Barely a year to the conduct of the 2009 general election, the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been at the receiving end of strident criticisms over its handling of some of its statutory functions. Senior Deputy Editor, TAIWO AMODU, looks at INEC’s handling of the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), the resulting unclaimed Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs), the startling revelation of recent underage voting in Kano and Katsina states during recent local council elections and its insistence to stick to its earlier sequence of the 2019 general election despite its reversal by the National Assembly.
CVR and complaints galore
THE Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), last April, unveiled a plan to embark on the conduct of Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise in the 774 local government areas across the country. Its national commissioner, Amina Bala Zakari, who made the disclosure in a press statement said the exercise “is intended to enable citizens who have turned 18 years of age since the last registration as well as those who didn’t register during the last exercise to register as voters.”
“It will also allow those seeking transfer of their registration from one state to another or within a state from polling unit to another to do so,” she had said.
According to Zakari, it would also enable the commission to distribute uncollected Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) to those who could not collect them before or since the last general elections and also enable citizens who have the temporary voter cards but whose names were on the register to collect their PVCs.
While the intention of the commission was applauded, political actors faulted the initial restriction of the exercise to only the 774 Local Government Areas, which they noted shut out many Nigerians at the ward level from the opportunity to be captured. Besides the lack of decentralisation, the CVR was equally bedevilled with the malfunctioning of the Direct Data Capture Machines (DDCM) while it was not available in some local government areas.
Worried by the lacklustre performance of the commission, the Senate expressed concern over the exercise, which it noted could cast a slur on the successful conduct of the 2019 elections. Apparently unimpressed by the commission’s performance, the Senate in one of its sessions last year, protested the arrangement of registration at local government areas, as against the ward levels.
The Red Chamber, in its resolutions, which were sequel to a motion entitled “the Continued Voters Registration Exercise, Matters Arising,” sponsored by the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, mandated its committee on INEC to monitor the exercise and report progress and challenges periodically to the upper legislative chamber.
Senator Akpabio, while leading debate on the motion, noted that INEC commenced a nationwide Continuous Voter Registration exercise on April 12, 2017 in all its offices in the 774 local government areas of the federation instead of ward levels, declaring that “the exercise is meant for Nigerians who attained 18 years between the last exercises to this day, those who were not previously registered but whose names cannot be found in the register of voters and those whose cards are lost or damaged.”
Akpabio, however, observed that “the exercise has been faced with several challenges across the country, which include malfunctioning of the direct data capture machines, DDCM; non-availability of the machines in some local government areas; slowness of the DDCM; inadequate manpower and inaccessibility of registration centres from prospective registrants, especially those residing in the rural areas.”
He noted that the challenges facing the exercise were worse in states like Akwa Ibom, Anambra and Osun where only 30 voters were registered per day in each local government with over 20 wards. Senator Akpabio had further expressed concern that the poor manner the exercise was being handled could undermine the credibility of the Osun State governorship election fixed for June 2018.
He said: “The inability of the Federal Government to effectively address the challenges of the registration exercise can lead to disenfranchisement of voters, which could result into serious voter apathy that may render the 2019 general election unacceptable, not credible and undemocratic.”
In his contribution, Senator Adeola Solomon Olamilekan dismissed the registration exercise as a ‘sham,’ accusing INEC of lack of preparation for the ongoing Voters Registration. According to him, there were not more than three direct data capture machines in all the INEC offices at the local government headquarters across the country, alleging that these machines often packed up after about two hours of use.
Adeola had stressed the need to decentralise the exercise with more machines in all designated polling units nationwide instead of INEC offices.
In his contribution, former Abia State governor, Senator Theodore Orji, demanded for urgent solution to the challenges, reminding his colleagues that the essential ingredient of election is the voter card and warned that future elections might be jeopardised as a result of the poor handling of the ongoing exercise.
But INEC, in its response, said it initially foreclosed the option of registration at ward levels being canvassed by stakeholders in the electoral process because of lack of funds. The national chairman of the commission, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, at a meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in Kaduna, said his commission settled for local government levels then because it was the only affordable option that could be accommodated within its 2017 current budgetary allocation.
He disclosed that while N1.2 billion would have been required every day to pay allowances of ad-hoc staff, the total budgetary provision for the CVR in the 2017 budget which includes rerun and tenure elections, bye-elections and general elections was N1.2 billion.
He said: “The total budgetary provision for CVR in 2017 budget including all the rerun and tenure elections, bye-elections and general elections is N1.2b this year. So all the money available in the budget is barely enough to pay for the cost of personnel for one day, assuming we deployed at Polling Units level, and that does not include security.”
He further noted that for the commission to deploy personnel at 8,809 Registration Areas across the nation, it would require 46,247 staff and 17,000 security personnel, saying: “If we are to pay the ad hoc staff N2,000 per day, it will cost the commission N92.4 million every day for the exercise.”
Stretching his argument against decentralisation of the exercise further, Professor Yakubu said the procurement of the Direct Data Capture Machines (DDCM) needed for the deployment at Polling Unit level is N129 billion, just as he gave a staggering cost of N137.4 billion for the take-off at polling units level.
Yakubu expressed regret that the “commission doesn’t have the resources to deploy at that level.”
On the epileptic performance of the Direct Data Capture Machines (DDCM) Machines, the INEC chairman admitted that most of the machines were obsolete.
“Remember that the lifespan of DDC machine as we have been told is four years. The last time the commission acquired DDC machine that we are currently using was in 2010/2011; that was between six and seven years ago. That is why we have the challenge; you see they are epileptic, slow and the rest. Each complete unit will cost a million Naira. That is the machine, the printer, the fingerprint scanner, the web cam, the accessories. Multiply that by the number we require. So, for the procurement of the DDC machine alone we need N129 billion, if we are to deploy at Polling Unit level.
