The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has declared its readiness to investigate and expose those behind the reported cases of underage voting that trailed the local government elections conducted in Kano State recently. In an address by the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, at the Election Project Plan Implementation workshop held at Intercontinental Hotel, Lagos, yesterday, the electoral body said it was putting modalities in place not only to guarantee credible election but also to ensure the timely readiness of the 2019 election budget.
Speaking on the alleged underage voting in the last local council polls in Kano, the INEC chief executive said the commission would leave no stone unturned in its efforts to unmask those behind such inconsistency if there was really any. He said: “By way of clarification, I wish to state that the commission is aware of the discussion around the voter register and the concern expressed in certain quarters on the possible prevalence of ineligible registrants on the voter register.
The commission is equally concerned for the simple reason that the credibility of an election draws from the credibility of the voter register. “The eligibility for registration as a voter in Nigeria is clearly defined in Section 12 (1) of the Electoral Act. This includes citizenship, residence and the attainment of the mandatory age of 18 years. Recent reports of violations by underage persons following the local government elections in Kano State are deeply disturbing.” It is true that the State Independent Electoral Commission had requested from INEC a copy of the voter register. I can confirm also that a soft copy of the register was made available to the state. The voter register in Kano State is the one used for the 2015 general election.
In July 2016, INEC used the same register to conduct a State Assembly by-election in Minjibir Constituency which has 78,210 registered voters spread across 126 polling units clustered in 11 Registration Areas (wards). ’’In that election conducted by INEC, no single incidence of underage voter was recorded.
What therefore happened in the last local government election conducted by the State Electoral Commission? Was the voter register actually used or not? the commission had asked. ’’We wish to assure Nigerians that the matter will be fully investigated. A national commissioner from INEC will lead a team to Kano next week involving technical staff of the commission drawn from the Voter Registry (VR), Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and the Electoral Operations (EOps) departments for an immediate and comprehensive investigation.” Prof. Yakubu promised that the electoral body would make its findings public.
Meanwhile, ahead of the 2019 general elections, INEC said it had already developed and validated the Strategic Plan and Strategic Programme of Action 2017-2021 in full consultation with all stakeholders. It said in order to implement the plan, it has, among others, developed detailed activities and assigned specific responsibilities and timelines for the diverse activities and processes for the 2019 General Elections under the Election Project Planning (EPP) with the aim of achieving the timely conclusion of the work of the 2019 election budget, which would be presented for the approving authority for consideration and funding by next week.
The INEC boss said the aim of the agency was to deliver cost-efficient but high quality general elections in line with global standards. To clear scepticism from some about the commission’s credibility as a fair umpire, he said the commission would also ensure that all stakeholders are carried along to create a level playing field for all candidates and political parties in administering the 2019 general elections and to ensure accountability and responsibility of all its personnel.
The commission further reiterated that it was doing everything within its strength in collaboration with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) and directors to finalise the EPP and work out a clear direction for the implementation of the step-by-step activities to guide the attainment of the objectives of the Strategic Plan and Strategic Programme of Action. It said it is obvious that time is no longer on the side of the commission, thus it is working around the clock with all stakeholders within and outside the commission to give Nigerians the a more desirable election in 2019. “There is no time to waste.
The 2019 general election is already around the corner. We must mobilise all members of staff to be prepared to play their respective roles. “I wish to reiterate that the commission will continue to take all necessary steps to ensure that the Resident Electoral Commissioners have the necessary support to implement the EPP. Activities ranging from the assessment of current election infrastructure to the acquisition and deployment of sensitive and non-sensitive materials need to take place as specified,” he said.