INEC Voters Register and the 2019 Elections: Matters Arising! -Ishola Adebayo

January 11, 2019

The recently released voters register breakdown by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) forty days ahead of the 2019 general elections exercise, caught many Nigerian unawares with the perceptibility realities from the published data.

The body said the official total number of registered voters for the 2019 General Elections is: 84,004,084 ( Eighty Four Million, Four Thousand, and Eighty Four). On its verified Twitter handle, INEC revealed, earlier in the week, that its chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, made the presentation at the quarterly consultative meeting with political parties.

INEC statistics shown that, ahead of 2019 general elections, the North-west and South-west geo-political zones lead with the highest number of registered voters. It revealed that Lagos State comes first, with 6,570,291 while Kano State comes in second place with 5,457,747. With youth between 18 and 35 years constituting the highest number of voters with 51.11% at 42,938,458 voters.

Of the total, there are more registered male voters (44,405,439) than female voters (39,598,645). The male population of registered voters make up 52.86% of the total voter register with registered female voters making up the remaining 47.14%.

As Nigeria heads to polling units to elect political leaders on February 16 and March 2, 2019; how prepared is the electorate for the Herculean task ahead? Many observers have welcomed the release of the voters register breakdown, because it will give INEC and politicians ample time to plan and prepare for their exercise.

There are, however, some identified issues that may constitute hurdles for the electoral body, if not tackled promptly.

Are there going to be strict adherence to internal party democracy by our political parties? Will there be issue-based campaigns? Will the voter turnout be high? Will the media reportage be unbiased and professional? Will our courts be spared of being dragged into determining party candidates? Will the elections hold as scheduled?

In INEC's official report on the last general elections held in 2015, the commission identified nine challenges it faced in the lead up to the polls.

They were: Rising insecurity in the North-East of the country, due to insurgency; looming threats of violence in the elections particularly linked to the intemperate attitude and rhetoric of politicians; tortuous process of procurement, which could jeopardise timely preparations for elections; non-finalisation of amendments to the electoral legal framework namely, and inability of the Presidency to assent to the amended Electoral Act.

Others were: Persistent incapacity of the commission to effectively prosecute electoral offenders to serve as deterrent to those who may plan to engage in electoral malpractices; delay in the finalisation of the guidelines for the elections which particularly affected the production of the training manual; and lingering challenges of maximising the impact of voter education.

A critical look at these challenges will reveal that some of them are internal to the electoral management body while others are external to it. Issues of insecurity, legal reform, hate speech and heating up of the polity are all external to INEC. Of all these external issues, the most worrisome is that of the legal reforms. It is very worrisome that less than 40 days to the next elections, the legal framework for the conduct of the polls remains uncertain.