By NBF News
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The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has asked Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure more transparency in the ongoing voters' registration exercise, saying the commission has been slow to react to anomalies hindering the success of the exercise.

In a statement issued in Osogbo, Osun State, on Tuesday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party also warned INEC not to disenfranchise millions of Nigerians who were yet to register because of the problems plaguing the exercise, for which INEC must bear responsibility.

The party expressed support for the growing calls on the commission to extend the time for the registration.

'The voters' registration has been everything but transparent, and INEC has allowed everything it said would not happen, such as the spurious donation of funds by some state governments to 'assist' the process and the registration in homes of some powerful politicians and in palaces.

'In Delta State for example, a powerful chieftain is reportedly carrying out illegal registration in his homestead, and all INEC could say is that he is doing so at his own risk, without even pretending to investigate how the machines got there in the first instance and whether he has contacts in INEC that will allow him to offload the names of those so illegally registered into the main database.

'In Oyo State, PDP thugs reportedly chased would-be registrants away from some centres, and nothing happened.

'Then of course there are reports in the media of thugs hijacking DDC machines in several states, indicating that INEC did not make adequate arrangements for security during the exercise.

'These problems, as well as those we identified in our earlier statement (including double and under-aged registrations and registration without fingerprinting – which have not been addressed), have exposed INEC's painfully inadequate preparations for the voter registration.

'This is not very reassuring for Nigerians that INEC can indeed live up to its avowed commitment to organise free, fair and credible polls in April. If, more than halfway into the exercise, the commission cannot successfully register even half of the 70 million Nigerians it said would be registered, how can the same commission convince Nigerians it will be able to successfully organize April's polls, which will require better logistics?' ACN queried.

The party said if INEC had become overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems facing the registration, then it must urgently call a meeting of key stakeholders to proffer solutions to the myriad of problems facing the exercise.

Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State has said the voter's card is the most potent instrument of change in a democracy. In a press statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Alhaji Hassan Mijinyawa, Suntai, who was speaking shortly after he had registered at the Marriage Ward Centre in Suntai village, Bali Local Government Area, urged all eligible voters and the youths who had attained the voting age to come out and register.

The governor said with the voter's card they could change government or public office holders who failed to address their yearnings and aspirations. Despite the finger scanning problems reported in other parts of the state, he described the exercise as smooth and called on the people to be patient as greater improvements would be recorded with time.

The Taraba State Resident Commissioner, Dr. Abba Kyari Sadiq appealed to the people to come out and register as the initial problems witnessed had been overcome. The statement added that the Chief of Bali, Alhaji Mohammed Misa on the occasion urged his subjects to register to be able to pick candidates of their choice in the April general elections.

Senator Joseph Kennedy Waku has called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to make special arrangement for the physically challenged Nigerians who do not have fingers to enable them register.

Waku stated this in an interview with newsmen at the national secretariat of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) shortly after arriving for the forum's meeting yesterday in Kaduna.

He said: 'Apart from the use of innocent corps members as ad-hoc staff who are not properly trained for the operation, INEC had not made any provision for those who are disabled, who do not have fingers. What would INEC do with them?

'I am calling on INEC to make provisions for the handicap because they too are human beings and any attempt to deny them their rights will make them to be disenfranchised. INEC should take that into consideration and rectify anomalies for the physically challenged Nigerians.'

Waku also said there were complains from certain local government councils in his home state Benue that the exercise was yet to commence due to the absence of the DDC machines.

He also complained that some of the DDC machines were not working as he expressed optimism that INEC would extend the dates for the lost hours.

To encourage more participation in the ongoing voters' registration exercise, the Director General of Cross River Border Development Commission (BORDERCOM), Mr. Leo Aggrey, has advocated the use of voter's card for official banking transactions.

Aggrey, who made the call while interacting with newsmen on the state of border communities with regard to the exercise, said the government should encourage banks, mortgage and allied financial institutions to use the voter's card as part of identification in any financial transactions to attract more interests in the voters' registration.

The former attorney general and commissioner for justice in the state said: 'It was important that banks and financial institutions queue into government progrmmes as this because it will also dissuade people from multiple registrations and curb some malpractices as banks can access it through their systems.'

He also called for the extension of the two-week dateline for the registration to enable those who could not meet up within the time frame to do so, adding that the extension of time for registration would also afford those residing in difficult terrains and riverside areas ample time and opportunities to register.

On the role his commission had played to ensure that border communities with difficult terrain were registered, he disclosed that he and his team had embarked on sensitization of residents of the 360 border communities in 16 council areas of Cross River State to go out and register.

'For us in this commission we have been doing a lot of mobilization and had been liaising with the chairmen of local government areas within our coverage. We had some problems in Bakassi but we are pleased that the state government, INEC and residents of the area were able to resolve the problems.'

As the voters' registration exercise continues, organised labour has warned that the continuous closure of primary and secondary schools by the government will have an adverse effect on the future of Nigeria as a nation.

Vice President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Isa Aremu, who represented the congress president at the opening of the 6th African Regional Congress of the International Labour and Employment Relations Association yesterday in Lagos, lamented that government had no justification closing the schools any longer as most of the registration were taking place outside the schools.

