“Success doesn’t necessarily come from breakthrough innovation but from flawless execution.”
By Omoniyi Salaudeen
But for a few wailers who are still crying blue murder after the ugly incident of vote-buying that characterised the recent conduct of the Ekiti State governorship election, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu, has continued to savour the accolades of political stakeholders from across party lines for the progressive improvement in the electoral process through the use of the newly acquired voting technology-Biomodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), as well as electronic transmission of results directly from the polling units.
As far as Nigeria’s experience is concerned, this is a novel innovation that gives a new ray of hope for the growth and sustainability of the current democratic dispensation.
Moving forward, the immediate challenge now is for the electoral umpire to fast-track the ongoing Continuous Voters’ Registration (CVR) which has witnessed a sudden upsurge in the number of eligible voters who could have been shut out of the exercise if not for the extension of the deadline by two months by the court.
As earlier planned by the commission, the registration exercise was scheduled to end on June 30, 2022, but had to be extended till the end of August, approximately a grace of 60 days more, to enable prospective registrants participate in the coming general elections.
Since the resumption of continuous voters’ registration on June 30, 2021, the commission has had to lament the nonchalant attitude of the people to the exercise on several occasions, taking cognisance of other variables such as the cleanup of the registration data, printing of voters’ cards, PVCs, as well as compiling of the register that have to be factored in the preparation for the 2023 general elections.
Yet, no one gave the electoral umpire the benefit of doubt about the possible distortion the extension may likely cause to the original plan of its activities when some concerned organisations filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Abuja, praying the court to compel an extension of the deadline for registration.
The action of the groups followed the reports of an upsurge of prospective registrants at voters’ registration centres across the Southeast, Lagos and Kano states, among others.
Different reasons have been identified for the initial low turnout of the people for the exercise. These include failure of government to impact positively on the socio-economic lives of the ordinary Nigerians, lack of adequate awareness as well as deficit of trust in the leadership of the country.
The INEC’s Deputy Director (Voter Education), Mary Nkem, while expressing concern over the general apathy of voters to the electoral process, disclosed that over 20 million Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) were yet to be claimed by their owners.
She made the disclosure in Abuja during the launch of the PVC Bus Drive project, organised by a non-governmental organisation, the Advocacy for Civic Engagement.
According to her, the development has been largely responsible for 15 to 20 per cent turnout of voters in the previous elections.
“This CVR exercise began on June 30 2021; but we have discovered that between that time and a few weeks ago, the turnout has been relatively low.
“If the youth in this country would come out en masse to cast their votes, we will no longer be recording 15 or 20 per cent voter turnout in our elections, because we know that the population of the youth alone can make the difference,” Nkem said.
The situation in the Southeast is made more vulnerable by the security challenge facing the states in the region.
The Civil Liberties Organisation, Anambra State chapter, which condemned the disdain and nonchalant attitude of the people towards the continuous voter registration exercise, also blamed various political groups, religious bodies, traditional societies, markets and rights leaders for failure to mobilize and educate the citizenry towards the exercise.
In a statement jointly signed by the chairman, secretary and treasurer, Comrades Vincent Ezekwueme, Chidi Mbah, and Udensi Hyginus Chinedu, the CLO noted that Southeast was the least registered zone in the country, saying “let us not marginalise ourselves. It is an existential reality that the Southeast is the least registered zone in the country.”
As reports indicate, less than 20 per cent of registered voters cast their votes in the November 6, 2021 governorship election in Anambra State.
What this means is that there is a need for more aggressive campaigns for voters’ enlightenment towards effective participation in the electoral process.
In civil governance, participation is the fulcrum of democracy and good governance. And opportunity to participate in the electoral process begins with voters’ registration.
The challenge is, therefore, up to the INEC to decongest registration centres and reduce delays being experienced by prospective registrants.
Already, the commission has done its part by creating access to its portal for ease of registration process.
The portal allows a two-step registration process in which first, prospective registrants will log in to pre-register by providing their basic bio-data and some biometrics and secondly, complete the registration by physically presenting themselves at a designated registration centres of their choice. This implies that as new voters, individuals can pre-register online, review their voter registration and even request for the update on information and transfer registration to another polling units.
Unfortunately, only the elite among the teeming population of prospective registrants can explore the window of opportunity to beat the new deadline for the exercise.
It is imperative for the INEC and National Orientation Agency, therefore, to intensify aggressive enlightenment campaigns to ensure that all adults’ suffrage registered and registration process and collection of voters’ cards are made less cumbersome.
In view of its recent performance in the Anambra and Ekiti states governorship elections, people are now increasingly building confidence in the leadership of the INEC under the watchful eyes of its Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu.
If the tempo of its operational conduct could be sustained in other coming elections, it will surely help to rejuvenate the interest of the citizenry in the growth of the country’s democracy.
With his intimidating credential as a first class honours degree holder in political history and international studies and a three-time winner of the Overseas Research Students’ Award of the Committee of Vice Chancellors of United Kingdom Universities and the Beit Fund Research Grant, among other laurels, Prof Mahmood Yakubu has no doubt proved his mettle by initiating innovative reforms that have elevated the image of the commission away from its previous negative public perception. Until his appointment as the Chairman of the INEC in 2017, Mahmood had served as the former Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund). Since he took over, he has been unrelenting in his innovative drive. All eyes are on the commission for free, fair and credible elections in 2023.