(By Adewale Kupoluyi)
“Before now, many polling units in the country had over 500 registered voters, especially in the highly congested cities but with the additional units, the problem of having too many voters at a polling centre is being addressed. If well embraced and honestly implemented, the exercise is meant to encourage more people to come out to vote during elections in the sense that a reduction in the number of voters allocated to polling centres would control overcrowding and make it easier for electoral officials to conduct and supervise polls with more precision“.
AS the nation moves closer to the election year, there are two contending issues that are worth discussing in view of their volatile nature and the misgivings that have already trailed them. We would recall that at the formal launching of the National Electronic Identity Card recently, President Goodluck Jonathan directed that the printing of ballot papers for next year’s general elections should be handled by the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC), urging the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that the expertise of the Mint was tapped to develop an internal capacity in the production of the sensitive electoral materials. This Presidential order later propelled the Governor of the Central Bank (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, to visit the INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega. At the end, the two gentlemen beamed with smiles suggesting that a deal has indeed been struck.
The NSPMC, which is responsible for the printing of most of the nation’s currency denominations, bank drafts, cheques, stamps, treasury bills and other security documents, is a subsidiary of the CBN. In other words, the Federal Government owns majority shares in the company while the CBN governor is also the chairman of the Mint’s governing board. There are strong arguments why this option should not be explored, for the sake of transparency and accountability. For instance, it may be argued that giving the Mint the N9 billion printing job for election materials would help to enhance its production capacity, create employment opportunities, prevent capital flight and increase foreign exchange earnings. It is certainly dangerous on the other hand to use a sensitive national assignment such as the general election, for policy experimentation and trial. This may be a costly ride. The directive is nothing but a clear detraction from the constitutional powers of INEC, the INEC Act and Electoral Act even though the process of electoral reform that produced the 2010 Electoral Act had suggested an independent electoral umpire for optimal performance.
On credibility, Nigerians may not forget so easily that in 2012, about N2 billion was reported to have been stolen from the Mint – a company also reputed to have suffered operational losses – as a result of operational deficiencies. Then, what is the basis for the patronage? Can somebody tell us why the same commission should still be the preferred producer of the sensitive materials despite its low rating? INEC should be made to realise that this attempt could erode its powers as well as the credibility of the entire electoral process. Therefore, it would be wrong to dictate or influence where the ballot papers should be printed as the people are becoming apprehensive. INEC should be given the discretion to carry out its statutory functions bearing in mind that the essence of any election under democracy is to create a secure, level playing field for eligible voters and candidates. President Jonathan, as an interested party even though has not officially made known his intention to contest in 2015 – but adopted as a sole candidate by the Peoples Democratic Party – has no constitutional or moral right to control INEC around any aspect of the electoral process. Many people are already having the suspicion that the move is to teleguide INEC. And that this could largely be responsible for why the CBN boss suddenly dissolved the NSPMC management committee and appointed a new managing director and two executive directors.
Again, INEC recently announced that in its compliance with the 2010 Electoral Act, it had created additional 30,000 polling units across the country to ensure that no polling unit has more than 500 voters. The new polling units would cater for 70,383,427 voters. A breakdown of the figures show that the three zones of the North (North-East, North-West and North-Central) got 70 per cent of the new units with an additional 21,000 units, while the Southern zones made up of (South-East, South-West and South-South) got only 8,000 units with Lagos State has about 2,870 units, thus bringing to 11,565 the polling units that would serve its 5,426,391 registered voters, Kano State with 4,751,818 registered voters has additional 2,053 polling units, bringing its voting centres to 9,809 while Bayelsa State, which has the lowest number of registered voters in the country of 590,679, has additional 121 polling units, bringing the number of its voting centres to 1,925.
Before now, many polling units in the country had over 500 registered voters, especially in the highly congested cities but with the additional units, the problem of having too many voters at a polling centre is being addressed. If well embraced and honestly implemented, the exercise is meant to encourage more people to come out to vote during elections in the sense that a reduction in the number of voters allocated to polling centres would control overcrowding and make it easier for electoral officials to conduct and supervise polls with more precision.
As laudable as the initiative may be, there are allegations of lopsidedness from many people and socio-political groups against the allocation of the polling units in favour of the North as the zone has clearly got over 70 per cent out of the new polling units. That is where the INEC chairman should ensure that genuine observations, issues and complaints raised are addressed without further delay. If truly there are structural, administrative and institutional arrangements that appear to have favoured candidates from a particular section of the country above the others, the commission should look inward and rectify them before the polls. For the sensitive nature of its duties, INEC should guard against partisanship and should be seen as such in the allocation of the polling units. It should not be reluctant to do the right thing without any iota of fear or intimidation. This should be done as quickly as possible. Beyond the printing of electoral materials and the creation of new polling units, there is need for continuous enlightenment, voter education and honesty of purpose in order to have free, fair and credible elections in the country.
• Kupoluyi wrote from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, vide, firstname.lastname@example.org,
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