The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday allayed fears of stakeholders, especially political parties, on the distribution of new polling units it is planning to create ahead of the 2023 general election.
The commission ruled out favouring either of the political divide, South and North, in allocating the polling units.
“The commission will be fair to all,” INEC National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Festus Okoye, told THISDAY yesterday.
The electoral body also yesterday inaugurated a strategic committee in preparation for future general elections.
INEC plans to create additional 57,023 polling units (PUs) by converting the existing 57,023 polling points to PUs.
However, politicians, especially from the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have expressed concerns about how the polling units will be distributed between the South and the North.
So far, the commission has received 5,000 requests for the creation of new polling units from 25 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
INEC had said it planned to create the new polling units because the extant 119,973 polling units and 57,023 polling points were grossly inadequate for the 84,004, 084 voters in the country as at 2019 general election.
The decision to create the new polling units is mainly due to the rapidly growing population and changing demographics as well as the registration of new voters, creation of new settlements, including camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), and the need to decongest crowded polling units in urban areas, especially given the COVID-19 pandemic.
But political parties and other stakeholders, at a meeting with INEC last week, had expressed worries about how the new polling units would be distributed.
They anchored their concerns on the earlier projection by the former INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, who in August 2014 sought to create 30,027 additional polling units ahead of the 2015 general election, with 21,615 in the North and 8,412 in the South.
Controversy had trailed the proposed plan due to its lopsidedness, forcing INEC to drop the exercise.
The latest concerns, according to stakeholders from both APC and the PDP, is how INEC will allocate the new polling units without necessarily giving an undue advantage to any of the political divide, the North and the South, because of the high stake associated with 2023 general election.
Reacting to the stakeholders’ concerns, Okoye, told newsmen yesterday that the commission would be fair to all.
He said: “The conversion of voting points and voting point settlements to polling units will not confer any advantage to any section of the country but rather it will guarantee better access and safe voting environment to the Nigerian people.
“Our aim is a national consensus on the conversion and agreed guidelines of actualising the intendment of section 42 of the Electoral Act. Thereafter, the establishment of new polling units will become a routine.”
According to him, the present leadership of the commission believes that its predecessor did not map out an adequate process of engagement and stakeholder mobilisation before embarking on the previous attempts to create polling units, adding that this led to misunderstanding of its true intent.
He explained: “In 2016, the commission conducted the FCT Area Council elections and created voting points and voting point settlements to serve new and unserved areas and settlements.
“For the 2019 general election, the commission used and created a total of 57, 023 voting points and voting point settlements as offshoots of the existing 119, 973 polling units. These congested polling units, voting points and voting point settlements are clustered in the same locations leading to congested polling units, low voter turnout, voter apathy, voting in an unsafe environment, disruptions and violence.
“In Mararaba Garage 1 and Mararaba Garage 11 in Karu, Nasarawa State, both have a total of 25, 275 registered voters and 70 voting points all clustered together. People come as far as 10 kilometres to these polling units and voting points on Election Day.
“The surge of people wanting to vote sometimes leads to violence, over voting and cancellations. Because of this inability to exercise powers granted it by section 42 of the Act, the commission could not address this apparent anomaly.”
Okoye said the expansion and access of voters to polling units is not about allocation that must be determined based on politically motivated and entitlement consideration.
Okoye said: “We must, therefore, discard allocation and palliative mentality and considerations in the expansion of access to polling units.
“The commission has used the 57,023 voting points and the voting point settlements and it has worked and the commission wants to convert them into polling units.
“Polling units must go to the people that deserve them rather than the people chasing polling units. “The commission will no longer allow overcrowding of polling units and people trekking long distances to access polling units with all the restrictions on election day.
“The commission will no longer condone people travelling long distances from new settlements and over populated areas to assess polling units. The commission will no longer condone election disruptions and violence leading to inconclusive elections.”
He said the commission is, therefore, proposing the conversion of the 57,023 voting points and voting point settlements to polling units and the standardisation and routinisation of the establishment of new polling units through a veritable and inclusive process involving the key stakeholders in the electoral process.”
He explained that INEC decided to engage in broad, nationwide, inclusive and consultative approach to the expansion of voter access to polling units, adding that this strategic and consensus approach to a national challenge is informed by a careful review of past reports and approaches at establishing enough polling units in response to the growing population, demographic shifts, safety and security concerns and response to regional and international standards in election management and organisation.
He expressed regrets that creating more polling units has not been possible since 1996.
INEC Inaugurate Strategic Committee for 2023 Elections
The Chairman of the INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, yesterday inaugurated a strategic committee in preparations for future general elections.
He said the committee will review the strategic plan of the commission and to produce the election project plan
“This is the third time in the history of the commission that such a committee is inaugurated since the beginning of the era of deliberate planning for elections,” he said.
He added that the commission believes that it should not approach election management on an ad hoc basis, but rather, it must deliberately plan for elections.
He said: “The commission produced a strategic plan to cover the period of 2012 to 2016. And then we reviewed the plan to cover the period 2017 to 2021. And now we’re reviewing the plan again, to cover the period 2022 to 2026.
“This plan will form the basis set for the full formulation of the election project plan for the 2023 general election. It will also help the commission to identify all events, programmes and actions that needed to be implemented before the 2023 general election.
“It will also help us to track the off-season, governorship elections taking place between this year 2021 and 2023 to ensure that these elections are also properly implemented.”
He stated that there are three such elections, adding that, the first one, for which the commission has already issued, released the timetable and schedule of activities is the Anambra State governorship election taking place in November this year.
He said the next off-season governorship elections, would happen in Ekiti and Osun States next year.
The strategic plan and the election project plan, he said, would enable the commission to monitor all the processes through its election management system platforms.
“So, this is a very important exercise for the commission to be undertaken.
The committee is made up of 17 members at the secretariat. We have three national commissioners, headed by AVM Ahmed Muazu (rtd), who will chair the committee in his capacity as chairman of the commission’s committee on planning, monitoring and strategy,” Yahaya.
He named members of the committee to include Prof. Okechukwu Ibianu, the chairman of the electoral operations and logistics committee, and Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola, who is chairman of the outreach and partnership commission committee.
Others are two Resident Electoral Commissioners of Lagos and Adamawa States and eight directors, technical committee members, two consultants.
He said the committee, which will be guided by a 10-point terms of reference, has 40 days to submit its report.