IN the voter register presented to the 91 parties fielding candidates for this year’s general election scheduled to begin on February 16, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) indicated that there are currently 84,004, 084 voters in the country. The figure is almost 20 million above the 68,833,476 eligible voters for the 2015 elections. It is incontestable that a credible voter register is one of the major building blocks of democracy. It empowers the people to claim ownership of the electoral process and determine who should lead them based on the fundamental principles of good governance, accountability and transparency. Therefore, it is mandatory that the voter register be foolproof and devoid of credibility problems.
Even though INEC had embarked on a cleanup of the register ahead of the polls as part of its statutory responsibilities, a recent report established that the names of highly placed deceased politicians were still contained in the document. According to the report, the register contained the names of former Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who died in 2015; Senator Isiaka Adeleke of Osun State, who died in 2017; Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State, who died in 2012; former Minister of Information, Professor Dora Akunyili, who died on June 7, 2014; Second Republic vice-president, Dr. Alex Ekwueme; former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) national chairman, Chief Tony Anenih, who died on October 28, 2018; and former Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, Mr. James Ocholi, who died on March 6, 2016.
It is only logical to assert that other categories of individuals who duly registered as prospective voters but whose names should not exist in the document due to the circumstances of conviction for crimes, death or migration and illegal entry into the country are contained in the document. Such categories of names ought to have been expunged in the process of cleaning up the register by INEC at various times in order to guarantee a credible poll. The fact that they were not raises serious concerns about the forthcoming general election. Curiously, neither INEC nor the political parties and other critical stakeholders have shown serious concern about the need to address the latest alarm raised by the report under reference. While the seeming oversight on the part of all the major interest groups could be due to some emerging contentious issues at the threshold of the polls, they now have an opportunity to vet the register painstakingly since the contents are no longer within the realm of speculation. It is the duty of the parties to carefully scrutinise the list to detect curious inclusions that may eventually amount to infractions and seemingly predetermined results.
The consequences of flawed elections are too grave and far-reaching to be ignored. Many Nigerians lost their lives, others were maimed and invaluable properties destroyed following the upheavals over the conduct of elections in the past. It is also common knowledge that countries like Kenya and Rwanda have had to pay a huge price over disputed polls. This is why, on its part, INEC should partner with other relevant government agencies and deploy more technology to remove the names of dead people from the voter register. It is an irony that four years after the last general election, series of off-season elections and the various efforts by INEC to clean up the register, the issue of the names of deceased voters in the register still subsists. Nonetheless, the challenge of having a clean and reliable voter register does not rest with INEC alone; it is that of the entire country which, unfortunately, is notorious in the area of record keeping.
Apart from sustained deployment of modern technology, the country must have a comprehensive system for registering deaths. Obviously, the National Population Commission (NPC) has to raise its game. Till today, most births are not reported, whereas hospitals are by law mandated to reports births and deaths to the NPC. The NPC must collaborate with agencies like the National Identification Management Commission (NIMC) to produce a comprehensive and reliable national data base. The current situation concerning the voter register is dangerous. Unscrupulous individuals could use the names of dead people to rig the forthcoming elections. All stakeholders must therefore partner with INEC for a thorough cleanup of the voter register even though there are only a few weeks left before the general election. The credibility and integrity of the polls must not be compromised.