FOLLOWING on the heels of the recently concluded local government elections in Kano State, videos and photos of children, some of them as young as seven queueing in long lines to vote have sparked outrage in the social media. Nigerian laws prescribe that a person must be 18 or above to be eligible to vote. Allowing minors to participate in elections is, therefore, a grave violation of our electoral laws and the corruption of our electoral process.
In truth, child voting, which is rampant in the Northern parts of the country, has been with us for a long time. The reluctance or unwillingness of stakeholders in our electoral process to eradicate it is baffling. The phenomenon is widely condoned. These children freely participate in the voter registration process and the officials who are aware that it is illegal surprisingly register them and allow them to vote. The law enforcement agents sent to provide security and ensure law and order allow this illegality to proceed as if it is normal.
Some officials sometimes claim that the children are allowed to vote because their parents insist they are up to 18. Sometimes they also claim that they allow children to vote because any attempt to stop them could lead to violence in these usually “volatile” parts. These arguments do not hold water. The law enforcement agencies are sent to ensure that all elections are conducted within the provisions of the constitution and the electoral laws.
Allowing ineligible children to register and vote is a total abdication of responsibility both by the electoral officials and the law enforcement agents, and we condemn this in the strongest of terms. It also amounts to giving unfair advantages to contestants whose strong support bases are in areas where child voters are prevalent, especially during nationwide or presidential elections.
We call on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to immediately embark on the process of nationwide cleanup of the voter’s register to weed out child voters. Otherwise, those who claim that the 2019 elections are already being rigged may have a strong point after all. All voters must report for the cleanup with their Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) for age verification.
It is very worrisome that the law enforcement agencies have reduced themselves to mere figureheads or mannequins at the electoral centres instead of enforcing the law or reporting infractions to the appropriate quarters. They must sit up.
We call on the judiciary to use their good offices to bring this shameful rape of our democracy to a halt by acting firmly on election petitions proving the use of underage voters. It will go a long way in deterring future offenders, thereby improving the sanctity of our elections.