2023: 95 million voters to elect next president — INEC

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BY BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, ABUJA

Uba Group

Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof Mahmood Yakubu has assured global observers of his Commission’s resolve to conduct a free, fair, transparent and credible election in 2023. He also revealed that the next president of the country would be elected by 95 million registered voters.

Prof Yakubu made gave the assurance
at an event organized by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) at the NED Headquarters, Washington DC, United States of America, on Tuesday 11th October 2022.

He said “The election is significant because the incumbent President is not eligible to run, this being his second and final term. There are 18 political parties in the race to produce the next President to be elected by 95 million voters. We had over 84 million registered voters in 2019. But with last Continuous Registration of Voters (CVR), we are going to add at least 10 million Nigerians and that will take the Register of Voters to 95 million.

“It’s exactly 136 days to the 2023 General Election. It is the seventh successive general election since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria 23 years ago in 1999. This is the longest unbroken period of democracy and democratic elections since independence from British colonial rule 62 years ago in 1960. We’ve never had this long spell of unbroken period of democracy, democratic governance and elections.

“I say this and I won’t be tired of saying it to an audience like this: In West Africa, there are 15 countries including Nigeria. But the total number of registered voters in the 14 countries combined is 73 million. In Nigeria, it’s going to be 95 million. So, there will be 22 million more voters in Nigeria than the whole of West Africa put together. Each time Nigerian goes to the polls, it’s like the whole of West Africa voting. And these 95 million citizens will vote in 176, 846 polling units”.

The INEC Boss said, “Beyond the presidential election, governorship elections will also hold in 28 out of the 36 states of the country. In eight states, elections are held off season but there will also be elections for all 109 Senatorial districts in the country, 360 federal constituencies, 993 state constituencies and the Presidential, making a total of 1,491 constituencies for which 18 political parties are sponsoring 12,163 candidates.

“Their names, ages, disability status, academic qualifications, the party they are representing, the constituency they are contesting in are all on our website for both the national and state elections.

“The timetable released by the Commission in February this year identified 14 critical activities to be accomplished by the Commission leading to the election day. So far, nine out the 14 activities have been successfully accomplished and campaign by political parties and candidates has commenced nationwide.”

He dislosed that the Commission learnt a lot of lessons from the general election conducted in 2015 and 2019 as well as the 103 off cycle elections and bye-elections since the 2019 general elections. “We have introduced innovations to increase transparency and ensure credibility of the electoral process. The new Electoral Act with its many progressive provisions has provided legal backing to the innovations. On this note, I’ll like to appreciate the civil society organisations and other stakeholders for the intense advocacy leading to the passage of the new law.

“We were there before and almost there in 2018, but there was no new law passed, which made it very, very difficult for the Commission, because we were waiting for the Electoral Act to be passed, it wasn’t passed. For that reason we couldn’t conclude our Regulations and Guidelines, which draws from the provisions of the Electoral Act and we could also not speedily conclude our manuals for the training of ad-hoc staff. But we are very happy that this one has been concluded long before the election. It gives us ample time for planning.

“These innovations are now provided for and protected by law, especially those leveraging on technology to improve voter registration, voter accreditation, result management and the promotion of inclusivity for marginalized persons such as women, youths and persons with disability.

“For the first time in the history of voter registration in Nigeria, citizens were given the opportunity to commence their registration online, book an appointment at their convenience to complete the registration physically at designated centres by going there to capture their facial and fingerprint biometrics. Those who don’t have access to the internet have the option of completing their registration physically at the designated centres.

“The online option was introduced on the recommendation of many stakeholders, particularly young persons. Some of them approached the Commission and said that “if you can introduce something online so that we don’t have to go the physical centres, it will be very helpful.”

He added that “The Commission designed the portal. It was very helpful for us in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the protocol of social distancing. It wasn’t just for the purpose of registration that we introduced a portal. We introduced other portals for things like accreditation of observers, media organisations, nomination of candidates by political parties and nomination of polling agents by parties.

“It has also helped us to reduce the level of litigation arising particularly from the conduct of political parties because now it’s an interaction between the party agents and the machines and anytime you logged in and out, there is a time stamp, so you can’t argue. If you argue, we’ll produce the evidence of what happened. And at 6pm on a fixed date,, the portal automatically shuts down. If any party has any problem, it’s not the Commission,” he said.

The electoral umpires noted further that many citizens seized the opportunity of the online registration during the period of one year between June 2021 and June 2022 when that option lasted. Similarly, the physical registration continued simultaneously with the online pre-registration for a period of one year including a one-month extension in response to appeal by citizens. At the end of the exercise, 12, 298, 944 citizens completed their registration. This is more than the entire voter population in the Republic of Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde. We are such a huge country of great potentials.”

He stated that the INEC has completed the cleaning up of the data using the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) that combines the fingerprint and the facial authentication of registered voters. Those who registered twice, those who are underage or those who had no reason to register as provided by law have been weeded out. The exercise was completed a few days ago.

“CBN"

“We have not even shared the information with Nigerians, but we have 2.7 million invalid registrants and they have been weeded out. We’ll continue to take steps necessary to protect the integrity of the Register of Voters because it is fundamental to the conduct of elections. There can’t be credible elections without a credible register of voters.

“Nigerians have been asking the Commission, when you finish registration and clean-up of the data, what about our Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVC)? This will be available for new registrants by next month – November. We are looking at early to the middle of the month to make the cards available. We have already printed over 50 percent of the cards but we haven’t delivered them to the states yet.

“As we clean the data, we also print the cards. Nigerians who have registered should be rest assured that they will have their cards ahead of the general election. We also need to do so in good time because the law now requires us to publish the number of cards collected per polling unit.

“On the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), what we have done basically is to retire our good old Smart Card Reader (SCR). The SCR by definition reads the card. Each biometric card has a chip embedded inside it and in the SCR, you have the sam card. So, there’s a handshake between the sam card and the sim card which enables the SCR to extract the voter’s information from the Permanent Voter Card. But what we have done with the BVAS is to domicile the data of registered voters in a polling unit in the BVAS. So yes, the BVAS also reads the card, but there are a variety of ways of reading the card.

“If you enter the Voter Identification Number (VIN) of the voter, his/her information pops up. But even if you confirm that the voter is registered and his name has been certified by the BVAS, he or she must go through biometric accreditation using the fingerprint and if this fails, the option of facials is used. And this is also guaranteed by law.”