A Critical Appraisal of INEC Smart Card Readers, In Reducing Irregularities during 2015 General Election In Nigeria

November 9, 2020
Impact of the Card Reader; A distinguishable and undisputable tool used in the conduct of the 2015 Presidential Elections
November 9, 2020

Price: 2000 Naira (BSC, MSC)




Those who cast the votes decide nothing; those who count the votes decide everything. – Joseph Stalin (1949), former USSR Communist leader

In tandem with the above assertion; – Ken Nnamani, Nigeria’s former Senate President
The problem we have had in Nigeria is that every succeeding election is worse than the previous one. In other words, the election of 1999 was better than that of 2003, and if care is not taken (that of 2003) will be better than that of 2007, 2011 and 2015 respectively. That does not show growth, it does not show that our democracy is being deepened, talk less of thriving.

Also incongruence with the presuppositions of Ken Nnamani; Mustapha Akanbi (2013) averred that:
Nigeria is a democracy in transition, we are still refining the political culture from antidemocratic tendencies that many years of authoritarian rule fostered in our national life, and our electoral system is therefore a work in progress. Democratization, in all societies, is neither swift nor smooth sailing it is a long nor tortuous process that takes place in incremental waves, therefore deepening democracy in Nigeria demands collective and determined effort by all stakeholders to achieve this

The above assertion captures the wave of changes that has characterized the Nigerian democratic journey. Conducting elections is seen as providing legitimacy to elected leaders, as long as they are conducted fairly and with integrity. But it also seems that along with the trends toward more elections around the world there are increasing concerns about electoral irregularities and the potential manipulation of the electoral process. For example, recent presidential elections in Mexico have been marred by allegations of irregularities and vote buying, including claims that PRI supporters in some areas provided gift cards to voters. Concerns about electoral irregularities, manipulation and anomalous results have swirled around recent elections in Afghanistan (Worden 2010), Angola (Collier and Vicente 2012), Armenia (Hyde 2007), Iran (Mebane 2010), Georgia (Tucker 2007), Kenya (Collier and Vicente 2012), Kyrgyzstan (Tucker 2007), Mexico (Eisenstaedt 2007), Moldova (Senyuva 2010), Russia (Myagkov et al. 2009), Serbia (Tucker 2007), Ukraine (Myagkov et al. 2009; Tucker 2007), Venezuela (Levin et al. 2009), and Zimbabwe (Collier and Vicente 2012). Similar concerns have arisen about some anomalies in recent U.S. elections as well, for example a dispute over the Thirteenth Congressional District’s election in 2006, Nigeria (Jega et al 2008) — to name a few of the recent prominent examples.

In an attempt to display remarkable scholarship and irrepressible ingenuity; it will be apt to assert that electoral irregularities in Nigeria have served the ignoble purposes of weakening the people’s confidence and support for democratic institution in Nigeria. Institutions of democracy strengthen and stabilize democratic development since they encourage and legalize wider popular participation in the democratic and development process. As a result of the several decades of organized electoral irregularities perpetrated at the national, state and local levels of governance people have lost faith in governance, institutions and experienced mass alienation and exclusion from the process of governance. This has weakened the development programs, projects and prospects of Africa’s most populated country. The huge electoral irregularities committed during the 2007 elections made the European Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to carry out a detailed study of the pervasive problem of why Nigerians have lost interest, confidence and faith in democratic institutions. (The DGD sponsored survey) and came to the conclusions that the pillars of democracy in Nigeria are weak and, as a result, electoral manipulation and irregularities are used to truncate the popular mandate and wishes of the people.

