Posted by News Express | 24 August 2013 | 6,254 times
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has failed the first test in connection with the forthcoming Anambra State governorship election, the International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law (Intersociety) has said.
The Onitsha, Anambra State-based group in a statement issued this afternoon declared the on-going voters’ registration exercise in the state a failure. The statement entitled “Continuous Voters’ Registration Exercise In Anambra State: How INEC Failed In Its Statutory Duties” was signed by Intersociety Board Chairman Emeka Umeagbalasi and Head, Publicity Desk, Comrade Justus Ijeoma. It says as follows:
The leadership of International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law is deeply concerned about the failure of the INEC-ordered Continuous Voters Registration – CVRs exercise and related issues in Anambra State of Nigeria.
The exercise is in preparation for the all-important governorship election in the State slated for 16th day of November, 2013. We had on 15th of August, 2013, raised several issues considered as fundamental determinants of the crucial poll. The issues so raised border on technical and legal bottlenecks needed to be judiciously and simply resolved for the credibility of the poll to be entrenched. On 21st of August, 2013, we spoke out again over the non-resolution of the problems complained of in relation to the ongoing exercise billed to end tomorrow, 25th of August, 2013.
Our advocacy campaigns for hitch-free continuous voters registration and revalidation exercise are in line with our Democracy & Good Governance Programme grounded in our vision. They are also in accordance with the global democracy best practices anchored on the doctrine of the Universal Adult Suffrage.
Elections stand rigged or brutally corrupted once the register of voters and its processes is tainted and corrupted.
The attitude of contemporary CSOs as in monitoring elections only on elections’ day is a major setback to the growth of our democracy especially in Nigeria. Effective poll monitoring starts from this critical period and not on poll’s day.
Anything short of this is politically sponsored and procured or a smokescreen approach tended to retire the European and North American-generated hard currency accounts with zero public impact. The issue of the status and credibility of the voters’ register and voting rights is so important that in the United States of America it has continued to dominate her national discourse to the extent that two of the most important issues placed in the country’s apex court for seminal determination are the twin issue of voting rights and immigration. The important issue of Electoral College in the country’s electoral code and culture is predicated on voters’ register, voting rights and voting constituency. The Barak Obama’s path to US presidency is also founded on his successful advocacy and pro bono campaigns for tens, if not hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised black voters, who were disenfranchised on technical and legal grounds.
In Anambra State of Nigeria, INEC’s technicalities predicated on policy confusion as well as high level of unpreparedness have robbed tens of thousands of voting Anambra residents of their justiciable voting rights.
INEC’s power to “register voters, compile, maintain, revise and update the voters’ register” “on continuous basis” is not in contention. Rather, what is highly in contention is its ability and competence to do such statutorily assigned duties. The Commission’s public relation management in the state is very abysmal. For instance, members of the Anambra public do not know, till date, how, where and when the Commission conducts its public interest business including “continuous voters’ registration and revalidation exercise”, ordered by Sections 9(1) and 10(1) of the Nigeria’s Electoral Act of 2010. The recent disqualification of Mr. Oseloka Obaze by his political party, from contesting the all-important Anambra governorship poll, on the ground of not having a voter’s card is a clear case in point. The said order of Sections 9(1) and 10(1) is unambiguously meant to capture the likes of Mr. Oseloka Obaze, who might have been outside the country when the parent exercise took place in 2010/2011; but for INEC’s abdication of the public-important duty, which the law ordered it to do on “continuous basis” or non-stop until 60 days to any poll date.
Until few weeks ago, Anambra INEC did not make available for Anambra public the verifiable numbers of polling centres and registered voters in the state. It was also difficult for us at Intersociety to get hold of any for us to verify, simplify and publicise same for the consumption and benefit of Anambra public. What we found online are distorted versions.
The Commission’s contact addresses in Anambra State including its physical address, telephone numbers, emails and website cannot be accessed online.
This is not to talk of other basic information of Anambra public importance. Till date, the numbers of polling centres and registered voters in the state, which it belatedly gave as “1,711, 061 and 4,608”, respectively have remained independently unverifiable. It is also not independently ascertained whether some polling centers said to be existing in shrines and forests, which INEC says it is verifying, are part of the 4,608 existing polling centers in Anambra State. In the area of the registered voters, the Anambra State INEC’s REC said that the final figure of 1,711,061 came down from initial figure of 2,011,746 as a result of subjection of the latter to “Register Optimization Process”, after passing through “data consolidation” using “ Automatic Fingerprints Identification System-AFIS”.
This simply means that a total of 300, 685 names were altered by the Commission from the Anambra list of voters. Yet the status of the 93,000 double registrants alleged by the Commission to be in the state’s voters’ register as well as other possible double registrants cannot be independently ascertained. Granted that INEC is empowered by Section 9(6) of the Electoral Act of 2010 to designate centers for the purpose of “continuous registration of unregistered voters”, but such centers are not known to most Anambra voting residents as well as leading members of the civil society organisations in the state. The Commission, as a matter of law and policy, ought to name the names and locations of such centres throughout the state and put proximity factor into consideration.
