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Liberia’s Electoral Commission Team Begins Study Tour of INEC, Eyes Biometric Voter Registration

L-R: Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu; Chairperson, National Elections Commission (NEC) of Liberia, Mrs. Davidetta Browne Lansanah and National Commissioner, Mr. Festus Okoye Esq. at the ceremony for formally welcome Lansanah and her team to the Commission held on 29th July 2021.

By Nathaniel Gana

29th July 2021

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has agreed to share its expertise and provide technical support to the National Elections Commission of Liberia (NEC) in its bid to migrate from the manual system to the biometric registration of voters. 

The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, gave the assurance today when a delegation from the NEC, Liberia, led by its Chairperson, Madam Davidetta Browne Lansanah, arrived for a two-day study tour. 

While welcoming his guests, Prof. Yakubu noted that both INEC and its Liberian counterpart had enjoyed a long-standing relationship. He said the team’s visit was coming just three weeks after the Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Malawi and his team visited INEC to share Constituency delimitation ideas and experience. “In your case,” he said, “the subject matter of discussion is different but also cardinal to democratic elections. The focus of our interaction with you is on biometric registration of voters.”

Explaining the background, INEC Chairman stated that Nigeria had used the current full biometric register of voters introduced in 2010 for three General Elections in 2011, 2015 and 2019. What the Commission has been doing since 2010, he averred, “is to update the register under the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise.”

He added: “The aim is to enable citizens who have attained the age of 18 years or those who did not register in previous exercises to do so.”

He said the Commission had, four weeks ago, commenced the CVR exercise with the introduction of the online pre-registration through a dedicated portal that is designed. The initiative, he noted, “has enabled eligible Nigerians to begin the process online before they come physically to complete their registration at the designated centres where their biometrics will be captured.”

He continued: “Over one million Nigerians pre-registered online in just four weeks. For those unable to commence the process online, dedicated centres have been established nationwide for in-person or physical registration, which commenced on Monday this week. The two methods will continue simultaneously for the next one year before the exercise is suspended to enable the Commission to update the register in readiness for our 2023 General Election.”

Prof Yakubu recalled that twice in the last three years, some INEC technical staff were in Liberia to work with the NEC on voters’ register. The initial assistance, he said, facilitated the conclusion of the Liberian 2017 General Election. “Again, our staff returned to Liberia for the same reason ahead of the mid-term Senatorial election and constitutional referendum held in December last year,” he said, adding, “based on the lessons learnt from both exercises, our technical staff recommended that Liberia should introduce the biometric registration of voters.”

He expressed delight at the NEC’s decision to move away from the manual register and conduct a pilot biometric voter registration by November this year. He also expressed satisfaction that the team decided to understudy Nigeria’s processes in detail, “particularly the choice of biometric technology ahead of your next General Election which, like Nigeria, holds in 2023”.

The INEC Chairman used the opportunity to underscore the importance of technology in deepening the credibility of elections. 

He said: “the truth is that nations are increasingly moving away from the manual processes by deploying more technology to guarantee electoral credibility further. In Nigeria, we are convinced that the use of appropriate technology is one of the best guarantees for the transparency and credibility of the electoral process. I wish to commend you for the bold step you have taken in this regard. As requested, we will share our experience with you to enable you to make an informed decision for Liberia”. 

Earlier in his welcome remarks, the Chairman, Outreach and Partnerships Committee (OPC), Dr Adekunle Ogunmola, observed that the team’s visit to INEC at this time was apt and timely, as it coincides with the ongoing nationwide online pre-registration and in-person registration. 

He averred that before introducing the online pre-registration and a new device for data capturing, the Commission had embarked on the expansion of voter access to polling units and created additional polling units to decongest the existing ones. 

Leader of the delegation and Chairperson of the NEC, Liberia, Mrs Lansanah, expressed optimism that the outcome of their study tour would propel the NEC to proceed with the biometric adaptation of voter registration in her country.  

She seized the opportunity to appeal for technology transfer, considering the cost and the financial state of Liberia.  Her words: “Mr Chairman, we are also here to solicit your support to meet Liberia’s adaptation of biometric technology, especially given the high cost of acquiring the technology and the financial challenges that Liberia faces.

“We would be interested in hearing from you what kind of assistance you may be able to render the Commission, and we look forward to utilizing your expertise in our adaptation process. We want to wish you well as you proceed with your continuous voter registration. 

We congratulate you for the introduction of the online portal, which,  of course, bolsters physical voter registration in Nigeria”, she added. 

National Commissioners present at the event include Festus Okoye Esq., Mohammed Kudu Haruna, May Agbamuche Mbu, Air Vice Marshal Tijani Muázu (rtd) and Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu.

Also on the ground to welcome the Commission’s guests were: Secretary to the Commission, Mrs Rose Anthony-Oriaran, Director General of The Electoral Institute (TEI) Dr Saád Idris,  the Technical Aides to the INEC Chairman, Directors and other Directing staff.