Posted by By Bolade Omonijo on
THE ranks of delegates from the South at the National Conference on Political Reform appeared divided yesterday with most of them from the South-West and the South-South joining their Northern counterparts in the campaign to retain states as federating units.
ABUJA-THE ranks of delegates from the South at the National Conference on Political Reform appeared divided yesterday with most of them from the South-West and the South-South joining their Northern counterparts in the campaign to retain states as federating units.
Unlike the South-East delegates who insisted on the restructuring of the country along zonal lines, other Southern delegates used the period of commenting on the committees? reports to drum support for the retention of provision of the 1999 Constitution on the structure of the federation. The debate over what should be the federating units continued with most of the delegates supporting the devolution of more powers to the states as building blocks of the country.
The Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, not only canvassed the retention of states as federating units but appealed to delegates to create Ijebu State. He said: "Having listened to Ijebu grievances and frustrations, this August assembly is obviously in a position to redress all by losing no time to accord Ijebu a state. By so doing, not only would you have redressed this long standing injustice to the Ijebu, you would also have done the Nigerian nation a major service."
Mr Dele Adesina, a former Secretary-General of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) who is a delegate from Ekiti State said there should be a two-tier structure- federal and state. Dr. Oladapo Fafowora said: "There is merit in the proposal for six zones as the federating units but it is impractical today because, once you grant people freedom, it is impossible to take it from them."
The view was supported by Chief Ebenezer Babatope who said: "I agree with the federal system with states as the federating units but I will appeal that constitutional recognition be given to the zones to form areas of economic cooperation."
The only exception to that view was Senator Femi Okurounmu who drew attention to the danger of allowing the growing quest for the creation of states without deep thought being given to viability. He called for the adoption of the six zones as federating units
In associating himself with the submission of Chief Emeka Anyaoku and Professor Joe Irukwu, Senator Okurounmu described the fear that such a government would increase the cost of governance as unfounded and misplaced. His words: "I disagree with the recommendation that the states should be federating units. I want to associate myself with the submission of Chief Emeka Anyaoku that the zones should play that role.
I want to point attention to the fact that the states are fundamentally incapable of using the power we are advocating should it be devolved from the centre. As things stand today, we may end up with 50 states with full-blown governance and thus increased cost. But, if we introduce the zones, there will be only six centres of full governance. This will reduce cost contrary to the opinions of those who have argued against the arrangement.
How to give all parts of the country a sense of belonging in the political space continued to engage attention. Chief Chris Abebe lent his weight to the suggestion that the presidency should be made to rotate among the six geo-political zones but within the North-South arrangement. By that, he said, the presidency should be reserved for the North where it could go to a specific zone for six-year single term.
On resource control, Air Commodore Jonah Jang expressed sympathy for the plight of the Niger Delta but refused to associate with the clamour for either state control of the resources or any increase in allocation through the states. Rather, the former military governor of Gongola State recommended that the Federal Government should intervene directly by funding development projects.
Prototype electronic voting machine displayed
Meanwhile, a prototype of the electronic voting machine which the Political Parties and Electoral Process Committee of the Political Reform Conference recommended for use in future elections was yesterday displayed with a view to addressing fears expressed by some delegates. As 196 delegates voted in a mock election, the results were ready within five minutes.
In his presentation, Executive Director of the Electronics Corporation of India Limited, manufacturers of the machine, Mr. Hari Gajula, said the system would ensure that rigging disappeared as a feature of the Nigerian electoral system, thereby restoring the sanctity of the electoral process.
Mr. Gajula said the machine had been configured to take care of the challenges of the Nigerian electoral system including multiple voting, manipulation of the voting process and alteration of results.
His words: "There are concerns that the process could be manipulated in favour of the ruling party. This is not possible. The same fears were expressed when the machines were deployed for use in last year?s election in India. Despite the fact that the company is a Department of Atomic Energy, the ruling party in my own state and at the centre lost to the opposition.
"In that election, there were 600 million registered voters, 400 million voted, one million machines were deployed and only .05 per cent problem areas were identified."
Answering questions from delegates after the mock polls, Mr. Gajula said the machine would not need power to function, adding that batteries for its operations were readily available and could be used in the remotest parts of the country.
He contended that the advantages included speedy completion of voting and simultaneous transmission of results to the ward, local government, state and national headquarters of the electoral commission. He explained that when fully configured, the fingerprints of the voters would be recorded in the machine and at a central point such that no voter could vote twice.
Specifically addressing the fears on multiple voting, Mr. Gajula said the machine had been manufactured to forestall such a possibility. According to him, "when a voter is in the voting compartment, he could press the machine once, and immediately, a sound is made to alert all that he had done. Even if he tries the second time, the vote would not register. There is a time lapse between one vote and the other and even then, the electoral official would have to press a button to allow the next voter. So, it is impossible to vote twice.
"Another unique feature of the machine is that the time of each vote is registered against the vote. And the data is preserved for as long as the electoral commission would want. Nobody can tamper with the data registered in the machine. At the polling station, the machine which has a totaliser automatically prints out the total votes cast and the tally. This cannot be manipulated," he said.
The machine, he explained, had already attracted enquiries from Ghana, Kenya, Cote d?Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the United Kingdom.
Speaking after the demonstration, some delegates expressed satisfaction with the process. Chief Solomon Lar said the time had come for Nigeria to move forward and restore confidence in the election process which he identified as the major political problem facing the country. He said: "It is really too early to fully give an opinion on this machine. One needs enough time to study it but I think from what has been said, it is okay. The features appear to be simple enough even for the illiterates."
Mrs Kema Chikwe, a former minister said she was elated that Nigeria had decided to move up the ladder with regards to elections and catch up with other countries. She said if Ghana could be making efforts to adopt the system, there was no reason why Nigeria should not.Mrs Chikwe said she was satisfied with the demonstration and believed it could provide the long sought answer to electoral fraud.
Prince Segun Adesegun who served on the Electoral Committee of the Conference said the committee tested the process before recommending it. According to him: "We asked all necessary questions before giving out endorsement. We tried to manipulate the process. If adopted, it would be the best thing to have happened to this country."
Earlier at the plenary session, Air Commodore Jonah Jang (rtd) had appealed for adoption of the process to "expose those who had made a habit of manipulating the process over the years."
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