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Problem of Low Voter Access To Polling Units Must Be Addressed, Says INEC Chairman

L-R: Secretary to the Commission, Mrs Rose Orianran-Anthony, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, National Commissioners Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu, Barrister Festus Okoye and Dr Adekunle Ogunmola at the meeting.

By Nathaniel Gana

10th February 2021

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) today continued its effort to build a national consensus on the need to expand voter access to Polling Units (PUs), when it met with security agencies under the platform of the Inter – agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES).

The meeting is the third in the series of the Commission’s planned interactions with stakeholders over the issue. Similar meetings were held with Political Parties and Civil Society Organisations on 5th and 9th February 2021 respectively.

While the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu described members of ICCES as “critical partners to the Commission in delivering credible and peaceful election, including orderly behaviour at the Polling Unit level,” he also observed that the management of large crowds at many PUs across the country had been challenging to Commission officials and members of ICCES, resulting, in some cases, in the late commencement of polls or the disruption of the sorting and counting of ballots at Polling Units. Such disruptions, he added, often had consequences on electoral outcomes leading, in some instances, to avoidable supplementary elections.

Prof. Yakubu observed that the success of elections “is largely a reflection of what happens at Polling unit level” since “it is the only point at which votes are cast by eligible citizens.”

He added: “What follows thereafter is the collation process leading to the declaration of results. However, the large crowds at some of our Polling Units on Election Day remain a challenge to the orderly management of elections. In your reports to the Commission, some members of ICCES have alluded to this problem.”

The INEC Chairman admitted that previous attempts by the Commission to expand access to Polling Units in 2007, 2014 and just before the 2019 General Election were unsuccessful because its genuine intentions may not have been properly communicated for input by Nigerians, resulting in misunderstanding and politicisation.

“Learning from experience,” he said, “the Commission has now decided to start early and to engage with Nigerians by consulting widely. We have produced a Discussion Paper entitled “The State of Voter Access to Polling Units in Nigeria”. We have also prepared satellite imageries of the location of Polling Units across the country and produced still pictures and videos to demonstrate the difficulties faced by voters on Election Day. The hard copies of the Discussion Paper are being widely shared while the soft copy, including links to the videos, has been uploaded on the Commission’s website and social media platforms.

“This meeting is a continuation of our consultations towards building a national consensus on the need to expand voter access to Polling Units.  We hope that by doing so, we will better communicate the Commission’s intention to Nigerians and invite input across the board on how to address this problem in the immediate term and hopefully establish the framework for future adjustments as the need arises as is the case in virtually all democracies around the world.”

Prof. Yakubu thanked members of ICCES for their roles in the conduct of the two off-cycle  Governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States in September and October last year, as well as 16 legislative bye-elections in 12 states in the last 12 weeks.

On his part, the National Security Adviser (NSA) Gen. Babagana Monguno (Rtd), represented by Sanusi Galadima, commended the existing seamless cooperation between INEC and ICCES, which he noted was evident in the successes recorded in the recently conducted elections.

The NSA implored the INEC Chairman to redouble efforts towards ensuring the forthcoming Anambra governorship election is rancour free. Gen. Monguno also lauded the Commission’s initiative to temporarily draft the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) into ICCES. He expressed confidence that the move would help address the spread of the covid 19 pandemic in the country.