The Independent National Electoral Commission has said it is unable to remove the names of dead persons from the voter register due to the absence of reliable data of births and deaths to rely on in expunging the names of such persons.
This implies that Nigeria may go into the 2023 general elections with a faulty voter register. This is compounded by allegations by some stakeholders that there are multiple registration and underage persons on the register.
They pointed out that a faulty register could affect the credibility of the elections as well as make the commission incur unnecessary costs, given that the commission might have to print ballot papers for the registered voters.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, told one of our correspondents in an interview that the commission could not remove names arbitrarily. He, therefore, asked Nigerians to support the commission in cleaning up the register.
Okoye said, “The commission displays the voter register for claims and objections but few Nigerians pay attention to the process. Nigerians must assist the commission to clean up the voter register by coming forward to point out deceased individuals or those that are not supposed to be in the voter register.
“Secondly, the country does not have reliable data of births and deaths and the commission cannot engage in arbitrary removal of the names of individuals it suspects are deceased.
“Our new software currently in use has been robust and has been detecting multiple registrants. We as a people and as a country must not condone and or connive in community aided and politically motivated under age registration. This commission is resolved and determined to prosecute all electoral infractions.”
Confronted by the compelling need to sanitise the register, INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had on September 24 asked the National Population Commission to periodically provide the commission with the data of deceased persons to update the voter register.
Yakubu had in 2018 made a similar request when he visited the then Chairman of the NPC, Mr Eze Duruijeoma, saying the cleanup was crucial for the 2019 elections.
But speaking in September when the Chairman of the NPC, Isa Kwarra, visited him at the INEC headquarters, Mahmood stated, “At present, technology cannot help us to identify and remove dead persons from the voter register.
“Therefore, I wish to once more appeal to the chairman of the NPC, in your capacity as the registrar of births and deaths in Nigeria, to periodically avail us of the data of deceased Nigerians.
“This is important so that we can use the official information from your commission to further clean up the voter register. Perhaps, you may wish to start by providing us with the list of prominent Nigerians who have passed on, civil and public servants compiled from the official records of government ministries, departments and agencies and other Nigerians from hospital and funeral records across the country.”
Commission helpless as NPC says only 10% of deaths registered
Meanwhile, there are indications that dead persons might continue to be in the voter register. Findings by Saturday PUNCH revealed that the National Population Commission does not have an updated register of deaths it could avail INEC with.
A senior staff of the commission, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said registration of deaths with the commission was only 10 per cent.
According to the source, the commission is worried that Nigerians do not pay attention to the fact that they are expected to register all births and deaths.
The source said, “The compliance level is very low. So far, with the analysis we have done, death registration is around 10 per cent, and the chairman of the commission has come out to say it is indeed very low.
“The reason is not farfetched, even with our reaching out to Nigerians to understand why we want every death recorded, many Nigerians have not taken it seriously.”
According to the official, many people come forward to register deaths or request death certificates when they need the certificates for financial gains.
The official said, “People only come around for death certificates when there is a need for it; maybe they want to claim something in the bank or the deceased has an estate and they want to claim it.
“We try to make people realise that what we are calling on them to do is to give the government the information that could help in planning, such as the causes of death. For example, if a higher death rate is registered in a particular region, state, local government or enumerated area, the government would want to know the cause of those deaths and if it requires intervention, the government will do so immediately.
“So, the national coverage as we speak today is only 10 per cent registration which is very low as the chairman said.”
Asked whether INEC had officially applied for the data, the source, who was not willing to answer the question, said the commission would release the data if it’s available.
The source said, “Certainly, if the commission has it, the data would be released. The Federal Government provides funds for the commission to function and the essence of that is for us to generate data and if INEC, an agency of government working for Nigerians, demands such data, and it is available, they would be obliged.”
When Okoye was asked if INEC had applied for the data from the NPC, he said he was out of jurisdiction and could not comment on the issue as of the time of the inquiry.
