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Promoting Good Governance.

DISENFRANCHISED: Corps members, security operatives … six people generally unable to vote in Nigeria’s elections

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THERE are presently over 84 million registered voters in Nigeria according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Though only 72.8 million of those eventually picked up their voters’ cards, a significant number of these eligible voters are always disenfranchised at every election because of the structure of the Nigerian electoral system. 

In 2015, for instance, while 67.4 million Nigerians registered with the electoral commission, only 29.4 million voted. Likewise, in 2011, while 73.5 million persons were registered to participate, not more than 39.5 million eventually cast their vote.

Voter apathy has been identified as one huge factor responsible for this, as many Nigerians have become disillusioned with the system owing to various electoral irregularities. But, apparently, it is not the only factor.

The methods adopted locally and the practical limitations associated with elections in Nigeria are also to blame. For example, absentee balloting schemes enabling persons not able or willing to visit regular polling stations to which they are allocated are not adopted in Nigeria. Two of such schemes are postal voting, used for instance in Germany, India, and the Netherlands, and internet voting, which has been used in Estonia, Canada, France, United States, Switzerland, among others.

As these inclusive approaches are yet to be replicated in Nigeria, every four years certain categories of citizens are unable to vote. These citizens run into several millions and, in this report, The ICIR takes a look at some of them.

Nigerians in diaspora

According to the federal government, over 17 million Nigerians live in one country or the other outside their home country, and every year they send back the equivalent of N7.3 trillion. But in spite of their huge number and enormous economic value, their constant demands for enfranchisement have still not been granted.

Festus Okoye, INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of Information and Voter Education, clarified in December that the commission will not be making provisions for diaspora or out-of-the-country voting in the 2019 general elections.

“The Commission wishes to state unequivocally that there will be no Diaspora or out-of-country voting for any Nigerian in accordance with extant provisions of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended)”, he said in a press statement.

But it is not clear what constitutional provisions he had in mind, as the third schedule of the instrument providing for the electoral commission says nothing about the location of eligible voters.

Ben Okoyen, Nigeria’s Consul-General in New York, blames the lack of a reliable database of all Nigerians abroad for the delay in enshrining diaspora voting rights.

It is not only Nigerians resident abroad who are affected though; those who temporarily travel for one reason or the other are included too. Joe Abah, DAI’s country director in Nigeria, tweeted on Friday: “Unfortunately, the postponement of the elections has denied me the chance to vote and observe the Presidential elections, as I have had to travel abroad for work.” Kadaria Ahmed, commenting on the post, confirmed that she has had to travel during the period too and cannot vote.

Meanwhile, external voting, as at 2007, was allowed in up to 115 countries and territories across the world, 41 of them in Europe. These countries allow citizens in the diaspora to vote using the postal service, electronic voting methods or the less-common proxy voting.

It is a practice that has been around since 1862 when the United States’ Wisconsin made laws to allow soldiers who fought in the Union army to vote during the civil war. New Zealand also introduced absentee voting for seafarers in 1890 and then Australia followed suit in 1902.

Corps members

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INEC said in January that it intends to make use of between 300,000 and 400,000 members of the National Youth Service Corps, to make up about 40 percent of its ad-hoc staff during the conduct of elections.

The vast majority of these corps members are automatically disenfranchised by virtue of their deployment to places within states that are generally neither their place of origin nor residence.

INEC officials

There are presently up to 119,809 polling units in the country and, in addition to the corps members, INEC will also be deploying other ad-hoc workers numbering between 400,000 and 700,000, according to Okoye.

Asides presiding and assistant presiding officers, the ad-hoc workers will also serve as collation officers, supervisory presiding officers, and technical support staff to be deployed in all registration areas and wards. Then, collation officers are also deployed in all the 774 local governments of the country.

Security operatives

It is primarily members of the Nigeria Police who are used to ensure law, order, and peaceful conduct of elections nationwide, as the electoral commission has said soldiers are only to man conflict areas such as IDP camps where they are already situated.

Nigeria has up to 334,000 policemen according to former Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, and by the nature of their job, they are unable to cast their votes or even remain in preferred locations at the time of elections.

On the other hand, there are no obstacles to policemen voting in places like the United Kingdom where special provisions are made. And in the United States, they, in fact, do more than just vote. In 2016 for example, the Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest police union, endorsed the presidential ambition of Donald Trump.

Aides

A survey conducted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) has found that governors in Nigeria have an average of 100 political appointees. But some have much higher; Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State, for instance, has over 1000 of such appointees “designed to make sure we fight poverty in the land”.

NAN also discovered that no fewer than 2,570 aides are under the employment of the eighth National Assembly. It is expected that a vast number of these special advisers and assistants will be unable to vote during elections unless prior measures had been taken to transfer voting centres.

President Muhammadu Buhari was able to get INEC to transfer many of his 101 aides’ polling units to Daura for the general elections, but not all political leaders have this kind of influence or forethought. Then again, changing your polling unit to one in a state you have little familiarity with only means you are likely not to vote in every other election asides the presidential or you would be voting blindly along party lines.

Observers and journalists

It is not clear how many reporters INEC accredited for the 2019 general elections, but the electoral commission has revealed that 144 observer groups received accreditation, 116 domestic and the rest international. The members of these observer groups who are free to monitor elections and move around on the days of election are 73,000.

Many of the domestic observers and journalists will also be unable to cast their votes, especially if they are transferred by their employers to areas outside where they are registered.

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