It will be one year to the proposed 2019 general election on Friday, February 16, 2018. The Independent National Electoral Commission has been put on the spot recently. Many news media are interrogating the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration. In fact, this newspaper’s sister publication, Saturday PUNCH, of February 10, had a screaming headline on its front page: “Voter registration: Shortage of manpower, faulty equipment mar exercise”. Earlier, NOI Polls on Tuesday, February 6, 2018 published a report of its opinion survey on the commission’s CVR. Apart from that issue, INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, last Thursday, hosted the Acting Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Ibrahim Magu. During the courtesy visit, the INEC chairman solicited the support of the EFCC in addressing vote-buying and monitoring of political parties’ campaign funds. Furthermore, the National Assembly last Tuesday passed the Electoral Act 2010 amendment where it reordered the sequence of elections as against the way INEC had earlier arranged it.
On the issue of CVR, there is no gainsaying that INEC is having some challenges. According to the referenced NOI Polls, the assessment of the ongoing CVR by INEC revealed that Nigerians scored the exercise 57 per cent, indicating an average assessment. The poll which consisted of a mix of telephone and on-the-ground face-to-face interviews at registration centres further revealed that about eight in 10 (81 per cent) fresh registrants say they have experienced some challenges at registration centres such as long queues (35 per cent); distance to registration centres (25 per cent); inadequate computer systems (19 per cent); late arrival of INEC officials (16 per cent); poor communication skills of INEC officials (11 per cent); and inadequate personnel (seven per cent) to mention but a few.
The polling agency observed further that the on-the-ground face-to-face assessment of the exercise gave enumerators the opportunity to observe and hear directly from prospective registrants, who complained of having to wake up as early as 3:00am to visit registration centres and still experienced difficulty registering due to long queues and the sheer number of people coming out to register. In some specific instances, out of over 200 names on an attendance list at a centre, only about 30 prospective registrants got registered daily due to inadequacy of INEC officials and computer systems. The poll found that most registration centres had only a single laptop computer, which had the capacity to register about 30 to 40 people daily without technical disruptions. The poll was conducted in the week commencing January 29, 2018. The aforementioned was similar to the report by last Saturday PUNCH published in its lead story.
I am weighing in on this issue because I have privileged information about the challenges the electoral management body is experiencing in the conduct of the CVR. By the way, last Wednesday, I joined the Chief Executive Officer of NOI Polls, Dr, Bell Ihua, on WE 106.3 FM to discuss the report on the CVR. I was also on ‘Focus Nigeria’ on Africa Independent Television, ‘Vision Nigeria’ on Raypower 100.5 FM and another pidgin English programme of Raypower the same day to discuss this topical issue. I also discussed the issue on Arise TV last Saturday night.
At the INEC retreat on Mid-Quarter Review of CVR held in Kaduna on Wednesday, June 7, 2017, Yakubu said, inter alia, as of April 27, 2017 when the current CVR commenced nationwide, the consolidated register of voters in Nigeria stood at 69,720,350 and that this was the first time in the history of elections in Nigeria that INEC was embarking on a continuous registration of voters in the manner prescribed by the Electoral Act. He did acknowledge that it was indeed ideal and desirable to have the CVR at the Polling Unit level but for budgetary constraints.
According to him, there are 119,973 (approx. 120,000) PUs nationwide. No CVR has ever been conducted by the commission at this level. The indicative core cost for roll-out at the PU level per day is N1, 379,689,000 (approximately, N1.4bn). Meanwhile, the provision for the CVR in the commission’s 2017 budget is N1, 216,346,068 for all Voter Registration activities, including off-season elections that have become regular since the 2015 General Election. You can see the shortfall. What about having the CVR at Registration Areas (Ward) level? The commission also thought about this. There are 8,809 RAs nationwide. The indicative core cost for roll-out at this level is N101, 303,000. Should INEC decide to conduct the CVR at that level, the sum available to it will only be able to do that for less than two weeks. This explains why the commission settled for the least expensive option of conducting the CVR at the Local Government level. More so, it is not supposed to be a fresh wholesale registration exercise but a mop up for those who just turned 18 years and those who have not previously registered.
It is noteworthy that since that last retreat held in Kaduna, INEC has been trying within its limited resources to address many of the nagging challenges with the CVR. It has increased the number of registration centres nationwide and purchased new laptops for the exercise. I am aware that additional 10 registration centres were approved sometime ago for all the states and Federal Capital Territory. In fact, in FCT the number of registration centres had increased from the initial six at takeoff last April to 33 as at today. I want to appeal to my compatriots to be patient and know that the CVR will not end until 60 days to the Election Day according to the provision of section 9 (5) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended. However, I enjoin INEC to expeditiously create additional Polling Units and publish list of Voters who will vote there well ahead of election date.
I have my reservations on the reordering of sequence of elections by the National Assembly. To my own mind, it is self-serving. I do know that in Section 25 of the extant Act 2010, the federal lawmakers exercised that power. However, we should be progressive rather than retrogressive. Why for instance can’t we have all elections in one day as is done in other climes? I have been privileged to observe elections in Ghana, America, Egypt and Uganda. Multiple elections are held the same day. In the August 8, 2017 Kenya elections, six elections into parliamentary and executive positions were held on that day. Why should we have elections over three different days when we could have all of them at once? Remember, when we have election here, we restrict movement and shut down the economy. Imagine the gargantuan loss the National Assembly recommendation will inflict on our ailing economy! The advantage that having all the six elections on the same day gives is that it will save costs and logistical nightmare. It will also shore up voter turnout as against the current practice where there is voting fatigue.
On the solicitation by INEC to the EFCC to assist in curbing vote buying and campaign finance abuse, much as it is desirable, it must however be done with caution. The EFCC in exercising that power must be even-handed. It should go after all the masterminds and arrowheads who orchestrate and perpetrate campaign finance abuses including that of state and administrative resources. I do not however see how the EFCC will police the estimated 120,000 Polling Units to arrest, investigate and prosecute those who are usually engaged in vote-buying at that level. The police are the ones who can effectively do that as they are present at all the PUs. I fully endorse INEC’s motive to curb this menace as we cannot continue to have the best elections money can buy!
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