CSOs seek sanctions against underage voting, duplication in INEC register

• Development not surprising, erring staff will be sanctioned, INEC vows
• Don’t make Nigeria a problem for West Africa, Electoral Forum chair warns politicians
• WACSI: 2023 poll test of Nigeria’s democratic strength

With less than 100 days to the 2023 general elections, claims of double registration and underage voters have trailed the preliminary voter register published by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), despite repeated assurances by the Commission and President Muhammadu Buhari to deliver free, fair and credible polls.

The preliminary register, containing 93,522,272 registrants, has the name, picture, date of birth and Voter Identification Number (VIN) of each registered voter. For data protection and security reasons, information such as biometric details, residential addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses of voters were not made public.

The list was published after the Commission said it had carried out a rigorous clean-up of the data using the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) and deleted 2.7 million cases of double registration during the last Continuous Voter Registration (CVR).

A review of the register revealed that despite moves by INEC to sanitise the list using ABIS, there are still irregularities.

Though INEC has urged Nigerians to raise objections against the inclusion of any person not qualified to vote or names of dead persons on the register, prominent among the irregularities is the revelation that the list has some registrants with the same name, personal information and photographs but different Voter Identification Numbers (VIN).

Also, the contentious underage issue came up again with the released list. The 1999 Constitution and Electoral Act, of 2022, provide that a person must be 18 years and above to be registered as a voter and eligible to vote. Nigerians raised objections that photographs of some of the registrants do not match their age.

Programme Director of one of Nigeria’s foremost electoral observer groups, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, told The Guardian yesterday that names of persons clearly under-aged were present in the list.

Mbamalu, who said the organisation deployed observers in the 36 states to monitor the display of voter register by INEC, said the development is a call on the electoral body to investigate the apparent cases of underage registration and do further follow-up to sanitise the list.

She said: “One of the allegations in this process that has to do with the display of voter register is the registration of underaged persons. On the register, we are seeing people who are clearly underage to vote. But one of the things we want INEC to do is to confirm the validity of the age provided by those involved. We call on INEC to investigate these cases, especially those that seem very apparent.

“We know that there are people with a small stature but may not be underage. INEC, however, has the responsibility of investigating these apparent cases and doing further follow-up.”

Recall that the Commission’s spokesperson, Festus Okoye, had on Tuesday asked Nigerians to help INEC identify underage persons on the register published on its website.

According to Okoye, the essence of the preliminary voter register is for Nigerians to make claims, raise objections and identify biodata errors.

“The essence of putting out this is for Nigerians to help the Commission further clean up the voter register. We want people to look at the register and assist the Commission to check whether their names have been properly spelt; whether their personal particulars have been properly captured; whether some pictures are not upside down; whether there are still names of deceased persons on the register; whether there are obviously underage persons on the register so that we can correct them.

“We cannot claim, in all honesty, that the register does not have errors. If the lawmakers believe that the register should not have errors or challenges, they won’t have provided in section 19, subsection 1-3 that such a register should be displayed for people to make claims, objections or lay complaints,” he added.

Mbamalu urged INEC to make the process of making claims and objections easier for citizens. “There are some locations where revision officers were not present at the ward level because, by the INEC guidelines, revision officers are supposed to be at the ward to take complaints. There are also some locations where the registers were not displayed and INEC has not provided any information for the voters where their registers would be displayed.

“While we know that INEC has an online portal, we know that it is not every Nigerian that is tech-savvy. There are communities where they will prefer the physical process. We call on INEC to ensure that the registers are displayed at ward level and ensure that revision officers are present to take claims and objections from citizens.”

Chairman, of Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said INEC must sanction officials found wanting in the registration of underage persons. He warned that the development could affect the credibility of the polls if left unchecked.

Rafsanjani said: “INEC has committed itself to ensure that underage registration would not happen. So, if we are seeing this kind of thing, it is an opportunity for INEC to re-commit itself and ensure that it eliminates duplication and underage registration.

“The truth is that INEC has tried to show to Nigerians that they won’t register underage voters but if it happens, it means that some internal staff of INEC have conspired to do something wrong.”

But Okoye told The Guardian that officials found culpable in aiding and abetting multiple and double registrations as well as underage registrations would be sanctioned.

He noted that INEC has provided the protocol and guidelines for claims and objections and these are set out on the INEC website.

“The Commission has also deployed Revision Officers and Assistant Revision Officers in all the Local Government Areas and Registration Centres and they will assist members of the public make their claims and filing their objections,” he added.

On the absence of revision officers in some registration centres, Okoye said the Commission was aware of the fact that some centres do not have Revision Officers. He advised that those aware of such centres should contact the Electoral Officer of the Local Government Area and action will definitely be taken.

FOLLOWING the spate of violence at the ongoing campaigns and attack on facilities belonging to INEC, the chairman of the Electoral Forum, Prof. Adebayo Olukoshi, has warned politicians against undermining the unity of the country.

The research professor at the Wits School of Governance, University of the Witswatersrand, South Africa, urged political actors not to take actions or make decisions that would make Nigeria a problem to West Africa, rather than a beacon of hope for the sub-region.

He stated this at the launch of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) Node, Nigeria, in Abuja yesterday.

WACSI, conceptualised by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), will act as a liaison office and connect Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and their partners to the various service offerings provided by WACSI.

Olukoshi, while speaking on the role of CSOs, said democracy is under severe threat in West Africa and as such, must be able to respond to the many discontents of democratisation in the region.

The former Director of Africa and West Asia of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) said: “We must ensure that however it goes and whatever form the polls may take, the unity of this country is not in any way undermined by actors in the field.

“Secondly, the importance of Nigeria, not only with regards to the responsibility that it has to its citizens but also for the rest of Western and Central Africa in particular, is one that must be uppermost in the minds of all of the political actors, as not to take actions or make decisions of a kind that will make Nigeria a problem to West Africa, rather than a beacon of hope for the sub-region.”

Speaking earlier, Executive Director, WACSI, Nana Afadzinu, said the 2023 elections would pose a key test of the strength of the country’s democracy.

She said: “This is a critical time in our democratic journey and the role of civil society is even more heightened and questioned in the response to the post-pandemic challenges, global economic crisis, and growing discontent among our people as many express their angst with the lack of dividends from our democratic project.

“In the past two years, this situation has created fertile ground for the return of military coups in some parts of West Africa. One has to mention what has also been termed constitutional coups, the manipulation of Constitutions by incumbent governments to prolong their terms of office. These are clear signals that there is democratic retrogression.”

SOurce: Guardian.ng

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