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Opinion: A Decision That Should Never Be Taken, By Adewale Kupoluyi


In the next few days, Nigerian electorates will be exercising their important civic duty by electing their preferred candidates during the presidential election, holding on March 28. As the election excitement fills the air, one disturbing piece of information that should not be taken for granted is an allegation by the opposition party, All Progressives Congress that the smart card readers procured for the general elections could be rendered useless through undue interference.

The APC claimed that some Israeli firms had been contracted to specifically develop prototype card reader jammers that would be used to circumvent the elections by disabling the electronic device. The party further claimed that apart from disabling the card readers, the jammers would also render useless other electronic equipment such as telephones and iPads of persons carrying them during the election period. The opposition party equally alleged that an order had been placed for 75,000 pieces of the device to be purchased at a cost of $200 per piece, amounting to a whopping sum of $15m!

A smart card reader basically authenticates a voter by matching his or her fingerprint with the code on the chip of a card and as such, keeps a record of all cards that had been verified. In other words, the card reader has been carefully designed in such a way that it is capable of eliminating multiple voting to the barest minimum by removing a major source of election fraud. When the equipment are jammed, their functions become impaired and greatly compromised making the manipulation of the voting process prone to malpractice. The introduction of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and card readers for the general elections has been a subject of serious debate, contention and litigation in the country.

Jamming is simply a process that disturbs the normal course of the elections through the synthesisation of a signal that prevents the Radio Frequency Identification Technology (RFID) reader from communicating with the tag that should lead to the recording of accurate vote cast. The signal emanating from the jamming device can be transmitted externally and turned on and off at will. This way, the attacker or intruder can create a denial of service attack as desired, depending on the voter. In order to block the communication between the reader and the tag, there is a need to transmit the signal that mimics the load modulation of the tag by preventing the reader from receiving the reflected signal correctly. In short, the jamming machine can be deployed to manipulate the choice of a voter without the voter himself/herself knowing about the distortion. Jamming is also seen as property theft in the sense that a private company may have purchased the rights to own the radio spectrum while jamming the spectrum could be likened to stealing the goods such a company has purchased. Jamming also constitutes safety hazard to the environment because it could block all the legitimate calls within a locality.

Although, the Peoples Democratic Party has denied its alleged involvement in jamming the card readers, as was being accused by the APC. It is a fatal decision that should never be taken. Notwithstanding, any attempt to revisit the decision by the PDP, persons or groups would bring about serious jeopardy to the credibility of our electoral process that has been enmeshed in one controversy or another ranging from the hullaballoo over the use of PVCs, creation of polling units, shifting of polls’ date, the deployment of the military, among others.

It was heart warming that the United States government decided to join other patriotic interests to support the call by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to use both the PVCs and card readers for the elections. The American Vice-President, Joe Biden, was reported to have called our President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, stating the stance of the United States of America towards supporting INEC’s commitment to the delivery of free, fair, transparent and credible elections. Biden also expressed his concern about the violence that occurred during recent election-related events while stressing the need for candidates to eschew violence in democratic elections.

Legally speaking, jamming of card readers and private communications constitute an infringement on the privacy of voters not only in Nigeria but elsewhere, except for official security reasons where exceptions could be granted. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) recently issued a warning against unauthorised importation, sales and use of frequency jammers in the country. The commission said its attention had been drawn to the illegal and continuous sales and use of frequency jammers which had resulted into the worsening of telecom communication frequency quality in some parts of the country. NCC claims that these devices interfere with electromagnetic signal in telecom and other wireless radio.

The NCC is empowered by virtue of Section 13 and 14 (1) (b) of the Wireless Telegraphy Act (WTA) 2004 to prevent the use of any apparatus that causes illegal interference with communications and which does not comply with its regulation. The section further provides that any person who willfully uses any apparatus for the purpose of interfering with any wireless telegraphy shall be guilty of an offence stipulated under the act. The NCC had variously warned the general public to desist from illegal sales and use of any device that may cause interference with communication and other radioactive equipment.

Telephone jamming just like in other countries like Australia, United Kingdom and the USA, is also strictly monitored. The blocking of cellphone services, just as any other electronic transmissions, is illegal. In the USA, cell phone jamming is covered under the Communications Act of 1934, which prohibits people from ‘maliciously’ or ‘willfully’ interfering with the radio communications of any station granted license or authorised to operate. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is charged with enforcing jamming laws. Under the US rules, fines for a first offence could range as high as $11,000 for each violation or imprisonment for up to one year while the device used may also be seized and forfeited to the government. In most countries, it is illegal for private citizens to jam cell-phone transmission, but some countries are allowing businesses and government organisations to install jammers in designated areas where cell-phone use could lead to public nuisance. France once legalized cell-phone jammers in movie theaters and concert halls and other places with performances. India has installed in some prisons and parliament purely for security reasons.

To allay the fears of Nigerians, INEC, through its Director of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Mr. Chidi Nwafor, has assured that everything necessary would be done to protect the card readers from being hacked or jammed during the elections. Also speaking on Channels Television, Professor Attahiru Jega, chairman of INEC, disclosed that no machine can jam the card readers, saying “there is a lot of talk about jammers, but it won’t work on the card readers”. Beyond these promises, the relevant law enforcement agencies should be on the full alert to prevent lawlessness and the truncation of the electoral process. They should be prepared to apprehend and punish lawbreakers within the ambit of the extant laws, irrespective of their class, social status or political affiliation. Offenders of such magnitude should not go unpunished. This time around, votes should count.

Kupoluyi writes from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), adewalekupoluyi@yahoo.co.uk, Twitter; @AdewaleKupoluyi, Blog: www.adewalekupoluyi.blogspot.com

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