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OGWA CLAN: INEC’S 120,000 POLLING BOOTHS AND 2011 ELECTIONS

By ORLU JOSEPH ORLU
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Since 2003, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has claimed to be using a total of 120,000 polling stations in the conduct of general elections across Nigeria, though the number of polling booths recently listed in its database is 111,078.

This development, has forced several election watchdogs, including the West African Non-Governmental Organizations Network (WANGONET) to raise fears that most of the listed polling booths does not exist.

The group is also afraid that the list of voting stations for the 2011 general elections in Nigeria is littered with duplications and flaws, saying it had come upon the inaccuracies, which raise questions about election organization in Africa's most populous nation, while trying to plot polling stations on a digital map.

According to Tunji Larnder, founder of WANGONET,"In our estimation, approximately 28,000 booths out of the purported 120,000 are ghost.

“For example, a tally of all the polling stations listed on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) database came to 111,078, compared to the 120,000 regularly cited by INEC.

“Furthermore, 7,992 of the officially listed booths from the 2007 election, which is being used as the basis for the 2011 vote, were duplicated at least once -- and in one instance appeared on the list 40 times”.

The alarm raised by the election watchdog clearly brings to mind the duplication of polling booths in most states in the South-East geo-political zone of the country. In that part of the country, it seems communities get polling booths based on their connection with the Federal Government.

For instance, a community that has an influential political figure has the chance of getting as many polling booths as possible not minding their population.

The electoral law that stipulated that a polling booth must be sited in an area that has up to 500 eligible voters does not apply in most parts of the South-East geo-political zone.

A clear example of such development is in Ogwa clan in Mbaitoli local government area of Imo State.

While almost all the villages that make of the community boasts of a maximum of three polling booths in each of them, a particular kindred in Ochii-Ogwa village has about seven polling booths. The rest of the village has just one polling booth.

Every indigene of Ogwa knows that the population of Umuezealaije Kindred in Ochii-Ogwa is a bit above 500 people, which ordinarily should have had just one polling booth.

The reason for this development is not far-fetched as most members of the Umuezealaije Kindred are occupying different political positions in the country.

First, Dr. Josiah Odunna, who plays the role of political father-figure in Mbaitoli was the Pioneer National Secretary of the All Peoples Party (APP) while his nephew, late Dr. Earnest Ononuju was a member of the Federal House of Representatives.

Presently, from the same Umuezealaije Kindred is the Commissioner for Women Affairs, Imo State, Mrs. Onanaga Ononuju while her brother –in-law, Barrister Kingsley Ononuju is the Coordinator of NAPEP in the state.

It is the expectation of all and sundry that Professor Attahiru Jega-led INEC will live up to its promise of removing polling booths from palaces and private residences of individuals as a lot of people now use that to decide the fate of the majority of the electorates during elections.

It is my belief that if done, the much talked-about free, fair and credible elections come 2011 will not be a mirage.

Also, political leaders in Ogwa community including Barrister Chibuzor Aghalibe, Chief Chike Don Nwaiwu, Dr. Victor Onukwugha, Chief Rufus Osueke, Dr. Emmanuel Ogueri and several others should not sit on the fence and allow a few individuals take over what belongs to the entire community.

The 2011 general elections is around the corner and the people of Ogwa should that the time to act is now.