On the number of persons that had died in 2021 alone according to the register, the NPC official said, “That will be very difficult to say. It is the Vital Registration Department that has that record on the go. But what we have is the national coverage which is in percentage and usually, we categorise them state by state.”
“Regardless of how a person dies, every death should be registered with the NPC. That is what the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria clearly states,” the source added.
Section 1(i) of the fourth schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states, “The main functions of a local government council are as follows: registration of all births, deaths and marriages.”
But Paragraph 24 (b) of Sub-paragraph (J) of Part I of the Third Schedule of the constitution states, “The commission shall have the power to establish and maintain a machinery for continuous and universal registration of births and deaths throughout the Federation.”
Given the 10 per cent compliance the source cited earlier, the commission’s register may not be the true reflection of the active registered voters.
During the year, however, thousands of Nigerians have lost their lives to banditry, COVID-19 pandemic, Boko Haram insurgency, armed robbery, farmer-herder clashes, killings by unidentified gunmen, ailments and natural causes, among others.
The PUNCH reported earlier that no fewer than 3,125 persons were killed and 2,703 abducted by bandits in northern Nigeria in 2021, according to the figures obtained from the Nigeria Security Tracker, a project of the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank as well as quarterly reports released by the Kaduna State Government from January to September.
The NPC official said the commission had launched the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics digitisation process by which civil events such as births and deaths could be digitally recorded and institutions like INEC could access such data.
The source said, “Manual process was used in the past. Where you have raw data running into millions, it is difficult to manually collate them and put them out there. But with this digital process, they want to bring everything into one point where we will be able to have a kind of plug and play system.
“We also have inter-agency collaborations. The NPC has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Health both at the federal and the state levels and we collaborate with the Federal Road Safety Corps. It came to our understanding that many people die as a result of road accidents in Nigeria, and that collaboration with the Federal Road Safety Corps is necessary.”
Meanwhile, some analysts and stakeholders in the electoral process stressed the need for the register to be sanitised to boost the credibility of the elections.
While INEC has continually assured voters that with the card readers, only the owners of a permanent voter card could vote in an election, there have been allegations of politicians buying PVCs to boost their chances in elections.
Also, several persons in the past were caught with multiple PVCs. For example, in March 2015, some men were arrested with 500 PVCs in Ogbomoso, Oyo State; in April of the same year, the police in Ebonyi State arrested a man with 813 PVCs in Izzi community; and ahead of the 2016 governorship election in Edo State, a man was arrested with 25 PVCs at Ugo in Orhionmwon Local Government Area of the state, which he collected from residents with the promise to help them with loans.
In February 2019, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency arrested a man with 244 PVCs in Akwa Ibom State; another man was arrested with 2,000 PVCs in the Iyekogba axis of Oredo Local Government Area of Edo State, two APC members were also found with 43 PVCs in Benue State while a woman was found with over 5,000 PVCs in Abia State a day to the general elections.
There are also allegations of underage persons in the register, especially in the North. The allegation was strengthened by the reports of underage voting in the local government elections in Kano State in 2018. INEC later distanced itself from the register, saying there were no underage voters in the register it handed over to the state.
INEC should audit voter register before 2023 polls –CSOs
The Co-founder and Director of Programme, YIAGA Africa, Ms Cynthia Mbamalu, told Saturday PUNCH that INEC should audit the voter register in 2022, noting that the register was crucial to the credibility of an election.
She said, “The voter register is an important document that contributes to the credibility of an election because you need the register of voters that actually captures the eligible voters and the exact number of those who are supposed to vote in an election. Flawed voter registration will impact the quality of the elections because if the voter register is not credible, it raises questions about the process itself.
“However, one of the challenges the commission has had in the past years is cleaning up the register. To clean up the register, it includes identifying voters who are no longer alive, voters who have moved from one location to another and issues around underage voters.
