From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has charged security agents involved on electoral duties to do more about the challenges of crowded polling units during elections across the country.
INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, noted during the first quarterly consultative of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) for the year 2021 held in Abuja on Thursday, that the success of elections is largely a reflection of what happens at Polling unit level.
“It is my pleasure to welcome the heads of various Security Agencies and other members of ICCES to our first consultative meeting for the year 2021.
While wishing you a happy New Year, let me also express the appreciation of the Commission for the roles played by the members of ICCES in the conduct of the two off-cycle Governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States in September and October last year as well as 16 legislative bye-elections in twelve States in the last nine weeks.
“As you are aware, the Commission has already released the timetable for the Anambra Governorship election scheduled to hold on November 6. We are also preparing for some legislative bye-elections, the first of which is the Kafin Hausa State Assembly constituency in Jigawa State holding in the next three weeks on March 6, 2021. I urge you to maintain the same level of professionalism displayed in the recent elections and ultimately the 2023 General Election.
“Members of ICCES are critical partners to the Commission in delivering credible and peaceful election, including orderly behaviour at the Polling Unit level. The management of large crowds at many Polling Units across the country has been challenging to Commission officials and the members of ICCES, resulting in some cases in the late commencement of polls or the disruption of the sorting and counting of ballots at Polling Units. Such disruptions often have consequences on electoral outcomes leading, in some instances, to avoidable supplementary elections.
“As you are aware, the success of elections is largely a reflection of what happens at Polling unit level. It is the only point at which votes are cast by eligible citizens. What follows thereafter is the collation process leading to the declaration of results,” he said.
Disclosing the agenda of the meeting, he said: “However, the large crowds at some of our Polling Units on Election Day remain a challenge to the orderly management of elections. In your reports to the Commission, some members of ICCES have alluded to this problem.
“With only 119,973 Polling Units serving a voter population of 84,004,084 which will certainly increase by the time the Commission resumes the mandatory fresh registration of voters, Nigeria faces an acute problem of voter access to Polling Units. The truth is that the current Polling Units in Nigeria were established in 1996 by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) to serve a projected population of about 50 million voters.
“Over the last 25 years, the voter population has increased. New settlements have also emerged.
However, in spite of these demographic and spatial changes, the number of Polling Units has remained the same as it was a quarter of a Century ago. This problem must be addressed.
“Previous attempts by the Commission to expand voter access to Polling Units in 2007, 2014 and just before the 2019 General Election were unsuccessful. This is mainly because the Commission’s genuine intention may not have been properly communicated for input by Nigerians and therefore misunderstood and politicised.
“Learning from experience, the Commission has now decided to start early and to engage with Nigerians by consulting widely. We have produced a Discussion Paper entitled “The State of Voter Access to Polling Units in Nigeria”. We have also prepared satellite imageries of the location of Polling Units across the country and produced still pictures and videos to demonstrate the difficulties faced by voters on Election Day.
“The hard copies of the Discussion Paper are being widely shared while the soft copy, including links to the videos, has been uploaded on the Commission’s website and social media platforms.
“This meeting is a continuation of our consultations towards building a national consensus on the need to expand voter access to Polling Units. There will be a presentation followed by discussion.
“We hope that by doing so, we will better communicate the Commission’s intention to Nigerians and invite input across the board on how to address this problem in the immediate term and hopefully establish the framework for future adjustments as the need arises as is the case in virtually all democracies around the world,” he noted.