest of the facilities and making projections relating to the cost for their repairs and or replacement.”
Asked if there would be Continuous Voter Registration in areas in the South-East where INEC offices had been burnt, Okoye said the commission would start the CVR with online registration, which he said would commence on June 28, after which the commission would begin physical registration in the state and local government offices on July 19.
In preparation for the online voter registration, the commission said it had acquired and launched the Voter Enrolment Device, noting that registrants with no legal disability would start their registration online and complete it at the designated registration centres, where their biometrics would be captured.
On whether the CVR would also hold in insurgency-ravaged areas in the North, Okoye said, “We have adopted a gradual and graduated approach to the challenges.”
“We will work with the stakeholders and the security agencies in all parts of the country to protect our personnel and equipment. We are conscious of the expectations of the Nigerian people and will work round the clock for the success of the exercise,” he added.
On general preparations for the 2023 elections, INEC said it had worked “hard” on its processes and procedures and “striving to build a democratic and independent institution.”
The commission also urged political parties to become more democratic and inclusive.
“The bulk of the matters in court relates to challenges with the organisation and practices of the different political parties. We must strive to clean up the party process and hold them to the same standards like the commission,” Okoye said.
Kwara community complains about Polling Unit naming
Meanwhile, the Daudu Amule Olomo-Oba Royal Dynasty in Ilorin East Local Government Area of Kwara State has asked INEC to avoid rewriting the history of Ilorin Emirate Communities in the name of creating new polling units.
The royal house said this in reaction to INEC’s creation of a Polling Unit named Daudu Amule Oloko-Obi Open Space, 034 new Polling Unit in Magaji Are Ward l, Ilorin East Local Government Area.
INEC had recently created new polling units across the country to make polling stations nearer to voters during elections.
But in a statement signed by a member of the Daudu Amule family, Mallam Abdulkadir Saheed, who is also the Public Relations Officer of Amule Olomo-Oba Community Development Association, the community said it would not condone a distortion of its history.
The community cautioned INEC against rewriting history of a community in the name of creating a new Polling Unit.
The statement read, “Our attention has been drawn to the purported naming of a Polling Unit, Daudu Amule Oloko-Obi Open Space in Magaji Are Ward l, Ilorin East Local Government Area.
“Inasmuch as we support the creation of an additional Polling Unit in our area, we must, however, put the record straight as regards the naming of that Polling Unit.
“We must state without any contraction that there is no community called Amule Oloko-Obi. What’s obtainable in the whole of Ilorin Emirate is Amule Olomo-Oba. Naming a Polling Unit as Daudu Amule Oloko-Obi Open Space is wrong and a total distortion of our history.”
“So, we call on INEC not to cancel the Polling Unit but name it appropriately to avoid utter distortion of the history of our community,” Saheed said.