By Omotola James Babalola
Dear Professor Mahmood Yakubu,
Good day. I hope you are good. I salute your courage in accepting to steer the great ship of a Nigerian institution called the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) towards a great 2019 election; despite the hullabaloos and cries of the opposition concerning your appointment. Issues such as favouritism were raised during your appointment as a result of your regional affiliation with the president. I know you are working assiduously hard to surpass the achievements of your predecessors, especially Professor Attahiru Jega, in the conduct of the Nigerian elections. I also know that you are trying your best to prove the detractors wrong. Almighty God will crown your efforts with success. The reason for this open letter is to discuss some issues that might affect the credibility of the next general elections and proffer some solutions that might arrest these matters.
First of all, I will like to discuss about the scourge of illegal voting by ineligible individuals. I observed that some under-aged individuals were allowed to vote during the recently conducted local government elections. This is contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian constitution which stated that the legal voting age limit is at the age of eighteen years. I would not allege that a particular region is responsible for this criminal act. I do believe that some of the responsibilities of a good electoral umpire border on neutrality and accountability. However, solving this challenge is dependent on the adoption of modern technology.
I read an article online where some young people were interviewed and some of them displayed their voters’ cards. I observed that the pictures of these under-aged individuals were captured during the previous voters’ registration. Fortunately, there are modern photo technologies that can scan, filter and flag off the pictures of suspicious under-aged photographs in the electoral databases. The flagged suspicious pictures can then be highlighted and subjected to further examinations. These investigations can take place prior to or on the Election Day where such individuals can be asked to bring their birth certificates or legal means of identification as a supplementary means of verification before they are allowed to register and vote as eligible citizens.
Secondly, another baffling issue that I want to discuss with you is the issue of uncollected permanent voter’s card (PVCs) by the citizens. I read with dismay, an info graphic map of the nation where some residents in some regions were yet to collect their cards. I was aghast to know that the total numbers of uncollected PVCs were more than a million. I did a quick mental calculation of the attendant worth of these cards. Let us assume that the cost of a card is fifty naira. The total worth of those uncollected PVCs can reach a staggering amount of one billion naira. Unfortunately, these cards cannot be easily recycled to produce other means of identification due to its unique security features. An attempt to recycle these cards will also lead to some losses incurred on behalf of the federal government. Even the technologies to recycle them are not readily available in Nigeria. In addition, the primary owners of these PVCs might attempt to obtain new cards in order to exercise their mandates in the next elections. This will also lead to an increased expenditure that might result in the production of new ones even when the old cards exist. This leads to a dilemma that can be solved if there is a good political will. The solution will involve the efficient combination of technological, human and financial resources. Since the major complaint behind the non-collection of the permanent voters’ cards is the barrier to accessing these cards by the users. The electoral body can use an ingenious means to reduce this barrier. The solutions are sequentially highlighted below:
Firstly, the national electoral body should direct her state chapters to compile the data of those individuals that are yet to collect their cards. The data should consist of their names, age, resident address and state of origin. This will help citizens to locate and identify those that are not yet to collect their cards. It will also make it easy in creating awareness by various pressure groups and other social media websites. The list should be compiled according to the initial states of registration.
Secondly, the data should be uploaded on the INEC website. The information should be uploaded to make it easy for the recipient INEC state chapter to strike off and transfer the names from existing voters’ register to the updated voters’ register. Awareness should be created on various media platforms so as to encourage people to check their names and their acquaintances.
Thirdly, the electoral body should utilise various recognised social media platforms such as Twitter, Nairaland and Facebook to interact with concerned citizens that will like to transfer their uncollected cards to their current state of residence for easy collection. The cards should be collected at INEC state chapters.
Thereafter, the requested old cards will be transferred in batches either weekly or monthly depending on the volume of requests and urgency. These cards can be sent efficiently via local courier services such as NIPOST. Once it gets to the designated state, the person should be able to know if it has gotten to the state office via an automatic sign put in place on the INEC website. This can be done when the person in charge of the PVCs in each state chapter update the receipt of the cards on the website. The sign can include change of font colours. When the person comes for collection, the INEC officials can then cross-check his/her details by requesting for legalised means of identification and also checking their pictures. After this stage, a designated official can then update the voters’ register of the state with the collected PVCs data.
I believe that doing the above will save the country an incredible amount of resources. It will also reduce voters’ apathies that are common in developing countries like Nigeria.
I will be elated if some of these solutions are adopted to facilitate a more prosperous and democratic Nigeria. God Almighty will give you the wisdom to navigate the hurdles presented before the electoral body towards the conduct of a successful election. Do have a nice time at the helm of affairs.