Four Nigerian political parties have threatened to pull out of the March 28 and April 11 elections if the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, refuses to suspend the use of card readers.
The parties also called on the chairman of INEC, Attahiru Jega, to proceed on terminal leave, accusing him of exhibiting unprofessionalism and poor judgement.
“Since Prof Attahiru Jega has shown lack of professionalism and good judgment in his actions so far in the conduct of the 2015 elections and since he has about three months to the end of his tenure as INEC Chairman, we the stakeholders urge him to quietly consider proceeding on terminal leave so that a more competent person can handle the current election process,” the parties said at a press conference Wednesday.
The parties warned that the use of card readers, which INEC says will help check voting fraud, will negatively affect the credibility of the elections.
A statement containing the demands was signed by the national chairman of MEGA Progressive Peoples Party, Dare Falade; the presidential candidate of the Peoples Party of Nigeria, Kelvin Alagoa; and the presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, Rafiu Salau.
But the national chairman of Advanced Congress of Democrats, ACD, Onwubuya Breakforth, who spoke on behalf of the group, claimed that the three parties, alongside his ACD, acted as representatives of 15 political parties.
He later told PREMIUM TIMES the remaining 11 parties had declined to immediately disclose their identities for political reasons, but assured that the parties will soon identify themselves.
The chairman of the Inter Party Advisory Council, IPAC, Yunusa Tanko, said the parties did not represent IPAC, the umbrella body of political parties.
Mr. Tanko, who is also the national chairman of National Conscience Party, said his party was not opposed to the use of card readers during the elections.
But Mr. Breakforth of the ACD said they consider the card reader a relatively new technology that should be sufficiently tested before use.
“… if the card reader should develop some technical problems, there is a possibility that the consequences of such development would affect about 40 (forty) or 50 (fifty) percent of the polling booths nationwide,” the group said.
“Because of the tendency of the card reader device to develop some technical fault any time during the voters accreditation process, that was the reason why all the Political Parties agreed with INEC recently, that the election should be postponed in polling booths where a substantial number of card reader defaults were recorded because it would disrupt the entire election process,” they said.
The parties advised INEC to manually confirm every voter during accreditation process.
The parties said while they are not against a faster and improved way of conducting the elections, but that it should not be used in the general elections.
The call by the four parties, some of the same organizations that demanded the postponement of the elections from the initial February dates, came a day after a Federal High Court in Abuja refused an application filed by four political parties to stop INEC from using the card readers during elections.
The parties that filed the suit were Alliance for Democracy, United Democratic Party, Allied Congress Party of Nigeria and Action Alliance.
The new demands — for the removal of Mr. Jega and the suspension of use of card readers — also came hours after the All Progressives Congress, APC, accused the Nigerian government of plotting to use some political parties which the APC branded as “satellite” organs of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to seek a fresh shift of elections.
The four parties did not however demand a reschedule of the polls.
But speaking separately Wednesday, the spokesperson for the Goodluck Jonathan campaign, Femi Fani-Kayode, said the PDP’s position on card readers remained that “the machine has not been tested in any election and there are bases for genuine concern over the use of the machine, for the first time, in a crucial election of this magnitude”.
In their statement, the four parties agreed with that argument, and urged INEC to suspend the proposed use of “the card reader for the March 28 and April 11 general elections or we may consider boycotting the election”.
Mr. Breakforth argued that delaying the introduction of the card reader device would enable the nation and INEC itself to properly ascertain its workability and efficiency.
He said the use of card readers now may lead to manipulation and massive rigging of the election while Nigerians may be disenfranchised.
“We also want INEC to respond to this emergency and also within 24 hours, approve our request because time is of the essence,” he said.
“This positive response is necessary so that we would be able to meet the demands of our party members and majority of the Nigerian voters who have expressed great anxiety and concern over this matter.”