By Omeiza Ajayi
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has explained its inability to commence the Continuous Voter Registration, CVR, exercise by the end of the first quarter, saying the exercise will now commence in June.
Chairman of the Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu disclosed this at a news conference Thursday in Abuja.
According to him, the CVR could not recommence in 2020 due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, explaining that in line with the general advice by health officials regarding events involving large groups of people, INEC considered it inauspicious to restart the CVR at the height of the pandemic.
He said the Commission issued a detailed policy on conducting elections in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which focused mainly on elections proper since these elections must hold to prevent any constitutional crisis linked to the end of tenure.
“In the light of the prevailing circumstances, the Commission promised the nation that it would recommence the CVR in the first quarter of 2021. Our thinking at the time was that at the turn of the new year, we would have completed all outstanding off-season Governorship elections and that the pandemic would have eased. We also needed time to put in place new systems that would facilitate safer registration of voters, should the pandemic persist.
“The first quarter of 2021 ended Wednesday and obviously the Commission was unable to restart the CVR exercise. It is, therefore, in line with our long-standing pledge to carry Nigerians along in all our activities and to make them aware of any challenges in the discharge of our functions, that the Commission has called this Press Conference,” Yakubu stated.
He said INEC has reviewed the challenges which made her unable to conduct the CVR, adding that the commission has now taken measures to overcome them.
“The Commission is now in a position to announce Monday 28th June 2021 as the date for the recommencement of the CVR exercise nationwide. The following critical activities will be accomplished within the following timelines leading to the recommencement of the exercise:
“Expansion of voter access to Polling Units – 11th May 2021. Building and testing the online registration Portal – 15th May 2021. The arrival of the new generation of registration devices – the IVED – 31st May 2021. Recruitment and training of Voter Enrolment Staff – 14th June 202. A restart of CVR – 28th June 2021
“Effective from Monday 28th June 2021, the CVR exercise will commence nationwide and carried out continuously for over a year until the third quarter of 2022. However, emphasis will initially be on Anambra State where more centres will be established in view of the Governorship election already scheduled for Saturday 6th November 2021.
“In order to complete preparations for the Governorship election, the CVR exercise in the State will be temporarily suspended in August 2021. This will enable the Commission to clean up the data for the State and print the PVCs for registrants. As time goes on, the Commission will provide more details on the CVR exercise, particularly the innovations that will ensure a safe and stress-free experience for registrants. In doing so, we will fully consult stakeholders. In fact, the first in the series of these consultations will take place after the Easter break,” he stated.
Yakubu however gave reasons as to why the CVR could not commence as originally scheduled.
“There are three cardinal reasons why the exercise could not start earlier. The first is the establishment of new systems that would ensure safer CVR exercise in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, the Commission is building a new online registration portal that would enable new registrants to commence registration online and subsequently complete the capture of their biometric data at designated registration centres. This is designed to reduce crowding. Through the online portal, they can schedule their visits to the registration centres to suit their convenience.
Above all, a CVR Locator is integrated into the new portal which will enable online registrants to locate the nearest registration centre available to them to complete their registration.
Previously, registered voters who wished to transfer their voting locations, apply for replacement of their PVCs or correct their personal information had to appear physically at the registration centres. The development of this portal, which is being done in-house by our engineers, has taken a little more time to complete than the Commission anticipated.
“The second reason is the Commission’s determination to expand voter access to Polling Units. You would all recall that recently the Commission embarked on a nationwide engagement with Nigerians in which we raised the fundamental issue of declining voter access to Polling Units across the country. The engagement clearly demonstrated that the existing Polling Units are inadequate.
“They were initially designed to cater for a projected 50 million voters but presently serve over 84 million voters. In addition, many of the Polling Units are inaccessible to voters, especially Persons With Disability (PWDs), and are not conducive to implementing the Commission’s election regulations, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are glad that most Nigerians agree with the Commission on this issue, and we have commenced a far-reaching programme of converting Voting Points and Voting Point Settlements into full-fledged Polling Units and relocating poorly situated Polling Units to better locations. The Commission needs more time to complete this exercise, so that the new Polling Units will be available for registrants to choose from during the CVR exercise.
“Thirdly, the Commission has decided to introduce a new voter registration equipment and technology. The present generation of voter registration equipment, which the Commission introduced in 2011, is the Direct Data Capture Machine (DDCM). This is based on a laptop and a series of peripherals connected to it. In addition, it includes large power packs to power the laptops in the field. While the DDCMs have served the Commission well over the last 10 years, we believe that there are now more compact registration devices that will better serve Nigerians during the CVR exercise.
“The Commission is therefore migrating to the INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED), which is based on an Android tablet. The procurement of the new devices, the modification of the registration software by our in-house engineers to make it compatible with the Android Operating System, as well as integrating these with the online registration portal require a little more time. For instance, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our partners abroad who manufacture the IVED hardware, are not operating at full capacity and the pandemic has also made the supply chain and delivery much slower,” he stated.