Another look at the distribution of new Polling Units by INEC
by Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi
Have you heard the scream? It must have got to you since the yell which
emanates from the south-east reverberates even in the remotest part of
Kano State. By the scream, I'm referring to manner in which parts of the
country gained and were cheated in the distribution of additional 29,129
polling units carried out by the Independent National Electoral
Commission, INEC. Of a truth, the inequality is one that is screaming for
Had it been that it called for attention, this column wouldn't have been
distracted from focussing on other troubles our nation is inundated with.
But then, it elected to scream for attention. Hence, you cannot deny to
have heard it even if you are located around Nigeria's border with Niger
Republic. Though understandably prominent in the south-east, this shout is
further re-echoed from other flanks of southern Nigeria as well as those
patches of the north inhabited by northerners whose sense of objectivity
is still very much alive.
From my perspective, INEC's creation of the additional polling units is an
ambush. It is akin to what Steve Nwosu of The Sun Newspapers would have
included in his list of acts that amounts to 'tactical manoeuvring.' It is
rightly so because a good number of us by virtue of the commission's
earlier clean-up of the voter register had passed a vote of confidence on
Jega's INEC to the extent that we all went to bed. Unfortunately, that was
when the commission chose to take us unawares; coming like a thief in the
night! Whether this was an orchestrated act or another instance of our
public servants advancing out the vague public interest, we shall get to
find out as we progress.
Let's begin with a backgrounder: The electoral body, as earlier pointed
out, went about vetting the nation's voter register- a procedure which
helped it detect millions of ghost-voters. The endeavour yielded so much
success such that our voter register which in 2011 had some 70 million
names as registered voters in Nigeria depreciated to a figure below 60
million. This was all that was needed by most Nigerians to surrender all
to INEC and go to sleep. By the time they woke, they were greeted with the
new reality that the number of polling booths in the country, which they
knew to be 119,973, has now climbed to 150,000.
The furore and disquiet that ensued had nothing to do with INEC spiking
the number of polling units. Rather, it had everything to do with the
manner in which the booths were distributed among the major divides of the
country. It also had a lot to do with the fact that the number of polling
units handed the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, surpassed the number of
polling booths that the entire south-east got! Note that I'm not referring
to Enugu State alone, but the five states of the south-east put together!
Pray, what justification can be given for this, even if the rest of us
were fools? I bet you can now remember hearing the yell for attention.
How I hate to discuss any issue that would warrant me pitching one
division of the country against the other. But, INEC left people like me
with no choice. Perhaps, I should just call up the data showing how many
of the new polling units were 'zoned' to each geopolitical zone in the
country lest I be accused of being mischievous. You want facts? Here you
Out of the additional 29,129 Polling Units, PUs, created by INEC, the
north (including the Federal Capital Territory) got 20,715; while a meagre
8,414 of the sum went to the south. And this is how it was shared among
the geopolitical zones: The north-west cornered 7, 906 of the new PUs;
north-east 5, 291 and north-central 6, 318, conversely south-west 4, 160,
south-south 3, 087 and south-east 1, 167 while the Federal Capital
Territory (which is still a part of the north) getting 1, 200.
Little wonder the delineation is screaming for attention. The perceived
regional bias inherent in it is accentuated by the following home truths:
the allocation of 7,906 PUs to the north-west approximates to the 8,412
which the whole of southern Nigeria got. Similarly, each of the north-east
and north-west zones got more polling units than the whole of south-west
inclusive of Lagos, which is considered the state with the highest number
of eligible voters nationwide.
And then the most inciting of the short-change is that the allocations of
the new PUs that accrued to the FCT exceeded what went to the entire
south-east! The apparent advantage the most recent creation of PUs gave
the northern part of the country is without respect to the fact that an
earlier clean-up of voter register led INEC into discovering more
fictitious voters in the north than it did in the south.
