By Aaron Ossai
On April 27, 2017, in what can be described as voluntary strict adherence to the provisions of the law, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) embarked on Cjontinuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise across the 774 local government areas in Nigeria. It was the first time in the history of the nation’s electoral system. INEC said the exercise was aimed at giving ample opportunity to Nigerians that attain the constitutional age of 18 and other eligible persons to have their names on the voters’ register.
There is no doubt that there can’t be a credible election without a credible voters’ register. It is thus inexplicable why previous INEC leadership failed to conduct continuous voters’ registration, as prescribed by the electoral act, which would have produced near perfect register. Even the immediate past chairman of the commission, Prof Attahiru Jega, was no exception, despite his pristine overall performance. Before the 2015 general election, INEC under him registered voters for a maximum of 11 days in any given state of the federation. Some state had only four (4) days for voters’ registration! That was why, partly I think, most voters said they couldn’t receive their permanent cards before the general election.
Thus, the decision by the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC to commence a registration process that would run continuously for almost two years into the next general election is indeed commendable. There would be enough time to ensure all eligible, and desiring voters get registered. More importantly, there would be sufficient time to guarantee a clean and credible voters register. At least, names of Mike Tyson and Bill Clinton would not possibly creep into our voters register as they did during the tenures of Jega and Yakubu’s predecessors.
However, some electorate have complained that the registration centres were far from their places of residence. These are mostly people who live outside their local government headquarters, which are the designated areas for the exercise. I really felt concerned when I first saw the report about this (and by the way, I still do).
It is a naked truth that most communities in the country are several miles away from their local government headquarters, which may ultimately result in discouraging some eligible persons from expending their hard-earned resources on such a grueling adventure. But in a country that has been battling with the ugly pangs of a crippling recession, the decision to limit the exercise to the local government headquarters is a well-thought out decision that balance the demands of the law, the eligible voters and that of the nation’s struggling economy.
The electoral umpire, Yakubu said, is currently spending zero kobo on personnel to register voters at local government headquarters, since its staffers in those areas are doing the work. However, INEC doesn’t have workers at the polling units. So, it will need to spend about N1.379 billion everyday to pay ad hoc staff in the 119,973 polling units. Imagine! More than one billion every day, in this harsh economy where other important sectors are competing for attention.
Furthermore, I found out that INEC’s approved budget for the whole of this year can’t even pay for the workers needed at the polling units. “The provision for CVR (Continuous Voters Registration) in the Commission’s 2017 budget is N1, 216, 346,068 for all Voter Registry Department’s activities, including off-season elections that have become regular since the 2015 General Election,” Yakubu said. That falls below the N1.379 billion needed for the daily wages of ad hoc staff.
While access to register by all eligible persons is crucial to election credibility, expanding the continuous voters’ registration exercise to the 119,973 Polling Units in the country would have also cost INEC the sum of N137.4 billion in a country whose 10 months financial releases for all capital projects of Federal Government was N635.7 billion in 2016.
Besides proximity, some have also complained about the failure of some of the DDC machines. While it is not something new for mechanical devices to sometime malfunction or fail to work as in the some reported cases, it was however assuring that INEC said it was thoroughly proactive by making sure such inept machines were replaced immediately.
My major concern on the exercise, which was a great fulfillment of the law as it also met the yearnings of millions of Nigerians who craved to be part of the electoral process, was the question raised on the location of the registration centres at the local government headquarters.
In the past, voters’ registration was only tied to elections. It was only conducted intermittently rather than continuously as enshrined in the Electoral Act despite the fact that the credibility of a democratic election largely depends on a credible and regular updated voters’ register. That is why many stakeholders have commended INEC in bringing about such cutting-edge changes aimed at ensuring credibility and transparency in all elections.
Extending the registration to the 8,809 registration areas (ward level) nationwide, as some have suggested, would have meant INEC coughing out not less than N21 billion to carry out the exercise, while at the local government headquarters level, the entire cost is not more than N463 million per quarter. In the past when registration held at the ward level, complaints of inadequate Direct Data Capturing Machine, poor power supply and faulty machines, among others, had characterized the exercise. Moreover, the exercise only lasted for few days.
However, INEC should pay attention to the complaints in some states that the exercise is at a snail-speed, in comparison with other states. Media reports had it that Akwa Ibom, Anambra and Osun states have an average of only 30 voters registering daily. The figures, if true, sure pale into insignificance when compared to the ones from other states.
Nevertheless, INEC has done well for starting this process two years ahead of general election and making it continuous. It is, therefore, the duty of the rest of us to ensure we register, collect our cards, and wisely use it to select those we want to manage our collective wealth.
Ossai writes from Abuja