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HOW NOT TO REGISTER VOTERS: One election, one registration

BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, DEPUTY POLITICS EDITOR
“THANK God I have been registered. It is not easy,” Mrs. A. Agbo, a mid-aged  housewife gleefully announced to onlookers as she displayed her voters’ card. Her palpable elation stemmed from her being listed in the ongoing voters’ registration exercise last Friday, after one week of tortuous visits and wait at the lone registration centre in the locality estimated to have about 10,000 adults.

“You can’t believe it; I have been coming here (registration centre at Ijegun-Imore, Satellite Town, Lagos) since January 17. The first time I came, I was number 40 on the list but they could not register  me. The following day, they said they are taking fresh number and I was number 425.

I have been waiting and waiting. The other time, they said there was no light and the battery was dead. Most of the time, the machine was slow in capturing finger-prints of people. I was going and coming back, the same story. Thank God I have done it!” she exclaimed.

Agbo is among the lucky 50 million persons who have been registered as of press time. Her earlier frustrations epitomize what  most people who went out to get listed experienced in the earlier days of the exercise and are still experiencing in some locations in spite of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC’s) spirited efforts to address the avalanche of hitches that attended the listing.

The hitches

Some of the observed hitches and complaints range from faulty machines, inability to capture biometric data of registrants, and unavailability of registration officers in many areas. Some of the registration officers, bulkily drawn from  members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC),  initially found it difficult to operate the DDC machines.

Jega: INEC Chairman

The laptops die after 60 minutes on battery power and in most cases there is no power to recharge the laptops. At a time some phones can scan a set of fingerprints in a second, observers wondered why the DDC machines, which gulped about N40 billion could not function well.

Amid these challenges, the electoral umpire could only register about 30 million voters between January 15 and January 29 when the exercise was billed to end. The natural consequence was extension. The National Assembly  made a provision for one month extension but the INEC said it could complete the exercise within an additional seven days if N6.6 billion was provided to cater for the allowances of registration officers and other logistics. It went ahead to extend the registration for a week and the exercise will end next tomorrow.

As of now, 48 hours to the end of the registration, the long queues have disappeared in most centres.  In some areas like Ijeshatedo in Lagos, registration officers were seen sleeping in some centres because there were no persons to register. However, some localities are still recording large turnout of people and some of the hiccups are still being witnessed. Some centres use generators donated by residents and ask voters for ‘fuel money’ before they could be registered.

Massive turnout of voters

Aside human and material challenges, the massive turnout of prospective voters overwhelmed the registration officers. Arguably, the citizenry were very willing to be listed.

This is the first time voters’ registration would be handled for just three weeks. In the past, the exercise ran for weeks; government agencies and politicians would embark on vigorous sensitisation programmes and yet many citizens would choose to go about their businesses without registering.

The scenario is different this time. With little sensitisation  from the INEC, the governments and other stakeholders, most of the registration centres were literarily invaded by prospective registrants.

Mrs. Agbo, whose husband is out of the country said she did not want to take chances because the government might ‘deal’ those who fail to register when you need ‘something’ from government.

Indeed, some state governments declared public holidays to enable their citizens register while a couple of others tied payment of salaries to the possession of the prized document (voters’ card). The card is also a form of an identity card and was recognised by the banks in the recent accounts update. And so, the INEC was saddled with a tedious task.

One election, one voters’ registration

The task would have been a lot easier for the commission if the proper thing had been done in the past such that the current exercise would be for registering Nigerians who have turned 18 years or changed residence since the last compilation in 2006. But the Nigerian system is peculiar. For every election, there is a new law. There is also fresh registration of voters for every general election.

The 1999 election was conducted by the out-going military regime with impromptu rules and regulations. The 2003 polls mid-wived by the President Olusegun Obasanjo-led civilian administration were conducted with the 1999 Constitution and 2002 Electoral Act. Another fresh registration of voters was conducted to replace the 1999 register. In like manner, the 2007 elections were anchored on the 2006 Electoral Act and a fresh voters’ list was compiled.

Already, the forthcoming 2011 elections have passed through four laws – Electoral Act 2006, Electoral Act 2010, Electoral Act 2010 (First Amendment) and Electoral Act 2010 (Second Amendment).

Apart from the ever changing laws, no Nigerian electoral chief has conducted two general elections. Late Justice Ephraim Akpata was in-charge in 1999. Dr. Abel Ibude Guobadia conducted the 2003 polls; Prof. Maurice Iwu handled the 2007 elections and the 2011 exercise will be supervised by Prof. Attahiru Jega.

The scenario is opposed to what obtains in neighbouring, Ghana which is fast emerging as a beacon of democracy in Africa, where Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan had been in charge of the Electoral Commission (EC) for about 17 years and had conducted five general elections in which ruling and opposition parties won at different times.

