The display of voters’ list in all the polling units across the country ended last week. The week- long exercise embarked upon by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was designed to provide would-be voters the opportunity to ascertain the status of their registration. Not surprisingly, there were reports of missing names and even names of the dead in the register. According to reports, the commission deleted close to 300,000 names that were supposedly erroneously captured.
The exercise was in compliance with the provisions of Section 20 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and was aimed at providing citizens the opportunity to help the Commission clean up the register to be used for the 2019 general elections.
A few days to the commencement of the exercise, the 300,000 names that were removed from the register followed an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) that was carried out on the biometric data of registered voters. It was part of the process to ensure that the register was authentic and credible enough so as to assist the commission identify names of ineligible voters. Citizens were expected to take advantage of the exercise to make claims and objections and, where necessary, draw the attention of the commission to any ineligible voter’s name.
The INEC register of voters is assumed to be the largest data base of citizens in Nigeria containing names, photographs and biometric details. On that basis, it is believed to be a national asset that should be protected and perfected. Citizens identifying with the register and their involvement in its authentication is crucial to the electoral process. Now that the exercise has ended, the Commission should do well to proceed with the production of a clean copy with which the elections will be conducted.
The compilation of the list of voters is part of INEC’s planning stage. Having been concluded, we expect the electoral body to embark on a process of implementing a line-up of activities that will climax with the elections proper which commences in February 2019. While the exercise lasted, political parties and politicians were not seen to have provided guidance, assistance, education or encouragement for the electorate to participate in the exercise. Being the eventual beneficiaries of the election, it was expected that they ought to have been interested in the authentication process that will produce a list that will ensure that, on Election Day, there will be little need for them to question the list.
Curiously, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) which is supposed to mount an enlightenment campaign to educate voters on the importance of participating in the verification exercise was missing in action while the exercise lasted. There were no enlightenment campaigns or jingles to arouse the consciousness of the electorate to the exercise. Ordinarily, these should have been the responsibilities of the agency.
Nonetheless, INEC is carrying on with its plans and programmes. Between November 9 and 10, it released statistics of political parties that nominated candidates for governorship elections to be conducted in 29 states and the State Houses of Assembly across the states.
In the opinion of this newspaper, the preparation for the election is such that INEC alone cannot handle it if the nation is to have a transparent and credible poll. Politicians, especially, owe it a duty to themselves to collaborate with the commission to weed out any unwholesome interference that can dent the integrity of the records and by extension the acceptability of the outcome of the polls. Rather than engaging in debilitating and needless squabbles that keep drawing the polity backward, political actors ought to be at the forefront of voter enlightenment and sensitisation.
If this is done, the Commission will be concerned with the responsibility of enlightening the people simultaneously as they are carrying out programmes related to the electoral process.
As the February 2019 date for general elections draws nearer, all the stakeholders, including security agencies, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and political parties need to play their statutory roles effectively and cooperate with the INEC to ensure the conduct of free, fair and credible elections.
It is imperative to stress that elections, in particular, preparations for it, are a collective enterprise that should attract a sustained attention of all stakeholders. Admitted that INEC is driving the process, that is as far as it goes. In real terms, the elections are a national enterprise that must have all hands on deck.