The intention of the Independent National Electoral Commission to register 20 million Nigerians before July, 2022 may have hit a brick wall as only 2.4 million Nigerians have completed their registration since the continuous voter registration began in June 2021. This represents 12 per cent of INEC’s projection.
The INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, had said last year that the commission was expecting to register 20 million Nigerians before July this year. The intended target was mostly youths who had crossed the age of 18 since the 2019 elections.
However, latest statistics released by INEC on Monday showed that a total of 2, 429, 242 had completed their registration. However, the number of Nigerians that had filled online registration forms stood at 4.8 million, meaning that an extra 2.4 million Nigerians had completed their registration forms online but had not come forward to complete the physical one at an INEC office.
It was also learnt that INEC had only printed about 40,000 permanent voter cards in Abuja because of the upcoming Area Council election. The rest of the country will be expected to receive their PVCs by the end of the year.
A top INEC official, who wished to remain anonymous, because he was not authorised to speak to the press, said, “It is true that we targeted 20 million Nigerians for the registration exercise based on statistics and projections we received from the National Population Commission and other agencies on the expected population growth on those who have crossed the age of 18 since the 2019 elections.
“We even simplified the process by ensuring that people can do half of the registration online and then complete the rest at INEC offices. However, it seems we may be witnessing voter apathy in 2023 going by the current statistics. Many people register online but refuse to come for the physical one.
“The law does not make it compulsory for people to vote or to register. So, all we can do is to appeal to people to get involved. People should not wait till the last minute to start struggling to register as they did in 2018.”
When asked why INEC was stopping the registration exercise in July 2022 when the elections are holding in February 2023, the official said INEC was doing so in order to clean up the register.
“Cleaning up the voter register entails removing the names of dead people, clearing double registrations, underage persons and aliens from the system. We will also need to pause so we can print the needed number of PVCs. These things take time so we will need to suspend the registration early enough,” the official said.
While speaking ahead of the commencement of the voter registration exercise last June, INEC Chairman, Prof, Mahmoud Yakubu, had said the commission hoped to beat the registration record of the last elections.
“Our hope is that unlike the 14.2 million we registered in the previous exercise, we are targeting a minimum of 20 million registrants this time. It will take the number of registered voters to about 100 million,” Yakubu said.
The media had reported that the Country’s voter register was grossly inaccurate as several dead persons including dead ex-Governors remained on the register. INEC had said it did not have the statistics of deaths in order to clean up the voter register, adding that it was relying on Nigerians to assist in cleaning up the register.
The Country had in the 2019 elections witnessed its low voter turnout ever which may also have been based on the inaccuracy of the voter register which put the number of registered voters at 84 million. The voter turnout in which President Muhammadu Buhari, won re-election, witnessed a turnout of 34.75 per cent.
Speaking to one of our correspondents, the Convener of the Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Dare Ariyo-Atoye, blamed the development on President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly on the signing of the Electoral Act.
“Individuals do not have confidence that the elections will be free and fair. We are in a country where most people want to travel abroad, there are communities ravaged with crises, there are communities you cannot travel to as a result of insecurity.
“I do not know the miracle which INEC wants to perform. Yes, the CSOs will have to do a lot of work but if INEC extends the registration, there is no guarantee that people will even register”.
Also, The Executive Director, Centre for Transparency Advocacy, Nwadishi Faith, in a separate interview with one of our correspondents, said there was a need for more sensitisation.
She added that politicians should be more involved, adding that they are the largest beneficiary of the exercise.
She said,’’ If INEC says they are going to register 20 million Nigerians and they are not coming out to register there is nothing INEC can do. Sensitisation is the key here and it does not rest on the shoulders of INEC alone. The Civil Society Organisations and political class especially have a role to play. They should ensure that people are mobilised to register.”
Also speaking with the media, Princess Hamman-Obels, the Director of Electoral Hub, urged Nigerians to come out and register, saying that strength of a representative democracy lies in the level of citizen participation and inclusion in the electoral process.
Attempts by Headlinenews to get a reaction from INEC proved abortive as the Spokesperson for the INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi; and the Commissioner for Voter Education and Publicity, Festus Okoye, did not respond to inquiries by the time of filing this report.