On Wednesday, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, issued a press statement about the case instituted by his ministry seeking to stop INEC using the permanent Voter cards (PVCs) for the forthcoming elections. It was ‘Sahara Reporters’, the online publication that blew the whistle on the plot by the Federal Government to scuttle the use of PVCs and compromise the integrity of the elections. In his press release, the Attorney General of the Federation confirmed that his office had in fact carried out the act but he was not aware of the action by his office and he did not authorize the said action. He blamed his staff for sending the affidavit to the court without first clearing with him: “I wish to state that the Officers did not avail me the opportunity of perusing or vetting the Affidavit and Written Address before they were filed. The practice in the Federal Ministry of Justice is for the Attorney General of the Federation to be availed copies of all Court Processes prepared in reply to suits against the Office and his opinion first had to be obtained especially in sensitive suits such as the one in question before such processes are filed.” He promised that the court processes would be withdrawn and his guilty staff would be queried. With the whole country, and indeed the world focused on the PVC question, I find is very strange that the Ministry of Justice would proceed with such a politically sensitive case without their minister being informed. As the Minister of Justice must be assumed to be an honourable man, I believe him. I would however advice that he should henceforth keep a close eye on what is going on in the Ministry of Justice in spite of the fact that they are all busy on the campaign trail.

Using the Ministry of Justice to scuttle the use of PVCs through the judiciary would be a grievous abuse of the powers of incumbency and we as citizens should be concerned that such a case even arose in the first place. The PVC and card readers have become the key issue about the forthcoming elections. The sheer number of cases in the court spearheaded by agents of the Federal Government reveals that there is deep concern and even panic within the ruling party about the impact of these tools. The question is why this fear. The PVC and card readers have been developed to do two simple things, which should please all democrats. The first is to authenticate that the voter who turns up with a PVC is indeed in possession of a valid card and that the card is issued to him through a verification of biometric features. The second is to keep an accurate record of the total number of people who had been accredited to vote and voted so that the numbers could not be changed subsequently. The card reader has the capacity to keep such numbers and transmit them directly to INEC headquarters. These features are pleasing to all democrats because they significantly improve the integrity of the electoral process. Why then are some people so opposed to their use?

To understand the dynamics, let’s look at the percentages scored by presidential candidates Muhammadu Buhari and Goodluck Jonathan in the states where they were the most popular in 2011. Candidate Buhari scored the following highest votes caste in percentages – Bauchi 82%, Borno 78%, Katsina 72%, Zamfara 67%, Niger 65%, Sokoto 62% and Gombe 60%. Candidate Jonathan scored the following highest votes – 99% of total votes cast in Abia, Anambra, Bayelsa, Delta, Enugu, Imo and Rivers States, incredible percentages. We now know that since the 2011 elections, almost five million names – 4,841,861 millions multiple registrants have been removed the list and had not received PVCs. This means, the total number of voters in all states were inflated in 2011 and claiming that 99% of that total inflated number actually all voted is a clear indication of inflation of voters in some States. Those demanding that we revert to the use of the temporary voters card therefore do so with the full knowledge that it provides room for inflating votes. If INEC is so determined to use PVC and the card readers, it is precisely because they want to close loopholes that can be used for rigging.

Since certain elements realized that the real purpose of the PVC and card readers was to frustrate the activities of election riggers, there has been a campaign of calumny against INEC and particularly its Chair, Professor Attahiru Jega. There has been lots of speculation and kite flying about the necessity to send him away on pre-retirement leave before the elections. Clearly, for those engaged with the practice of electoral fraud, the beginning of wisdom starts with understanding what he stands for. There were assumptions that his often-repeated words of “free, fair and credible elections” were merely a slogan. Now that they realize it’s for real, they are after him with a vengeance. The good thing is that Nigerians now realize that the real reason for the campaign against PVCs and card readers is to produce electoral outcomes other than that determined by the votes of the people. We cannot allow this to recur in our country.

Nigerians most be concerned about the ways in which the Presidency is over-reaching its power and abusing its incumbency to ensure that there is no level playing ground for the forthcoming elections. I have in this column addressed the problem of the unfair use of security agencies against political opponents a number of times. There is a raging debate about the way in which the military have been used in the June Ekiti elections and the imperative of not allowing such abuse of incumbency to recur. The blatant lack of neutrality relative to the use of the police to harass and intimidate opposition party leaders is a cause for concern. We all have a stake in deepening and not scuttling our democracy. The Presidency should se itself as a stakeholder in building and consolidating our democracy.