In the course of the week, Nigerians got a glimpse into what makes politicians highly confident of winning the 2023 election regardless of the reality on the ground and the survey of pollsters. Emergent from the development is what fuels the myth that certain parts of the country have the deciding voting block and for which reason the age-long religious balancing expected of the presidential ticket was sacrificed by the party in power. As it were, desperate politicians in cohort with wheeler-dealers in the system have infected and corrupted an apparent iron-clad preparation to give the country her best general election yet by next year. This, they have done by making a mess of the voter registration exercise.
Reacting to the discovery of fraudulent discrepancies in data across the voter register published by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), erstwhile Akwa Ibom State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mike Igini, accused some INEC staffers of glaringly registering underage voters. He spoke against the backdrop of public outcry over invalid registration cases which trended on Twitter under such hashtags as #INECVotersScam and #INECIsCorrupt. Instances of underage registrants were rampant even though the 1999 Constitution and Electoral Act of 2022 provides that a person must be 18 years and above to be registered as a voter and eligible to vote.
It all started after the electoral commission in a well-intentioned move published the preliminary national register of voters in the 8,809 Registration Areas (Wards) nationwide as well as on its website on Saturday. The commission invited Nigerians to verify the database containing 93,522,272 registrants, to cross-check and report errors they find therein. Members of the public were also enjoined to report ineligible voters who might have been captured. Some Nigerians, who heeded this call, noticed discrepancies and widely shared the same on social media.
Apart from the names with the same date of birth appearing more than once on the register, some registrants have much younger faces than their falsified ages. There were also pictures of children some as young as five were also seen as qualified voters on the register, not even the case of small-stature adults could explain this away. These cases were said to be prevalent in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States. Yesterday, the INEC REC in Kano State, Zango Abdu, disclosed that the Commission identified 2,780,756 ineligible registrants in Kano State at the end of the automated biometric identification system check on the voter register.
So disturbing is the registration of underage voters and other discrepancies noticed in the newly released register of INEC that the Labour Party staged a peaceful protest at the INEC headquarters in Abuja. According to the spokesman of the Labour Party Presidential Campaign Council, Yunusa Tanko, their demonstration, which disrupted traffic on some major roads in the capital city, was “to protest the issue of underage voters and multiple registrations as widely reported”.
Shedding more light on the irregularities in the INEC database, Igini said, “Those who have done this are staff of INEC, I can tell you. If you register as a registration officer, you register with your personal ID (identity card), and all of them can be traced. There was a time when we could say these were the handiwork of youth corpers or some people that were engaged but the current procedure and process of registration are all carried out by staff of INEC.” If this underhand dealing is the handiwork of INEC staff and not ad hoc recruits then it throws up a major source of concern as the country marches toward the next general election.
This is more so as the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, had assured of a “robust” clean-up of the voter register. His words, “After a rigorous cleaning-up of the data using the automated biometric identification system (ABIS), a total of 2,780,756 (22.6%) were identified as ineligible registrants and invalidated from the record, among them double/multiple registrants, underaged persons and outrightly fake registrations that fail to meet our business rules.” If indeed INEC officials are responsible for these infractions, how can the same set of staffers be trusted to deliver a credible election in 2023? In view of widespread fear that foreign nationals do vote in Nigerian elections, how can officials who can’t stop minors from registering to vote, do the extra work of exposing aliens imported by politicians to vote in our election?
It is for this reason that we demand that such compromised or indolent officials are weeded out from the system, thankfully those responsible can easily be fished out. Electoral officials found culpable of aiding and abetting multiple and underage registrations must be severely punished to serve as deterrence to insiders who may be tempted to compromise the electoral process. What’s more? INEC’s sanctions against these bad eggs must be publicly done to restore the confidence of Nigerians already eroded by these perverse registrations. The forthcoming election is too important to suffer similar irregularities that had in the past denied the people the right to install the right leadership across all spectrums. All the gains and improvements brought about by the Electoral Act 2022 will come to naught if minors can be so brazenly registered to vote in the next general election.
We commend INEC for putting up the voter register across the 774 local government areas for public scrutiny. Nigerians will do well to visit the INEC online portal and act in line with this call: “If you notice the inclusion of names of non-Nigerian citizens, under-aged persons, persons who do not live or work in the location or deceased persons, click on the record card to raise an objection”. Naija News lauds eagle-eyed Nigerians and volunteers who have so far been highlighting cases of fraud in the voter register. Naija News believes that bringing these issues to the front burner is the way to go if the nation’s electoral system is ever going to be sanitized. Given the activism shown by Nigerians towards the all-important audit of the voter register, we call on INEC to consider extending the two weeks window for Nigerians to check the correctness of their information, raise objections and make claims.
This call becomes more necessary because while there are some wards without revision officers who by the INEC guidelines, should be around to take complaints, there are other locations across the country where the database is not on display. The Commission should not just be content with putting the voter register online for Nigerians to respond electronically. Section 19, subsection 1-3 of the Electoral Act which requires that such a register be displayed for people to make claims, objections, or lay complaints must be strictly adhered to, especially in rural areas.
As disturbing as these cases of multiple and underage registrations are, Naija News calls on Nigerians not to be discouraged or taw their resolve to participate in the 2023 general election. They should give INEC the benefit of the doubt and on Election Day be quick to resist and report any underage person found on the file of those going to cast their ballot. The security agents on election duty must also see these discoveries as what to look out for.