…As INEC chair presents document on new units to parties, Afenifere, PANDEF, Ohanaeze, ACF, others next week
AHEAD of the 2023 general and presidential elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has concluded arrangements to embark on 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 make electoral choices freely, must be areas where voters have access.
The commission said the current configuration of 119,973 polling units was established by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, NECON in 1996 when Chief Karibi Dagogo-Jack was chairman of the commission between 1994 and1998 when late former Head of State, General Sani Abacha, was still in power.
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 the additional polling units in the six ge-political 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 these yesterday in Abuja, a top official of INEC, who noted that Nigeria had been bedevilled with the constant problem of low voter turn out in nation’s elections, said the issue was 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.
“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,’’ he said.
He also disclosed that the management of the commission will meet with the 18 political parties in the country and unfold to them plans to create additional polling units in the country.
He also said there would be consultation with socio-cultural organisations across the country, including PANDEF, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, the media, the academia, international election observer group, women leaders, students, among others, as from next week.
The source the commission has met with former Federal Commissioner for Information and South South, Chief Edwin Clark, among others and would still meet with him and others to tap from their experiences.
He said: “Polling units has 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 of haven 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 Afenifre. 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.”