Kano’s Increasing Notoriety for Underage Voters

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Ibrahim Shuaibu presents an account of collusion between security agents, government officials including staff of the Kano State Independent Electoral Commission to turn a blind eye to widespread incidences of underage voting at the state’s recent local government election

The just concluded local government election in Kano State witnessed the highest ever level of voter apathy, participation of underage voters in some polling units and lack of interest among the political class in the state who were side-lined in the selection process of candidates, which clearly favoured government officials.

Many residents refused to turn up at polling units, as the main opposition party in the state, the People Democratic Party (PDP) did not participate in the poll. The election started late in many polling units across the 44 local governments with officials and election materials not arriving at polling units at the time the election was supposed to start. However, the election was witnessed by a large number of election observers from various organisation. They out- numbered the adhoc staff of the Kano State independent election body in most of the polling units outside Kano metropolis.

Nigerians have been lambasting the state independent election commission in Kano for allowing children to vote in the election that took place across the 44 local government areas in the state last.

Choice of the candidate for the election

In the just concluded local government elation, the normal process of party primaries did not see the light of the day, as most of the elected chairman came through the selection with the assistance of their godfathers who picked the persons that are loyal to them in an effort to create a political dynasty for the state governor, Mr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje.

Top political elite like the former governor of the state Malam Ibrahim Shekarau was not allowed to produce the chairman of his local government area, Nasarawa and this also affected the incumbent Deputy Governor, Mr Nasiru Yusuf Gawuna who also lost out in producing a chairman for his local government.

Gawuna and Shekarau are from the same local government area but ended up without control of their local government despite their large number of followers and political structure in their domain.

Key politicians lost control of their local government areas during the just concluded local government area election. Majority of those elected are the governor’s men as part of his plan to have a clique after he leaves power in 2023.

Sources also confirmed that some powerful forces close to the governor contributed immensely by selecting those to become the local government council chairmen in the state, a situation which political analyst, Mr Bashir Mohammed summed up thus, “There was no democratic process during the local government election. Nobody can tell you a single manifesto of those elected. “

Presence of the Underage at the Poll

Underage voting in Nigeria is not just a violation of the voting regulation as provided by the Constitution, but a way of engaging in voting irregularities and rigging.

Constitutionally voting age begins from 18 but cases of children seen voting have been reported since 2019 during the general election and recently during the Kano local government election that got the ruling All Progressives Congress sweeping the polls in the 44 local government areas.

Constitutionally, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is empowered to register voters based on some criteria.

This is contained in Section 78 and Section 15 of the Third Schedule and the process is regulated in sections 1-14 of the 2002 Electoral Act.

Recently, it has been reported by the media and election observers that the underaged have been seen participating in voting exercise in the January 16, 2021 local government election in Kano.

Children between the ages of 9 and 15 were seen voting in some of the voting centres in Kano. Pictures and in some cases video clips were circulated on the social media and this got with people expressing outrage.

In a particular video clip, a young boy who appears to be between the age of 11 and 13, at Gwazaye polling unit, Kumbotso, Local Government Area, was shown fixing his thumbprint against a party logo while other children struggled to receive their ballot papers to do the same.

Kano has become notorious for child voting, arguably more than other Nigerian states. This is rampant especially where the election is conducted by the state, like the recent local government election in Kano.
Many observers have come to accept that local government election in Nigeria is often dominated by the ruling party in the state, winning all the positions. Expectedly, this gets the approval of the electoral body in the state, which is under the control of the governor of the state.

Kano has been faced with this scenario in the past. When Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was governor of the state, the same thing happened. Although all political parties then participated in the election, the ruling party won all the seats.

Reasons for underage voters

There are usually two reasons why child voting takes place. First, where there is voter apathy and people refuse to participate in voting for one reason or the other. Underage voters are used to fill the numbers and create the false impression that people participated in the election. It is not easily noticed when the underage is between the ages of 16 and 17, as it is glaring when the child are younger.

Secondly, they are used for thumb printing of ballots at voting centres.

In Kano, when the state electoral body announced commencement of the local government electoral process,, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led by Kwankwaso left no one in doubt that it would not participate in the election because they already knew the outcome. It has turned out that the PDP predicted correctly as , the APC would surely take it all.

However, the other faction of the PDP under Aminu Wali disagreed and joined the election. A lot of rumours followed the decision, major amongst which was the claim that the faction is operating is being funded by the ruling APC in the state. In fact, the rumour has it that those who contested for chairmanship and councillorship in the name of PDP were paid to by the state in order to give credence to the election.

The election actually witnessed voter apathy in most places and people had to be mobilized to come out to cast their votes because it was generally believed that whether people voted or not, the ruling APC will certainly win the election.

On the part of the government, its agents had to overlook the irregularities and allow for underage voting to meet up with figures that will justify the credibility of the election. This was basically why there was widespread underage voting.

In the process leading to the election, there was nothing like voters’ verification. Anyone could join the queue and thumbprint for the ruling party and receive his ‘pay-and go’. This also encouraged child voting.

Underage voting is part of the election irregularities that justifies the number of votes cast. This is necessitated by either voters’ apathy or when the real registered voters are denied participation in voting and the underage are used to vote in their place by the party in power.

