February 23, 2023

INEC and the scourge of underage voters

THE Plateau State Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Oliver Tersoo Agundu’s recent assertion that the Commission has “completely taken care of” the scourge of underage voters is a statement most Nigerians may take with a pinch of salt.

With the presidential election just about 48 hours away, there is no surefire way of ascertaining how true or thorough the effort to stop children from voting in our elections really is. We are now faced with a situation where we may go to the polls on February 25, 2023 and still see minors on the queues. If this happens, what mechanism has the INEC deployed to ensure they are removed from the queues and denied the opportunity to vote?

Today’s universal adult suffrage, the right of all adults aged 18 and above, is the widest expression of the grounding of our democratic culture. It was not always that way. For instance, it was through the Clifford Constitution of 1923 that the British colonialists gave Nigerian men aged 21 and above the right to vote, provided they were British subjects or natives of the British Protectorate, had earned 100 Pounds and were residents of Calabar and Lagos.

Further constitutional changes widened eligibility. For instance, the Macpherson Constitution granted full adult male suffrage in 1951, while the Lyttleton Constitution extended suffrage to women of Eastern and Southern origins. The 1979 Constitution granted full universal adult suffrage because it extended the right to vote to Northern women and lowered the voting age to 18 years.

At no time (nowhere in the world) are minors allowed to vote except in countries like Austria, Argentina, Cuba, Brazil and others where the voting age starts from 16 or 17.  Children are excluded from voting until they are constitutionally adjudged qualified to make choices. Voting for leaders is not a knee-jerk exercise. It is a serious enterprise which is used to select those to lead or represent the people in government.

Allowing or encouraging juveniles to register and vote is one of the many ways of undermining our electoral system. Unfortunately, electoral officers who are supposed to strictly implement the eligibility criteria fail to do so. They enroll these minors and allow them to vote. Even the security agencies sent to maintain the law at the polling stations allow the juvenile felons to get away with it. In the North, any attempt to question this violation is often met with threats of violence.

INEC’s recent register cleaning exercise still failed to eradicate the problem completely, unfortunately. We call on the Commission and the law enforcement agencies to exercise zero tolerance for underage and foreign voters in the 2023 elections.

Underage voting undermines the sanctity of our elections. It must end. Our electoral laws must be firmly implemented.