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Enthusiasm about 2023 very impressive –INEC

Wilfred Ifogah is the Head of Voter Education, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Bayelsa State. In this interview with PAULINE ONYIBE, he explains how the recently introduced BVAS will promote electoral integrity, among other issues

 

What is this BVAS? How are you prepared for the fact that some parts of Bayelsa State may not have a telecommunication network to do this electronic stuff?

The BVAS is just like your phone but bigger than it. Just like a small tablet. It has a camera and place for fingerprints. It has already been preloaded with the software. It is designed for INEC. When you come with your card, it identifies it just like the former card reader that we used.

When that is done, we still use the BVAS to authenticate that you are the owner. Your fingerprint is scanned, if it is ok, the BVAS will now report that this person has been accredited then the person moves to the next person who does the normal accreditation. But if your fingerprint fails within that period, they will now use your facial details.

It takes your photograph and matches it with what is there. If it agrees that you are the one, we will do the accreditation using that method. There will be no incidence form this time. Elections are conducted in the polling units. It is the BVAS that they will use to transmit the result from those units to the INEC viewing portal. It is when you are sending result that a network will be needed. The BVAS works for accreditation without a telecommunication network.

Has this information got to the locals?

They don’t need to know about that. What the locals need to know is that on Election Day, they go out with your PVC. When you get there, they will direct them on what to do. There will be an officer in charge of that. There will not be a mistake of BVAS. Invalid votes were as result of wrong thumb printing. It has nothing to do with BVAS. BVAS ensures proper accreditation. BVAS ensures one man one vote.

Do you think it will work?

Yes it will. There might be some hitches here and there but then if you are popular somewhere and the people trust you, and you are able to do your grassroots work well, you are sure of victory within your locality.

Right now, every vote that counts is from real individuals, so you have to convince them of your capability. We therefore appeal to the voter’s consciences ot vote wisely. We have also put measures in place to remove vote buying, but it still depends on the individuals. That was why we stopped the use of camera phones when going to the polling booths. That is why we have that cubicle so that nobody sees who you are voting for. That is why the presiding officer will fold that ballot paper so nobody sees who you voted for.

So far, how many people can you say have gotten their PVCs in Bayelsa State now?

Well, I cannot say it now, because I don’t have that figure with me. You know there are different categories of those that have received PVCs. There are those who just registered for the first time. Statistics for those ones is actually something that we can provide but those who applied for replacement or update of their cards, if they collect, you cannot be giving statistics for that because already, from the former records, it is believed that they have the cards. What just happened is that they either misplaced it or it is bad, so we cannot really attribute that to PVC collection.

Those cards that were not valid, how did you people go about it?

I just want to correct an expression there. When we say invalid registration, the reasons are either multiple or double registration. Those people who came for registration when we already had their information, their registration wasn’t valid because we already had their information.

So, do they have cards?

Yes, they have cards or they have registered before or their cards are with us and they have not come to pick it up, or they registered somewhere else outside Bayelsa State and they are here to pick it up. Or they may even have it, but because they are no longer there, they thought that they will have to do another one and the data will just show.

Once we integrate this present information to the system, their biometrics and their pictures will show that they are the ones. Even if they change their names, we will know that they are the one. So what the system did was to reject the new registration and leave the old one. So they will have to go and look for that old one. That is if they still have it, if they don’t, they can’t vote.

What are the challenges that your commission has been facing, because I know that this state is riverine, those that cannot get to their local government, how do they go about it?

The collection is just at the local government headquarters right now. We will devolve to the wards by January, from the 6th to the 15th we will be giving out all the cards at the ward level.

Won’t the time be too short, because the elections will be around that February?

The time is about seven days, so if people are serious they will get it. We are talking about their wards. So for seven days our officials go there, except people want to be sleeping in the houses. From day one through five at the ward level, people can’t refuse to come out.

Remember, people are still collecting at their local government level. We are just doing this to diffuse the pressure on the local government centers and to reduce the distance for those that are coming to pick up their cards. So, between now and then, it’s expected that the majority of people should have collected their cards. So, we are doing that to the advantage of people living in the rural areas so when we come around, they should be able to come out.

How are you going to relay that message across to them, some of them don’t even listen to radio and news?

Already, we are doing it, like in my department now, we have a branded vehicle that we are using to go to where people can access. Then we have INEC offices in the local government areas. We also have voter’s education desk officers. They will also go out as well to announce and let the people know. They are also going to have stakeholders meeting with the people there to let them know. The people in turn will carry the message to their own people to let them know by what time those things will be done.

We know that Bayelsa State has very difficult terrain, how do your staff get to those riverine places like Foropa, Aggey and all those places?

INEC is aware of that. That question is just like asking us how we are going to conduct elections. Our staff work there, most of them are residing at those places, so of course, whatever means of transport that they have that is what you will adopt. We already know that over 70 per cent of our operations are on water so, we are ready for it.

How many cards have been sent to Bayelsa State from the national office so far?

It is a figure that I cannot give. But for this present dispensation, I know how many PVCs have been received. I think the first set of PVCs received for both new registrations and transfers are about 40 something thousand and this present one, it is about a hundred and something thousand. So give and take about 150,000 PVCs have been received and we are still expecting more.

Is registration different from getting your PVC?

Of course, if you register, getting your PVC is another thing because if you don’t have your PVC, you cannot vote on election day. So if you register and you don’t have the PVC, it doesn’t make any sense. So they are two different things and you cannot give the actual number of people that have collected. The statistics come on a weekly basis.

In the next few weeks elections will commence. You should have some of those records with you…

Of course, I don’t get the information unless I ask. There is a desk officer for that, so I Will have to find out and look at the register because if I give you a figure now, you will publish it and the next thing, the headquarters will say that this is what happened and it will bring about conflicting results. And we don’t want that because this is an election period. So we have to agree on what has been collected, once it is approved that this is what has been collected, we can now release such figures.

What are the challenges that you people have been facing generally because I know that it has not been easy running this job?

I would say that for the collection of PVC, I will not say that it is the people’s fault, but there is a situation whereby some of these persons want to collect their PVC and their PVC is no longer available, and some of them will just go back disappointed and at times it can be disheartening.

What do you think can be done to stop voter apathy?

The issue of voter apathy is dying with the level of enthusiasm that people have shown in this current dispensation for the 2023 election. You find out that people are ready to vote.

 

That is why you saw the rush when we were doing the CVR exercise. Remember we are supposed to stop it June 30th but because of the registration, we extended it by one more month but this was an exercise we started over a year ago.

People never showed interest but later on they just decided to develop that interest. For us in the voter education department, we are doing our best within available resources. We use conventional methods using electronic media and through our social media platform as well.

 

We have a handle for the state here @inecbayelsa which is on facebook. We have a twitter handle as well, then on various Whatssapp platforms that I belong to. I try to pass certain information to get them involved.

Then we also use stakeholders gathering to inform people but we are not alone in this aspect of sensitizing people. Civil society groups collaborate with us in this advocacy drive. They also carry out this information.

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