'We have to make a case for the closure of schools, I have gone to Kaduna and some parts of the country and discovered that most registration centres are not in schools. Then why the continuous closure of schools?' he queried.

He wondered whether the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, would have been a professor today if his course of education had ever been derailed at the formative stage.

'I have no doubt in my mind that lots of future professors are being lost in this period of two weeks closure due to the registration of voters.

The NLC vice president tasked President Goodluck Jonathan to ensure that the issue of minimum wage was fully addressed before Nigerians go to the poll in April.

He warned that poorly paid workers could not afford to be democratic. While commending ILERA, an arm of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for reviving the issue of industrial relations through the conference, Aremu said the conference should critically consider the welfare of workers, which was a major factor of production.

He stated that delegates, which cut across several African countries should endeavour to make a case for appropriate remuneration for African workers.

'If we want our economy to be at its best, then we have to learn to consume what we produce and produce what we consume. Africa must cease from being a dumping ground,' he said.

The Minister of Employment, Chief Emeka Wogu, in his address read by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Anthony Uzobinobi, an engineer commended the organiser on the theme of the conference, Emerging Trends in Employment Relations in Africa: National and International Perspectives, which he said was timely considering the monumental changes that had occurred globally on the political and socio-economic scene.

The minister said his ministry had also endeavoured to approach the issue of employment through dialogue.

The President of Nigeria Industrial Relations Association (NIRA), co-host of the event, Prof. Dafe Otobo, however, said the theme of the conference was selected in view of the current global financial crises and dramatic upsurge in unemployment and decreasing capacity for job creation.

Also, the Chairman of Alaba International market (Electronics section) has urged the traders in the market and around the market to endeavour to get their registration cards so that they will be eligible to exercise their civic responsibility by voting during the election period.

The chairman emphasized on the need for voters' registration, saying that it was the only way the people could choose credible leaders. He said it was not enough to support a candidate without voting for the person, adding that through registration and voting, the traders would be able to negotiate with the incoming government in the areas they had problems such as roads, provision of ultra-modern garage and other social amenities.

Some aggrieved communities in Akure South Local Government Area of Ondo State have staged a peaceful protest against non-availability of Direct Data Capturing (DDC) machines to register them in the ongoing voters' registration exercise.

The communities, which include Esure, Ologede, Kajola and Ilula in Oda area of Akure, urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to allocate more DDC machines to the area in order not to disenfranchise thousands of voters.

They noted that lack of registration centres and absence of DDC machines had made it difficult for them to participate in the exercise.

The Chairman of Oda mini wards, Mr. Fakunle Sunday expressed displeasure over the failure of INEC to address the non-availability of registration centres in the area.

He added that despite the complaints made to INEC, the lapses had not been corrected to ensure that people living in the area were registered.

He said: 'We have done everything possible to get our people registered but the electoral body has not responded to our plea. We are bona fide citizens of this country, it is wrong for INEC to deny us of our fundamental rights

'We want the commission to create more registration centres and provide all the necessary materials to enhance registration in our areas, so that people can take the first step towards voting.'

The community leader added that members of the areas were ready at anytime for the exercise once the materials were moved to the areas.

EKITI Council of Obas in Ekiti State on Tuesday expressed its worries over the challenges facing the voters' registration Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines. The obas, therefore, called for extension of the exercise.

The monarchs made the call in Ado-Ekiti when the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Navy Captain Caleb Olubolade (retd) addressed the council of obas at a meeting.

Making their fears known to the minister, the traditional rulers took turn to express how much the faults could undermine the registration of their subjects, recalling that the state was the least registered in the last major voters' registration exercise in 2003.

They suggested that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should extend the exercise by reasonable number of days to allow those who had been frustrated by the malfunctioning of the DDC machines to register.

In his address, Olubolade appealed to the traditional rulers to continue to help the state, especially in the area of peace, noting that no development could take place in a violent and hostile environment.

The minister expressed disgust about the conditions of all roads in the state including federal, state and council roads.

He charged all tiers of government to discharge their duties to the people to make life better for them and enhance infrastructure and human development.

Nevertheless, Olubolade charged the monarchs to help the state government in sensitizing the people in their various domains so that they could go out en-masse to register.

Lagos artisans under the aegis of Refrigeration and Air-conditioners Dealers Association (RADA), are currently mobilizing members to participate fully in the exercise According to the President of the association, Mr Remmy Alaoma, the association had started massive mobilization of its members, friends and other business organisations to participate in the exercise.

Commenting on the exercise, the political adviser to the president of the association, Mr. Angel Chidi Okoro said they were coordinating all the members through the zonal leaders of the union.

According to him, to ensure full participation of their members and others, they are going from one business premise to the other.

Okoro, who is also the vice chairman of Mega Zone 6 RADA said, this was based on their conviction that votes would now count at elections unlike before 'We are basing our sensitization on the slogan 'one man one vote'. We are assuring them that votes would count in the next election unlike in the other elections that is why we have decided to get involve. Our future lies on our thumb and we have to register to decide how it would be.

'Eze Okafor is also in alliance with us in the exercise,' he said.