IDPs from Guma LGA of Benue still disenfranchised, Tondu tells INEC, seeks redress

A former Commissioner for Lands and Survey in Benue State, Surv. John Tondu, has called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to make immediate special arrangements to take the on-going continuous voters’ registration exercise to all the internally displaced (IDP) Camps hosting Nigerian citizens from Uvir, Mbadwem, Mbabai, Mbayer-Yandev, Mbawa, and Nyiev Council Wards of Guma Local Government Area in Benue State. 

Tondo said in a petition he sent to the Chairman of INEC over the weekend that it would be very much appreciated if registration centres for physical registration of voters are located in the IDP Camps in Benue State.

In the petition dated 24th September 2021 and titled “Re: Continued disenfranchisement of internally displaced persons from Guma local government area of Benue State,” the former commissioner told the electoral body, “We believe this is the only way to guarantee that the internally displaced persons are given the opportunity of exercising their franchise in the forthcoming elections so that they can freely choose their political representatives.”

The petition was copied to the Residential Electoral Commissioner in Benue State, and the Guma Local Government Electoral Officer.

In the petition, John Tondo served notice that “if no special arrangements are put in place by INEC within 21 days, we shall be constrained to have recourse to the judicial system and take legal steps to ensure that the Commission is compelled to register and include in the voters’ register every Nigerian citizen from the aforementioned Council Wards in the IDP Camps in Benue State.”

Tondo, who also described himself as a community leader and a politician from Guma Local Government Area, told the Commission he was writing the petition on behalf of the IDPs from the following Council Wards in Guma Local Government Area: Uvir, Mbadwem, Mbabai, Mbayer-Yandev, Mbawa, and Nyiev, who were sacked from their homes by armed marauders and for a long time they have been living in IDPs camps in Benue State.

Part of Tondo’s petition reads:

“I have the mandate of the aforesaid internally displaced persons and my people in general to bring to your immediate attention for necessary action, the fact that the IDP Camps in Benue Sate and their inhabitants are being completely shut out of our country’s political process because they are not part of the on-going continuous voters’ registration exercise.

“As you are well aware, voting and being voted for are at the heart of democratic system of government. The rights to vote and to be voted for also constitute inalienable human rights recognized by the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights. It is in furtherance of these rights that the extant Electoral Act provides for continuous voters’ registration and constant updating of the Voters’ Register by INEC.

“As you are also aware, many Nigerian citizens of resident in Benue Sate origin were forced into various IDP Camps within the State because of frequent bloody internal conflicts which occasioned the prevailing climate of insecurity in the State. 

You would agree with me that those persons unfortunately displaced from their homes are still entitled to vote and be voted for, notwithstanding their current residential status. It is INEC that bears the constitutional and statutory responsibilities of ensuring that Nigerians of voting age, including the internally displaced persons, are registered as voters and are not disenfranchised through discriminatory implementation of INEC policies.

“It is common knowledge that in the run up to the 2019 General Elections, eligible voters in the IDP Camps in the State were not afforded the opportunity to participate in the continuous voters’ registration, and thus were unable to exercise their franchise during the Elections.

“Now, the INEC is conducting another voters’ registration for purposes of the 2023 General Elections, and once again persons eligible for registration as voters but who currently reside in the IDP Camps are being excluded from the process as no special arrangement whatsoever have been made to ensure their registration as voters and the inclusion of their names in the updated Voters’ Register.

“Facilities to enable on-line registration are non-existent in the IDP Camps at the moment. Even if such facilities were to be made available in the IDP Camps, it is a known fact that the level of illiteracy, including computer – illiteracy, is very high in Nigeria. It could be safely estimated that 75% to 80% of those in the IDP Camps in Benue State are illiterates who would find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to manipulate smart phones or computers in order to fill on-line soft-copies of the requisite forms to initiate or conclude their voters’ registration process.”

Figures from relevant agencies of government in Benue State indicate that there are about 36,000 internally displaced persons in the Guma camp alone, even as independent sources suggest the figure could, indeed, be far higher.

At the time of this report, INEC was still to respond or react to the petition from the Benue community leader.

Contacted, a senior official in the Public Affairs department of the Commission said on Sunday the matter was still to be brought to the attention of the department. “You know, such things (as Tondo’s petition) are normally addressed to the Chairman (and) when they come to the Chairman, he would minute them to the department in charge of Voter Registration. So, your best bet is to check with the voter registration,” he said in a  telephone chat.