By Harry Awurumibe, Editor, Abuja Bureau
Determined to improve on the integrity of the nation’s elections which will be acceptable by winners and losers, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has introduced several but necessary innovations that will facilitate free and fair elections in Nigeria.
For this singular reason, INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu on Thursday in Abuja unveiled a broad-based plans by the Commission to carry out its Constitutional duties even as he announced the recommencement of the suspended Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) on June 28.
Prof. Yakubu who disclosed this at a world press conference held at INEC Headquarters in Abuja, also used the occasion to give reasons the Commission failed to recommence CVR in 2020 at required by law and also missed the target of first quarter of 2021. He attributed it to the outbreak of Covid-19.
According to him: “In consideration of these challenges and the measures we have taken to overcome them, the Commission is now in a position to announce Monday 28th June 2021 as the date for the recommencement of the CVR exercise nationwide. The following critical activities will be accomplished within the following timelines leading to the recommencement of the exercise”.
Below is Prof. Yakubu’s full text at the occasion:
“Gentlemen of the Press,
1. As you are all aware, the registration of voters and production of an accurate Register of Voters are fundamental anchors of our electoral system. They are also primary functions of the Independent National Electoral Commission. Section 10 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) mandates the Commission to conduct registration of voters on a continuous basis. Previously, voter registration occurred around elections, principally due to the exigencies of resources. You would recall that the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) took place continuously from 27th April 2017 and was only temporarily suspended on 31st August 2018 to enable the Commission to prepare the data for the production of the Register of Voters and printing of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) for the 2019 General Election.
2. The General Election was followed by the usual post-election preoccupations of the Commission, such as post-election litigations, post-election reviews and several off-cycle elections, particularly the Governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States, which took place late in 2019. These off-cycle elections had to be conducted using the same Register of Voters for the 2019 General Election.
3. The CVR could not recommence in 2020 due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic. In line with the general advise by health officials regarding events involving large groups of people, we considered it inauspicious to restart the CVR at the height of the pandemic. The Commission issued a detailed policy on conducting elections in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which focused mainly on elections proper, since these elections must hold to prevent any constitutional crisis linked to end of tenure. Such elections took place in Edo and Ondo States late last year.
4. In the light of the prevailing circumstances, the Commission promised the nation that it would recommence the CVR in the first quarter of 2021. Our thinking at the time was that at the turn of the new year, we would have completed all outstanding off-season Governorship elections and that the pandemic would have eased. We also needed time to put in place new systems that would facilitate safer registration of voters, should the pandemic persist.
5. The first quarter of 2021 ended yesterday and obviously the Commission was unable to restart the CVR exercise. It is, therefore, in line with our long-standing pledge to carry Nigerians along in all our activities and to make them aware of any challenges in the discharge of our functions, that the Commission has called this Press Conference.
6. There are three cardinal reasons why the exercise could not start earlier. The first is the establishment of new systems that would ensure safer CVR exercise in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, the Commission is building a new online registration portal that would enable new registrants to commence registration online and subsequently complete the capture of their biometric data at designated registration centres. This is designed to reduce crowding. Through the online portal, they can schedule their visits to the registration centres to suit their convenience. Above all, a CVR Locator is integrated into the new portal which will enable online registrants to locate the nearest registration centre available to them to complete their registration. Previously, registered voters who wished to transfer their voting locations, apply for replacement of their PVCs or correct their personal information had to appear physically at the registration centres. The development of this portal, which is being done in-house by our engineers, has taken a little more time to complete than the Commission anticipated.
7. The second reason is the Commission’s determination to expand voter access to Polling Units. You would all recall that recently the Commission embarked on a nationwide engagement with Nigerians in which we raised the fundamental issue of declining voter access to Polling Units across the country. The engagement clearly demonstrated that the existing Polling Units are inadequate. They were initially designed to cater for a projected 50 million voters but presently serve over 84 million voters. In addition, many of the Polling Units are inaccessible to voters, especially Persons With Disability (PWDs), and are not conducive to implementing the Commission’s election regulations, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are glad that most Nigerians agree with the Commission on this issue, and we have commenced a far-reaching programme of converting Voting Points and Voting Point Settlements into full-fledged Polling Units and relocating poorly situated Polling Units to better locations. The Commission needs more time to complete this exercise, so that the new Polling Units will be available for registrants to choose during the CVR exercise.
8. Thirdly, the Commission has decided to introduce a new voter registration equipment and technology. The present generation of voter registration equipment, which the Commission introduced in 2011, is the Direct Data Capture Machine (DDCM). This is based on a laptop and a series of peripherals connected to it. In addition, it includes large powerpacks to power the laptops in the field. While the DDCMs have served the Commission well over the last 10 years, we believe that there are now more compact registration devices that will better serve Nigerians during the CVR exercise. The Commission is therefore migrating to the INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED), which is based on an Android tablet. The procurement of the new devices, the modification of the registration software by our in-house engineers to make it compatible with the Android Operating System, as well as integrating these with the online registration portal require a little more time. For instance, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our partners abroad who manufacture the IVED hardware, are not operating at full capacity and the pandemic has also made the supply chain and delivery much slower.
9. In consideration of these challenges and the measures we have taken to overcome them, the Commission is now in a position to announce Monday 28th June 2021 as the date for the recommencement of the CVR exercise nationwide. The following critical activities will be accomplished within the following timelines leading to the recommencement of the exercise:
- Expansion of voter access to Polling Units – 11th May 2021
- Building and testing the online registration Portal – 15th May 2021
- Arrival of the new generation of registration devices – the IVED – 31st May 2021
- Recruitment and training of Voter Enrolment Staff – 14th June 2021
- Restart of CVR – 28th June 2021
10. Effective from Monday 28th June 2021, the CVR exercise will commence nationwide and carried out continuously for over a year until the third quarter of 2022. However, emphasis will initially be on Anambra State where more centres will be established in view of the Governorship election already scheduled for Saturday 6th November 2021. In order to complete preparations for the Governorship election, the CVR exercise in the State will be temporarily suspended in August 2021. This will enable the Commission to clean up the data for the State and print the PVCs for registrants. As time goes on, the Commission will provide more details on the CVR exercise, particularly the innovations that will ensure a safe and stress-free experience for registrants. In doing so, we will fully consult stakeholders. In fact, the first in the series of these consultations will take place after the Easter break.
11. On behalf of the Commission, I call on all intending registrants, especially those that have turned 18 recently to turn out and register from Monday 28th June 2021. The following categories of Nigerians are particularly encouraged to seize the opportunity of the CVR in order to fulfil the important civic responsibility of voting:
i. All Nigerians who are 18 years of age and have never been registered to vote;
ii. Any registered voter who has had any issue during accreditation at previous elections so that the Commission can rectify the problem;
iii. All registered voters who wish to transfer their voting locations from the present one to another;
iv. All registered voters who have lost their PVCs or whose PVCs have been defaced or damaged; and
v. All registered voters who wish to correct their information such as misspellings of names, dates of birth etc.
12. Gentlemen of the Press, I would like to thank you for your abiding support for the work of the Commission. The Commission deeply appreciates the good relationship it has enjoyed with you, especially your overwhelming support and consideration during the national engagement on expanding voter access to Polling Units. We hope that you will continue to be our frontline partners during the CVR exercise and throughout the present electoral cycle and beyond. This democracy is collectively ours. Let us continue to work collectively to deepen, nurture and consolidate it.
13. I thank you immensely.