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

have it:
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

of ghost-voters.
“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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