By Chuks Okocha
In continuation of its consultative talks on the need to expand and increase the number of polling units in the country, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday met with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and informed them that the need to improve voter participation necessitated the exercise.
In his speech, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said: “Over the last two electoral cycles, including off-season elections, voter turnout across the country hovers around 30 to 35 percent.
“While a few elections had higher percentages, some recent bye-elections recorded as low as 8.3 percent voter turnout in an urban constituency of over 1.2 million registered voters located in the country’s most densely populated city. This unfavourably compares to the average voter turnout of 65 to 70 percent in other countries, even in the West Africa region.”
He said the CSOs are justified to have urged the commission to find a solution to this problem.
Yakubu explained that as accredited election observers and “CSOs have submitted reports to the commission. Having studied these reports in detail, it is clear that you are concerned about the declining voter turnout in elections in Nigeria.”
According to the INEC chairman, the CSOs remain critical partners and the commission value their comments and observations on the conduct of elections and the democratic process in general.
He told the CSOs that “in your observation reports, you have consistently urged the commission to address the issue of low voter turnout during elections in Nigeria. Many CSOs have worked with the commission in the areas of voter and civic education.
“Together, we have also done a lot in the areas of electoral reform ranging from the review of the legal framework to the promotion of transparency and inclusivity in the electoral process. On your own, you have done a lot of advocacy to encourage greater participation of citizens, especially the marginalised and disadvantaged groups.”
He assured the CSOs that INEC does not take their support for granted and would sustain the collaboration with them in the best interest of the nascent democracy in Nigeria
Accordingly, Yakubu said: “The commission has deeply reflected on the matter. Our conclusion is that several factors are responsible for discouraging voter turnout, among them inadequate voter and civic education, ineffective voter mobilisation, the fear of violence during elections, unfulfilled promises by elected officials and low public trust in state institutions.
“While the commission will continue to work with CSOs and all stakeholders to address these challenges, we are also convinced that access to polling units is a critical factor in voter turnout during elections.
“Countries with higher percentages of voter turnout during elections also have adequate and convenient voting locations for eligible voters which are periodically adjusted to reflect increase in voter population.”
Unfortunately, the INEC boss said: “This is not the case in Nigeria. The country currently has 119,973 polling units established in 1996 by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) to serve a projected population of 50 million voters.
“The figure remains the same for the last 25 years although the number of registered voters has increased to 84,004,084 by 2019, and is set to rise after we resume the registration of new voters ahead of the 2023 general election.”
The INEC chairman said the commission has also reviewed the previous efforts at expanding voter access to polling units in 2007, 2014 and just before the 2019 general election and why they were unsuccessful.