The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has registered 73.2 million voters for the 2019 general elections while the exercise continues.
The commission which gave the figure as what it realised in April this year said it projected to register over 80 million voters for the polls, and promised to ensure that the 2019 general elections are better than those of 2015.
INEC also revealed that about eight million Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) are yet to be collected by their owners.
Addressing a delegation of European Union Electoral Follow-up Mission to Nigeria, civil society organisations and other stakeholders during a roundtable organised by the European Union Delegation to Nigeria and West Africa, Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said the credibility of elections depends on the credibility of the voter register.
He said although the commission was facing some challenges, it was tackling them. “We started in April and as at last week, we have registered 3.2 million (Nigerians) on top of the 70 million registered voters for the 2015 general elections that we had before. Our projection is that the voters register will probably be over 80 million by 2019.”
Top on the agenda were some 30 recommendations handed to INEC by the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) after the 2015 general elections, for which the EU had dispatched its Electoral Follow-Up Mission to Nigeria, led by Mr. Santiago Fisas to ascertain what has happened since then.
Yakubu said: “The most important thing for us as we plan towards 2019 is the effectiveness of our plan. We have a Strategic Plan 2017-2021 and we have along with that, a strategic programme of action. We have just completed the draft Election Project Plan for 2019. Hopefully next week, we will come up with a figure of what it will cost this nation to conduct the 2019 general elections.”
He also told the delegation that INEC had benefitted from the numerous elections it had conducted . “We have conducted elections into 172 constituencies since the 2015 general elections. The last election was three weeks ago in Gombe, the next election is in eight days in Sokoto, followed by the Anambra governorship election. We have issued the timetable for Ekiti and Osun (governorship elections).”
On simultaneous accreditation and voting, he said: “In Bayelsa in January 2016, we combined accreditation and voting and it was well received. Now, you can only vote at the polling unit where you are registered. You cannot vote elsewhere. It’s going on very well.”
On the Anambra governorship election scheduled for November 18, Yakubu said: “We are combining the governorship election with the Idemili North state constituency election. There will be two ballot boxes and voters will receive two ballot papers. All the other arrangements – logistics, staff training, and security are in place. We are killing two birds with one stone. And for the first time in the history of elections in Nigeria, 37 political parties are contesting in the Anambra election. Out of the 14 activities lined up, we have executed nine.”
On the fear by some stakeholders that security agencies could postpone the election at the last minute, the chairman observed that although the responsibility of securing the environment before, during and after elections is not within the commission’s jurisdiction, INEC maintains a close relationship with all security agencies through the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES).
“That is why we have also decided, as a commission, to issue the timetable and schedule of activities well ahead of all elections. In Anambra, we issued the timetable in February for an election that will take place in November. We have done the same for Ekiti and Osun. We have taken care, in both cases, to avoid party politics, national festivals and students’ examinations. The last (governorship) election in Ekiti took place on June 14.
“But June next year is likely to coincide with the fasting period and Salah, and since the law says that we should conduct the election at least 30 days to the end of the tenure (of the incumbent), we shifted it to July when there is no festival or examination. The same for Osun – instead of 4th August, we’ll conduct the election in September. Interestingly in Osun’s case, we have given a one-year notice and we have always made copies of the timetable and schedule of activities available to the security agencies. But we’ll continue to talk to them,” Yakubu said.
The INEC chairman also spoke on the low participation of women in politics, explaining that INEC has in recent times intensified engagements with political parties on the need for them to accommodate more women. “But the caveat is the constitutional provision which says that individuals aspiring for political offices must be sponsored by a political party. But we have a gender policy in place.”
On party primaries, Yakubu alluded to the Electoral Act, which provides that once the national headquarters of a political party recommends a candidate to the commission for election, the commission cannot reject such a candidate. “I think it was an amendment to the Electoral Act, borne out of our previous experience where the commission with the security agencies were disqualifying candidates. The power was taken from the commission and given back to the political parties. The parties have a role to play in strengthening our political processes, but yesterday’s solution has apparently become today’s problem because the political parties are now abusing the process. So, we look forward to whatever we can do to engage with stakeholders and the National Assembly, not with the intention to have the power brought back to the commission, but in such a manner that we can address some of the issues and challenges we have seen.”
On the disclosure of party finances, the INEC chairman distinguished between campaign and party finance. He said the commission did not mince words during its recent meeting with political parties, where it was revealed that out of 46 registered political parties, only five had rendered accounts to the commission.
He admitted that tracking party finances could be challenging, “but where a political party comes out openly to raise funds beyond the limits provided for in the constitution, the commission will apply sanctions.”
Meanwhile, a chieftain of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo has told The Guardian that he has no confidence in the commission to conduct any free, fair and credible election until Nigeria is restructured.
“The constitution on which the commission is operating has been roundly condemned by Nigerians, and mind you, INEC itself was part of the recommendation we made at the 2014 National Conference. It is therefore impossible for it to do anything credible.”
In another reaction, former Minister of Power and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) governorship candidate in the Ondo State governorship election, Dr. Olu Agunloye expressed reservation over Nigeria conducting any acceptable election in a situation where the peoples’ sense of judgment has been eroded by poverty and they cannot see between right and wrong.
Also doubting the capacity of INEC, the National Secretary, Nigeria National Summit Group (NNSG), Mr. Tony Uranta said the commission, having failed to do anything credible in terms of conducting election in the last two years, cannot easily convince anybody of its capacity to conduct an acceptable election.