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INEC’s report on under-aged voting

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Shortly after the February 10, 2018 local government election in Kano State, pic­tures and video clips depicting voting in the election by under-aged persons went viral on the internet. It did not require any scientific enquiry to conclude that the boys and girls in the pictures were well below 18 years, the minimum age required by the 1999 Constitution for a Nigerian to be eligible to vote. This is not the first time incidents of under-age voting had been reported in vari­ous parts of the country. However, the seem­ing incontrovertible nature of the proof this time elicited general outcry nationwide with concerns that the 2019 general elections may have already been compromised if minors can openly be facilitated to vote.

The Independent National Electoral Com­mission (INEC) subsequently set up an eight-man investigative committee to look into the saga and certify if the national voters’ regis­ter may have been compromised.

Last week, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, chair­man of INEC, unveiled the findings of the committee which he said the commission has adopted. According to him, the commission had made the voters’ register available to the Kano State Independent Electoral Com­mission (KANSIEC) as was the case with previous local government elections in other states as prescribed by law. The INEC boss distanced his organisation from the conduct of the Kano council elections, stating that it has no legal remit to even investigate the conduct of the election.

However, the committee’s report affirmed that KANSIEC threw processse overboard and allowed for any one that wanted to vote to par­ticipate without recourse to INEC’s register. In Prof. Yakubu’s words, “given that the regis­ter was substantially not used to accredit vot­ers before voting, it is logical to conclude that if under-aged voting occurred in the election, it was not due to any presence of under-aged registrants on the register of voters.”

This observation raises serious questions on the rules of engagement and guidelines to be adhered to by State Independent Elec­toral Commissions. Apparently, KANSIEC may have decided to waive the requirement for registration for the council election. The legality of this action even though without official pronouncement is doubtful since the Electoral Act as amended unequivocally states that prospective voters must be pres­ent their registration cards and be certified to be on the voters’ register.

Although Prof. Yakubu insisted that Nigeria now has a “dependable register, even if it is not perfect” and that “not a single formal com­plaint on this matter has been received by the Commission” on the integrity of the register, officials of the commission have severally ac­knowledged that the register has cases where under-aged people were registered. Following the outcry over the February 10 council elec­tion in Kano State, some INEC officials who superintended the registration of voters in the state and some other northern states gave graphic accounts of how they were forced un­der threat to their lives to register people be­low the constitutional age of 18 years.

The extent of under age registration in Kano and some other states is yet to be determined, but that it is so brazenly conducted betrays a level of official complicity in the plot that is designed to undermine the integrity of the electoral register.

The concern among Nigerians was accentu­ated by the proclamation of the governor of Kano State, Alhaji Abdullahi Ganduje, who af­ter threatening to take President Muhammadu Buhari to court if he fails to seek re-election for a second term, promised to deliver five million votes for the president in the 2019 presiden­tial election. For a state that mustered more than two million votes in 2015 with almost no void votes, the declaration was ominous.

The conduct of the Kano council elections and the observations of the INEC investiga­tive team have given some insight into some weak frameworks and oversight functions of political parties and civil society organisa­tions. Prof. Yakubu said that in line with pro­visions of the Electoral Act, the commission diligently makes copies of the voters’ register to political parties and is willing to do same to any persons or groups that fulfill the finan­cial requirements for accessing the register.

According to him, at no time has there been any complaint on the register from any of the parties or organisations to INEC. That there has been none does not connote a perfect register. Rather, it shows that po­litical parties and civil society organisa­tions have not been diligent in scrutinising the register. Even when there may be genu­ine basis for complaint, stakeholders prefer to speak to the press only.

We urge INEC, political parties and civil society organisations to pick up the gauntlet and intensify their strategic roles in maintain­ing the integrity of the nation’s voter register. If the register is compromised ab initio, the subsequent elections are conduct on faulty premises and may not pass the integrity test.

INEC should make electronic copies of the register complete with photographs and finger prints to the political parties and other stake­holders who should diligently scrutinise the list ahead of the 2019 elections. A review of election guidelines to compel state indepen­dent electoral commissions to comply with all processes adopted by INEC may be imperative.

As Nigerians gear up for the 2019 election, all necessary measures must be taken to pre­vent voting by people who are below the con­stitutional requirement of attaining 18 years and above. Voting by minors under any guise is a serious electoral fraud.


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