BusinessDay
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Nigerians urge improved registration exercise as INEC moves to shore up voters’ number

… ‘We are committed to deepening use of technology’

With less than two years to the 2023 general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has announced its readiness to begin a nationwide Continuous Voter Registration on June 28, and to deepen the use of technology in electoral process.

The registration exercise is aimed at shoring up number of voters across the country and to discourage voter apathy.

Eligible Nigerians that have clocked the age of 18 years, or have never been registered to vote or those who have experienced any difficulty during accreditation in previous elections can register to vote.

Others such as registered voters who wish to change their voting locations, and registered voters whose Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) are lost, defaced or damaged can also register to vote.

Speaking recently, the commission’s chairman, Mahmood Yakubu said the exercise, as stipulated in Section 10 of Nigeria’s Constitution, should be on a continuous basis, but that that has not been constant due to exigencies of resources.

Yakubu said the exercise could not commence largely due to the impact of Covid-19 pandemic, while the exercise would run for over a year until the third quarter of 2022 with emphasis on the Anambra State as a result of its November 6 governorship election.

The commission has said that the earlier system of voter identification known as the Direct Data Capturing Machine (DDC) would now be replaced by new compact registration devices to serve better purposes during election.

The new device is known as the INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED) and is based on an Android tablet.

“Effective from Monday 28th June 2021, the CVR exercise will commence nationwide and be carried out continuously for over a year until the third quarter of 2022.

“However, emphasis will initially be on Anambra State where more centres will be established in view of the Governorship election already scheduled for Saturday 6th November 2021,” Yakubu had said.

However, unlike in previous registration exercises, there is high expectation among stakeholders and Nigerians that this time around, the commission would put its house in order to avoid a repeat of the lapses which marred the 2018/2019 registration exercise and disenfranchised thousands of eligible Nigerians.

Interestingly, unlike in the past, this time around the commission would be making use of technology, intending voters are expected to start their registration online and complete their biometrics at one of the registration centres nearer to them across Nigeria.

The use of internet and technology in the registrations have elicited positive reactions among stakeholders and ordinary Nigerians, as there is the general opinion that it would reduce the bottlenecks and procedures involved in obtaining the permanent voters card.

Others have also expressed the optimism that perhaps, the use of technology, apart from helping to increase the number of registered voters, could also help to check the alarming voter apathy and gradually restore sanity to Nigeria’s electoral system.

Experts say that countries which had adopted online registration have seen significant improvement in the number of registered voters over time. Several eligible voters in Nigeria shunned the last registration exercise because they could not withstand the rigorous process, meaning that more eligible voters than the 30 million announced by INEC would have been captured.

“It is good that INEC is using technology this time around, I personally could not register last time because it was rigorous and unorganised; you have to wake up by 5am to go and take a number and I could not stand all that,” Funmi Ogun, a banker, said.

According to Brookings Institution political scientist Michael McDonald, Arizona online registration increased registration rates for 18 to 24 year-olds from 29 percent to 53percent in 2016 US general election. Equally important, 94percent of online registrants actually vote, compared to 85percent in the old system.

However, some stakeholders have advised the INEC to work with political stakeholders across the country to sensitise Nigerians and make the process less stressful for them.

Adeoye Adelaja, a former National Publicity Secretary of Action Democratic Party (ADP), said the lapses noticed in the previous exercise such as under age registration, extortion of eligible Nigerians by some officials of the commission and failure of machines must be addressed.

According to him, “There were number of issues that marred the previous registration, and there were lots of outcry by Nigerians where some were denied registration. There were also cases where under-aged who are not constitutionally empowered to vote were allowed to register in the Northern part of Nigeria. All of these must be stopped in the new process.

“A case where INEC adhoc staff turned the exercise into business by extorting people before they could register must also be monitored and ensure all these ugly situations do not recur. Adequate machines and manpower must be put in place so that there are few or no complaints from Nigerians.

“I also urge INEC to make sure that all the legal encumbrances around electronic registration must be sorted with the National Assembly, and Electoral Act, data capturing and data storage must be operational and effective.

“There must be massive publicity for the exercise, so that those who have not registered or those who just attained the voting age of 18 can be mobilised to register for the process.

James Adeshina, Lagos State chairman of African Action Congress (ACC) and the state coordinator of Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), expressed optimism that Nigerians would turn out in large numbers because they are desirous of change, while his party would mobilise its members for the exercise.

“We believe in the electoral umpire to employ best hands in order to have a better experience this time around. We use this opportunity to call on all members of Inter Party Advisory Council of Nigeria Lagos state chapter (IPAC) to mobilise their members to participate fully in this exercise.

“Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) is an important exercise meant for the registration of citizens who turned 18 years of age after the last registration exercise; or those who for one reason or another could not register in the previous exercises. It’s the constitutional right of every citizen of Nigeria to vote and be voted for,” Adeshina said.

“The 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) mandates the Commission to carry out CVR nationwide and to make it available to every political party within 60 days. We as a political party are fully aware of CVR exercise and we shall continue to sensitise our members across board to come out and register,” he further said.

Speaking to BusinessDay on the exercise, Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of Information and Voter Education, said the commission was working seriously to remove any hitches noticed in the previous exercise, while expressing confidence that the use of technology would improve the process.

According to him, “The Independent National Electoral Commission is committed to deepening the use of technology in the electoral process. It is also committed to deeper and robust engagement of the Nigerian people with the electoral process.

“Part of that commitment and engagement manifested in the expansion of voter access to polling units wherein the commission converted existing voting points and voting point settlements to full-fledged polling units and relocated some to un-served and underserved areas.

“As the country moves closer to the 2023 general election, the commission is offering to the Nigerian people new polling units in addition to the existing 119,973 polling units. Furthermore, as part of its commitment to free, fair and credible elections, the commission will flag off the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise to enable those that have attained the age of 18 and those that have never registered to register.

“The commission will operate a duality of registering voters. Some of the voters will start and complete their registration at the registration centers. Those that are Internet savvy and have access to smart phones and other electronic gadgets can start their registration online and complete their biometrics at one of the registration centres.”

Okoye further said that “The online voter registration portal is therefore, one developed by INEC to enable voters perform certain activities on their own. It will provide an additional method of registration for those who have access to Internet facilities, thereby reducing the inconveniences of voters and also reduce the number of voters that would have to queue up at our registration centers”.

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