Provoked by election controversies in the past decade, political methodologists have been at the forefront of studying both election irregularities and election integrity. This virtual issue of political analysis presents a number of those recent papers, highlighting the contributions that methodologists have made in developing new approaches to analyse elections data to try to detect anomalies that might indicate the existence of deliberate manipulation that could constitute electoral irregularities. Other methodologists have taken a different approach, and while not motivated to detect manipulation or irregularities, they have developed analytic approaches that help us better understand and predict election results, and which can be used in the future to improve evaluations of election integrity and analyses of the causes and consequences of election irregularities. It is in this light that this scholarly work seeks to beam the torch-light of inquiry on Nigeria and her introduction of the voter smart card readers as a panacea to the problem of electoral irregularities during the 2015 general elections.

According to Jega (2003) Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999 happened within the global context of a wave of Democratization that saw many autocratic regimes end and electoral democracies begin. Critical domestic circumstances that included the sudden death of military head of state, General Sani Abacha (199398), and a resurgent prodemocracy movement created a crucial opening for Nigeria to begin the journey to political transformation.

In March 2015, Nigeria conducted its fifth consecutive general elections since the return to civil rule in 1999. This is a remarkable achievement for a country whose last three ‘republics’ floundered between the first and second general elections. While this in itself may be celebratory, the various general elections with the exception of the 2011 and 2015 have been widely perceived to be largely flawed. At one stage the country was facing the danger of what may be considered as a law of diminishing returns in terms of the quality of election, with every succeeding election regarded as worse than the previous one. This state of affairs generated a constant demand and debate on electoral reform in the country, which has consistently taken place before each round of the general elections.

Despite the numerous challenges confronting the institutionalization of a strong democratic ethos, particularly in relation to the conduct of credible and irregularity-free elections, election management and citizen participation in the electoral process have improved over the years as the current democratic dispensation is in its fifth electoral cycle and a culture of citizen engagement has begun to take root.

In recognition of the importance of free, fair, and credible elections, cum the pursuit of sustainable democratic milieu, INEC has introduced the PVCs and card authentication system that involves the use of the Permanent Voter Cards and Smart Card Readers for voter accreditation at the polling during the just concluded 2015 general elections. This development is raison detered on the sacred doctrinaire of equity, transparency and integrity which were once fictional and imaginary in the Nigerian political/electioneering lexicon.

The leit motif of this study is predicated on the critical unravelling of the fads, fact and fallacies behind INEC’s use of the PVCs and card authentication system which involves the use of the Permanent Voter Cards and Smart Card Readers for voter accreditation and how it has reduced irregularities during the 2015 general elections.

Having remained virtually unchanged since the enactment of universal and secret suffrage at the end of the 19th century, voting procedures are undergoing a radical transformation in many countries through the introduction of electronic methods of voting. Almost 30 countries around the world are currently in the process of testing or implementing computerized voting, and in at least 10 countries, electronic voting (e-voting) is the main method used to elect national representatives (Alvarez & Hall, 2008; Pomares, R. Michael 2010a).

Taking a critical look at the traditional voting method that has been in existence for years we can observe many opportunities for irregularities amongst with the inability of the citizens to verify the election results. This gives a strong motivation for computer scientists to design electronic mechanisms that could realize voting, and that would not only disable cheating and allow checking, but also lower the costs.

In her quest to improve and push the limit of her development beyond the use of manual typology of voting, by adopting new vistas rooted in electronic-centric electoral process, The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) introduced the Smart Card Readers during the 2015 general elections. This study critically examines the INEC Smart Card Readers and how it has reduced irregularities during the 2015 general elections. Employing the potency of analytical tools of research, the specific areas to be addressed in this study are as follows:
(i) What has been the impact of the card readers on the outcome of the 2015 general and has it helped in reducing electoral irregularities?
(ii) Has the introduction of the card readers helped in improving electioneering process and the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria?
(iii) What were the deficiencies of the card readers during the 2015 general elections?
(iv) How can they be improved upon in subsequent elections?

The aim of this research is to assess the impact INEC smart card reader on reducing irregularities during the 2015 general elections.

