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Issues, concerns over INEC’s Continuous Voter Registration exercise

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Odita Sunday (Head, Security and Investigation) and Ernest Nzor, Abuja
26 July 2022   |   4:15 am
Come next Sunday July 31, the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise being undertaken by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be rounded off.

Head of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Professor Mahmood Yakubu (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Get right tools, more personnel, experts urge commission
Come next Sunday July 31, the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise being undertaken by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be rounded off. As the exercise draws to a close, more eligible voters are still trooping to registration centres to beat the deadline.

The electoral commission recently declared that it has registered more than 10million new voters. At no time in the past 23 years of Nigeria’s fourth republic democracy has the enthusiasm to participate in the electoral process been as high as the current dispensation.

A lot of factors could explain the surge of new voters, including innovations devised by the electoral commission and the socio-political consciousness among the otherwise lethargic youth population.

Investigation by The Guardian revealed that many Nigerians of voting age are yet to get registered, even as INEC has pegged the deadline for its ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) for July 31, 2022.

Some civil society organisations, particularly Like Mind4 A New Nigeria, are not impressed by the electoral commission’s attempt to stop registration of voters seven months to the 2023 General Elections.

In a statement by its national coordinator, Benedict Aguele, LikeMinds condemned the July 31 deadline, stressing that it amounts to “an attempt to disenfranchise millions of Nigerians.”

While insisting that it would be premature to end the CVR on July 31, the group said the exercise is being terminated too early before the country can reap its full benefits, just as they demanded that INEC reverse its decision and continue with it until November 2022, which will be 90 days before the General Election.

But, knowing the predilection of Nigerians to wait for the last minute, some commentators noted that the CVR should not be endless, especially against the backdrop that INEC had already indicated that those already captured would have to wait till about two months to the election to collect their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).

However, experts and members of the human rights community have called on INEC to deploy the right equipment and engage more ad hoc staff to ensure, not only the smooth registration of voters, but also that no Nigerian is disenfranchised in the 2023 election.

In the past, the Commission had decried the low number of voter registration since the Continuous Voter Registration exercise commenced in the last election, but with the sudden surge in voter registration, it seems that the electoral umpire was caught off-guard.

It is possible that INEC did not see it coming, not minding that it had planned for the CVR as part of its activities towards a successful 2023 general election. Nonetheless. The Commission did not envisage the surge in the number of mostly young people eager to participate in the exercise this time around.

It is based on this surge that Nigerians have urged INEC to deploy additional registration machines and workers to tackle the teeming numbers of prospective voters at some of the congested Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) centres in the country.

The convener of Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA), Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, told The Guardian that “The Independent National Electoral Commission has done the right thing by extending the periods of registration of voters.”

[FILE PHOTO] Emmanuel Onwubiko, National Co-ordinator OF HURIWA

“However,” he noted, “it is shocking that despite the huge amounts of money released to INEC that it still lacks the basic facilities to capture and register voters; and it is sad that now that prospective voters are ready to be registered and are energised to present themselves to obtain their permanent voter cards that INEC has so far not displayed a fair amount of positive and constructive response to the massive interests being shown by Nigerians who now want to get registered.

“It is also not a good idea for INEC to have started registration of voters within just a year before such a major election calendar instead of letting prospective voters who wish to be registered to do that at anytime of their chosen.

“INEC should ensure that the right kind of facilities and personnel are made available and then increase the numbers of their trained staff to carry out these activities including the engagement of ad hoc NYSC members to be involved in this and of course those who are deployed for these jobs must be patriotic and law abiding and must never be used for ethnic or religious agenda of either under registering or over registering prospective Nigerians. Those who are causing undue delay and sabotaging the ongoing registration of voters should be arrested, prosecuted, published, named and shamed.

“INEC should get the right kind of equipment to do this all important registration of voters because it is clear that INEC is now unable to match the influx of prospective voters that are now turning out to be registered and the complaints are also coming up of some malpractices of not actually carrying out the exercise in some places or that some persons from some ethnicities and religions are not being permitted to present themselves for registration.

