On INEC preparation, voter registration
The country’s general election will take place next year. But the quest of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to increase the pool of registered voters nationwide is being shrouded in doubts. It will be recalled that the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, had made the point last year that the commission was expected to register 20 million Nigerians before July this year.
The intention is to capture the youth segment of the population that has crossed the age of 18 since the 2019 elections. The INEC boss had been upbeat on this matter. As he put it, “Our hope is that unlike the 14.2 million we registered in the previous exercise, we are targeting a minimum of 20 million registrants this time. It will take the number of registered voters to about 100 million.”
However, this target is not forward-looking, as only 2.4 million Nigerians have completed their registration since the commencement of the continuous voter registration exercise in June 2021. This amounts to about 12 per cent of INEC’s projection. Reportedly, only about 40,000 permanent voter cards have been printed in Abuja because of the upcoming area council election while the rest of the country, hopefully, will receive their PVCs by the end of the year.
While INEC had on its own made an effort to simplify the process by a binary approach that allows for the commencement of registration online and physical completion in its offices, the enthusiasm seems to have dropped and may result in voter apathy in the forthcoming elections. This growing lack of electoral interest may have been fostered by a number of factors, namely, digital poverty, doubts about the integrity of the electoral process and perhaps inconsistency in voter education. As often wrongly assumed, not many Nigerians have android phones that enable online activities while those who have may not be able to purchase data. This is a very strong factor that cannot be ignored. The non-passage of the 2021 electoral bill and its politicisaton may have dampened the enthusiasm of many voters. According to the convener of the Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Dare Ariyo-Atoye, this turn of the event may not be unconnected to the president’s refusal of assent to the electoral bill. He further stressed that “Nigerians are not happy. The attitude of the National Assembly and President Buhari to the Electoral Act has influenced the attitude of Nigerians to the registration process. There have been lots of dilly-dallying. If the President had signed the bill, say five months ago, the confidence of Nigerians would probably have been boosted but now, people do not have the confidence.
Inconsistency in voter education may be a significant issue. It has dogged the electoral process in the country as far back as 1999. The Commonwealth Observer Group had advised that “the process of democracy would benefit from the promotion of platforms and their projections within the electorates, which in turn would lead to wider participation in the electoral process.” Similarly, in 2015, The Commonwealth Observer Group observed the issue of political participation over which it recommended improved voter and civic education, greater participation; development by political parties of their youth leaders through mentorship in good governance, integrity and honesty and lowering of age restrictions for electoral positions to allow youth participation.
We must promote political participation at all costs in order to entrench our democracy. The youth segment of our population with their burgeoning numbers should determine who rule this country. They must be encouraged to register, and INEC, as well as the political parties, must play their role. The president has expressed why he did not sign the Electoral Bill into law, his main grouse being that direct primaries may stifle electoral options, and by extension, the choice of candidates, for elections. Notably, there is no consensus from Nigerians on the desired option, but it is feared that governors may be seeking to exercise their influence and consequently put the presidency under pressure. It is important that the president considers public interest over and above any other considerations. It is equally important that he liaise with the National Assembly and assent the Electoral Bill into an Act to encourage our young people who are beginning to despair over the future of the electoral process and our democracy.
While many people doubt the ability of INEC to meet its targeted 20 million new voters, the election is nevertheless close by, and all hands must be on the deck to ensure a high turnout for the legitimacy of our elected leaders. Civil society platforms, political parties, the so-called influencers and the citizenry must do all they can to accentuate voter education for the good of our democratic process.
Moreover, 2023 is not just about voters’ turnout or education; it involves the whole gamut of preparation to ensure that the election is not only free and fair but improves over the immediate past elections. So far, INEC may not be doing badly; but its consistency on the conduct of elections is in doubt; and lapses still exist that are ordinarily unpardonable given its almost 23 years of superintending over the country’s elections. By now, certain lapses such as late arrival of materials, malfunctioning of election tools and non-location of voters’ particulars ought to be a thing of the past. And the umpire must get to grip with relevant government agencies on how to punish election malfeasance and riggers.