By Teingo Inko-Tariah
Let me start by apologizing to those who may find this narrative boring. I just think it’s important to put out the story so the incidental challenges of being a patriotic Nigerian living in Nigeria can be appreciated. If you don’t want the story then skip to the penultimate paragraph. INEC stands for Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission.
My attempt at voter’s registration in 2011 was unsuccessful. Upon arrival at the venue for the exercise in Abuja, I was discouraged by the crowd, harsh weather, disorderly and haphazard manner with which the exercise was being conducted. It turned out that I never registered to vote that year before I traveled for further studies.
Another opportunity presented itself in 2014 prior to the 2015 general elections but I guess at that point, my patriotism level was just not enough to spur me to undergo the exercise. Come January 2018, I decided to give the exercise another try having been prompted largely by the need to take steps to become part of the process of election of leaders in the Country, the series of reminders and awareness campaigns on social media and of course the abysmal state of affairs in the Country.
Following my resolve, I set out on the 23rd of January, 2018 to INEC Headquarters in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State where I was referred to the State INEC office. I was unable to go there on the same day but turned up at about 9:45am the following day. Immediately I arrived and saw the crowd, I became skeptical about waiting to undergo the process. There were various groups of people, based on the screening steps they had been through but the queue I was qualified to join was the longest. At a point the INEC official announced that he had a list of some people who waited till the 5pm closing time the previous day but could not carry out the exercise and anyone in that category should approach him in view of the promise to give them preference.
After about 15 mins of standing in the sun with a headache, an empty stomach, there was not much hope that I would achieve what I was there for. I felt sad for an elderly woman I saw and the nursing mothers around trying hard to pacify restless babies. I had to step aside from the queue a few times to get some respite from the sun and make use of a make shift seat. I kept contemplating leaving but from time to time it just seemed something was about to happen. I was also encouraged by someone who pointed out that after waiting for the period I had waited, I may as well endure through the process. At such times, minutes move at the pace of a snail. I managed to stay on hoping that somehow I could make progress with the exercise. After about an hour of waiting, I got to the point of first screening. We were to indicate if we had registered to vote before and our residential location in the state.
At that point I was referred again to a centre close to my house but the INEC official was kind enough to hand me a form and directed me to the person in charge of my centre. The following morning, I arrived at my centre but the hall in use was filled with people numbering up to 100 or more so I was almost certain that was not the day I would get registered having arrived after 9am with an appointment at work that morning. I was asked to complete the form given, drop it and return the next day. I sought to know the working hours and was told 7am — 3pm. I also asked what supporting documents to carry along when returning the next day and was told none. I was surprised.
The following day I arrived at 7am and saw some people at the venue waiting. They had written a list already and I was no 33 on the list. Then the wait began. The INEC officials arrived about 35 minutes later but the exercise did not commence until about 8:15am. I was lucky to be among the first set of persons attended to because I had already handed in my form the previous day. When it got to my turn, I did the biometric procedure and my details were entered on the system after which a temporary voter’s card was issued to me. Wow! At last a sigh of relief. As I left the center it became clear that there was a fundamental flaw with the process of voter registration exercise and that INEC may well have registered many foreigners if that was the way the process had been carried out over the years.
s. 1 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended empowers INEC to carry out voter registration exercise for persons who are eligible. The criteria for eligibility are (1) Nigerian citizenship, (2) residency in Nigeria and (3) attainment of minimum age of 18 years. It is therefore very shocking to find that the registration exercise neither makes provision nor takes into account the presentation of any form of evidence to verify the eligibility of persons. By this token, foreigners and under-aged persons could well be on the list of registered voters. This a very disturbing development. It is even more unacceptable at a time when several efforts have been made to capture data of Nigerian citizens in the last few years through sim card registration, bank verification number exercise, National Identification card registration following which a National Identification Number is issued. Going forward, the recommendation for INEC is to carry out proper verification of persons who turn up for voter registration exercise. Asking that those already registered can be screened again to ensure they are eligible may be asking for too much but that is the ideal. We certainly need to re-think the way things are done in this Country.