Shortly after the February 10, 2018 local government election in Kano State, pictures and video clips depicting voting in the election by under-aged persons went viral on the internet. It did not require any scientific enquiry to conclude that the boys and girls in the pictures were well below 18 years, the minimum age required by the 1999 Constitution for a Nigerian to be eligible to vote. This is not the first time incidents of under-age voting had been reported in various parts of the country. However, the seeming incontrovertible nature of the proof this time elicited general outcry nationwide with concerns that the 2019 general elections may have already been compromised if minors can openly be facilitated to vote.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) subsequently set up an eight-man investigative committee to look into the saga and certify if the national voters’ register may have been compromised.
Last week, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of INEC, unveiled the findings of the committee which he said the commission has adopted. According to him, the commission had made the voters’ register available to the Kano State Independent Electoral Commission (KANSIEC) as was the case with previous local government elections in other states as prescribed by law. The INEC boss distanced his organisation from the conduct of the Kano council elections, stating that it has no legal remit to even investigate the conduct of the election.
However, the committee’s report affirmed that KANSIEC threw processse overboard and allowed for any one that wanted to vote to participate without recourse to INEC’s register. In Prof. Yakubu’s words, “given that the register was substantially not used to accredit voters before voting, it is logical to conclude that if under-aged voting occurred in the election, it was not due to any presence of under-aged registrants on the register of voters.”
This observation raises serious questions on the rules of engagement and guidelines to be adhered to by State Independent Electoral Commissions. Apparently, KANSIEC may have decided to waive the requirement for registration for the council election. The legality of this action even though without official pronouncement is doubtful since the Electoral Act as amended unequivocally states that prospective voters must be present their registration cards and be certified to be on the voters’ register.
Although Prof. Yakubu insisted that Nigeria now has a “dependable register, even if it is not perfect” and that “not a single formal complaint on this matter has been received by the Commission” on the integrity of the register, officials of the commission have severally acknowledged that the register has cases where under-aged people were registered. Following the outcry over the February 10 council election in Kano State, some INEC officials who superintended the registration of voters in the state and some other northern states gave graphic accounts of how they were forced under threat to their lives to register people below the constitutional age of 18 years.
The extent of under age registration in Kano and some other states is yet to be determined, but that it is so brazenly conducted betrays a level of official complicity in the plot that is designed to undermine the integrity of the electoral register.
The concern among Nigerians was accentuated by the proclamation of the governor of Kano State, Alhaji Abdullahi Ganduje, who after threatening to take President Muhammadu Buhari to court if he fails to seek re-election for a second term, promised to deliver five million votes for the president in the 2019 presidential election. For a state that mustered more than two million votes in 2015 with almost no void votes, the declaration was ominous.
The conduct of the Kano council elections and the observations of the INEC investigative team have given some insight into some weak frameworks and oversight functions of political parties and civil society organisations. Prof. Yakubu said that in line with provisions of the Electoral Act, the commission diligently makes copies of the voters’ register to political parties and is willing to do same to any persons or groups that fulfill the financial requirements for accessing the register.
According to him, at no time has there been any complaint on the register from any of the parties or organisations to INEC. That there has been none does not connote a perfect register. Rather, it shows that political parties and civil society organisations have not been diligent in scrutinising the register. Even when there may be genuine basis for complaint, stakeholders prefer to speak to the press only.
We urge INEC, political parties and civil society organisations to pick up the gauntlet and intensify their strategic roles in maintaining the integrity of the nation’s voter register. If the register is compromised ab initio, the subsequent elections are conduct on faulty premises and may not pass the integrity test.
INEC should make electronic copies of the register complete with photographs and finger prints to the political parties and other stakeholders who should diligently scrutinise the list ahead of the 2019 elections. A review of election guidelines to compel state independent electoral commissions to comply with all processes adopted by INEC may be imperative.
As Nigerians gear up for the 2019 election, all necessary measures must be taken to prevent voting by people who are below the constitutional requirement of attaining 18 years and above. Voting by minors under any guise is a serious electoral fraud.