It should have also lowered stringent conditions it attached with respect to those lost their voters’ cards to floods or other intervening conditions as well as those who relocated from their previous electoral units or wards.
It may be correct to say that less than 30 percent of the target voting age in Anambra State will be captured in the ending Continuous Voters’ Registration Exercise. The challenges being faced by those wanting to be registered and those that lost their voters’ cards are technically and
INEC-oriented. Apart from difficulties in locating the so called “ward registration centers”, said to be located in the wards’ vote collection centers; the distance to be covered by many of the target citizens between their residences and the designated registration centers is found to be very far.
The stringent conditions imposed by the Commission on those that lost their voters’ cards and those that relocated from their previous residencies are another inhibiting factor. They are expected to fill certain forms, get police extracts or court affidavits and come back in 30 days time for reply. In Ogbaru LGA, for instance, the ward registration centre for 18 polling centres of Iyiowa and Odekpe areas is located outskirts of the city – Odekpe Central Primary School, which is about 5 kilometres away from the area’s city. It will take an average resident of Acha Street in Iyiowa Layout between N50 and N300 to transport him or her to the ward registration centre thro and fro. As at noon of 24th of August, 2013, only five persons were registered.
When we went round some registration centres on Friday, 23rd of August, 2013, in company of the state reporters of the Channel and ABS Televisions, the difficulties were barefaced in the areas visited. Many, if not most of the few prospective registrants found on the scene were ferried to same by some politicians for a fee. In other words, politicians appeared to have hijacked the exercise. At Fegge Ward 3, located at Amichi Town, politicians were sighted trying to get their procured prospective voters registered.
A female student of one of the private catering schools in Awka told us off camera that their director had three months ago brought some INEC staff to their school where they were registered for a fee, possibly under the influence of some politicians. According to her, her purpose of coming to the ward was to register again because she did not know if her registration at her school was authentic since she had not been issued with duplicate copy of voter’s card which must bear the date of issuance.
At the Onitsha North Ward 9, located at the Eastern Academy, 12 suspected Obosi militant youths stormed the scene at about 11:00 am to 11:30am and snatched the Commission’s registration materials. They alleged that “Onitsha exercise is being carried out in Obosi territory”. The ward is the registration centre for 12 polling centres.
Further instances of INEC’s incompetence and administrative lapses are too numerous. The other day, the Commission shamelessly informed the public on the basis of speculation and administrative confusion that 53 polling centres were missing in the Anambra Voters’ Register. They included 34 in Awka South LGA, one in Ayamelum LGA, two in Anambra East LGA, two in Ihiala LGA, one in Idemmili North LGA, four in Nnewi South LGA and five in Nnewi North LGA. The Commission speculated that “it is either that the INEC staff that handled the registration deliberately deleted the names or that the computer system had a virus”. Either of the two reasons amounts to gross administrative incompetence. It is shocking that the Commission did not deem it fit to secure its data with effective anti-virus or back-up devices, which are available and affordable in open markets. The Commission also never cared to investigate same to know what actually caused it; whether human or computer errors.
By Section 19(1) of the Electoral Act of 2010, INEC is ordered to conduct the CVRs exercise for Anambra governorship poll within the minimum of five days or maximum of fourteen days. Though the said provision is in respect of “display for public scrutiny of the voters’ register for Local Government and Wards”, but since it is accompanied by “Contentious Voters’ Registration”, our demand is both popularly and legally grounded. This is also strengthened by Section 9(5) of the Act, which states that the registration of voters, updating and revision of the register of voters under this section shall stop not later than 60 days before any election covered by this Act.
In view of the foregoing, therefore, the ending exercise has failed woefully to capture as many eligible voters as ordered by the Constitution and the Electoral Act. The possibility of popular participation in the voting is hereby grounded to zero. The credibility of the entire voters’ register is also seriously under threat. The remedy available to the Commission in this circumstance is for it to restructure its failed arrangements and extend the important exercise to seven more days, in line with Section 19(1) of the Electoral Act of 2010. Part of the re-arrangements will be to return to all the polling units or designate at least three centers per ward for sake of proximity, convenience and mass participation. There is no provision in the Electoral Act that says that CVRs must be in the LGA’s ward voting collection centres.
The stringencies above complained, should be lowered. Anything short of the forgoing means that the technical rigging of the poll has started. It is also important to urge the INEC to depart from technicalities or use of technical jargons while implementing its policies or dealing with the public. Demographic policies and laws are designed not only for professors but importantly for the downtrodden such as vulcanisers, wheel barrow pushers, okada riders, petty traders and rural dwellers.
•Photo shows INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner for Anambra, Prof. Chukwuemeka Onukaogu.
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