As the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) prepares for the 2019 general election, indications have emerged that the ghost of the creation of 30,000 new polling units in the run up to the 2015 elections has resurfaced, with the move by the commission to re-introduce new polling units, but this time disguised as Voting Point Settlements.
Should INEC adopt the format used in 2014 when it attempted to create precisely 30,062 new polling units, with more units allocated to the states in Northern Nigeria than the South, this could compromise the integrity of the 2019 elections.
Pointers that there were surreptitious moves to reintroduce the initiative was let out of the bag last month when the former INEC chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega, congratulated the current chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, for among other achievements, what he called the “review of the polling units, registration areas…” as part of the commission’s “significant, commendable progress made to sustain, deepen and defend the integrity of the Nigerian electoral process”.
However, when further investigations were conducted to verify the development from some internal stakeholders, the remark by Jega came as a surprise to many of them who seemed unaware that INEC had initiated, let alone concluded a review of the polling unit arrangement under any guise whatsoever.
Curiously, those who have sighted an internal memo on the introduction of Voting Point Settlements further revealed that it was targeted at re-introducing the controversial 30,000 polling units that were rejected by the public before the 2015 elections.
Many insiders in INEC wondered how the erstwhile chairman knew about it while those of them who work in the very office where such decisions are taken were not aware of the so-called Voting Point Settlements.
By bringing it up, Jega had brought to the fore the creation of the additional 30,000 polling units which he was particularly passionate about implementing in his time as INEC chairman and is now encouraging his successor to re-introduce under a new nomenclature.
The first time the introduction of new polling units was mooted in 2014, it was very controversial because many saw the allocation of polling units as skewed and not reflective of the registered voter demographics of the country.
Many had argued that the North was unduly favoured because the North-east which was heavily under siege by Boko Haram terrorists at the time was allocated more new polling units than the South-west which was peaceful and had two heavily populated states – Lagos and Oyo States in the zone.
Also, the South-east, made up of five states, had almost the same allocation of new polling units as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The allotment of polling units then by the Jega-led INEC was as follows: North-west – 7,906, North-east – 5,291, and the North-central – 6,318.
However, INEC under Jega allotted the South-west 4,160 polling units, the South-south – 3,087 and South-east – 1,167 while the FCT got 1,200 new polling units.
At the time, Jega had argued that the additional polling units would bring the total to 150,000 polling units nationwide with 500 voters per unit.
He also said the new polling units were being created to: decongest over-crowded polling units and dispersing voters as evenly as possible among all them;
• Locate polling units more effectively within commuting distances of voters, given that movement is usually restricted on election day;
• Relocate the unit from “in-front of” private houses, and such other unsuitable places, to public buildings or where this is not possible, to public open spaces where tents can be provided;
• Locate them inside classrooms or such other suitable enclosures, in line with international best practices;
• Split large polling units such that they have on average of 500 registered voters; and
• Create additional polling units to cater for the splitting of large polling units as well as new settlements not serviced by any existing units.
With the latest move by the current INEC leadership, many are concerned that the so-called Voting Point Settlements is an attempt to bring back the skewed 30,000 polling units by subterfuge with the same numerical electoral advantage given to Northern Nigeria.
They wondered why the electoral commission would introduce the same polling unit controversy and reinforce Nigeria’s fault-line through the clandestine intended changes very close to the 2019 elections, given the distrust it might cause.