For each of the Nigerian general elections, a new voters’ list was compiled and the previous register jettisoned with ignominy. While monitoring the 2004 Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Ghana, Guobadia, impressed with the Ghanaian voters’ card that had photograph of the voter embossed, promised that Nigeria would have a similar voters’ card in 2007.

Guobadia did not stay long to fulfil his promise. Iwu was appointed in his stead and the new helms man realised the dream of having pictures of voters on the polling card. En route the 2007 polls, Iwu had leaders of the participating 30 political parties cocooned in a room where he briefed them on his preparations and measures to ensure credible elections. The politicians came out applauding the measures.

However, after the polls, Iwu was axed following complaints of massive rigging orchestrated at the elections.  His voters’ list was also dismissed as flawed. And so, Jega came on board. Concerning the voters’ register, Jega had two options: correcting the flaws in the 2006 register or compiling a fresh one. He elected to go for a fresh exercise, which has gulped about N90 billion. If 70 million voters were to be registered, it translates to N1285.71 or $8.46 per voter.

Cost of voters’ listing elsewhere

Compared with other democracies, spending about $10 to register a voter is high. The cost of similar exercises in Bangladesh, India, and Ghana is less than half of Nigeria’s. The Bangladesh Elections Commission compiled an 80 million voters’ register, using biometric face and fingerprint technology at a total cost of $65 million (N9.75 billion), amounting to a per voter cost of N121.88.

India, with a voting population of 714 million, completed its voters’ registration exercise at $0.56 per voter. With a voter population of 12.8 million, Ghana conducted its 2008 elections at the cost of $40 million, which amounts to $3 per voter. Nigeria can only take solace in Malaysia, which spent RM2.23 million or $6.68 million to register 161,148 new voters in 1999 at the rate of $41.44 per vote. However, Malaysia has a better economy and her people are better off than Nigerians in terms of income per capita.

Automatic voters’ registration

To reduce the cost of compiling voters’ list, Nigeria may have to adopt automatic voters’ listing as being implemented in many countries such as Germany, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Taiwan, etc.

Alternatively, the country could embrace voters’ list updating instead of wholesale compilation.

South Africa, another oasis of democracy in Africa, will be conducting voters’ registration on February 5 and 6. But the country’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) will be registering about 1.5 million new voters to take her voting population to about 24.5 million. About 23 million voters are currently on the IEC’s roll, following registrations for the 2009 national elections.

There were 18.1million people listed on the voters’ roll ahead of South Africa’s 1999 general elections and 20.6million ahead of the 2004 general polls.

INEC may spend N150 bn on 2011 polls

Aside the challenges attending the voters’ listing, the increasing cost of conducting the 2011 polls is a source of concern. According to Vanguard checks, the INEC may spend N150 billion to conduct the polls. The commission first received N87.72 billion to kick-start the exercise. The commission will be handed N6.6 billion for the one week voters’ registration extension. In the Federal Government’s 2011  budget proposal, another N46.4billion has been allocated to the commission.

According to the budget break down, N38.3billion is to be spent on recurrent expenditure and N7.1 billion on capital expenditure. The sum of N607.7million is for additional vehicles, N135.6million for fueling of the vehicles, and N136.5 million for vehicle maintenance.

INEC is to spend N72.8 million for subscription to professional bodies and N40million for the purchase of newspapers. When costs of printing of ballot papers, procuring of ballot boxes, etc are added, the cost of organising the polls may rise to N150 billion, the highe
st ever in the history of conducting polls in Nigeria.

The Gen. Ibrahim Babangida botched Third Republic programme cost the country about N40 billion. The entire 2007 election, including the voters’ registration cost about N42.33 billion

The commission, according to its statement of accounts spent N96.73 bn between 2003 and 2007 on the conduct of elections, hotel accommodation, transport, printing and other exigencies. It  spent N31.041bn in 2003; N5.169bn in 2004; N4.792bn in 2005; N11.515bn in 2006 and N44.219bn in 2007.

INEC defends expenditure

Chief Press Secretary to INECChairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu has justified the huge expenditure, adding that the commission had saved cost in the process.

According to him, the amount approved for each of the DDC machines was $2,000 but the INEC bought them at $1800 and saved N4.4 billion in the process. “We have to put all these in perspective when  making comparisons,” he said.

Why INEC is capturing 10 fingerprints

On why the INEC was capturing 10 finger prints of voters, a measure that could disenfranchise those who are handicapped, Idowu said: “We did it so that people will not be able to register twice. If we capture one finger print, they can go to another centre and register with the remaining finger prints.”

He said arrangements were made to accommodate the handicap. “There is an administrative procedure to cater for the handicap.”


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.