The Independent National Electoral Commission has said it is preparing for about 95 million voters in next year’s general election, but warns that rising insecurity in some parts of the country threatens polls.
The chairman, INEC, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, said this Friday in Lagos at a forum with members of the Nigeria Guild of Editors.
He stated: “INEC is preparing for the 2023 general election for approximately 95 million voters. Yes, we now have 84 million voters; we registered 12 million new. None of the new registrants have been added to the registry. We are clearing the cash register.
“A few days ago, some people said they discovered so many fictitious names in the registry. When I heard that, I wondered, “Which register?” We didn’t even put it together. We are cleaning the data; so, how come someone already knows the register to be compiled by the commission? It is a very serious matter for us because it goes to the heart of credible elections.
“So some people talk out of mischief about what they don’t know. But let me assure the Nigerians that no name from recent rolling voter registration has been added to the electoral register. The law obliges us to clean the data, which we do. After that, Article 19, first paragraph, of the Elections Act says that we must open the register to Nigerians for claims and objections, so that the citizens can also help the commission to further clean the register.
“This will be done for at least a week in all 8,809 districts of the 774 municipalities in the country. We have not done this yet, but we will so that Nigerians have a chance to review the new registrants before adding them to the new registry. So there is no new register as such; we are still cleaning up.”
Yakubu noted that there had been a challenge with PVC collection, adding that the committee met this week with all of its local election commissioners and administrative secretaries in Lagos to devise strategies to ensure smooth distribution of the PVCs.
He said: “We really want to make it a pleasant experience for the citizens. For the new registration exercise, we have collected data including email addresses and phone numbers of those who have done so, including those in rural areas. We will reach them through text messages, emails or phone calls to tell them the specific locations where to pick up their cards.
“We will also activate the PVC collection portal. So those who are smart can click and know where to collect their PVCs. We are ready to make it a pleasant experience for citizens.”
Speaking about the importance of a credible electoral process, the INEC chief stated: “Elections are just one of many aspects of our democracy, but it is arguably the single most important indicator of our democracy. There can be no democracy without elections. Thus, democracy cannot exist without elections. But the importance of elections is not difficult to understand. In one day, the lives and livelihoods of at least 200 million people in Nigeria will be affected for better or for worse for the next four years. The beauty of democracy is that this decision, for better or for worse, is made by the people themselves.
“Now elections test a country’s collective capabilities and weaknesses to the limit. Election preparation, deployment and execution represent the most expensive mobilization that can take place in a country, be it in peacetime or war. Elections take place simultaneously in every nook and cranny, in every village and in every part of the country.”
He said the commission would deepen the deployment of appropriate technology to conduct elections and reassure citizens that the 2023 polls would be credible.
Yakubu stated, “Our vision for the 2023 general election is to hold one of the best general elections in Nigeria, which will be free, fair, credible, transparent, inclusive and verifiable.
“Not only will we continue to deepen the deployment of technology, but we will go for appropriate technology, because inappropriate technology can create its own problems.”
Threats to Polls
On possible threats to the conduct of the elections, the INEC chief said that in addition to the negative use of social media and the anti-democratic tendencies of politicians, the security situation in some parts of the country is a major concern.
Yakubu stated: “The first is the security situation in the country. We have to deploy in every nook and cranny of the country. We have spoken to the security forces and will continue to talk to them because it is their responsibility to secure the environment for the commission to use for elections. We are therefore monitoring the security situation in the country. In the last two elections, 2015 and 2019, insecurity was limited to one zone – the northeast – and that included three states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. This time it is more spread out. The security situation thus becomes a major challenge.
“The other is social media. The events of the past few days have propelled this idea home. There was a report that INEC PVCs were found in sewers and inappropriate places on social media. We have set up a committee and they are going to complete this investigation and interesting findings came out of that.
“But we are asking those who have made these disclosures, as a matter of patriotic responsibility, to deliver the supposedly discovered PVCs to any of our 774 local government offices or 36 state offices so that we can look at those maps and make some decisions. We’re still waiting for it and we’ve seen the clip mutate with varying locations.
“The third is the attitude of the politicians. You cannot have a thriving democracy without democrats. Sometimes I am amazed that when someone votes in an election, he or she immediately loses, he or she will say that his or her mandate has been stolen. But power in a democracy belongs to the people; you don’t get out of your house with it. So if you don’t get it, it must be stolen. So the attitude of the political class is another big challenge.”
Ad hoc employees
He said that despite the challenges, 176,846 locations across the country would be voted on next year, as the committee recruited 1.4 million ad hoc staff.
Yakubu added: “Any Nigerian who queues before 2.30pm will have the chance to vote, even if that means voting late into the night. Doing this now requires recruiting, training and deploying personnel several times the size of Nigeria’s entire armed forces. For the 2023 general election, we will deploy at least 1.4 million ad hoc staff, which is greater than the size of the Nigerian armed forces.
“We are going to use this number twice; first on February 25 for the national elections and on March 11 for the state elections. We are going to lead the elections in 2023 to 1,520 positions. So it is a huge undertaking.”
Despite the challenges, Yakubu promised the commission would conduct credible polls by 2023, adding, “We have deliberately deployed technology to make manipulation very difficult, if not impossible. People can view the results of their polling stations online from the comfort of their home. What follows next is the addition of the result at the various collection centers.
“The most important place during the election is the polling station; once you have protected the integrity of the process at the polling unit, all you need to do is protect the sorting processes.”
The INEC boss promised that the commission would stick to its schedule of activities before the elections.
Cost of elections
He also gave insight into why a lot of money goes to holding elections.
According to him, the costs of logistics, high-security ballots and staff allowances, among other things, are responsible for the huge funds spent on elections in Nigeria.
Yakubu stated: “In France, the ballot is like an A4 sheet, because it is unthinkable that anyone in France will take the ballot.
“But here in Nigeria, we print currency-quality ballots and entrust them to the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“The ballots are now being moved with all protocols and security according to the movement of the national currency, just to protect the process.
“This is not going to happen cheaply. So we are paying for a lack of trust in the system.”
He said the latest elections in Ghana, Kenya and Guinea-Bissau were more expensive than those in Nigeria when considering population per capita relative to cost.
The INEC chief explained: “The cost in Nigeria is, I think, $9 per head (N4,500) compared to what happens in other countries. Ours is not even the most expensive.
“The cost of elections in Nigeria in 2023 is N305 billion of the national budget of more than N17tn. The cost of elections is only 1.8 percent, not even two percent of the national budget.
“If we take away the technology costs, 60 percent of the cost of elections in Nigeria will be spent on logistics and personnel compensation.”
On electronic voting, Yakubu said the country was getting closer to achieving this goal, noting that several processes were involved.
On vote buying, the INEC chief said fighting the threat required the involvement of all stakeholders, adding that the commission had taken some steps to turn the tide and make it difficult.
Yakubu said there were about 161 days until the 2023 general election, adding that Nigeria could make it work as the commission is committed to electoral justice.
“We’ve made reforms that we believe took us out of Egypt and we will never go back,” he said.
Earlier, NGE chairman Mustpaha Isah told Yakubu that members of the Guild were willing to work with the committee to hold credible elections in 2023.
However, he stated that the partnership would not stop the media from monitoring the commission’s conduct and compliance with the country’s laws regarding the holding of elections.