The Independent National Electoral Commission must accept responsibility for allowing persons younger than 18 to get their names in the voters’ register, writes Tobi Soniyi
Penultimate Saturday, videos and photographs of underage voters casting their votes during the Kano State local government election went viral on the social media.
Those who monitored the election including the Centre for Information Technology And Development, (CITAD), and Action Aid International Nigeria, also said that they witnessed voting by underage citizens during the elections.
The photographs left many seething with anger. Even though it is common knowledge that underage voting is rampant in the northern part of the country, it is an illegality people no longer want to condone.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, which has the sole responsibility of registering voters for all elections did not help matters with its response. This further infuriated the people. In a statement by a spokesperson, Oluwole Uzzi, INEC said the disturbing pictures did not relate to any election it conducted or had responsibility for, thereby allaying fears over its capacity for credible elections.
No one is in doubt that INEC is statutorily empowered to conduct all elections, except local government councils conducted by the electoral commissions in each state.
Acknowledging the pictures of the underage voters, the commission stated that “as far as we can ascertain, they (the pictures) relate to a local government election conducted at the weekend (in Kano).
“While the commission remains resolute in our commitment to sanitise the nation’s electoral process and deliver free, fair and credible elections, we cannot be held directly or vicariously liable for a process outside our legal purview.
“Our part, INEC assures the public that we are doing all we can to ensure a credible election.”
Since all elections are conducted based on the voter register prepared y INEC, the commission’s attempt to absolve itself of any blame amounts to unnecessary hair splitting. The commission was roundly condemned by stakeholders except the beneficiary of the frud, the All Progressives Conngress.
In its the Peoples Democratic Party called on INEC to review and sanitise its voter register, particularly in Kano and Katsina States, to check underage people from voting.
The PDP in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said Nigerians had lost confidence in the commission.
Ologbondiyan said reviewing the voter register was the only way the commission could demonstrate its independence to Nigerians.
The PDP condemned the commission for attempting to cover its complicity in the “widespread impunity recorded”, particularly under age voting that characterised the state local council elections.
The party said it was INEC that registered the minors as voters in the first place.
Ologbondiyan said the commission should as such not in any way attempt to exonerate itself of involvement in the electoral fraud simply because it did not directly conduct the elections.
The statement said: “Is it not INEC that registered the minors and issued them with Permanent Voter Cards to participate in elections as clearly documented in the Kano council election.
“Can INEC truly acquit itself as the original culprit who set the stage for the eventual participation of the minors and overall rigging of the elections.”
Ologbondiyan said INEC should not give lame excuses or exonerate itself at a time it should be taking decisive steps to protect the sanctity of its sensitive materials such as the PVC.
He said: “Indeed, if this INEC is serious about the sanctity of sensitive
electoral materials, by now, it should have ordered the immediate review of its voter register in Kano and Katsina states.
“INEC supposes to be fishing out and prosecuting those who registered the minors and clean up the electoral system in the affected states.”
Ologbondiyan accused INEC of allowing itself to be used for irregularities in favour of the ruling party.
This, according to the party, was witnessed in the last Saturday’s Mashi/Dutsi Federal Constituency Supplementary election in Katsina State.
He said: “Finally, we want INEC to note, and in very strong terms too, that Nigerians will not accept anything short of credible, free and fair general elections.
“The commission should therefore ensure that it does not allow itself to be used by the APC against the will of the people, particularly in the 2019 elections, as such will be highly resisted.”
In Oyo state, participants at a youth summit of the PDP in also on INEC called to revisit the voters’ register of Kano State.
Hundreds of youths from across the 351 political wards of Oyo State who converged in the capital, Ibadan for the 2018 youth summit urged INEC to scrutinise the register and delete all underage voters; as well as guard against future occurrence of such in order to safeguard the nation’s democracy.
In the past, INEC had easily got away with such infraction. With more people taking their civic duty seriously, INEC must rise to the challenges.
If the spontaneous condemnation that followed the discovery of underage voters in Kano is anything to go by, INEC should understand that voters can no longer be taken for a ride. Besides, the commission must also be mindful of its reaction to issues of public interest. The response of Oluwole Uzzi to underage voters casting their votes not satisfactory and against the weight of evidence.
INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu had attempted to clarify the issue. Speaking in Lagos last Friday at a workshop on the implementation of the Election Project Yakubu said the commission could not ascertain whether or not the voter register it gave the Kano SIEC was used or discarded.
He said; “By way of clarification, I wish to state that the commission is aware of the discussion around the Voter Register and the concern expressed in certain quarters on the possible prevalence of ineligible registrants on the voter register. The commission is equally concerned for the simple reason that the credibility of an election draws from the credibility of the voter register. The eligibility for registration as a voter in Nigeria is clearly defined in Section 12 (1) of the Electoral Act. This includes citizenship, residence and the attainment of the mandatory age of 18 years.
“Recent reports of violations by underage persons following the Local government elections in Kano State is deeply disturbing.
“It is true that the State Independent Electoral Commission had requested INEC for a copy of the voter register. I can confirm also that a soft copy of the register was made available to the state. The voter register in Kano State is the one used for the 2015 General Election. In July 2016, INEC used the same register to conduct a State Assembly bye-election in Minjibir Constituency which has 78,210 registered voters spread across 126 polling units clustered in 11 Registration Areas (Wards). In that election conducted by INEC, no single incidence of underage voter was recorded. What therefore happened in the last Local Government election conducted by the State Electoral Commission? Was the voter register actually used or not?
“We wish to assure Nigerians that the matter will be fully investigated. A National Commissioner from INEC will lead a team to Kano next week involving technical staff of the commission drawn from the Voter Registry (VR), Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and the Electoral Operations (EOps) Departments for an immediate and comprehensive investigation. We will share the findings of the investigation with Nigerians.
“I wish to assure Nigerians that going forward, we will interrogate the voter register nationwide in order to purge it of any possible ineligible registrants.”
The assurances by the commission’s chairman will go a long way in calming frayed nerves. However, he would be held accountable for the promises he made. Underage voting has become a recurring fraud in our electoral system. Nigerians deserve to know how those who are not qualified get into the register. It keeps happening because no one has ever been punished for the illegality.
INEC chairman also used the opportunity to give an update on the continuous voter registration saying:“Turning to the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, I am glad to report that from July to December 2017, some 3,978,682 citizens were registered afresh nationwide; 135,127 unclaimed Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) were collected; and 166,073 requests for transfers and 334,086 requests for replacements of PVCs were recorded.
For the new fresh registrants, the gender distribution shows 58% male and 42% female. In terms of the distribution by States, Rivers State recorded the highest number of new registrants, followed by Delta and Lagos while Kwara, Gombe and Ondo recorded the lowest. The Commission will be posting detailed information and analysis of the ongoing CVR on our website on a continuous basis for public information from next week”.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, which has the sole responsibility of registering voters for all elections did not help matters with its response