By Nathaniel Gana
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has assured Nigerians that it would clean up the Voter Register before the 2019 general elections.
Chairman of the Commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu gave the assurance on 26th February during the first quarterly meeting with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and the Media held separately in Abuja.
According to him, since the credibility of the Voter Register is the bedrock of credible elections anywhere in the world, the Commission would ensure that ineligible voters were not part of the 2019 general elections.
Following wide allegations of under-age voting in the recently conducted Local Government elections in Kano state, the Commission had, on 21st February, set up a Committee headed by a National Commissioner, Engineer Abubakar Nahuche to visit the state and ascertain what exactly happened. The Committee will, among other things, determine whether INEC’s Voter Register was used for the election. Prof. Yakubu promised to make the outcome of the investigation public.
The INEC Chairman also assured that every citizen captured in the ongoing nationwide Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise and those intending to register, would get their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) before the 2019 general elections. He hinted that the distribution of PVCs for those who registered in 2017 would commence in the first week of May, after the de-duplication process.
Prof. Yakubu also revealed what the Commission is doing to ease the registration of new voters. His words: “Only two weeks ago we deployed additional 400 new generation Direct Data Capture Machines (DDCM) to registration centres nationwide. The new DDC machines are distinct from the old machines we have been using, which were procured in 2010.”
Responding to questions on currents efforts by the National Assembly to alter the timetable for the 2019 general elections, Prof. Yakubu maintained that the Commission had, in the first place, announced the timetable in exercise of the powers conferred on it by the existing laws as contained in the Electoral Act (2010 as amended) and the 1999 Constitution (as amended). He observed that since the laws were still subsisting, the timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2019 general elections released by the Commission on the 9th of January 2018 have not changed.
He said: “We issued the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2019 General Elections based on our powers under extant laws and nothing has changed. The election will begin with the Presidential and National Assembly on the 16th of February, followed by the State Assemblies, Governorship and FCT Area Council elections on the 2nd of March”.
He added: “We are aware that a bill passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly is awaiting assent and we are also aware of the interest generated by Section 25 on the sequence of elections. As it is at the moment, the only law that exists is the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, and the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999 as amended. We have released the timetable and schedule of activities on the basis of the law as it exists”.
On vote buying, the INEC Chairman agreed that the worrisome development was capable of undermining the tenets of democracy. He said: “We are working with the security agencies. We are discussing with the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) on not just vote buying, but also party and campaign finances.”
He said the immense contributions by the media and CSOs to the work of the Commission, through constructive criticisms, suggestions, observation reports and feedbacks from the field, were helping to deepen democracy, strengthen the electoral process and in policy formulation.
He implored both stakeholders to continue to make meaningful inputs to continually enrich the Commission’s processes and procedures.
Mrs. Uwadishi Fatih of the Independent Service Delivery Monitoring Group, who responded on behalf of the CSOs, pledged that the CSOs would continue to work with INEC to deepen democracy.
President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Comrade Waheed Odusile, who was represented by Mr. Adebayo Bodunrin of the African Independent Television (AIT), urged the Commission to maintain the current good standard of elections conducted in recent times. He commended the Commission for providing People Living with Albinism with magnifying glasses during the recently conducted Anambra governorship elections. He urged the Commission to extend similar gestures to other Persons Living With Disabilities (PWDs) and senior citizens.
Issues discussed at both meetings include the ongoing nationwide CVR exercise and INEC’s preparations for the 2019 General Elections and the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states, scheduled for July and September respectively.