Voter registration is a critical part of the electoral process. It ensures that eligible citizens in a country are afforded the right and tool to participate fully in electing political leaders. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is statutorily empowered to provide the electorate a platform to exercise their franchise through voter registration. This it is doing through its Continuous Voter Registration exercise. It enables those who had not registered as voters in the past to do so ahead of the next election cycle, this time in 2019. It also caters for those whose situations have changed since they did their registration, mostly because they have relocated from the area they carried out the exercise. Another group that needs this window are youths who have reached voting age after the last biometric voter registration was carried out and who are now eligible to participate in the process henceforth.
In the last general elections, the turnout of voters on election days was not particularly impressive. Of the possible 120 million voting age population, only about 70 million validated their eligibility by obtaining their voter cards. Of this number, only 30 million voted in the presidential election and only 15 million voters made the choice of who presides over the affairs 180 million Nigerians. That is clearly a small fraction. This apathy is not good enough for the development of democracy in the country.
INEC is said to have 80 million voters on its register and is targeting a total of 85 million for 2019, with the balance expected to have registered by December, in line with the guidelines. Also, about eight million PVCs are yet to be collected by their owners. In the past, abuses of the electoral process, mainly the unrestrained and blatant rigging of elections, may have put off many Nigerians from taking active part. But the story has changed and reforms of the electoral processes have restored integrity, to a great extent, to the ballot box.
Recent events in the country have served to spur many more Nigerians into wanting to participate more actively in choosing their next set of leaders. Already, even those who usually stood aloof and watched have suddenly roused themselves. This is due, largely, to the robust debates on the performances of the current administration. Expectedly, there has been massive sensitisation from several quarters urging people to go and obtain their voter cards. The campaign has never been more ardent than now from various channels – INEC, political parties, aspirants, the media, especially social media, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), faith based organisations, schools, markets places, fuel queues, homes – name them. Everywhere you turn, you hear people being encouraged to go and get voter cards, and that grumbling at home, ventilating their disappointments on air and on social media cannot effect any leadership change, unless through the power of the voter card.
Happily, people are heeding this call. They are turning out in their numbers at designated centres to register and collect their Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs). Unfortunately, they are having a hard, frustrating time getting service from the electoral body. The process is slow, difficult and burdensome. Many have reported spending hours and whole days trying to carry out the registration but to no avail. Some go to the registration centres before daybreak and queue for a whole day and still come away without getting the sought after instrument. This is due to the grossly insufficient number of registration centres, machines and personnel deployed for the exercise.
For some, the centres are inaccessible due to distance. It is reported that the CVR centres are domiciled at local government headquarters. Some local councils do not even have a registration centre, so residents have to go to neighbouring local councils to enrol. This leaves aspiring voters with the burden of travelling several kilometres for the exercise. Many simply give up. The result is that millions of eligible voters, who are desirous of exercising their voting rights, are going to be disfranchised through no fault of theirs.
Another troubling phenomenon with the exercise is the report that in certain places, persons are refused registration by local officials if they are of a different geographical background and are deemed not likely to vote for the preferred candidate(s) of the locals. Such persons are simply refused registration. This is unacceptable in a democratic setting.
All these frustrations inhibit people from exercising their political rights as guaranteed in the constitution. We recognise that INEC’s tasks are heavy and it is doing its utmost to fulfil its mandate, but it must rise up to this challenge with voter registration. It should look into the possibility of creating more registration outlets in towns and communities and deploying more machines and workers to administer this process seamlessly.
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