INEC and voters’ registration
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it has registered over 73 million voters in preparation for the 2019 general elections. This is a positive development and the electoral body deserves commendation. INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu presented this information while addressing a delegation of European Union Electoral Follow-up Mission to Nigeria and other civil organisations the other day. Of this figure, three million and two hundred are fresh potential voters while the rest are those already registered for the last elections. The implication is that the old register would have to be re-visited as well. Some citizens who registered previously may have died and others have moved on from where they registered. INEC should therefore not rest on its laurels but intensify the registration drive.
Voter registration is a fundamental step to ensuring a free, fair and participatory election. The INEC chairman also said that about eight million Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) have not been collected by their owners. This could mean that the owners of the cards are not aware that the cards are ready or that they cannot be bothered at this time. Whatever the reason, enough information should be put in the public domain to ensure that people are not disenfranchised. The registration exercise so far is commendable. It, however, ought to be a continuous process as the names of different citizens are expected to enter the register for different reasons in the course of time.
Voter registration is also the first step in the electioneering process and any wrong step on it could jeopardize the entire process. Often, political partisans in Nigeria see the process as an opportunity to search for loopholes which they can exploit to compromise the system. This is usually in form of multiple registrations and using all sorts of subterfuge. Sometimes this happens with the collusion of electoral body’s officials. It is true that with a computerised process it has become more difficult to inflate the figures. But the possibilities of compromise have not been ruled out as experience has shown. For example, in the last exercise in 2015, there was still over voting and under-aged voting. In some states, for example, the record showed that all registered voters showed up for the exercise. This certainly was not and could not have been possible. Voter fraud therefore has not gone away.
To have registered nearly 60-per cent of the population for the polls is commendable. But INEC needs to increase its public awareness campaigns and ensure that all eligible voters are registered. There should be no disenfranchisement for whatever reason. In the cities, where sometimes there is voter apathy, INEC should go the extra mile, if necessary with a door-to-door campaign. The registered political parties should also mobilise their supporters to register. In the churches, the mosques and other places of worship, leaders should take it as a civic duty to mount vigorous campaigns with a view to creating total awareness. Mass registration of voters is one of the most potent ways of entrenching and strengthening democracy.
INEC should also begin the processes of ensuring a hitch-free election in 2019. The credibility of the elections depends on the integrity of the official umpire. Its officials should be above board, by rejecting mouth-watering inducements often offered by politicians to compromise the process.
The computerised voting system must be improved during the subsequent outings. A test case is coming up in the Anambra State governorship election scheduled to hold this month. The nation and indeed the international community would be watching out for how effectively and efficiently the INEC will perform. All the lapses which were experienced in 2015 would be expected to be a thing of the past and it is hoped that the men and women currently charged with conducting elections would perform creditably.
The will of the people must always prevail. In line with the nation’s desire for a proper federation to be emplaced in Nigeria, states should continue to supervise their local elections but the people are expected to be on guard and ensure that their votes count. Also, the Judiciary and the Legislature should be alive to their responsibilities as potent arms of government to avoid what one-time Supreme Court Justice Kayode Eso once referred to as ‘executive rascality’ over elections as has been seen in this country in the past.
All hands should be on deck to register all eligible voters. Publicity should be increased to heighten awareness. Registration should be conducted all year round in a routine manner. INEC must continue to be independent and be seen to be independent. The cases where its officials were compromised by politicians or state officials should not go unpunished in order for such to serve as a deterrent. The Mahmud Yakubu-led INEC has so far shown great potentials for outstanding performance and deserves the support of all citizens.
The survival of Nigeria’s democracy depends on how well the elections are conducted with voter registration being a crucial part of the process. The score card so far is impressive but much more still needs to be done.
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