By Ignatius Okorocha
President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, on Tuesday said that the National Assembly would support the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in its bid to provide a secure and safe voting environment, with the ultimate aim of fostering democracy by ensuring electoral integrity and transparency in the conduct of elections.
Lawan made this known while speaking at a meeting between the National Assembly Joint Committee on INEC and Electoral Matters and a delegation from the Independent National Electoral Commission, led by its Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu.
In his presentation, Prof. Yakubu, while underscoring the need for the creation of additional Polling Units across the country, said the current configuration of 119,973 polling units was established by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) in 1996.
According to him, “the problem of voter access to polling units has far reaching implications for the quality of elections and democracy in Nigeria. It is tied to a most fundamental aspect of democratic governance which is the right to vote.”
He explained that previous attempts by INEC to expand voter access to polling units resulted in the creation of “baby units” to serve the rapidly growing Federal Capital Territory in 2007.
He added that, “in 2014, in the buildup to the 2015 general election, INEC proposed the creation and distribution of additional 30,027 new polling units.
“This was with the objective of decongesting overcrowded polling units and dispersing voters as evenly as possible to disruptions, delays and violence on election day.”
The Senate President on his part, emphasized the need for more polling units to be created to ensure voter safety and a better voting environment in Nigeria.
According to him, the creation of more polling units across the country would facilitate ease of access and enable registered voters exercise their civic rights of participating during elections.
According to him, mobilizing more registered voters to participate during elections would improve Nigeria’s electoral process besides the creation of more polling units by the Commission.
“The issue is not only creating more polling units but even mobilizing voters to participate, because if you have 85 million, and at the end of the day, just about 29.8 million go out to vote, it means you have left out about 50 million Nigerians.
“And, that is not a responsibility of INEC alone. Mobilization of voters is something that politicians and political parties are also supposed to do. And, of course, the same with Civil Society Organization that have any relationship interest or concerns with voters or voting”.
On the Electoral Act amendment presently before the National Assembly, the Senate President said the Senate and the House of Representatives “are working so hard and the two chambers are prepared to look into the report.”
“Let me take this opportunity to assure Nigerians that the Electoral Act amendment – the Constitutional review that our committees in the House and Senate are doing – would be passed before we go on our second break. Our second break is normally between June and July.
“We want to do a very thorough job, we want to create legislative amendments that will ensure that our electoral environment is enhanced, that our elections are better in terms of integrity and transparency,” he added.
Earlier, the Chairman Senate committee on INEC, Sen. Kabiru Gaya, had tasked the Commission on making polling units available for electorate.
Gaya urged INEC to be proactive in the area of polling units location that are in difficult terrain as well as ensuring that the physically challenged are taken into consideration in accessibility to polling units, which he revealed would be captured in the proposed Electoral Act amendment Bill, 2021.