“The electoral commission has 2022 to prepare for the general elections and I think what is most important is that the commission uses the one year to the election to conduct an audit of the register.”
She said the audit would identify multiple registration and ensure the register was properly cleaned up. She also called on INEC to ensure people showed a form of identification before they were registered.
She added, “One of the things we have observed is that it is a bit difficult for the registration officers to demand a form of identity. There are some communities where people do not even have birth certificates, national identity cards or any form of identification.”
She lamented that in some communities during the continuous voter registration, people conspire to put pressure on INEC officials to register underage persons. “However, there is an available technology with INEC that just by identifying their clear pictures, they can easily detect an underage person.”
She said the cleanup might not totally rid the register of names that shouldn’t be there, noting that it would sanitise the register. “It is important the commission conducts that audit and this is also because, in the 2019 elections, there was a difference of over two million between the figure given before the election and the final figure revealed during the announcement of results.”
She stressed that the ongoing CVR, which continues in 2022, presents INEC with an opportunity to audit the register. She said there was a need to ensure proper allocation of voters across polling units to reduce congestion during elections.
She however warned, “If we proceed to a new election with a register that all we had done was to add and not clean up, it raises major questions on the integrity of the process because you need a credible voter register to ensure that the election is credible. You want to be sure that those voting are registered, eligible Nigerian voters. We need a clean register to ensure that there is a better process in the next general elections.”
Also, the Director of Media and Publicity, the Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education, Armsfree Ajanaku, said elections could not be said to be credible if the voter register contained people who had died.
He added, “This anomaly should therefore be quickly fixed as the 2023 general elections approach. We call on INEC to undertake a periodic cleanup of the voter register to ensure it is an accurate reflection of voters who have registered. The electoral amendment, which is currently in limbo, is a factor here. Without a comprehensive and up-to-date legal framework, how does INEC begin to prepare for the general elections in 2023?
“We believe the National Assembly should quickly resolve the impasse with the amendment so that INEC can take its preparations for the general elections to the higher level, including fixing the inaccuracies in the voter register.”
The Chairman, Partners for Electoral Reform, Mr Ezenwa Nwagwu, said citizens had a role to play both during registration and after. He noted that with electronic voting, there was the hope of having an authentic voter register.
He added, “Most of these processes are citizens’ responsibilities, which we abdicate. One obstacle to cleaning the register of underage voters is those who are suffering from malnutrition and stunted growth, making such persons look like underage voters. It is those who live in that environment that would know that.
“INEC’s job is to register the citizens; it is not their job to say this person has passed on or is underage. There are processes of cleaning the voter register, how much of those processes have we taken advantage of?
“When the voters list is posted, people who live in that vicinity can raise those issues, then INEC has the responsibility to deal with the issues that have been raised.”
He said that there was the need to increase civic education for citizens to take the responsibility of a fair, clean and acceptable election more seriously than they were doing.
He added, “We have close to more than 80 million voters and we have never had more than 35 million people voting. The Biometric Voters Accreditation System will help to reduce voter identity theft and multiple voting issues.
Nwagwu argued that to have a credible election, it involves all stakeholders. “You could have a good register but if the politicians are not in the conversation for a free and fair election, you may not have it,” he added.
He said the introduction of various technologies would help to safeguard the integrity of the elections.
Meanwhile, spokesperson for the Coalition of 52 Northern Groups (CNG), Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said it was unfortunate that over 60 years after independence, Nigeria did not have an authentic population figure or accurate voter register.
He added, “With regards to dead persons on the voter register one year to the elections, we do not think that would affect the credibility of the 2023 elections. The names on the register do not affect the number of votes cast which is the basis for determining results at the end of the day.
“Out of about 70 million registered voters some years back, the elections were decided by about 30 million persons. The others were either dead or alive. Nevertheless, it is disturbing that we cannot have an accurate death and birth register in this country. This can be blamed on the lack of meaningful roles for traditional rulers who would have been able to maintain such a register easily.”