The voters’ registration exercise and its (potential) discontents



Elections in Nigeria since 1998/99 seem to suggest the more we spend in conducting them the more shambolic the outcome. Back then the country spent 8.6 billion Naira on the elections. Hajiya Fatima Muazu, a former National Commissioner at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), gave the figures while speaking at a seminar in August 2003 in Kaduna which reviewed the year’s elections earlier in March.

This was peanuts compared to the cost of the ’03 elections; 45 billion Naira, according to the commissioner. I do not have the figures for those of ’07 but chances were that they were more expensive than those of ’03 if only because they were the first to introduce the expensive Direct Data Capturing (DDC) machines for voter registration.

The first demonstration of the machines at the National Assembly which followed so much hype about their reliability by the sacked and much unlamented Chairman of INEC, Professor Maurice Iwu, proved disastrous; they could not register any member.

Still that did not stop the man from ordering tens of thousands of the machines. Yet the elections that year established the record of being the first in the country’s history without a voters’ register of any description.

The year’s elections themselves were almost universally condemned as the worst in the country, possibly in much of the world.

It is, of course, possible to have an election worse than Iwu’s. But that would require an exceptional degree of incompetence and almost total disregard for accountability, vices which no one as yet has accused Iwu’s successor, Professor Attahiru Jega – or the INEC he now heads – of.

On the contrary Jega has come to the job highly recommended for his acclaimed integrity if not competence as well.

Right now he risks doing terrible damage to both by his handling of the just concluded voters’ registration exercise and the outcomes of the primaries of all political parties especially those of the Big Four, namely, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).

To begin with the outcome of the primaries. The furore provoked by the difference between the lists of candidates the parties submitted to INEC and what it eventually approved does not augur well for this year’s elections. In fairness to INEC, the confusion about the lists is merely a reflection of the confusion in our seemingly fluid electoral law about which, between INEC and the political parties, has the final word about who should be their candidates.

Even then INEC has not helped its image as an honest broker by the inconsistency of its decisions between the factions within the parties. For example, whereas in a case like that of Ogun State PDP it sided with the headquarters in Abuja under the apparent influence of former president and current chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees, Olusegun Obasanjo, in the similar case of Kano State CPC it sided with the state chapter.

Even more worrisome than INEC’s handling of the party primaries as a bad omen for the forthcoming elections was its handling of the voters’ registration exercise. First it asked for 87 billion Naira for the DDC machines alone. This was nearly twice the cost of the ’03 elections. After some chiding by a seemingly reluctant National Assembly it got the money.

The exercise itself was slated for 15 days from January 15. By January 23, he told a Senate hearing on January 26, 28.5 million Nigerians had been registered. This was a small fraction of the 65 million he himself said was a realistic estimate of the voting population and an even smaller small fraction of the projected 70 million.

He then asked the legislators for a week more to complete the job. The extension, he said, would cost 6.6 billion Naira more in sundry expenses. That apparently prompted the editors at Next to put the man in a cartoon illustration of his face holding a begging plate on the cover of its January 27 with the banner headline, “HELLO, BIG SPENDER.” Most newspapers agreed, howbeit not in exactly the same words.

Still the legislators eventually approved the additional amount. However, by the end of the extension he’d asked for, INEC had registered less than 60 million voters.

The litany of the problems that confronted INEC during the exercise is too familiar to need restating. Some of them, like the late delivery of the DDC machines and the supply of some that did not meet the commission’s specifications, were really outside its control. But some, like the inadequate training of the trainers for the exercise and avoiding the alienation of its own staff by paying them much less allowances than it paid the ad-hoc staff, were well within its control.

On the whole, in spite of the numerous problems outside its control INEC could certainly have done a better job that it did given the resources it was given and given also the public goodwill its leadership enjoyed. Worse, chances are that the publication of the result of the exercise may provoke even more furore than that provoked by its lists of candidates for the elections.

In its edition of January 27, The Nation published a table of what it claimed was the disaggregation of the voters registered by the eight day of the exercise.

INEC is yet to disavow the table. Yet even the most casual examination of the table would reveal several incongruencies. Below is a table which is a combination of my own state by state disaggregation based on The Nation’s and another one produced back in 2003 by Dr. Mobolaji Aluko, a well-known American based Nigerian blogger, following the controversial identity card registration which President Obasanjo had initially made compulsory for eligibility to vote in the ’03 elections.

There are five columns of figures each for the Northern and Southern states. The first three columns on the right for each of the regions is Aluko’s. The remaining two are mine based on The Nation’s table.

Even a casual glance at the tables will show that most states have suffered sharp declines in the size of their voters between The Nation’s projections for the 22 days of the current exercise and the figures for 2003. The few that showed increases like Adamawa, Sokoto, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Imo, Ebonyi and Lagos, increased fairly sharply. Lagos in particular increased by more than half its figures for 2003.

All of these look untenable. When INEC publishes its own figures and they turn out to be the same as The Nation’s they are likely to throw even more doubts on the credibility of this year’s elections than its handling of the parties’ candidates lists..

Given the money already spent on the elections already and the expectations raised by Jega’s INEC that would be most tragic, perhaps worse. This is not to mention even more that will certainly be spent before April.

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