Say current configuration of 119,973 Polling Units was established by the defunct NECON in 1996 during Abacha
Figures produced in 1996 used for the 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 General Elections
Identify Violence, Congestion, Insufficiency, Voter Apathy, Hijack of Units by Politicians, others as Reasons
Say New Polling Units not Constituency Projects to satisfy politicians
As INEC Chairman presents access to Polling Units Document to 18 political parties today, Afenifere, PANDEF, Ohanaeze, ACF, Media, CSOs, others next week
By Henry Umoru
AHEAD of the 2023 general and presidential elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has concluded arrangements to embark on the creation of additional polling units to provide for a good voting environment and effective implementation of the regulations and guidelines of the Commission on election day.
According to INEC, Polling Units which form the basis on which citizens exercise their fundamental rights to vote and to make electoral choices freely, must be areas where voters have access to, adding that the current configuration of 119,973 Polling Units was established by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, NECON in 1996 when Chief Karibi Gagogo- Jack was Chairman of the Commission between 1994- 1998 during late former Head of State, General Sani Abacha.
It said that figures produced in 1996 were used for the 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 General Elections without being corrected.
The Commission explained that it has become imperative to carry out the creation of additional polling units in the six geopolitical zones of the country and the nation’s capital, Abuja because of violence, Voter apathy, insecurity, congestion, lack of safety, among others that are associated with the existing ones.
Disclosing this Thursday in Abuja, a top official of INEC who noted that year in year out, Nigeria has been bedevilled with this constant problem of low voter turn out in nation’s elections, saying that the issue is attributable to insufficient polling Units that the Commission wants to address at the moment.
According to the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, there is the fear of violence, which affects the performance of electoral officers, adding, “There is one factor that worsens the situation and that is the availability of places for citizens to cast their votes, it is almost a scandal. Our own has remained constant, static since 1996. We don’t want to politicise the process that is why we want people to know what the commission is trying to do without politicising the process.
The INEC top senior official who warned that the exercise will not be constituency projects to massage the ego of politicians, said that it is a project for Nigeria and for Nigerians as well as to build the nation’s democracy, adding, “We are not going to treat the establishment of polling units as constituency project, it is going to be based on need to serve Nigerians and not individuals.”
The INEC senior official who disclosed that the management of the Commission will meet with the 18 political parties today and unfold to them plans to create additional polling units in the country, said that there will be consultation with Socio-Cultural Organisations across the country like PANDEF, Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, the Media, the academia, International Election Observer group, Women leaders, the Students, among others as from next week, asking that the Commission has met with former Federal Commissioner for Information and South South, Chief Edwin Clark, among others and will still meet with him and others to tap from their experiences.
The source said, “Polling units had been since 1996. Since 25. In 2016 before the FCT area council election in response to the need to break polling units, we established the voting point settlements in the FCT. Because of the new settlement that have emerged, and the increase in population everywhere.
“In 2018, we tried to break additional polling units and then it was very close to the 2019 elections we didn’t quite succeed. This time around, learning from the experience of what happened, and the little advantage we have, having conducted the last election, so we need to go full blast as we prepare for 2023. So this time we decided to start early. We have two years to the next general elections.
“In 2014, the Jega commission took the protection of section 42 of the electoral act literally and that was what we did in 2018. The commission has power to establish polling units and to allot voters to the polling units. So, we took it as an administrative action so the commission just allows the creation of polling units but it was objected, so under pressure the commission had withdrawn.
“This time around, we don’t want any Nigerian to input motives in what we are trying to do. We will lay bare our intention on the table so that every Nigerian will see what we are trying to do.
“We are going to.put it on the table to say this is what we are trying to do, if Nigerians support it, nice if they object it, we drop it and continue with preparations for the next general elections.
“But the second thing learning from experience is that there was insufficient consultation we really never sufficiently consulted and so people imputed motives. This time around, we are going to start very early we are going to consult widely, we have not started the series of consultations. We have issued a statement to say we will start the process of consultation, we are going to start with the political parties, CSOs, media, security we want to expand the consultation this time around.
“We will go to the sociocultural associations. I have spoken to Afenifere. Edwin Clark, Arewa Consultative Forum, CAN, Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. We are also going to make presentations to NASS, FEC, National Council of State and National Economic Council, Judiciary, labour unions. Let Nigerians see clearly what problems we are confronting and how they are going to address these problems.”
According to the document made available by the source, “The current configuration of 119,973 Polling Units was established by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) in 1996. In the nearly 25-year period since then, every attempt to review or reconfigure the Polling Unit structure has been unsuccessful for sundry reasons. Consequently, the 1996 Polling Unit configuration was used for the 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 General Elections.
“When the Polling Unit structure was established in 1996, it was projected to serve about 50 million registered voters. However, the number of registered voters for the 1999 General Election was 57.93 million. This rose to 60.82 million in 2003, 61.56 million in 2007 and 73.52 million in 2011.
“Although the number declined to 68.83 million for the 2015 General Election following the cleaning up of the register through the use of Automated Fingerprints Identification System (AFIS) to eliminate double registrants, it rose to 84.04 million in 2019 as a result of the Commission embarking on a robust continuous voter registration exercise, as prescribed by law.
“The import of this development is that while the number of registered voters increased from 57.93 million in 1999 to 84.04 million in 2019, which is an increase of 45 percent, the number of Polling Units remained the same. This lack of correlation between the number of registered voters and the number of Polling Units since 1999 has resulted in congested Polling Units on Election Day and lack of Polling Units in many developing suburban and newly established settlements. The effects have been low voter turnout and voter apathy, insecurity at the Polling Units, disruption of elections and, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, unsafe voting environments.
“Indeed, presently, the average number of voters per Polling Unit in Nigeria, which stands at 700, is 37 per cent more than the situation in Ghana. Yet, this could be quite misleading because in some states in Nigeria, the average number of voters per Polling Unit is well over 4,000.”
Speaking further, the source said, “The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is empowered by the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) to establish adequate number of Polling Units in the country and assign voters to them. Specifically, Section 42 of the Act provides that: The Commission shall establish sufficient number of Polling Units in each Registration Area and allot voters to such Polling Units.’
“However, voter access to Polling Units is not exclusively about their sufficiency because availability may in fact not guarantee access.
“The suitability of the locations of Polling Units is also very important in determining voter access to them. Consequently, the Commission has chosen to address both the establishment of sufficient Polling Units and their location in good accessible places.
“For instance, it has been the policy of the Commission that as far as practicable, Polling Units are to be located in: Public places, preferably centrally located and accessible.Non-partisan, non-sectarian locations such as schools, town halls, etc.
“Spacious facilities to cater for adequately sitting election officials, political party agents, election observers and voters, if necessary.Adequately sheltered/covered locations such as classrooms and halls.
“Locations that can take several Polling Units, if required.Locations that can be easily secured.”