The main objectives of this research work are as follows:
(1) To examine the impact of the smart card readers on the outcome of the 2015 general elections
(2) To examine if the introduction of the smart card readers has helped in improving electoral process and the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria
(3) To examine the deficiencies of the smart card readers during the 2015 general elections
(4) To proffer suggestion/recommendation at the end of the research.

In line with the objectives of the study, we will adopt the following assumptions as guide:
(i) The introduction of the smart card readers has changed the political spectrum of the Nigerian electoral process as it has fostered transparency and credibility; it has boosted political participation and strengthened the quest for democratic sustenance.
(ii) Perusal to anecdotal evidence, it suggests that the continual use of the smart card readers will eliminate lack of trust in the fairness and legitimacy of Nigerian elections.
(iii) E-voting (understood here as the use of a computer-based machine to display an electoral ballot and record the vote) would become more likely adopted in African democracies, as the process has disseminated rapidly and extensively in the developed world.

The 2015 General Election from all indication is one that has elicited the greatest attention. Since 1999 to the 2011, general election there has never been such great expectations from Nigerians as in the one being expressed for the 2015 general election. This great expectation and concern from Nigerian on the 2015 general election is understandable. It is because Nigeria’s democracy is gradually being deepened while the electoral process by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is also enjoying some confidence from the electorate with the introduction of the smart card readers to curtail electoral irregularities. Probably also, the 2015 election has come on the fore because of the great challenge it possess all Nigerians especially on the issue of credibility and transparency, a much needed elixir to break the jinx of electoral irregularities in the country’s electoral life-cycle.

While it is axiomatic to posit Until 1999, Nigeria’s experience with democratization was in its pseudopodic stage ; characterized by military interventions, The Fourth Republic since 1999 has witnessed some stability, However it is key to note that the democratization process was bedevilled by poorly conducted elections that left Nigerians frustrated and questioning the value and validity of electoral democracy. Sounding the alarm of change in the conduct of elections Nigeria, Professor Attahiru Jega (2015) opined that “our immediate objective when we came on board in June 2010 was to reverse the trend and restore credibility to the electoral process. Even though the 2011 elections were not perfect, they were adjudged locally and internationally to be, perhaps, the 2015 has been widely deemed as the best in Nigeria’s history due to the use of the Smart Card Readers”.

The important aspect of this research is that, it will deepen the sagacity of knowledge and information on the subject matter. It will also help tremendously in guiding the government policymakers while making decisions with respect to the electoral process in Nigeria.
• This study in addition, will not only be an addition to the existing body of knowledge but also assist the students of political science, public administration and public policy or any other disciplines related to the topic for their studies as well as provide the people and government of Nigeria and any other readers a sense of direction and understanding about the importance electronic-centric voting process and its importance on the voting behaviour and outcome of elections.

This research work is designed to cover the study of the impact of the INEC Smart Card Readers, how it has reduced irregularities during the 2015 general elections; with more emphasis on the benefits and shortcomings of the Smart Card Readers to the Nigerian political landscape.

This study adopts the qualitative research design. According to Reinard (2001:19) Qualitative studies try to describe the human condition by using general views of social action. The qualitative techniques used in the study include the descriptive and analytical perspective and the Desk Study Techniques. With the Desk study technique, an in-depth review of literature on subject matter was done based on a sample of empirical research published in English-language which are peer-reviewed journals. The following criteria were used to select scholarly works for review:
1. Scholarly works that discussed either e-voting or electronic Smart Card Readers.
2. The scholarly works must discuss electronic smart card readers within the context of its usage for elections and democracy.

The study is also approached from the descriptive and analytical perspective. Okoro (2001:53) explains that descriptive studies as the name implies is aimed at describing or explaining a given phenomenon. Yang (2010) noted that the difference between descriptive and analytic approaches is that while descriptive studies attempt to describe, determine or identify what is, analytical research tries to establish why it is that way or how it came to be. This is in agreement with the submission of Wimmer and Dominick (2006:179) that while descriptive research compares and describes what phenomena are, analytical research usually concerns itself with cause-effect relationships, and the result usually allow researchers to examine the interrelationship among variables and to develop explanatory inferences. In using this method of inquiry, we analyse the strength and weakness of electronic Smart Card Readers on the premise of how it has reduced electoral irregularities. This method is adopted to analyse and address the many questions that have been raised following the emergence of INEC electronic Smart Card Readers especially as it concerns its use within the copious of 2015 general elections and the possible effects it could have on the fledgling democracy in Nigeria.

