From Noah Ebije, Kaduna
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu, has said that millions of eligible Nigerian voters may not have the opportunity to cast their votes in the 2023 general elections if additional new polling units are not established.
Prof Yakubu noted that polling units in the country are in a state of crisis because those established in 1996 were estimated for 50 million Nigerian voters as against the current population of the country.
While addressing members of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) on Tuesday in Kaduna as part of sensitisation with stakeholders on the need for new polling units, the INEC boss said it was no longer feasible and sufficient to use the polling unit network established 25 years ago for the current population of 200 million Nigerians.
Prof Yakubu, who in the company of other National Commissioners, said that it was ‘time to work the talk’ because ‘two years to general elections is like two days for us in INEC as it involves a lot of processes.
‘There is no part of this country that has sufficient polling units. Crowded polling units is not peculiar to one section of the country alone, it cuts across the country.
‘We know ACF is a non-political organisation, but you can help the Commission to solve this problem by talking to your members to see the need for new polling units.
‘We are going around the country to interact with other socio-cultural organisations and other stakeholders in the country about the request made for new polling units by some stakeholders.’
The INEC Chairman explained that the ‘current configuration of 119,973 polling units was established by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) in 1996.
‘In the nearly 25-year period since then, every attempt to review or reconfigure the polling unit structure has been unsuccessful for sundry reasons.
‘Consequently, the 1996 polling unit configuration was used for the 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 general elections.
‘When the polling unit structure was established in 1996, it was projected to serve about 50 million registered voters. However, the number of registered voters for the 1999 general election was 57.93 million.
‘This rose to 60.82 million in 2003, 61.56 million in 2007, and 73.52 million in 2011.
‘Although the number declined to 68.83 million for the 2015 general election following the cleaning up of the register through the use of Automated Fingerprints Identification System (AFIS) to eliminate double registrants, it rose to 84.04 million in 2019 as a result of the Commission embarking on a robust continuous voter registration exercise, as prescribed by law.
‘The import of this development is that while the number of registered voters increased from 57.93 million in 1999 to 84.04 million in 2019, which is an increase of 45 per cent, the number of polling units remained the same.
‘This lack of correlation between the of registered voters and the number of polling units since 1999 has resulted in congested polling units on election day and lack of polling units in many developing suburban and newly established settlements.
‘The effects have been low voter turnout and voter apathy, insecurity at the polling units, disruption of elections and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, unsafe environments.’
Prof Yakubu said: ‘Declining access to polling units for Nigerians voters is potentially disenfranchising Millions of Nigerians. It has become so critical that it must be addressed urgently if the credibility of our electoral system is not to be profoundly damaged.
‘With over 5,000 specific requests for the establishment of new polling units, the Commission will be failing in its responsibility if it does not address the declining voter access to polling units across the country prior to upcoming major elections.’
In his response, ACF Secretary-General Murtala Aliyu said: ‘I think this is a very clear message. We will make it a duty to pass the message to other relevant stakeholders.’