Accessibility To Polling Units: Challenges That Almost Marred Credibility Of 2019 Elections- Senate

Abuja- The upper chamber of the National Assembly has disclosed that one of the challenges that almost marred the credibility of the 2019 general election especially in densely populated urban and rural registration areas was the accessibility to polling Units.

Speaking at a one day joint Senate and House Committee on INEC and Electoral Matters on Tuesday, the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Kabiru Gaya, explained that there were some polling units that had more than 12,000 voters well over the prescribed average number of 500 voters per Polling Unit.

Tasking INEC to make polling units available for electorate, Gaya pointed out that making Polling Units available and accessible is one of the primary responsibilities of INEC, adding that it is an obligation the Commission owes the Nigerian Electorate.

He further explained that “Section 42 of the Electoral Act 2010 provides that the “Commission shall establish sufficient number of polling units in each Registration Area and allot voters to such Polling Units” . . .

He said that the availability of these units and its accessibility by the electorate is the first level of citizens’ active and physical democracy, adding, “a denial will not only amount to discouragement and distrust of the entire process but also a renunciation of citizens obligation to the nation; which will have a direct negative implication for the evolution and development of the tenants of our nascent and developing democracy.”

“One of the challenges that almost marred the credibility of the 2019 general election especially in densely populated urban and rural Registration Areas was the accessibility to polling Units; there were some polling units that had more than 12,000 voters well over the prescribed average number of 500 voters per Polling Unit.”

“Another serious challenge observed by the Committee is the location of some of these Polling Units in very difficult terrain. In an era when we are advocating for inclusiveness, when it is expected that no one is left behind in leadership and the decision making process, where the inclusion of young persons, women and people with disability has become the order of the day, ‘it is good to note that even in the proposed Electorate Act 2021, these issues are well captured and provided for, as a Committee of the National Assembly we cannot but support a process that will promote inclusion, it is appropriate to do this now and it is high time it’s a done deal.”

Reacting to this development, INEC Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu confirmed challenges of voters accessibility, assuring the lawmakers that the narrative would change.

Displaying a video clip of how over crowded voters struggled to vote in the last election, the INEC boss expressed optimism that more polling units will be created with the support of lawmakers.

He disclosed that no new polling units were created in the last 25 years, even when the population of voters was on steady growth.

“Polling Units are central to the electoral process and therefore democracy at large. Voter access to Polling Units is at the very heart of electoral democracy because Polling Units are the basis on which citizens exercise their fundamental rights to vote and to make electoral choices freely.

“Consequently, Polling Units largely shape citizens’ confidence in the electoral process, the levels of either participation or apathy, as well as security and safety during elections.”

WhatsApp CTA

“Voter access goes beyond the number of Polling Units available to voters. It also entails citing Polling Units in places that are conducive to voting as well as the extent to which the environment of each Polling Unit provides a good voter experience and implementation of the regulations and guidelines of the Commission on Election Day.”

“Over the years, voter access to Polling Units in Nigeria has been declining. For the 2019 General Election, the average number of voters per Polling Unit was about 700 nationally, rising to over 2,000 in the Federal Capital Territory while a specific Polling Unit in Nasarawa State had over 15,000 voters.”

“Furthermore, some Polling Units are located in very difficult places that do not encourage voters to participate in elections, particularly persons living with disability. Others are located in places experiencing conflicts or in places under the control of partisan actors.”

“Moreover, because of inadequate Polling Units, many voters have to travel long distances to their Polling Units on Election Day. All these have contributed to low voter turnout at elections, egregious violation of election regulations and guidelines, violence and insecurity. Crowding at Polling Units also constitute health and safety issues in this period of the global COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Repeated attempts by the Commission to expand voter access to Polling Units by establishing new ones and relocating some to better sites have not been successful.

“Consequently, the Commission resorted to stopgap measures such as the creation of ‘Baby Polling Units’, Voting Points and Voting Point Settlements. All these have not adequately solved the problem and, in fact, in some cases have created new challenges of their own.”

“The inability of the Commission to routinely expand voter access to Polling Units when necessary has been principally due to politicization of the process by sundry interests in the country, especially by propagating unfounded claims and conspiracy theories about the Commission’s intentions.”

“Delays arising from opposition to the establishment of Polling Units have meant that the process comes too close to elections and therefore is impossible to complete. Also, the level of consultation with stakeholders by the Commission may not have been adequate.”

Read the Source post on Independent Newspapers Nigeria.