To ensure no potential loopholes are left unguarded, the Independent National Electoral Commission has beefed up security around the smart card readers to be used during the March 28 and April 11 elections. The adoption of the card readers for the general election has attracted a lot of controversies.
On March 14, there was a fire incident at the warehouse of the electoral body in Abuja which lasted for two hours. Non-sensitive materials such as envelopes, voter education materials and bags for conveying electoral materials to registration areas were completely burnt.
This has raised fears in many quarters about the safety of the card readers with six days left to the March 28 presidential election.
The Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, disclosed that measures had been put in place to secure the card readers.
He said, “They are very secure from arson, stealing, vandalism or any other effort to disrupt the elections.
“It is not only card readers we are using for these elections. We are using a lot of other materials. We are also using ballot boxes, cubicles, etc. Those are all election materials and they are secured and are well protected. Where they are now, they are safe.
“INEC deploys these materials along the lines of the structures. We deploy from the national headquarters to the state offices. The state offices deploy to the council offices. The council offices deploy to the registration area centres, which in turn deploy to the polling units. They cannot be intercepted on the way; they are not sent by post.”
Checks by our correspondents around the 36 states and Abuja showed that the card readers had already been deployed to the states.
However, the actual location of these cards is only known to the Resident Electoral Commissioners and a few trusted staff of the commission under whose watch the cards are.
This development, according to some of the RECs, is born out of anticipated threats such as theft and arson against the safety of the card readers.
The Ondo State REC, Olusegun Agbaje, told one of our correspondents that only he, the administrative secretary, who is his deputy, and the head of Information and Communications Technology knew where the card readers were being kept.
He said, “It is not necessary for everybody to know where the card readers are kept. The important thing is that they are safe and secure. I know that you are concerned about the safety of the card readers, but we are even more concerned and have taken measures to ensure that they are safe. Armed security men are watching over them.”
In confirmation of the secrecy surrounding the location of the card readers, the REC in Delta State, Mr. Anidi Ikowak, refused to disclose to our correspondent where they were kept in his domain.
Ikowak said the card readers were safe. He said, “I can’t tell you where the card readers are but I want to say that they are safe. The card readers for the elections cannot function until the March 28. There are so many features that make it to function only on the 28th. And after 28, it will not function again until you reconfigure it for another election, April 11.”
The Kogi State REC, Mr. Hussain Pai, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, also said the location of the card readers were not known to the public.
Pai said, “The card readers are kept in a secret and special place such that the public are not aware of the place.”
Pai, who spoke through the state INEC spokesperson, Mr. Matthew Ameh, stated that the commission had made adequate security arrangements to ensure the safety of the card readers and other materials.
He added, “We have been meeting with all heads of security agencies through the platform of Inter-Agency Committee on Election Security. So far, security is not one of our challenges. We have a committee made of the Army, Navy, Police, Immigration, Civil Defence and others. We have really gone far with them and everything is okay. We have appropriate measure against fire disasters; if there is any disaster, the inferno will be put off.”
His Kwara State counterpart, Dr. Emmanuel Onucheyo, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents through the spokesperson of the commission in the state, Mr. Jacob Ayanda, said the location of the card readers was confidential.
Onucheyo said, “Only the head of the store section and the Head of ICT have access to the place where the card readers are kept. The card readers are kept in a special place. The place where they are kept is not known to the public. We have doubled the security coverage of these materials and the security is adequate,” he added.
Similarly, the REC in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Austin Okojie, said the card readers were kept in air conditioned buildings spread all over the 31 local governments could only be accessed by the staff of the ICT unit.
The REC in Ekiti State, Mr. Sam Olumekun, also guaranteed the safety of the card readers, saying they were being kept in a secured environment.
He also said the card readers had been configured for each voting point to avoid manipulation or electoral fraud.
The Delta State REC, Mr. Anidi Ikowak, would not say where the cards are being kept for safety and security. He simply acknowledged that the cards had been received and configured for their respective polling units.
The Benue State REC, Prof. Istifanus Dafwang, said the 5,000 card readers he took delivery of were kept in a safe building and that the place is guarded by the police, Department of State Security, the civil defence as well as INEC’s internal security.
In Bayelsa State , the Public Relations Officer, Mr. Timidi Wariowei, said on Friday that, “They are very secured. When we begin to move them to local governments, we are going with security agents to protect lives and materials.”
The Administrative Secretary, INEC, Ogun State, Mr. Dickson Atiba, confirmed to one of our correspondents that adequate security had been provided to prevent the card readers from being stolen or burnt.
He said, “We have provided adequate security for the card readers. They are being specially kept in a safe place to prevent them from being stolen or form any act of arson. Even if anyone tries to steal it, the person might not be able to use it, because each one has its (special) code.”
In Abia, the state REC, Professor Selina Oko, said water-tight security arrangement had been put in place to safeguard the card.
Oko, who was not specific on the number of the card readers, admitted that the state took delivery of a sizable quantity of the device.
She also did not disclose where the card readers were kept but she affirmed that enough security measures had been taken to ensure their safety.
In Plateau, the Deputy Director, Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Osaretin imahieyereobo, said the card readers were safe.
Imahieyereobo said, “Everything is going on course. We don’t anticipate any hitch and if there is any, adequate measures have been put in place to meet such problems. The cards are safe where they are from theft or fire and they are being well guarded.”