Underage voters raise concerns on INEC’s registration

The many cases of underage voters discovered on the voter register of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has raised questions and concerns about the commission’s registration and technology ahead of the upcoming 2023 election.

INEC said it has shown transparency by publishing the register for Nigerians to dictate and proffer control measures in such cases of underage registration, among other errors.

Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner, in a live session with channels television, said, “We made the voters register public so Nigerians can help us clean it up. Anybody can go to our website and make an objection. We cannot claim that the register does not have errors.”

Experts who spoke to BusinessDay suggested that Nigeria should acquire a central database that will differentiate age groups, adding that during the election, Nigerians should verify and authenticate the underage voters.

Leke Seweje, technical lead at Techie Planet Limited, said the underage identification side of the technology is still a developing technology.

“I do not think Nigeria has created such technology to identify the age of registered voters. The challenge in underage registration is that Nigeria’s policies are always laid in silos,” Seweje said.

According to him, personal information should be available mostly at a large scale. “At the point of registration, you get to put all your biodata tracked by INEC, but that information is just there sitting either in banks, the Nigerian Identity Management Commission (NIMC) or with mobile operators.”

The technical lead said there is no central identification process in Nigeria as a whole and it is causing a lot of issues both in elections and other sectors.

He said: “If we have central data, there will not be any case of underage registering for election because it will definitely dictate and show his age.

“But in Nigeria, you can go to the bank and say you are 10 years old and claim to be 18 in the election register. As long as it is not being cross-checked, people have to keep lying. If there is a central register you cannot change anything.

“So, the reason why we need a central identification system goes beyond INEC. NIMC is trying but the efforts are still minimal compared to what the country needs. It has to be consolidated. If all of us in Nigeria are registered with the NIMC, it will be used for electioneering purposes.”

For Chinedu Onyegbula, a political commentator, there is nothing technology can do now because what technology could have done in terms of having a system or structure verified to authenticate the ages of people through proper identification has already been compromised.

“If we had an automated system that checked through multiple databases, proper identification and age of the person, it would never have been possible to register underage people,” Onyegbula said.

“When you go to vote, there is no other means of identification except your card.”

According to him, the only way to checkmate it is what INEC has said. People should go out and push out the underage voters.

Onyegbula said you can be able to identify and report an underage. It can only be countered by the action of citizens which can be called citizen engagement to find out who those people are.

“Until INEC is able to create a more robust system or structure using technology, we are talking about requirements for National ID cards and linking it with multiple other nationally recognised identity cards,” he said.

“If we are able to use technology in the future, this can be countered, but talking about now, it is already late to start indicating all of that.”

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Onyegbula also said the best we can do now is citizen engagement, and citizen empowerment to verify and authenticate who these underage voters are. That’s the best we can do now.

He also said you cannot blame the machine because it doesn’t have facial recognition that checks someone’s age. There is no backend database to say this person is linked to this data.

He said: “So, if a fake licence, certificate and others are provided and the officials are compromised, that means they will register everyone and say the person is 18 and above.

“INEC is to blame because they, unfortunately, showed their incapacity and their staff were compromised in allowing this to happen.”

Meanwhile, a top Nigerian police officer who pleaded to remain anonymous disclosed that, to achieve transparency in Nigerian elections, there must be a complete profile of every citizen in the country.

He said, “For this to be very effective, Nigeria should comprehensively profile its citizens and residents in the country, such that their names, addresses, places of work, schools, finger impressions, among others, are all contained in their national identification numbers and duly registered with the appropriate authorities.”