All the stakeholders must ensure the register is credible
In the aftermath of the impunity recorded during the last local government election in Kano State where underage voting was allegedly widespread, many Nigerians had expressed the urgent need to clean up the National Voter Register. Even if the outcome of the investigation into the Kano affair largely vindicated the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), since its voter register was largely abandoned during the conduct of the exercise, the electoral body is acutely aware of the need to audit and sanitise the voter register: the credibility of the next election, as in any other, is contingent on a credible voter register.
To the extent that the voter register could do with some improvement, we urge all the political parties to begin engaging the process. Indeed, INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, last week expressed the need for collaboration between the electoral body and all critical stakeholders “to continue to update and improve the national register of voters to eliminate all ineligible registrants from it, including dead persons, aliens and underage registrants.”
Even if the panel that investigated the complaints in the Kano local government election absolved INEC of blame, the panel was bold enough to establish that in some cases, underage voting indeed took place in certain areas during the election. But underage voting is not restricted to Kano, it is a national problem.
But the law is very clear: only those who are 18 years and above can vote. Fortunately, the INEC has done admirably in ensuring that all the relevant stakeholders are given copies of the national voter register in accordance with the law, to read, scrutinise and make complaints to the electoral body when necessary. For instance, last February, INEC gave copies of the register to all the 68 registered political parties containing names of the four million new voters registered in 2017.
Aside political parties whose officials need to assist INEC by scrutinising the register, other stakeholders, especially civil society groups, should also do same by pointing out names of ineligible registrants. That is the only way to safeguard the credibility of the registration process. Meanwhile, INEC has its job cut out because registering new voters and collecting permanent voter cards (PVCs) have also become worrisome issues.
Even though INEC has reportedly registered millions of fresh voters since last July through the continuous voter registration, there were reports of people queuing up for hours without being registered, particularly in heavily populated places. INEC has to address the challenge thrown up by these prospective registrants, by perhaps deploying more resources in terms of manpower and materials to the centres. There is also the need to step up the awareness campaign for those who have not been able, for one reason or the other, pick up their PVCs. According to reports, Lagos has in excess of 1.4 million voter cards yet to be collected, most apparently due to the uncertainties and the logistics of travelling to the local government headquarters without success. Thus INEC has the additional duty of discentralising the collection by moving the PVCs collection centres closer to the people – to make the exercise less cumbersome.
It is apparent that the task is an uneasy one for INEC, particularly in times of paucity of funds. But these are things that must be accomplished before February 2019 so as to create a level playing field for all candidates, all political parties and to conduct the general election in accordance with global professional standards. The commission has conducted its affairs remarkably well to date but the bigger challenge is ahead and we hope Prof. Yakubu will build on the success recorded by his predecessor by giving Nigerians credible elections next year.