The chaotic scenes at voter registration centres as well as anecdotes of bitter and frustrating experiences of Nigerians show that the process can be improved upon. Some ugly scenes captured and shared on traditional and social media betray the improvements the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has put in place for smooth Continuous Voters Registration (CVR).
The pressure on registration centres may have been caused by the initial plan by INEC to close voter registration at the end of June 2022, following a year-long continuous voter registration, which began in June 2021. Sensing that thousands of eligible Nigerians would be excluded from exercising their right to elect their leaders in 2023, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had taken INEC to court with an exparte motion that the electoral umpire should not discontinue voter’s registration. The civil society organisation’s prayer was granted last week by Justice Mobolaji Olajuwon of the Federal High Court in Abuja last Monday.
The enthusiasm for voter registration may not be unconnected with the 2023 general elections, as thousands of youths have rushed to INEC centres to register and obtain their Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs) immediately after leading political parties conducted their primary elections and announced flagbearers in presidential, governorship and National Assembly elections. Though their desire to participate in choosing our next leaders is commendable, it is clear that the chaos being experienced at many voter registration centres cannot be blamed on INEC alone; as it attests to the general attitude of Nigerians always waiting to the end of such process before taking part and this, of course, puts put pressure on resources no matter how well-prepared an institution or organiser is.
Another reason for the mad rush for PVCs may be attributed to the failure of INEC to keep to the keyword in the process – continuous. Section 9(6) of the Electoral Act 2022 provides that “The registration of voters, updating and revision of the Register of Voters under this section shall not stop not later than 90 days before any election covered by this Act.” This section of the Act envisages that everyday, more and more Nigerians attain the minimum voting age of 18. If the register is closed at any point, such Nigerians may be denied the opportunity to participate in an electoral process. However, citing issues related to poor funding and insecurity, INEC has failed to meet this standard prescribed by the law. Ensuring a continuous registration process would require the procurement of machines for all the wards across the country, a demand nearly prohibitive due to its cost. Also, with many parts of the country under siege by bandits and terrorists, it would be unthinkable to have INEC staff engage in continuous voter registration in all parts of Nigeria. For instance, in April this year, INEC staff who went to Imo State for voter registration came under attack by suspected members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), leading to the murder of one INEC personnel.
As a result of the foregoing, it is now important for the National Assembly to tinker with the Section of the Electoral Act, which stipulates that Nigerians could vote only at the polling unit where they obtained their voter’s card. In this age of technology, this section of the law is definitely dated and needs to be revisited as quickly as possible. Nigerians should be at liberty to register for PVCs in any part of the country, and the process must include the option of the polling unit where such persons would vote during any election. There should also be an option that allows PVC holders to vote in a presidential election in any part of Nigeria. If this measure is put in place, Nigerians would not need to travel from place to place to register, and the process of transferring one’s polling unit shortly before elections would be eliminated.
We commend INEC for extending the exercise. The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, while speaking at the Youths Vote Count concert at the Old Parade Ground, Abuja last week, said, “The youths want to know when the registration will end. I want to assure you, on behalf of the commission that the registration won’t end on June 30. For as long as we have you people trying to register, we will continue to register you. In the last five days, we have registered over 14, 000 Nigerians in this place alone. We have about 50 voter registration machines.”
This is a welcome development as it will enable eligible voters to register. We urge the electoral umpire to put in place more facilities and improved measures that will ease the process. We also call on Nigerians to ensure that they comport themselves appropriately at all points of registration and to also pick up the cards after they register, as it is not enough to just register and INEC has complained of the fact that many cards are abandoned at their offices. Also, after collecting the cards, the electorate should actually go out and exercise their franchise during the elections.
Furthermore, we call on all organisations and stakeholders in the election processes to work with INEC to consolidate the exercise.