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Wednesday, 18 September 2013

APC and biometric registration palaver

  •  by  Taiwo Adisa
  • Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, highlights the ripples in the All Progressives Congress (APC) over plans for biometric registration of its members.
    THE All Progressives Congress (APC) is a party that prides itself as a gathering of progressive politicians. Governors elected on its platform have also named themselves Progressive Governors to drum home the appellation. While many see no clear distinguishing feature in the ideologies of the existing parties, leaders of the APC pride themselves as progressives.
    In trying to further showcase its believe in populist agenda, the APC upon its emergence as a registered political party, declared its preference for electronic voting in the country during the next general election. The party believes that e-voting would help erase rigging and ensure the votes count.
    The interim National Vice-Chairman of the APC in the North-East, Dr Umar Duhu, also confirmed weeks later that the party would implement biometric registration of its members ahead of the 2015 elections. Duhu said that the APC had put in place measures to ensure biometric registration of all its members in every part of the country.
    While speaking to newsmen in Abuja in August, Dr Duhu had stated that the party’s interim committee had been working hard to ensure the biometrics of its members were captured in the online registration which would kick off shortly.  He told reporters that the party’s congresses which will take place across the country will eventually produce the executive structures and the board of Trustees.
    But the push for e-registration of members of political parties and electronic voting has been a contentious matter for parties as well as for the nation’s electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In fact, the National Assembly had tied the hands of the electoral body in the 2006 and 2010 electoral Acts when it indicated that e-voting could not be adopted in the country for now.
    The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had in 2010 attempted to actualise e-registration of its members but was forced to drop the idea following protests from governors who believed that a number of party members in the hinterlands would be sidelined during such innovations.
    The reality of the Nigerian situation however appeared to have forced the merger party APC to drop the idea it has canvassed in recent times.
    At a meeting of the interim executive committee in Abuja recently, a war of word nearly ensued between proponents of the biometric registration of members and those opposed to the idea.
    Incidentally, loyalists of former Military Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari had keyed into the biometric registration agenda, which they felt would help erase incidents of rigging at party primaries.
    A former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Mallam Nasiru el-Rufai was the arrowhead of the bid to ram in the e-registration agenda at the executive Committee meeting and he did his own job, presenting what appeared to be a fait accompli. But the former Minister and the supporters of Buhari got thought a huge political lesson, as loyalists of former Lagos State governor had teamed up with members of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) arm of the merger party to defeat Buhari’s idea.
    It was confirmed that the plan to confirm the adoption of biometric registration of members nationwide got knocked out through bloc votes from members of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the ANPP, against members of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
    Investigations confirmed that despite the decision of Buhari’s men to recruit an ally in the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi, the plan got defeated by the ACN/ANPP accord.
    It was a huge test for the merging coalition and a test of how much democratic tenets would rule the emerging coalition.
    Though the meeting was said to have resolved the matter through voting, loyalists of the former Head of State were said to have left the venue of the meeting angry, having arrived the meeting venue with the belief of a fait accompli for the agenda. Mallam Nasiru el-Rufai, who led the bid from the CPC was said to have complained aloud that the measure meant to sanitise the membership of the APC had been dropped.
    It was learnt that the idea of biometric registration of members mooted by CPC leader, General Buhari as a way of curbing any planned malpractices at the party’s presidential primaries. El-Rufai was said to have complained that rejecting the idea amounted to a slight on the former Head of State.
    Was there a gang up at the meeting and is that indicative of how issues in the merger party would be determined at all times? These are the questions from pundits.
    In the thinking of party leaders however, it was learnt that the reality in the Nigerian information technology sector forced a retreat, despite earlier posturing by chieftains before that day.
    Said a source at the meeting: “Though the campaign for the biometric registration was championed by el-Rufai, he was strongly supported by Chief Tom Ikimi. Many of our leaders were however of the view that since internet penetration is still low in the country, it would be counterproductive to adopt such a measure at this time.
    “Leaders of the party felt that adopting biometric registration at this time would not work well for the party and that a number of members would be lost. Even the PDP started e-registration sometimes ago and had to abandon it. Internet penetration in the country is still relatively low.”
    The development is however said to have started generating ripples within the merged parties. The fear, according to sources, is that if care is not taken by the Buhari camp, the other partners in the process would always adopt the model and pattern of voting adopted to defeat biometric registration in future meetings and where critical issues are to be resolved.
    “The major fear among loyalists of Buhari is that the ANPP and ACN factions of the merger party could pull a similar taunt in determination of who wears the presidential ticket. That could be deployed to stop Buhari, there is the need for caution between CPC faithful and Buhari so that we don’t become minorities in the party we all formed,” a top leader of the merger party said.
    Interim National Chairman of the APC, Chief Bisi Akande, who ordered voting on the exercise, was, however said to have moved to pacify the aggrieved Buhari’s men after the voting exercise by declaring that democracy is a matter of number and that after the majority had carried the day, other party chieftains must abide by that decision.
    But a number of political watchers are reading the biometric registration brouhaha in the APC in another way. Some of them are of the view that the APC is inconsistent having announced gleefully that it was going ahead with e-registration immediately it emerged on the scene.
    “What we can see from that development is the picture of a party that talks from both sides of the mouth. The APC said it was going ahead with biometric and e-registration when it emerged on the scene. It also advised INEC to ensure e-voting in the next general election. You will now wonder why the party that has recommended e-voting at the national level for INEC will turn around to reject the same idea of biometric registration and e-voting for its internal elections. We need to look deeper than the surface,” Tito Zuokumor, a leader of the Southern Mandate told the Nigerian Tribune.

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