Hence, if voters refuse to go out to vote, underage and unverified voters are used to vote in their place to justify and give credibility to the voting process.

Also, the real voters can forcefully be denied their voting right using thugs, and in some cases security agents, who drive them away from the voting centres, use underage and unverified people to vote in their place.

Underage voting is not as a result of the anxiety to participate in voting exercise by the underage but a method of rigging elections. This was what happened in Kano during the local government election. More so, when such a thing takes place, the public remains unconcerned because they also accept and go by the unfortunate fact that he who is in power has it all. The best they can do is not to even bother to go and vote, for which the underage are used to vote for them for the election to remain credible with ‘massive turnout’.

In order to curb such anomaly the legitimate voting process must be strictly adhered to at all levels.

A political scientist in Kano, Bashir Mohammed said that INEC should be the main regulatory body in charge of the elections at all levels including the local government levels or at least observe the entire process being operated by the state electoral body.

According to him, some times people wonder where such children are from and even say they are almajiri children which is not necessarily true. Most of the time they are usually children in the neighbourhood sent to participate and collect what is usually given to those who vote. Some of them even go there with their mothers.

More so, the children neither understand, nor do they comprehend the implication of what they are doing. Thesame can be said of their parents. It was reliably believed that anywhere there is child voting, it is organized and allowed by the officials present there. These include the party agents, the voting officials, the security agents as well as the dominating party members and officials present at the polling centre.

Alleged Almajiri involvement

Also, on the other hand, the said Almajiri might possibly be around the voting centres asking for alms when they were exploited by the voting agents present there. They don’t usually understand what is going on, nor do they know the implication of what they are doing.

Most of the almajiris do not have a voter’s card, but their involvement is high grade election manoeuvres especially as most of the local government elections are conducted without a card reader.

A lawyer who pleaded anonymity said, Generally, the underage cannot be prosecuted in a formal court according to the law. They can not be punished for participating in the process because they are engaged by the officials.

Hence, if anyone is to be punished, it will be those who allow them to take part in the electoral process.

APC won 44 local government seat

Few hours after the election, the Chairman of the State Independent Electoral Commission, Professor Ibrahim Garba Sheka, declared the APC as winner of all the 44 chairmanship and 484 councillorship seats in the state .

On the election day, Sheka was seen sighted at Kano state Government House enjoying a lavish dinner with the state Chief Executive, an act the opposition party and observers said has made a mockery of the independence of the state electoral umpire.

Abdullahi Garba Ramat, who was declared the winner in Ungogo local government, has been facing corruption charges in the state anti-graft agency, while there are reliable reports that some of the candidates failed the mandatory drug test and yet the party refused to replace them.

According to Hashimu Suleiman Dungurawa, a member of the opposition PDP, “There is need for a rethink on how the conduct of election is being carried out by the electoral commission.”

He recommended an independent way of choosing the leadership of the state independent electoral commission or its abolition and return to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Stand of the Opposition on the Election

The Kano State Chapter of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), loyal to former governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso has sued the Kano state electoral body, (KANSIEC) for contempt of court.

The court case has been filed before Kano High Court, insisting that it should not recognise the other faction of the party as demanded by a court order.

Kano State Party Chairman, Mr Shehu Wada Sagagi said “We have also filed before the court whether KANSIEC has the right to accept a candidate other than the one from the legally recognised executive of the party. This is what we want the court to determine.”

Activists position

Members of the civil society group who served at situation of the local government election draw the attention of the appropriate authorities to urgently address the problem of irregularities during the election.

The Kano Civil Society Situation Room (KCSSR) led by Mr Ibrahim Waiya who had deployed observers across the 44 LGAs, observed the following: The conduct of the elections was relatively peaceful, as there was security presence in every polling unit.

They also revealed that there were reports of delay in the distribution of materials in somepolling units,resulting in late commencement of the elections. However, most of these issues were immediately addressed through the situation room intervention.
It was observed that there was low turnout of voters in most of the polling units, especially among women and persons with disability.

The civil society recommended improving the process for subsequent elections and sought to sstrengthen citizens’ participation and inclusion in the electoral process.

State Government position

Kano state government has commended the election process and said the party’s victory was a testimony of purposeful leadership in the state.

Governor Ganduje predicted that the All Progressive Congress (APC) will win the local government election in all the 44 areas of the state.

Ganduje commended the peaceful conduct of the election and said the APC will remain victorious across 484 wards.

All the government officials declined to comment on whether there was underage voting in the concluded elections.

QUOTE 1

Underage voting is not as a result of the anxiety to participate in voting exercise by the underage but a method of rigging elections. This was what happened in Kano during the local government election. More so, when such a thing takes place, the public remains unconcerned because they also accept and go by the unfortunate fact that he who is in power has it all. The best they can do is not to even bother to go and vote, for which the underage are used to vote for them for the election to remain credible with ‘massive turnout

QUOTE 2

The election actually witnessed voter apathy in most places and people had to be mobilized to come out to cast their votes because it was generally believed that whether people voted or not, the ruling APC will certainly win the election. On the part of the government, its agents had to overlook the irregularities and allow for underage voting to meet up with figures that will justify the credibility of the election. This was basically why there was widespread underage voting