From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has promised to do everything within its power to ensure equity, fairness and justice in the creation of new polling units across the country.
INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, who made the promise during the first quarterly consultative meeting with media organisations held virtually in Abuja, announced that only Nigerians can determine the number of polling units to be created.
In his keynote address, the president Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Chris Isiguzo, had while endorsing the planned creation of more polling units charged the Commission to ensure fairness and equity.
“I am glad to note that today’s meeting focuses on the expansion of voter access to Polling Units. This matter is at the heart of electoral democracy. Every eligible citizen has the right to register and vote in democratic elections.
However, THE RIGHT TO VOTE cannot be effectively exercised without A PLACE TO VOTE. Citizens’ right to vote must be exercised in a conducive and safe environment, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Unfortunately, Nigeria has a critical problem of voter access to Polling Units. The country currently has 119,973 Polling Units established a quarter of a Century ago in 1996 by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON). At that time, the voter population was projected at 50 million.
“The voters’ register increased to 84,004,084 by 2019. We envisage that by the next General Election in 2023, the population of registered voter may be twice the number projected in 1996. Yet, the number of Polling Units remains the same. This is a national problem. It must be addressed in earnest.
“As you are probably aware, the Commission has reviewed the previous efforts at expanding voter access to Polling Units in 2007, 2014 and just before the 2019 General Election and why they were unsuccessful. We came to the conclusion that our genuine intention may not have been properly communicated for input by Nigerians. We also tried to solve the problem too close to General Elections. The exercise was therefore misunderstood and politicised.
“Learning from experience, the Commission has now decided to start early and to engage with Nigerians by consulting widely. Our intention is also articulated in 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.
“Today’s meeting with the Media is in furtherance of our consultations with stakeholders. 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. Let us work together to finally solve the 25-year old problem of access to Polling Units in Nigeria,” he said.
Part of the communique raised after the consultative meeting read: “That given the limited time towards the 2023 general elections and other life-cycle governorship elections in Anambra, Ekiti, Osun states, the media Executive support the INEC proposal of converting the existing and well-known voting points and voting point settlements into full-fledged Polling Unit.”