The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday rallied state governors to support its plans to create additional polling units by helping to depoliticise the exercise.
The commission has also given hints on the criteria for the expansion of the polling units.
The appeal was made yesterday by the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, when he and the national commissioners of the commission briefed Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on the need to expand the polling units.
He said: “We believe that state governors can play a role by helping to depoliticise the issues involved and supporting the commission in our quest to build a national consensus in order to solve the problem.”
Yakubu made the appeal in view of the concerns being raised by socio-cultural groups over the criteria for the expansion of the polling stations.
The issue of additional polling units, which was shelved ahead of the 2015 general election, is generating a fresh controversy following INEC’s announcement that it is considering creating additional polling units nationwide before the 2023 general election.
Nigeria currently has 119,973 polling units with additional 57,000 voting points for its 84 million voters.
In August 2014, INEC had 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.
However, controversy trailed the proposed plan, leading to its suspension.
The commission had explained that Nigeria’s rapidly growing population and changing demographics, as well as 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 are some of the reasons that gave rise to plans for the creation of more polling units.
Yakubu stated that the exercise was merely administrative.
He explained: “The first one is that the voting points have been used since 2011; therefore, they are well known and have been accepted as the basis for conducting elections since 2011. Citizens are familiar with them.
“Unserved areas can be easily verified using maps and the good thing is that we now have satellite imageries of the location of all our polling units nationwide.
“Number three, the conversion will require less time and resources. This is something that we can do it easily on the basis of the information that we have.
“Number four, it will address the substantial number of requests that we have received so far for the creation of polling units.”
Yakubu said the process for the expansion of the polling units included residents applying for polling units, which would be verified before approval.
According to Yakubu, “This is consistent with the powers of the commission under Section 42 of the Electoral Act, which empowers the commission to establish polling units and to allot voters to them.
“But this process is going to take a long time. So many groups have been writing the commission asking for polling units, but the commission did not request communities or individuals to apply for polling units.
“Not just polling units, citizens have also been asking for more wards to be created; some have been asking for more state constituencies to be established in some cases, even the things that we cannot do under the constitution – the creation of additional federal constituencies and even senatorial districts.”
He said the second option is to create polling areas under Section 13 of the Electoral Act and align them with the registration areas of the National Population Commission (NPC).
According to him, the commission has been working with the NPC on this, but they have not made much progress.
He said: “We have been working with the population commission since 2017 to align the enumeration areas to the registration areas but so far, we have covered a little over 240 local government areas out of 774. If in four years we have only covered 240 LGAs, it will take the next 10 years to cover all the 774 LGAs.
“It’s a good thing for the commission to aspire to and for the nation as well, so that next time there is a population census, we’ll just adjust figures accordingly.
“But we’ll continue to work with the NPC. This is an option, but it is also cumbersome. It will require time and a substantial amount of resources.
“The third option is for us to consider converting the voting points and voting point settlements into full-fledged autonomous polling units.”
The INEC boss added that the first option will be for the commission under Section 42 of the Electoral Act to create and populate those polling units.
“It will take time to receive requests; it will take time to process and between now and the next general election, it’s 729 days, one day shy of two years. The next election will hold on Saturday, February 18, 2023,” he said.
He told Osinbajo that the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere; the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), have promised to give INEC a date soon for the planned meeting between INEC and the groups.
“We are also briefing the Federal Executive Council and the National Council of State and the National Assembly as part of this consultation.
“Our idea is to build a broad national consensus that will help us solve this 25-year-old problem,” he stated.