Chuks Okocha in Abuja
Worried by the constant low voter turnout during elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said that it has resolved to work towards increasing as well as expanding the clustered polling units.
The commission also said that it had received requests from over 5,000 stakeholders in 26 states for increase and expanding of polling units in their localities. The commission said that the last increase polling units was done 25 years ago in 1996 under the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON).
Addressing leaders of political parties in Abuja yesterday, the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said that after critically appraising the situation of low voter turnout in addition to other factors highlighted by political parties and other stakeholders, “the Commission is of the firm belief that expanding voter access to polling units in Nigeria is crucial to voter turnout in elections.”
According to the INEC chairman, “Experience has shown that enhanced voter access to polling units increases turnout in elections. Not surprisingly, many countries expand access to polling units with every fresh registration of voters while others do so routinely or before every general election.
“Increase in voter population, emergence of new settlements, urbanisation, distance to existing polling units, difficult terrain and other factors require constant review to give the voter a pleasant experience on Election Day.
“Above all, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is necessary to decongest polling units to minimise overcrowding and reduce the long distances voters travel often in overcrowded means of transport in order to vote during elections,” the INEC chairman told leaders of the political parties.
Unfortunately, he said, “the last time polling units were established was 25 years ago in 1996 by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON). There were 120,000 polling units to serve a projected population of about 50 million voters.
“Today, the number of registered voters is 84,004,084 and is set to rise after we resume Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) ahead of the 2023 General Election. Yet, the number of polling units remains static.
“In fact, the biggest category of registered voters on our data base (aged 18 to 25 years) were not even born when the current polling units were established a quarter of a century ago,” he said.
Justifying why the polling units must be expanded, Prof. Yakubu said, “Certainly, the Commission tried unsuccessfully to expand voter access to polling units in 2007, 2014 and before the 2019 General Election. However, these attempts were handled administratively. They also came too close to General Elections.
“Consequently, the Commission’s intention was not properly communicated and therefore misunderstood and politicised,” he stated.
In view of this, he said that learning from previous experience, the Commission had now decided to engage with Nigerians by consulting widely.
“We have worked hard in the last two months and produced a Discussion Paper entitled “The State of Voter Access to Polling Units in Nigeria”, prepared satellite imageries of the location of polling units across the country as well as pictures and videos to demonstrate the difficulties faced by voters on Election Day.
“The hard and soft copies of the Discussion Paper is being widely shared and will be uploaded on the Commission’s website and social media platforms latest by Monday 8th February 2021.”, he stated.
The INEC chairman said that it was significant that the commission was commencing the series of engagements with leaders of political parties, explaining that, “At each engagement, there will be a presentation followed by discussion.
“We hope that by doing so, we will communicate the Commission’s intention to Nigerians and invite input from citizens across the board on how we can tackle the problem of voter access to polling units in our country and hopefully establish the framework for subsequent seamless adjustments as the need arises.”
This, he said was how it is done in virtually all democracies around the world, insisting that he was confident that by working together history would be made by finally solving this 25-year old problem of enhancing access to polling units in Nigeria.
He stated that the Nigerian voter in particular and the nascent democracy in general would be the biggest beneficiaries of increased access to polling units.
He reminded the political parties of their last meeting where many party leaders expressed concern about low voter turnout in elections in Nigeria.
He said that after reviewing the situation, it was agreed that political parties, INEC and all stakeholders needed to do more in the areas of voter and civic education, voter mobilisation and inclusivity.
It is expected that INEC will as from next week continue with further consultations with other stakeholders like the Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Middle Belt Forum, Arewa consultations forum, civil society organisations and members of the media
Presenting a paper titled, “The state of voter access to the polling units in Nigeria”, the INEC national commissioner, Prof. Okey Ibeanu said that the commission had received over 5000 request for expansion and increase in pulling units across the country
He explained that the increase and expansion in the number of polling units across the country would help reduce election violence, rigging and clustering during elections.
Prof. Ibeanu said that INEC created additional 30,027 Polling units with the objective of decongesting overcrowded polling units
He further explained 57023 polling points and voting points were created out of congested polling units with each other serving a maximum of 750 voters as a means of improving the accessibility of electoral services to voters