“The law enforcement agents should be drafted and they must ensure that nobody in Nigeria is denied registration based on the person’s ethnic or religious affiliations.  INEC should also look at strategies and ways to keep the registration open till when the elections are to take place, so nobody is disenfranchised.”

On his part, Public affairs analyst, Mr. Frank Oshanugo urged INEC to engage more efficient hands and set up more registration centres.

Oshanugo stated: “My take on the snail speed of the voter registration exercise is that INEC should engage more efficient hands and set up more registration centres in areas of large population.  INEC staff should also be regular and punctual in attendance while security personnel should be deployed to engage in crowd control in densely populated registration centres.”

Also, a human rights crusader, Comrade Akaraka Chinweike Ezeonara, contended that the solution for the snail-pace registration is for INEC to hire some more ad-hoc manpower beyond their present day workers to quickly address the challenge of numerous unregistered eligible voters.

“INEC should not disenfranchise any Nigerian of voting age his/her civic engagement or responsibilities.  My counsel to INEC regarding this is for it to vigorously defend its integrity as umpire. It should be proactive and objective with the issue of speedy registration/conduct of elections. They should ensure a hitch free, rancor free process so that they can be seen as real independent body established to conduct elections without bias.”

When The Guardian visited the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) INEC registration centre at Diplomats park, Area One, it was observed that prospective registrants were seated orderly for registration with all 10 machines deployed for the exercise in good use.

Narrating his experience, one Keziah Joseph, said: “I did not spend much time in processing of registration. I came on Friday and registered my name, when I came back on Monday my name was called and I went for the registration; it was very easy for me”.

Festus Okoye

Another candidate at the centre, Hassan Mohammed, commended INEC for extending registration date, saying it enabled him to register to vote for his preferred candidates come 2023.

From Mohammed’s remarks, it is obvious that the socio-economic situation in the country as well as improvements in the electoral system have motivated Nigerians to participate en masse in the electoral process.

An official of INEC at the centre, who pleaded anonymity, praised citizens for conducting themselves properly in the ongoing registration, adding that 10 registration Machines were made available to tackle the number. He disclosed that six machines were deployed specifically for new registrants, while four others were set aside for those that registered online and transfers.

It could be recalled that INEC extended the CVR exercise by two weeks following a Federal High Court order.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 185 other concerned Nigerians had approached the court praying for an order mandating INEC to extend the CVR beyond its earlier fixed June 30 deadline.

In a statement, the Commission’s spokesman, Festus Okoye, last Friday, disclosed that having run the exercise for almost two weeks after the initial date was fixed, the CVR will officially close on July 31.

Okoye stated: “The Court has affirmed that INEC is at liberty to appoint a date of its choice to suspend the CVR, provided it is not later than 90 days before the date fixed for the General Election as provided in Sec. 9(6) of the Electoral Act 2022.

“In compliance with the interim injunction of the Court pending the determination of the substantive suit, and to enable more Nigerians to register, the Commission continued with the CVR beyond 30th June 2022. For this reason, the CVR has already been extended beyond 30th June 2022 for a period of 15 days.”

He said the extension was expected to last till Sunday July 31, 2022, noting that that would bring the total duration of the extension to 31 days. Okoye explained that to accommodate many of the applicants, INEC made some adjustments in the CVR operation.

His words: “The exercise has been extended to include Saturdays and Sundays as against only weekdays spanning eight hours daily from 9.00am – 5.00pm instead of the former duration of six hours (9.00am – 3.00pm) daily.”

“We appreciate that the timeframe may be tight for many prospective registrants, but there is a lot that the Commission is required to do under the electoral legal framework in relation to voter registration and compilation of the register that will require time to accomplish.”

It is hoped that when the exercise comes to an end in this instance, more voters would have been added to the register.