Recently, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, disclosed a plan to create additional polling units ahead of the 2023 general elections for the general convenience of voters. The latest promise came after over six years of botched attempts to create an additional 30, 027 such centers in the country.

Chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, restated this at a technical session on the amendment of the Electoral Act held by the Joint National Assembly Committees on INEC and Electoral Matters in Abuja. He had in February last year dropped a similar hint when he received Geographic Information System, GIS support equipment donated by the European Centre for Electoral Support, ECES.

“We need to create additional polling units; this is part of our discussion at the meeting of the commission today. We need to expand access of voters to polling units. The last time polling units were created was in 1996,” he told journalists at the end of the technical session.

Presently, there are 119, 973 polling units and 57, 023 voting points across the country. The current structure of polling units was established in 1996 and INEC subsequently created voting points prior to the 2011 general elections to enhance efficiency in election management by decongesting the units that had more than 750 registered voters.

The INEC had in August 2014 proposed to create additional 30, 027 polling units, with the Northern region getting 21, 615 while the Southern region would make do with 8, 412 units. The development had pitched both regions against each other forcing the electoral umpire to later jettison the plan.

Nigeria, according to Yakubu, is currently underserved with its 119,973 polling units and over 57,000 voting points. He, however, pointed out that the equipment supported by ECES would assist INEC in the area of delimitation of constituencies which is one of the constitutional responsibilities of the commission.

He said: “Your assistance will be great in addition to what we have been trying to do. Already, the commission is considering the possibility of creating additional polling units before the 2023 general elections.

“It (Nigeria) is a huge country and the population is rising and each time myself and the commissioners travel around the country, and we see new settlements emerging, we wonder how would these new settlements be served by polling units, so that Nigerians don’t have to travel long distances in order to vote on election day.”

For better results, the chairman added that the commission was already collaborating with the National Population Commission, NPC in order to achieve the objective of delimiting constituencies and creating new polling units that would cater to the voting needs of Nigeria’s increasing population.

Every political pundit agrees that elections remain the most important pillar of democracy all over the world where a democratic system is in practice. The success of democracy largely depends on how a country conducts its elections. 

It is a fact that when fairly conducted, elections have the capacity to promote transparency and accountability in governance. This is because of the fear of defeat at polls forces those in power to conduct themselves properly and make public interest the primary concern in their policies and political decisions.

According to Dr. Musa Garba Usman of the Department of Political Science, Bayero University, Kano, the election is critical to democratization and democracy, and, as such, its significance cannot be overemphasized. He said: “One of the striking features of sophistication in the practice of democracy is the ability of democratic institutions to engender free, fair and credible election, in which the embodiment of rule of law, social justice and accountability is deeply entrenched and guided by the process and conduct of the election.”

Nigeria in particular and Africa in general, has been grappling with the process of entrenching democracy through well-run elections, though serious flaws and irregularities were experienced in the conduct of elections in Africa, which in turn hinder the process of democratization, elections have been taking place in Nigeria since independence, more precisely 1959, 1964, 1979, 1983 and 1993, all of which have been associated with lapses except that of 1993, which has been considered fair.

The lapses of other elections are the result of do-or-die politics, lack of confidence in the electoral body and political parties, etc. It is important to note that elections in Nigeria’s history have been plagued with a lack of integrity; this character did not really change even in the Fourth Republic, and 1999, 2003, and 2007 elections also were far from fair.

This has led to a lack of confidence in the electoral umpire due to rigging, political parties’ disregard for the rule of law, internal party politics, hate speech and inciting utterances, partisan nature of the security agencies, etc., all of which culminated in electoral violence in the country.

The 2015 and 2019 general elections also faced a lot of challenges ranging from political tensions such as North-South claims to the Presidency to religious factors, campaign violence, etc. At the other end, there are security concerns such as the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East and neutrality of the security agencies which created fear in Nigerians on whether or not the country will be able to conduct peaceful elections.

It is against the backdrop of the occurrences of electoral misconducts/irregularities and their consequences of the democratization process in Nigeria that the National Assembly is making the use of card readers compulsory in all the polling stations in future elections, going by new provisions being made in the new Electoral Act before it.

Card readers as electronic devices for accreditation of eligible voters at each of the polling units before voting was introduced in the 2015 general elections, but not made compulsory for elections to take place in the event of malfunctioning.

The 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) in 2015 gave room for the usage of manual voters’ registers after filling out the index form.

But in the new electoral laws being worked upon by both chambers of the National Assembly -the Senate and House of Representatives, the usage of functional card readers for accreditation of voters will be made compulsory in future elections.

Chairman, House Committee on Electoral Matters, Hon. Aishatu Jibril Dukku while speaking recently in Abuja at a joint public hearing held on the two different legislations being worked upon for the conduct of future elections in the country, said the new provisions are contained in the amendments being made on section 49 of the 2010 Electoral Act.

According to her, a new subsection 3 is introduced, which provides thus: “where a smart card reader deployed for accreditation of voters fails to function in any unit and a fresh card reader is not deployed, the election in that unit shall be canceled and another election shall be scheduled within 24 hours.”

She added that new amendments are also being sought in Sections 52 (2), and 63 of the proposed bill.

The proposed amendment in Section 52 (2) states: “In 2015, this section was amended to give INEC the discretion to determine the procedure for voting. Now, it seeks to further amend the provision to allow the commission to conduct elections by electronic voting or any other method of voting as it may seem fit.” 

Section 63 (4) of the proposed laws makes provision for transmission of the election conducted at each of the polling units to the first level of collation of results to which the polling unit belongs in the constituency where the election is held.

Declaring open the public hearing, the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan said the proposed bills which are on repealing the Electoral Act No. 6 2010 for a more comprehensive one and enacting the INEC Act 2020, will be passed before the end of the first quarter in 2021.

According to him, more than 85 requests were made by various stakeholders for amendments, which will be critically looked into in giving Nigerians, a more credible electoral process.

In his remarks, the Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila said the proposed amendments to the electoral laws are very important for both politics and governance in Nigeria. “Until we fix the way we do politics in Nigeria, we cannot fix the way we run the government,” he said.

Credible elections are marked by inclusiveness, candor, and accountability. It ensures that eligible voters take part in choosing their representatives. This liberty in excising their franchise is however regulated by the provisions of the law. 

But there is no argument that INEC has in the recent elections conducted was able to minimize electoral frauds which have been the case in the country’s election history. Though there are fears among some Nigerians on the commission’s capability to conduct free, fair, and credible elections in 2023 when President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term will expire, the National Assembly, INEC, and other critical stakeholders, are beginning to give hope of improved elections.

It is, however, necessary that the legislature and the electoral umpire should sustain the hope with the aim of achieving peaceful and credible elections in the country.

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For better results, the chairman added that the commission was already collaborating with the National Population Commission, NPC in order to achieve the objective of delimiting constituencies and creating new polling units that would cater to the voting needs of Nigeria’s increasing population.

 


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