“Then of course, you have to buy at least one power generating set per Registration Area (RA) because some of the locations have no power at all. That will cost the commission N2.6billion.”
Further checks by Sunday Tribune revealed that the commission, for the purposes of elections, has since graduated the process to ward level. It conducted the exercise at ward levels before the conduct of Edo, Ondo and Anambra governorship elections and it has promised to do same before the forthcoming Osun and Ekiti governorship elections scheduled to hold this year.
While the ongoing CVR was meant to equally address the issue of unclaimed Permanent Voter Cards (PVC), data obtained exclusively from an INEC source by Sunday Tribune is unsettling. The statistics revealed a high incidence of non-compliance with the collection of PVCs by prospective voters in the southern part of the country, unlike in the Northern states.
The total figure of unclaimed PVCs across the country stood at 8,134, 261. Lagos State, which has a total number of 6, 048, 156 registered voters tops the list with a total estimated figure of 1,421, 392, followed by Oyo state with 706, 926 trailed by Edo state with 461,143. Fourth on the chart of top states with unclaimed PVCs was Ogun State with 434, 818 followed by Osun state with 418, 908.
Stakeholders in the process are worried about what would become of the unclaimed PVCs, less than a year to the general elections. Some attributed the disturbing figure to double registration by prospective voters.
Chairman of INEC, Yakubu, however, stated that commission’s stance not to allow collection of voter cards by proxy might have been responsible for the high number of unclaimed PVCs.
Speaking through his media aide, Rotimi Oyekanmi, the INEC chairman offered other reasons for the development and further assured Nigerians that it was determined to address it through sensitisation of prospective voters.
“The first thing is that we have a policy that you cannot collect your PVC by proxy; it has to be done individually. That probably might have informed the fact that many people who may not be physically present, don’t get people to collect on their behalf, because we have cases where people send relatives and all that and we said no. That’s one.
“Two, we also don’t know but we can imagine that many people left where they were living before or circumstances changed. Maybe some people have passed on. But we are embarking on enlightenment and we are talking to traditional rulers. We are also using our social media platforms and also advertising through whatever means, asking people to come and pick up their PVCs.
“But there is a trend we noticed. When there is an election, people come up quickly to get their cards. That happened during the Edo, Ekiti and Anambra governorship elections. More people turned up to get their PVCs or where there is going to be local government elections. So that’s the trend. Really, we are concerned and we are trying our best to enlighten people on the need to collect their PVCs,” Oyekanmi said.
He also dismissed the claim of double registration, as he noted that the technology available to the commission doesn’t give room to multiple registrations.
“We have a server; there is an application that we use that detects multiple registrations, practically. Your fingerprint remains the same and it is unique to you as an individual. So, if you register with the same details, with the fingerprint, the computer will detect it. It happened several times during the 2015 election, where a lot of double registration was cancelled at that time. It is the same thing now,” Oyekanmi added.
Underage voters: As Kano, Katsina foul the air
If there is a development that cast a slur on the integrity of INEC as an unbiased umpire, it is the startling revelation of underage voters in the recently conducted local government elections in Kano and Katsina states.
While the INEC chairman acknowledged the fact that it was its Voter Register that it gave to the Kano and Katsina states electoral commissions to conduct the polls, he assured Nigerians that it was determined to get to the root cause of the embarrassing development. He has since set up an investigative panel with Abubakar Nahuce as the chairman, to probe the Kano debacle.
But the pronouncement of Nahuce last Friday in Kano left a sour taste in the mouth. As the chairman of the INEC fact-finding team, Nahuce stunned Nigerians when he claimed that it has not received any evidence of underage voting.
He told journalists that from his team’s interaction with civil society organisations and the media, no evidence of underage voting emerged.
Order of elections: NASS, INEC in cold war
Another contentious issue that has attracted acerbic reactions across the political divide is the recent amendment to the Electoral Act by the National Assembly, which adjusted the order of elections for the 2019 general election. The bill has since been sent to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent.
INEC had announced last year that the presidential and National Assembly elections would hold on February 16, 2019 while the governorship, state assembly and area council elections in the Federal Capital Territory would take place on March 2, 2019. But the federal lawmakers, in the amendment, reversed the sequence such that the National Assembly election would hold first while the presidential election would come last. But indication has since emerged that INEC is prepared for a show down with the National Assembly on the amendment of the Electoral Act.
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Speaking recently during its quarterly interactive session with the national chairmen and secretaries of political parties, Professor Yakubu insisted on the timetable earlier released to the public before the National Assembly’s amendment of the Electoral Act, as he claimed that the amendment was bereft of certainty.
He said: “There are many ‘ifs’ but here, we deal with certainty. As far as the commission is concerned, there is no legal lacuna at the moment. What we have done is on the basis of the existing law and nothing has changed. If the bill is assented to, we will look at the provisions and inform Nigerians on the next step. But as far as the commission is concerned at the moment, we are operating under the existing law and we have issued a timetable for the activities accordingly. If something happens tomorrow, we will examine it and proceed accordingly.”
The INEC boss said the budget for the 2019 elections had been drafted based on its sequence and time table. He said the proposal would soon be transmitted to the National Assembly for approval.
While INEC claims that the amendment is dodged by uncertainty, other stakeholders, particularly the opposition parties are not bemused, as they are of the opinion that the leadership of the commission has aligned itself with the Presidency and by extension, the ruling party.
Nigerians are anxious to see how the electoral umpire would negotiate its way out of the unfolding quagmire…
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