Nigeria: Under-Age Voters - Litmus Test for INEC

Nigerian youths shut down national assembly gate
19 February 2018

There is something about voter's register that makes it central in the calculation of election riggers. If a politician or political party is able to connive with the national electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to swing data in the register to their side, the opponents, no matter how poised they are to win, are woefully doomed. With the register, politicians and conniving electoral officers inflate and deflate the number of votes recorded and with it determine who wins or loses outside the genuine number of votes cast. INEC, which has the sole constitutional right to compile the voters register, if it suites or serves the purpose of those, well-placed enough to influence the commission, can inundate the register with ineligible aliens, the under-aged and turn a blind eye as they vote.

It is a welcome development that INEC chairman, Professor Mahood Yakubu, has seen the need to take another look at the country's voter's register and has further taken a decision to implement a nationwide probe of it if only to re-establish its integrity. If this is meticulously done, we may not have a repeat of what happened in 2015 where, in some states, the number of votes cast bizarrely tallied with the number of voters recorded during voter's registration exercise that was concluded about two years earlier. Such a curious tally leaves one to conclude that no one among those who registered to vote in such states died within the two years space, relocated, was indisposed or refrained from voting. It will be deceitful to say that all these would have happened in the affirmative, unless voters in those states were either extra-humans or immune from human frailties.

Nigerians hope that the proposed INEC's interrogation of the country's voter's register will assuage the anxiety raised by the distasteful images of alleged under-aged voters in the recent Kano State council poll. It is also reassuring that the chairman of the national electoral commission has additionally proposed to institute a probe team into the allegation. The commission's drive in this direction is made more compelling by the fact that it was its voter's register for the 2015 general election that the local electoral commission in Kano State obtained and used for the council election.

In carrying out the probe, the commission may find useful the report of two independent monitors in the Kano election: Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) and Action Aid International Nigeria, which in their reports, corroborated the allegation of underage voting in the Kano council election.

A statement issued by CITAD clearly noted that underage voting was witnessed in the election in which INEC has confirmed that the voters were drawn from its voters register. Given that the INEC chairman has publicly disclosed that he was perturbed by the allegation and the indicting images of under-age voters, it would be helpful if the proposed INEC's investigation team works in sync with the mentioned independent monitors of the Kano election in determining the integrity or otherwise of the commission's voter's register in the state.

Nigerians by no means do not expect a picture-perfect election delivery in 2019 but some obvious freckles that have become permanent fixtures in Nigeria's election administration and which perennially leave the national electoral body in credibility deficit need to be tackled. Tackling them requires will that must come from no other person at this period than Professor Yakubu himself.

We recall that in the nation's democratic journey, one of the things that has continued to stick out like sore thumb in the Nigerian political space is election rigging. There is no shade and manner it hasn't taken since independence in 1960.

In our opinion, the propensity to manipulate the electoral process starts with the voter's register given the fact that democracy is a game of numbers. What used to be was bare-faced inflation of figures. Now the nation is confronted with a deliberate violation of the constitution itself by political interest groups intent on winning by hook or crook. The nation's Holy Grail stipulates an age limit for voters but the provision is now under threat as INEC admitted, publicly, that its agents are being threatened and blackmailed to look the other way while the rules are taken undue advantage of.

We are enamoured by the pledge of Prof Yakubu to investigate this development that poses a real danger to the democratic culture the nation is striving to entrench and hope that it is nipped in the bud before it festers.

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