By Joe Nwankwo,Abuja
As part of efforts aimed at curbing voter apathy insecurity and give voters access to polling units the Independent National Electoral Commission has concluded plans to establish sufficient number of polling units in each registration area and allot voters to such polling units.
According to a document made available to The Authority the Commission states that over the years voter access to polling units in Nigeria has been declining adding that for the 2019 general elections the average number of voter per polling unit was about 700 nationally rising to over 2000 in the Federal Capital Territory while a specific polling unit in Nassarawa state had over 15,000 voters.
The Commission pointed out that “some polling units are located in very difficult places that due not encourage voters to participate in elections particularly persons living with disability. While others are located in places experiencing conflicts or in places under the control of partisan actors. Because of of inadequate polling units many voters travel long distances to their polling units in election day which it said has contributed to low voter turnout at elections, egregious violation of election regulations and guidelines, violence and insecurity.
The Commission said that it 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.
According to the Electoral body “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 and ensuring that the environment at specific polling units is conducive to good voter experience, implementation of the Commission’s guidelines on organizing polling units as well as adequate security and safety of voters, especially in context of the COVID 19 pandemic.
The Commission stated that “it prefers to talk of voter access to polling units given the fact that accessibility to polling units given the fact accessibility to voting locations as guaranteed in the electoral legal framework is a democratic right for all citizens. 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.
“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 every attempt to review or reconfigure the polling units has been unsuccessful. Consequently the 1996 polling units 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.
The Commission pointed out that although the number declined to 68.83 in 2015 due to the cleaning up of the voter register through the Automated use of 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 as prescribed by the law.
INEC said that “the 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 which has resulted in voter apathy, low turnout and insecurity at polling units, disruption of elections and in the contest of the COVID 19 pandemic unsafe voting environments.