Southern leaders, yesterday, asked the National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega to resign, accusing him of plotting to thwart the 2015 general elections by creating additional 30,000 polling units. Jega was accused of allocating 70 per cent of the additional polling units to the North.
Led by former Vice President Alex Ekwueme; one time Federal Commissioner for Information and South-South Leader, Chief Edwin Clark; Senator Femi Okurounmu and Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi, the southern leaders on the banner of the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly, SNPA , said Jega was promoting an ethnic agenda by favouring the North against the South, with the North getting 21,615 polling booths and the South being allocated 8,412 units.
However, Jega, yesterday, said the additional polling units had not been created.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Commission has not yet created the additional polling units. It has simply approved the framework and guidelines to facilitate the creation of these additional polling units by the Resident Electoral Commissioners and the state officers of INEC,” he said at a press briefing in Abuja.
This came as South-West leaders backed President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election in 2015 and asked Jega to stop the creation of the additional polling units in the interest of the country.
In a communiqué issued at the end of a two-day emergency joint meeting of the Elders Council and Management Committee of the SNPA, held at Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, southern leaders urged President Jonathan to urgently reorganise the composition and structure of INEC if Nigerians must be provided with the platform for conducting free and fair elections in 2015.
In a six-page statement signed by Dr. Alex Ekwueme (co-chair, South-East); Chief Edwin Clark (Co-ordinating Chairman, South-South) and Senator Femi Okurounmu, (leader, South-West delegation), they said:
“The Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly condemns in the strongest terms the creation of additional 30,000 polling units which have been lopsidedly allocated in favour of the North. We do not subscribe to it. We do not see the necessity for it and we stand stoutly opposed to the process of its creation as it lacks any fundamental basis and therefore we do not accept it.
“We have lost confidence in Professor Attahiru Jega as chairman of INEC as we cannot vouch for his neutrality in midwifing the 2015 general elections. Since he has shown his obvious inclination to ethnic chauvinism and protectionism, Professor Jega does not deserve to remain on the INEC chair a day longer.
“The Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly, therefore, demands the immediate resignation of Professor Attahiru Jega as chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission. We call on President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, to, without further delay, reorganize the composition and structure of INEC to provide Nigerians the platform for free and fair elections.
“We recognize the determination of President Jonathan to leave a legacy for free and fair electoral contest as we have witnessed in the elections conducted under his watch. Since Professor Jega has shown the potential to thwart the noble objective of free and fair elections in 2015 to which Mr. President has shown appreciable commitment, he does not deserve to remain as the electoral umpire a day longer.
“Who does Professor Jega think he is deceiving? As a Professor of Political Science, if this concocted manipulation of polling units is his clever design to give undue political advantage to the North, having clearly in mind the 2015 presidential election, we wish to remind him without equivocation that he has failed woefully in his decrepit mission. May we hastily remind him that he has lost his credibility, if there was indeed any, and he has lost the trust, confidence and respect of Nigerians. We do not need the lenses of prophets to remind Professor Jega that he is, as a matter of fact, presently doing overtime on the INEC chair having shown his tendencies for ethnic bigotry, partisan parochialism, and primordial chauvinism.”
They continued: “Nigerians were rudely awakened to a shocking and indefensible announcement by the electoral umpire, INEC to the effect that additional 30,000 polling units have been created and allocated to states using the parameters of proportional representation and equality. According to Professor Jega’s INEC, the arbitrary creation of additional polling units to bring the total polling units in the country to 150,000 will purportedly serve the purpose of: a) de-congesting the polling units ahead of the 2015 general elections; and easing the logistics challenges of the Commission during elections.
“As plausible as these reasons may sound to the architects of this voodoo and arbitrary allocation of polling units, the people of Southern Nigeria and indeed the Southern Nigerian Peoples Assembly view this invidious act as a script perfectly crafted for Professor Jega to implement, in continuation of the well-known hegemonic agenda by enemies of our hard won democracy. The people of Southern Nigeria are not only appalled but strongly reject Professor Jega’s claims and averment, whatever persuasions may have motivated this very callous, insensitive, disparate, oppressive, and in-consonant decision to give the North a clear political advantage over the South contrary to the reality on ground.
“Before Professor Attahiru Jega’s sudden and whimsical reconfiguration which had no historical and scientific foundation, the existing 119,973 polling units were delineated on the premise of the about 73 million registered voters. Despite Prof. Jega’s claim of overcrowded polling units, Nigerians have been witnesses to the conduct of very successful, peaceful, hitch-free elections recently in Ekiti and Osun states. But given the perennial claims of ghost voters which have been the cause of electoral fraud, INEC introduced what it called the Automated Finger Identification System (AFIS) and the outcome has ostensibly been a reduction of the registered voters to 57 million.
“While Nigerians welcome this enchanting development that is intended to usher in sustainable era of free and fair elections, a fact that has been aided by the distribution of permanent voter’s cards (PVCs), Professor Jega, with one Dr. Yakubu as an accomplice, decided to assail our sensibilities by saying a reduced voter strength of 57 million registered voters need more polling units of 150,000 as against 119,973 polling units when the total registered voters were reportedly 73 million.
