The dust seems not to have settled on the second phase of the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise recently concluded by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The CVR, which held in 11 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, threw up a deluge of complaints from many eligible voters who felt disenfranchised because they could not register within the period set aside for the exercise. Anambra, Bauchi, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Kwara, Ondo, Oyo, Sokoto and Yobe States were involved in the registration process which ended on August 25.
In virtually all the states involved, numerous problems such as hitches with logistics by INEC, and the weather, led to crowd clusters that prevented a lot of eligible voters from registering at the designated centres, while many others could not obtain their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
However, in spite of agitations in some quarters for an extension of the exercise, INEC declined to oblige the request. Instead, the commission said it would soon announce a date and registration points at its local council offices where eligible voters could go and register. The electoral agency further explained that the likelihood of multiple registration largely informed its decision not to extend the deadline. It also said that many people who had relocated since the last registration exercise, who only needed to apply for their registration status to be transferred to new registration centres, also turned up to register afresh, thereby increasing the number of registrants.
The reasons given by INEC for the crowds at many of the registration centres are feeble. The impression that has been created in many of the places that the CVR took place is that the electoral agency was not well prepared, and was therefore overwhelmed by the large number of people seeking registration.
There is no disputing the fact that the electoral commission recorded success in the conduct of recent governorship elections in the country, but we cannot over-emphasise the importance of the conduct of a seamless voter registration exercise to credible elections. In this regard, INEC should redress the shortcomings in the voter registration exercise and make PVCs available to eligible voters without undue stress.
Considering the crucial role that a credible voters’ register plays in strengthening the electoral process, INEC should not allow logistical problems with voter registration to stand in the way of delivering transparent elections next year. A hitch-free registration exercise will help the cause of free and fair elections in the country.
Already, there are allegations that a section of the country has been unduly favoured in the recent creation of 30,000 additional polling units in the country by INEC. Some interest groups have alleged that the North has much more of the additional polling units than the South. The alleged imbalance needs to be investigated and, if found to be true, redressed. However, the objective of not having more than 500 voters at a polling centre should be firmly kept in view. Every section of the country should be seen to be fairly treated in all the steps leading to next year’s elections to win the confidence of the people in the electoral process, and avoid voter apathy
It is necessary to remind INEC of the need to be impartial at all times. The agency must strive to reflect federal character in its decisions, including those relating to personnel matters and polling units. Allegations of lopsidedness in any of these areas should be addressed. No complaint should be seen as too trivial to warrant INEC’s attention. In other words, if there are structural or institutional arrangements that favour a candidate or political party, above the others, now is the time for INEC to rectify them. It should not wait till elections are just a few weeks or days away.
Altogether, the review of the voters’ register should not be allowed to suffer a setback. The best way to avoid the glitches that attended the CVR in some states is to make registration of voters for elections a continuous exercise. Eligible voters should be able to register to vote at designated centres at any time of the year that they become qualified to do so, and this, without let or hindrance.
Beyond this, there is need for regular voter education as well as training for security and other personnel assigned to man polling units and other electoral activities. Everything that is necessary should be done to ensure that avoidable lapses are not allowed to mar the 2015 polls.