•Limits voters to 750, 1000 at polling stations
Chuks Okocha in Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has hinted at some of the guidelines to be expected in the expansion of polling centres, explaining that there would be no transfer of polling stations between local governments during elections.
The commission also said the maximum allowed for all polling centres with the new expansion would be between 750 to 1000 voters.
INEC explained that the expansion would not confer any advantage to any political party or socio-cultural organisation, explaining that it would only help to decongest the polling centres.
The INEC National Commissioner in charge of voter education and chairman Information and Publicity, Festus Okoye, hinted at these developments at a workshop staff organised by International funds for elector supports (IFES).
According to Okoye, “It is pertinent to explain here that no Voting Point will be moved from one local government to another. It is also important to underscore the fact that the expansion of polling units will not confer any advantage to any state of the federation other than decongesting existing polling units, degrading overcrowding, aid increase of voter turnout and improve the quality of legal services rendered by the Commission. The primary objective of all this is to make the voting experience more pleasant and less tedious for Nigerians.”
“In the new arrangement, new and some old registrants will have on offer, new, accessible and closer Polling Units. All Polling Units will have a lower threshold of 750 voters and an upper threshold of 1000,” he said.
The INEC national commissioner explained that for the registration of voters, the Commission would as always, be guided by the law and the constitution, adding that the Commission would not impose or accept the imposition of extraneous registration requirements not in tandem with the Constitution and the law.
He declared that the top priority of the Commission at this moment was to usher in a new electoral legal framework that would give legal backing to new and recently introduced innovations in the conduct of elections.
According to Okoye, the ongoing changes required creative and innovative minds, staff that were broad-minded and committed, explaining that it was imperative that staff of the Commission should be properly equipped especially, being at home with relevant technologies.
He also stated that the times equally demanded staff that was highly professional and ethical, saying, “To be relevant in the new order that the Commission is enthroning, every staff must first align himself/ herself to the innovations, then, the staff must understand his place in the scheme of affairs.
“The changes the Commission is making are fundamental and with the prospect of altering the electoral landscape of the country. Any staff that cannot locate himself within these changes and or adapt to the new realities of the electoral process will sadly find himself to be a burden if not an impediment to the wheel of progress.
“The choice is for each and everyone of us to determine how to locate himself in the new scheme of the operations of the Commission. Fortunately, the changes in the Commission are being driven by the Chairman of the Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, who has shown great commitment, courage and innovative spirit”, Okoye declared.
The INEC national commissioner further explained that the Commission had prioritised the changes and innovations that would be cascaded to the conduct of off-season governorship elections and the 2023 general election.
The changes and innovations, he explained, would be challenging but they are necessary to enhance the standard of the nation’s electoral process, adding that the Commission is therefore poised to surmount whatever the challenges may be, in order to conduct elections that would receive the overwhelming endorsement of majority of Nigerians at all times.
In view of this, he explained that INEC would endeavour to consult widely and build a national consensus around the changes and innovations in the electoral process.
Okoye posited that the conduct of Continuous Voter Registration exercise using an improved enrolment device is a top priority for the Commission.
“All registrable Nigerians should be assured that the Commission will resume the continuous voter’s registration exercise as soon as the expansion of access to polling units is completed.”
He maintained that the new framework of electoral laws would address some of the challenges that have impeded the deployment of technology by the Commission to enhance the quality of our elections.
He said it would further set a new paradigm for managing the registration of new political parties, streamline the focus of Courts in terms of the requisite jurisdiction in the adjudication of pre-election matters, explaining that the new framework will also make provision for early release of funds due to the Commission etc.
On the use of technology in the Electoral Process, Okoye said INEC planned to robustly ramp up its usage in the electoral process.
“This will include the introduction of Electronic Voting Machines. Steps to accomplish this end have already gone far. These voting machines will be deployed to all the polling units and will be aligned to the already introduced devices and means that will amply raise the integrity and transparency of the electoral process.
“The introduction of technology in the electoral process by the Commission has been a gradual but steady process. Nothing in the enhanced technology-based system will, however, disadvantage any section of voters.
“With the new method, registered voters must still physically go out to the Polling Units to exercise their franchise. Nothing in an enhanced technology process provides for people voting from the comfort of their homes. The question of internet and cyber voting are issues that are left for the future,” he stated
To give life and meaning to these innovations, Okoye contended that the Voter Education and Publicity Department of the Commission would play a commanding role.
His words: “All officers for electoral duties, whether staff of the Commission, ad-hoc staff or collation officers and indeed all Nigerians, who are involved must be trained on the new technologies and innovations to be introduced.
“As Public Affairs officers, you will be required to communicate these changes to the Nigerian people. You must then understand the changes first. You must internalise the changes. You must have the intellect and capacity to understand the intricacies and nuances of the changes.
“You must understand the country and its peculiarities and design communication strategies that are simple, creative, effective, forward looking and targeted at the large and growing population that is adept at modern technology.
“It is the duty of the Voter Education Department and its communication experts that you are to drive these changes at the crucial level of linking the changes up with the people for whom they are made,” Okoye stated.