“Professor Jega cannot exculpate himself from being a proponent of ethnic agenda; we are the least surprised that he has been recruited to perfect the ploy of some persons from parts of this country to truncate our nascent democracy. With the indefensible employment of proportional representation and equality as parameters, Professor Jega decided not to equilibrate but to marginalize the entire Southern Nigeria by arbitrarily and capriciously allocating 21,615 polling units to the North as against 8,412 polling units to Southern Nigeria.
“Whereas we have clearly argued the lack of need for any additional polling units given the reduced number of registered voters consequent upon the Automated Fingers Identification System (AFIS), creating a phantom 30,000 polling units and whimsically allocating them to favour the North is the height of insult to the people of Southern Nigeria.
“From what Professor Jega and Dr. Yakubu published, the following additional polling units were allocated with impunity: North West – 7,906; North East – 5,291; North Central – 6,318; South East – 1,167; South West – 4,160; South South – 3,087 on the basis of 15% equality and 85% proportional representation. Juxtaposed against the earlier polling units as shown hereunder, we are both perplexed and anxious as to the true import of Professor Jega INEC’s action.
“If with registered voters of 13,188,864 the South West had 24,673 polling units as compared to North West registered voters of 18,607,496 with polling units of 29,961, (and this gives a proportionate variance of 29 per cent for registered voters and 17.7 per cent for number of polling units), what was then responsible for the 47.4 per cent disparity in the number of new polling units allocated between the North West and South West if the claim of proportional representation holds? Or how could FCT that has only 892,628 registered voters with 562 polling units be compared to South East with 7,178,185 registered voters and 15, 529 polling units (giving a proportionate disparity of 87.6% for registered voters and 96% for polling units in favour of the South East) suddenly be allocated only 1,167 polling units compared to 1,200 polling units for FCT? How does this advance Professor Jega’s theory of proportional representation?
“Given the above elucidation, we are constrained to ask the following questions:
lGiven the reduced number of actual registered voters to 57 million, how can INEC justify increasing the number of polling units, particularly for states like Zamfara which total registered number of voters had been reduced by more than half and yet allocated additional 1,000 polling units? Is this not an invitation to rigging?
*How can INEC justify that the North-West and FCT put together have more of the additional polling units than the entire Southern zones?
*How can INEC explain that the North-East zone from which people are fleeing in large numbers get more of the additional polling units than any of the zones in the South?
*How can the additional polling units for the South-East be so minimal when it is a well known fact that the Igbos have been relocating back to the South-East from the North East since 2011?
*Is Prof. Jega not giving fillip to conjectures that there is a tacit design to “clean-off” registered voters from areas (particularly the South East) that are perceived to be strong holds of the present administration ahead of the 2015 general election?”
Speaking on the issue yesterday, Jega, who justified the need for more polling booths, however, said:
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Commission has not yet created the additional polling units. It has simply approved the framework and guidelines to facilitate the creation of these additional Polling Units by the Resident Electoral Commissioners and the State Officers of INEC.”
He explained that INEC had already, in collaboration with other government agencies, especially the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, OSGOF, produced maps with the location of existing polling units nationwide. He further stated that this was done in order to provide the states a rational, scientific basis for the practical exercise of re-configuring and locating additional polling units.
According to him: “It is only when the states have used the framework and guidelines and have proposed the new polling units for each state, that the Commission will create the polling units.”
Jega explained that the basic aim of the exercise “we are presently undertaking is to ease the access of voters to the ballot box in the 2015 general elections and beyond, by de-congesting over-crowded polling units and dispersing voters as evenly as possible among all the polling units; locating polling units more effectively within commuting distances of voters, given that movement is usually restricted on Election Day; relocating the polling units from private houses, and such other unsuitable places to public buildings or where this is not possible, to open public spaces where tents can be provided; locating the polling units inside classrooms or such other suitable enclosures, in line with international best practices; splitting large polling units such that they have an average of 500 registered voters; and creating additional polling units to cater for the splitting of large polling units as well as new settlements not serviced by any existing polling units.”
Throwing more light on why it became necessary to create new polling units across the country the INEC boss said that “the present structure of polling units in the country was created in 1996 by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON), which created 120,000 polling units and 8,809 wards. This structure of polling units has been used for the 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011 general elections. We are all witnesses to the congested polling units on election days in 2011 and since then in many parts of the country.”
He further explained that from 1996 to date, there has been an exponential growth in Nigeria’s population and severe demographic shifts resulting from new settlements in major urban areas.
He said: “For example, in 1996 when the current polling unit structure was established, the estimated population of the country was about 110 million. In 2006, after a national population census, the population was 140 million. In 2011, when the voters’ registration was undertaken, the population was estimated to be about 160 million. Today the population is estimated to be around 175m. This represents nearly 60 per cent rise in the population since 1996.” – Vanguard.