By Nathaniel Gana and Dominic James
The Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS), deployed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to clean of the data of Nigerians that registered as voters between June and December 2021, has detected an alarming percentage of invalid registrations.
According to the data released by the Commission’s Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu at a press briefing held in Abuja on 13th April to inform the nation about the outcome of the first and second quarters of the Continuous Voter Registration exercise conducted between 28th June and 20thDecember 2021, out of 2,523,458 individuals that completed their registration within the period, 44.6 percent or 1,126,359 of them were invalid.
The Commission had, for the first time, provided the online and physical options for registration. For the online pre-registration option, 1,014,382 registrants completed the process while 1,509,076 Nigerians registered physically at the Commission’s designated centres nationwide. In addition, 671,106 Nigerians submitted requests to update their records, transfer their registration from one location to another or replace their lost or damaged PVCs.
A voter’s attempt to register becomes invalid when the ABIS detects that the same voter had previously registered, with his or her details, picture and fingerprint having a perfect match with an existing data. Invalidity also applies when the data submitted by the voter is incomplete and cannot meet the criteria for registration. In the case of attempted double registration, the ABIS blocks and nullifies the voter’s second attempt to register while the existing data in the Register of Voters remains valid.
However, any attempt by a voter to register a second time amounts to double registration and contravenes Section 23 (d) of the Electoral Act 2022. Upon conviction, the culprit is liable to not more than N100, 000 fine or one year imprisonment or both.
Concerned about the recuring decimal, Prof. Yakubu, gave a background of the problem. He said: “While the number of new registrants is very impressive and demonstrates the eagerness of Nigerians to vote in the forthcoming elections, the Commission has a duty to clean up the data to ensure that only eligible Nigerians are registered. As you are aware, the foundation for any credible election rests on the credibility of the Register of Voters. The introduction of the biometric registration of voters in 2011 has helped to sanitise the Register.
“You may recall that initially, 73,528,040 Nigerians were registered in 2011. Using the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), the Commission was able to remove 4,239,923 invalid registrations. Consequently, the Register of Voters for the 2015 General Election stood at 69,288,117 voters.
“Subsequently, some 432,173 new voters were added to the Register during the CVR exercises ahead of the off-cycle Governorship elections in five States (Bayelsa, Kogi, Edo, Ondo and Anambra) from late 2015 to early 2017, bringing the total number of registered voters in Nigeria to 69,720,350.
“You may also recall that preparatory to the 2019 General Election, the Commission, for the first time, embarked on a nationwide CVR exercise on a continuous basis as provided by law. From 27th April 2017 to 31st August 2018, 15,317,872 new voters were registered. Out of this figure, 1,034,141 ineligible registrants were detected and removed from the register to arrive at the figure of 84,004,084 voters for that election.
“Unfortunately, the troubling issue of invalid registration still persists, which we detected while cleaning up the latest registration data. As against the AFIS used in previous exercises, the Commission introduced the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) which is a more comprehensive and robust system, involving not just fingerprint identification but also the facial biometric recognition.
“Sadly, it seems that many registrants, either out of ignorance that they do not need to re-register if they had done so before, or a belief that our systems will not detect this infraction, have gone out to register again. This is despite repeated warnings by the Commission against this illegal action.
“In addition, there are also registrants whose data were incomplete and did not meet our Business Rules for inclusion in the register. Both categories i.e. the failure of ABIS and incomplete data constitute invalid registrations.
“Presently, nearly 45% of completed registrations nationwide are invalid, rising to as high as 60% or more in some States. This infraction happened in all States of the Federation. No State is immune from it. These invalid registrations will not be included in the Register of Voters.”
Prof Yakubu also stated that the development was worrisome because of the time and resources expended in handling the process. Even more disturbing, he averred, is the strong indication that some of the Commission’s staff may be involved in facilitating the infractions, despite stern warnings against such acts.
He said the Commission is reviewing reports on such staff and has begun a detailed investigation which could lead to the prosecution of those found culpable. Specific registrants associated with the identified infractions by the Commission’s staff, he noted, may also face prosecution in line with Sections 22 and 23 of the Electoral Act 2022.
The INEC Chairman appealed to political parties, civil society organisations and the general public to help the Commission to educate Nigerians about the problem of invalid registration.
He affirmed: “As we have repeatedly explained, if you had at any time in the past registered to vote, you do not have to reregister. If you have registered in the past, you should not get involved in the CVR again unless you have had problems with your PVC or fingerprint recognition during accreditation in any previous election. In that case, all you need to do is to revalidate your registration by visiting a designated registration centre to recapture your fingerprints and picture. Other registered persons who may also get involved in the CVR are those whose PVCs are missing or defaced; those whose details need correction and those seeking to transfer from their current places of voting to other locations. These cases do not involve new registration. Apart from these, the CVR is essentially for Nigerians who have attained the age of 18 years and have not registered earlier.”
He added: “With our improved systems using the ABIS, the Commission shall continue to clean up the register to eliminate invalid registration and ensure that only those who should be in the Register of Voters are included. It is precisely the introduction of this more robust system that has enabled us to improve our ability to detect these invalid registrants.”
Prof Yakubu reasoned that some of those who engaged in invalid registration might have done so out of ignorance. He appealed to Nigerians who are not sure of their registration status to contact the Commission’s Help Desk, social media handles or Registration Officers at the Registration Centres for guidance.