The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has disclosed that it wants to create additional 57,023 polling units ahead of the 2023 general elections in Nigeria.
The commission noted that if this can be done successfully, more eligible Nigerians will be able to exercise their voting rights.
Naija News understands that if stakeholders endorse and approve the plans by INEC, it will be the first time since 1996 that additional polling units, will be created. Section 42 of the Electoral Act empowers INEC to create Polling Units.
Currently, Nigeria has 119,973 polling units but makes use of additional polling points during elections to cater for the growing population. What INEC plans to do if approved, is to convert the polling points to polling units.
To this end, the electoral umpire is seeking the support of relevant bodies and stakeholders to make this possible and has fixed a meeting for Friday with the political parties in Abuja to table its proposals.
Also, it is understood that INEC plans to meet with other stakeholders, society groups, including pressure groups such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Arewa Consultative Forum, PANDEF, the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs( NSCIA) to build support for the plan.
INEC is also proposing cancelling the use of private compounds, royal palaces, government houses, political party buildings, or facilities that are in dispute as polling points in order to create more transparency in the electoral process.
According to the document, INEC is considering three options as regards the creation of additional polling units. These are:
1. Conversion of the existing 57,023 Voting Points and Voting Point Settlements to Polling Units
2. Application by residents of new area/settlement for Polling Units
3. Creation of Polling Areas in line with Section 13(3) of the Electoral Act 2010(as amended).
The document noted: “The current configuration of 119,973 Polling Units was established by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) in 1996.
“In the nearly 25-year period since then, every attempt to review or reconfigure the Polling Unit structure has been unsuccessful for sundry reasons. Consequently, the 1996 Polling Unit configuration was used for the 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 General Elections.
“When the Polling Unit structure was established in 1996, it was projected to serve about 50 million registered voters. However, the number of registered voters for the 1999 General Election was 57.93 million.
“This rose to 60.82 million in 2003, 61.56 million in 2007 and 73.52 million in 2011. Although the number declined to 68.83 million for the 2015 General Election following the cleaning up of the register through the use of Automated Fingerprints Identification System (AFIS) to eliminate double registrants, it rose to 84.04 million in 2019 as a result of the Commission embarking on a robust continuous voter registration exercise, as prescribed by law.
“The import of this development is that while the number of registered voters increased from 57.93 million in 1999 to 84.04 million in 2019, which is an increase of 45 percent, the number of Polling Units remained the same. This lack of correlation between the number of registered voters and the number of Polling Units since 1999 has resulted in congested Polling Units on Election Day and lack of Polling Units in many developing suburban and newly established settlements.
“The effects have been low voter turnout and voter apathy, insecurity at the Polling Units, disruption of elections and, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, unsafe voting environments.
“Indeed, presently, the average number of voters per Polling Unit in Nigeria, which stands at 700, is 37% more than the situation in Ghana.
“Yet, this could be quite misleading because in some States in Nigeria, the average number of voters per Polling Unit is well over 4,000. Indeed, in one Polling Unit, Mararaba Garage II in Karu Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, there are 15,061 voters, which is more than 2000% above this national average.
“Also, the Commission does not encourage the location of Polling Units in private compounds, royal palaces, government houses, political party buildings, or facilities that are in dispute, as well as very isolated or inaccessible locations such as forests or shrines.
“Consequently, by voter access to Polling Units we designate three things: first, it means adequacy of Polling Units, which has to do with establishment of Polling Units under Section 42 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
“Second, location of Polling Units in places that are conducive for voters to participate freely in the process. Third, ensuring that the environment at specific Polling Units is conducive to good voter experience, implementation of Commission’s guidelines on organizing Polling Units, as well as adequate security and safety of voters, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a result, the Commission prefers to talk of voter access to Polling Units given the fact that accessibility to voting locations as guaranteed in the electoral legal framework, is a democratic right for all citizens. In other words, the intent of the Commission is best captured by expanding access to Polling Units, rather than just the establishment of Polling Units, which is more limited in scope.”
On why it is discussing with stakeholders on the creation of additional polling units, INEC noted that: “The commission has identified several stakeholders for this engagement. This is based on the work of the commission and its past engagements with stakeholders.
“These stakeholders have a direct bearing on the work of the commission. Some of them such as political parties, civil society organizations and the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) already have programmed regular (quarterly) engagements with the Commission.
“We are beginning with political parties on Friday.”
In other news, the South Korean candidate for the World Trade Organisation director-general position, Yoo Myung-hee, has withdrawn her candidacy.
The development has seen Nigeria candidate who has the support of other African countries, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala the sole candidate left in the race.