The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has asked the National Assembly to support its effort to convert the existing polling points to polling units and to relocate some of them to underserved areas.
Speaking at a stakeholders’ forum organised by the National Assembly’s Joint Committee on INEC and Electoral Matters held on Tuesday in Abuja, INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, said the conversion had become imperative to decongest polling units during elections.
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According to him, the current configuration of 119,973 Polling Units was established by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) in 1996.
He said since the last 25 years, no new polling units have been established, despite the increase of the number of registered voters from 57.93 million in 1999 to 84.04 million in 2019.
The effects, he said, had 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 voting environments.
He said the problem was disenfranchising millions of Nigerians and could damage the credibility of elections in Nigeria if not solved.
He said in some States in Nigeria, the average number of voters per Polling Unit is well over 4,000.
“As a result of population growth and establishment of new settlements and residential areas, existing Polling Units are increasingly inadequate to guarantee sufficient access to voters.
“The present ecosystem of Polling Units in Nigeria has been conducive to overcrowding during elections, which is a recipe for delays, disruptions, violence and apathy.
“In addition, some Polling Units are located in inaccessible locations, some in the homes of persons with political leanings and others in areas of communal conflicts.
“Many of them are in the open, with little cover, thus exposing voters, election staff and election materials to the elements,” he said.
He said there was a need to address this problem ahead of continuous voter registration (CVR), off-season elections and the 2023 General Elections.
The INEC chairman told the lawmakers that previous attempts to find a permanent solution to the crisis of access to polling units were undermined by over politicisation of what should be an administrative matter and inadequate consultation.
According to Yakubu, the conversion of Voting Points into Polling Units offers the least controversial, timely and inexpensive solution.
“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,” he added.
Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, assured INEC of the National Assembly’s support to create additional polling units, but added that “more needs to be done to mobilize voters to participate in elections.”
He said that the mobilisation of voters to vote was the responsibility of not only the electoral umpire but also that of political parties and Civil Society Organisations.
“While we need to create more polling units, we need to also mobilise voters to go to those polling units to vote,” he added.