Wednesday 16th June 2021.
Excitement filled the air today at the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) headquarters in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), as its Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, unveiled 56,872 converted Polling Units, increasing the total number across the country from 119,974 to 176,846. The last time INEC created Polling Units was in 1996.
The significant event, which unfolded during the Commission’s meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs), was the culmination of a series of intensive countrywide consultations with stakeholders, followed by the conclusion of technical activities that began in January this year, under the Expansion of Voter Access to Polling Units initiative.
Prof Yakubu underscored the import of the milestone when he declared: “twenty-five years since the current Polling Units were created in 1996, the hard nut is finally successfully cracked after several unsuccessful attempts.”
The conversion of Voting Points and Voting Point Settlements to PUs is expected to facilitate the Commission’s plan to roll out the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise on 28th June. At a press conference held on 1st April, Prof Yakubu had announced the date for the resumption of the CVR and informed Nigerians about the need to conclude the expansion of voter access to polling units process ahead of the CVR.
Providing the background, Prof Yakubu observed that the history of creating and expanding PUs in Nigeria had been long and complex. He stated that issues relating to adequacy, accessibility, number and location of PUs across the country were among the challenges that had to be tackled.
He continued: “Before 2010, the Commission operated on a round figure of approximately 120,000 Polling Units. However, a census undertaken by the Commission before the 2011 General Election arrived at the precise figure of 119,973 Polling Units. The Commission also made efforts to relocate many Polling Units from inappropriate places such as private residences and properties, palaces of traditional rulers and places of worship to public buildings accessible to voters, polling agents, observers and the media during elections.
“Following several unsuccessful attempts to create additional Polling Units despite the obvious pressure from an increased number of registered voters, the Commission established Voting Points and Voting Point Settlements across the States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as a pragmatic response to necessity. The voting points were tied to the existing Polling Units and Voting Point Settlements. The number of registered voters in a Polling Unit and the Voting Point Settlement in the FCT was used to determine their Voting Points, based on the upper and lower thresholds of 500 and 750 voters, respectively. These were also the limits used for the 2019 General Election.
“The number of new Polling Units in a State is the number of Voting Points aggregated from those Polling Units having Voting Points. Furthermore, it was discovered that one Polling Unit in Lagos State had been wrongly categorized as a Voting Point, and the error was corrected. With this adjustment, the actual number of approved Polling Units came to 119,974. As a result, the Commission arrived at the exact figure of 56,563 Voting Points in addition to 309 Voting Point Settlements in the FCT, making a total of 56,872 Voting Points.”
Prof Yakubu noted that after wide-ranging consultations with stakeholders and fieldwork by our officials, the 56,872 Voting Points and Voting Point Settlements were converted and added to the existing 119,974 Polling Units.
He affirmed: “Consequently, the Commission is glad to report that 25 years since the current Polling Units were created in 1996, the hard nut is finally and successfully cracked after several unsuccessful attempts. Nigeria now has 176,846 full-fledged Polling Units.”
He also revealed that after consultation with stakeholders, the Commission successfully removed 749 PUs from inappropriate locations to appropriate public facilities or open spaces in line with the Commission’s policy to guarantee unencumbered access to PUs for all voters.
He gave the breakdown: “Of this figure, 232 were removed from private properties, 145 royal palaces, 6 Mosques, 21 Churches and 9 Shrines. The remaining 336 Polling Units were relocated for various reasons which include distance, difficult terrain, congestion, communal conflict, new settlements and general insecurity.”
In view of the Commission’s advanced preparations already made, Prof. Yakubu explained, four pending bye-elections in Kaduna, Jigawa and Plateau States will be the last to be conducted using a combination of PUs and VPs.
He said: “Two of these elections in Sabon Gari State Constituency in Kaduna State and Gwaram Federal Constituency in Jigawa State are holding this weekend while the Commission awaits the formal declaration of vacancies by the Honourable Speaker of the House of Representatives in respect of Lere Federal Constituency of Kaduna State and Jos North/Bassa Federal Constituency of Plateau State. For subsequent elections, beginning from the Anambra State Governorship election holding on 6th November 2021, there will be no Voting Points anymore in Nigeria.”
While Prof. Yakubu acknowledged that the RECs and Commission’s Staff spared no effort to ensure the success of the exercise, he also affirmed that the historic accomplishment could not have been possible without the support and understanding of Nigerians.
His words: “On behalf of the Independent National Electoral Commission, I would like to express our profound appreciation to the leadership of political parties, civil society organizations, the media, security agencies, religious leaders, socio-cultural associations, the labour unions, professional bodies, persons with disabilities, women and youth groups, students’ unions, the Federal Executive Council (FEC), the State Governors under the auspices of the National Economic Council (NEC) and the National Assembly. We also acknowledge the invaluable support of the development partners for facilitating some of the stakeholder engagements and the publication of advocacy documents.”