For the purpose of this research work the following terms are defined:
Furthermore, the electronic accreditation was segmented into two levels; the verification and authentication of voter. The verification authentication stage involves swiping of the Permanent Voter Card against the Card Reader for the purposes of verifying if the voter is the legitimate holder of the card and that the polling unit information in the PVC corresponds with details of the polling unit. It also enables the polling officials determine if the PVC is genuinely issued by the commission. The authentication stage involves matching the fingerprint of the PVC holder with the biometrics stored in the chip. Impressively, the card reader records number of PVCs verified/authenticated or declined with all the details of the voters. This information can be used to audit polling unit results and also determine whether accreditation figures have been altered or falsified. According to Professor Attahiru Jega (2015) the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs)the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has produced Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) for the 68,833,476 persons in the biometric Register of Voters during the March 28th and April 11th, 2015 general elections. The PVC replaces the Temporary Voter Card (TVC) issued on the heels of registration of voters since 2011. Quality, security, durability and cost effectiveness are underlying factors in the production of the Permanent Voter Cards by INEC. These cards have many components and specialized features (e.g. base substrate, security printing, personalization, lamination and chip embedding), and it is designed with an average life span of ten (10) years. The PVC has an embedded chip that contains all the biometrics of a legitimate holder (including fingerprints and facial image). On Election Day, it was swiped with a Smart Card Reader at the polling unit to ensure 100 per cent authentication and verification of the voter before he/she is allowed to vote. The PVC has security features that are not easily susceptible to counterfeiting. Only voters who have their PVC were allowed to vote in the 2015 general elections. For avoidance of doubt, TVCs were not allowed; thus it was important for registered persons to collect their PVC before the day of the election. PVCs are available for collection at distribution points in all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) daily, including on weekends, until Sunday, 8th March 2015.

For the first time in Nigeria’s electoral history, electronic voter authentication system (Smart Card Readers) is being deployed for the 2015 general elections. The card reader uses a highly secure and cryptographic technology that is used commonly in devices that need to perform secure transactions, such as paying terminals. It has ultralow power consumption, with a single core frequency of 1.2GHz and an Android 4.2.2 operating system. The card reader units have been broadly subjected to Quality Assurance, Integrity and Functionality testing and found reliable in ease of use, battery life and speed of processing. For instance, it takes an average of 10 seconds to authenticate a voter. The card readers were also subjected to Stress testing in the states and FCT ahead of the March 28 and April 11, 2015 elections. INEC made a card reader available at every voting point in the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) during the 2015 elections, with a substantial number of spares available to address contingencies.
• How Does The Card Reader Work?
A voter shall present himself at a polling unit with his/her PVC for accreditation. An officer at the PU shall scan the PVC and the voters fingerprint. The Card Reader shall compare both fingerprints, if there is a match, indicates that the bearer of the card owns the card. The Card Reader shall store the VIN of the scanned card and the accreditation status Successful or Failed. The device shall boldly show the total number of accreditation at the press of a single button and transmits the total number of accredited voters to a central server. The central server shall be closely monitored.