Zamfara State used to have 2,045,131 registered voters. The clean-up
exercise revealed that 1,130,245 of these were ghost-voters, meaning that
as much as 44% of the names in the Zamfara voters register were bogus.
With this as the case, why would INEC then go ahead to award more PUs to
states like this in a fashion that amounts to taking one step forward and
two backward? Let's try to check out the explanations INEC has given for
this awkward arrangement.
According to Kayode Idowu, who is the chief press secretary to INEC
chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega, “The whole purpose of the exercise is to
enhance the access of voters to PUs and align the Nigerian system with
global best practices. It is also intended to minimise the cost of
elections.” I hear! Let's try to remember that while announcing the
creation of the additional polling units, the INEC director in charge of
the commission's secretariat, Ishiaku A. Gali, informed that the creation
of the additional PUs was in fulfilment of the electoral umpire's pledge
to decongest polling units across the country in order to make it easier
for voters to cast their votes.
And then I asked, is it that people of the north love casting their ballot
so much that their PUs are always congested as against those in the south?
It is probable that people of the south are so passionate about voting
that even if there is just one PU per local government area, they will
still persevere through the jam till they have voted for their preferred
candidate, hence INEC saw no need in wasting logistics.
Then again, it may be that the people of the north are not wont to coming
out to vote on election days, therefore as an incentive, INEC is merely
trying to lure them out by bringing the booths closer to them. All these
supposition would be incomplete without this last one. It is already said
in some quarters that INEC is merely playing out a script from what the
controversial Femi Aribasala termed #Bring Back Our Northern Domination.
Hear the columnist, “what the North lost by the removal of the fictitious
ghost-voters was then re-awarded by the allocation of additional
polling-units. For example, Zamfara that was discovered to be the
guiltiest state in the inflation of its register with over one million
ghost-voters was then awarded 1,000 more polling-units. Given the fact
that each polling-unit has a maximum of 500 voters, this means Zamfara was
awarded additional 500,000 potential voters as compensation for its loss
“It also means INEC compensated the North with 10, 807,500 potentially new
voters; as opposed to 4,206,000 in the South. This is more than enough to
swing any election to the Northern advantage,” he posited.
Meanwhile, INEC is not yet done in the defence of its contentious award of
polling units. According to the electoral body, “the defunct National
Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) created the present structure of
PUs in 1996. The present commission undertook a verification of the PUs
nationwide and their location in 2010 and ascertained 119, 973 units.
“A substantial number of these PUs are located in public buildings. But
there are some PUs located in public open spaces; and yet some others in
the premises of traditional rulers, places of worship, frontage of private
houses and, indeed, inside private compounds,
“International best practice is that classrooms or halls of public
schools/institutions should be used as polling units. This makes access
control and crowd management at the PUs much easier,” INEC explained.
I took my time to present you this explanation from INEC so you can help
me decide if it adequately justifies the favouring of one part of the
country to the detriment of another in the distribution of polling units.
This is because from where I stand, their postulations are sheer
balderdash. It is so because I expected them to rather throw more light on
that scientific means they used which supported the award of more polling
units to parts of the north where insecurity has decimated the population
there as against the relatively safer south. They should have also told us
how on earth an FCT came to be in a position to get more PUs than the
whole of south-east. Basically, the commission should have been more
interested in straightening out all the obvious odds surrounding the PUs
instead of the lame justification it is putting out.
Not until they give us a better explanation or correct this screaming
anomaly, I would want to believe that INEC is merely trying to tilt the
scale in favour of the north ahead of the 2015 election. President
Jonathan had better intervened by working for a more equitable and
balanced redistribution of the PUs for his own sake.
In a manner of speaking, Ndigbo are to be held responsible for this
cavalier treatment their zone got from INEC. This is because their actions
and inactions violated the native wisdom which suggests that the more
likely your zone is to deliver close to 100 per cent votes for Jonathan in
2015, the less number of polling booths you will get. Ultimately, this
remains their Ebele Azikiwe's battle to fight. I'm just saying!
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