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Nigeria Opposition Parties Threaten to Boycott Elections

Independent National Electoral Commission Chairman, Attahiru Jega, speaks during a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria, Feb. 7, 2015.
Independent National Electoral Commission Chairman, Attahiru Jega, speaks during a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria, Feb. 7, 2015.

Nigeria’s opposition political parties have threatened to boycott the March 28 presidential vote if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) continues with its plan to use voter card reader machines during the poll.

INEC says the card reader machines are meant to help authenticate voters with permanent voter cards, before they are allowed to vote. But the parties argue that the machine is prone to malfunction, which they say will disenfranchise prospective voters and undermine the credibility of the election.

Nick Dazang, INEC's deputy director for public affairs, said officials of the electoral body are shocked at the stance of the opposition parties. He said the parties agreed about measures INEC implemented to address their concerns ahead of the election. He dismissed reports that the card readers are not efficient.

Dazang said it appears the political parties have reneged on an agreement signed with the electoral body about the use of the card reader machines during the polls.

“We find this threat very curious that these political parties at the 11th hour will now make an about face in respect of the card reader,” said Dazang. “We had an agreement with all the political parties that the card reader is going to be deployed to accredit voters on Election Day. We also had an agreement that except a voter on Election Day presents himself with a permanent voter card he will not be allowed to vote in the election.”

“In fact this particular agreement informed the guidelines for the elections, which we published in January. And before we published these guidelines, we circulated the guidelines to all the political parties for their input and after they had made their input, we now published these guidelines and circulated them nationwide,” he added.

Analysts say the decision of the opposition parties to boycott the upcoming election citing the planned use of the card reader machines could undermine the credibility of the election. But Dazang said it is unfortunate for the parties to threaten to boycott the poll. He said all of the registered political parties are aware about the use of the machines in the election.

“We do not see it as a stalemate as such in the sense that we had demonstrated these same card readers to the members of the senate and they were very satisfied with the performance of the card readers,” said Dazang.

“We are confident given the kinds of tests we had carried out before and mock elections we had carried out using the card readers that stakeholders in the process will see for themselves how these cards readers work and how the cards readers will add value to the electoral process. In fact at the end of the day the same parties that are threatening to boycott the elections will be defeated in the court of public opinion,” he added.

Dazang said INEC will continue to work with all political parties to address their concerns in the run-up to the elections.

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