As defined by Colorado statute, the term “electioneering” includes campaigning for or against any candidate and/or issue that is on the ballot. It is the practice of working actively to secure votes for a candidate in an election. In another parlance electioneering means the solicitation of support or opposition to a candidate or issue to be voted upon at the election or polling place in question, by means of 🙁 a) Personal persuasion, electronic amplification of the human voice, or the display or distribution of campaign materials. (b) Offering or distribution of food, drink, or any other material benefit in a manner calculated to encourage recognition, support, or opposition to a candidate or issue. “Electioneering” does not include the display of ordinary bumper stickers on automobiles.
The Word Sustenance according to Merriam-Webster dictionary is defined as means of support, maintenance, or subsistence
In political science, the term “democracy” has often been used in three senses that are fairly distinct, even though they refer to aspects of the same phenomenon. In a general sense “democracy” is used to describe a system of government in which ultimate power (or sovereignty) rests with the people against other forms of government in which the final decision-making power rests with an individual (monarchy) or with a small number (aristocracy). It is really in this sense that the Aristotelian classification of political systems into democracy is based. There is however a second sense in which the term democracy is used in political science. This is the institutional sense. In this second sense, democracy is used to describe a system of government in which the powers of government are divided amongst different institutions such that some institutions are responsible for making laws, while others are responsible for executing the laws and yet a third institution may be responsible for mediating or adjudicating in disputes between different individual or groups who violate the laws of the land. In institutional terms, the presence or absence of such separation or distribution of governmental powers is taken as major indicator of the presence or absence of democracy.

Finally democracy can be discussed in terms of the procedures by which a political system is governed. In most democracies, an essential procedure by which most essential decisions are taken is to subject them either to a popular election, a plebiscite or a referendum. The basic rule in all such popular elections or consultations is that the opinion expressed by the majority is the dominant position that needs to be adopted while the minority opinion will be subordinated to the majority position.
These three dimensions of democracy are usually either closely interwoven or not clearly separated in many works on the subject. What we need to emphasize here is the fact that each of these three dimensions is embodied in some of the popular definitions of democracy that we are familiar with such as: Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people by Abraham Lincoln. Or “Democracy is a system of government where the majority has their way and the minorities have their say” or again: “democracy is limited government” Each of these three definitions of democracy is correct to the extent to which we recognize the aspect of democracy it is highlighting. But to consider any of such definitions as good and complete for all purposes will be in correct.
The nature and symptoms of electoral irregularities that is seen in Nigeria draws from a universal perspective and definition that attempts to establish some working principle of what has been variously described as political and democratic corruption. This is because electoral irregularities are an illegal interference in the transparent process of an election. Accordingly, a working gleaned from the Global Research website, Wikipedia, defines electoral irregularities as an incident that not only destabilizes a democracy but it could also put an election process into a credibility crisis making it difficult for people and voters not to accept an election process or its results:
Electoral irregularities are an illegal interference with the process of an election. Acts of irregularities affect vote counts to bring about an election result, whether by increasing the vote share of the favoured candidate, depressing the vote share of the rival candidates or both. Also called voter irregularities, the mechanisms involved include illegal voter registration, intimidation at polls and improper vote counting. What electoral irregularities are under law varies from country to country. Many kinds of voter irregularities are outlawed in electoral legislation but others are in violation of general laws such as those banning assault, harassment or libel. Although technically the term ‘electoral irregularities’ covers only those acts which are illegal, the term is sometimes used to de-scribe acts which although legal, are considered to be morally unacceptable, outside the spirit of electoral laws or in violation of the principles of democracy.

The report of this research work comprises of five chapters:

Chapter One will consist; introduction, statement of the research problem, aim and objectives of the study, scope and limitation of the work, research methodology, conceptual clarification and chapterization.

Chapter Two deals with the review of related and relevant literature and theoretical framework various literatures concerning the subject matter under study are going to be examined and reviewed. A suitable theoretical framework is going to be adopted to explain the study so as to give the work of definitive meaning.

Chapter Three will deal with the background of the study ‘‘A Critical Appraisal of INEC Smart Card Readers, In Reducing Irregularities during 2015 General Election in Nigeria’’

Chapter Four will consist of data presentation, data analysis and discussion of major findings.

Chapter Five consists of summary, conclusion and recommendations.

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