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Politicians Focus On Weaknesses In System To Manipulate Election Outcomes

BEVERLY HILLS, March 07, (THEWILL) – Ms Cynthia Mbamalu is the Director of Programmes at YAIGA Africa, a youth empowerment organization, which has worked on election and on issues of voter power for many years in the country. In this interview with Amos Esele, she looks into plan by INEC to increase polling units after 25 years and urged the Commission to expand its scope with acceptable benchmarks.

Your organization YIAGA Africa has been working on issues related to voter power for sometime now. How do you react to the plan by INEC to increase polling units in the country?

I think the first part in the plan is the beginning of this conversation now for a country with a projected population of 200 million persons in 2020. The last time this exercise was done was in 1996 when the country was over a hundred million and the voting population was about 50 million. So what we are dealing with is a long-time challenge that has existed over time and will give credibility and access to the system.

But why do you think that something as simple as that is generating controversy?

Because Nigeria is a diverse country with many fault lines like regional, political and ethnic divide, which politicians manipulate to make the people focus on the dividing line rather than focus on leadership. They manipulate the process to their benefit. Under Prof Mahmud Jega as Chairman of INEC in 2014, the Commission had to suspend the move to increase polling units. At this stage of our democracy, we should not limit any conversation on division but focus on the benefits of the process. INEC should conduct the exercise with transparency and ensure equity and fairness. It should be data-driven and evidence-based. For examples, we need to know what are the current realities across polling units ? Is it about population or creation of new settlement? Citizens should also care about it, engage the process and follow through by providing independent oversight.

Given the extensive work of your organization on this, are you sure INEC is capable of doing the right thing?

If there is a political will to do the right thing, it can be done. The challenge in Nigeria has not always been the lack of creativity but the political will to engage the process. I think INEC is committed to do it. INCE has played a leadership role in ECOWAS on such matters. Let us also beware that INEC is not operating in isolation. Politicians who have benefitted from the flaws in the system do not want change. It is very clear that we need poling units created at this time.

When it was created the voting population was about 50 million. Now, it is 84 million. An average polling unit in Abuja, for instance, is 2,000 voters. Abuja in 1996 was a smaller city. Now it has expanded. If a polling unit has 2,000 voters and only 500 turn out to vote, people can manipulate the result. After voting take place in voting points, results are taken to voting units. So even at the level of collation, there is a tendency for manipulation to take place. Politicians focus on the weaknesses in the system to manipulate election outcomes. So if voting points are closer to the voters it reduces the chances of manipulation.

But did INEC have to wait for over 5,000 requests from Nigerians to begin the process? Isn’t that what is creating suspicion and bring controversy into what should be an ordinary administrative/legal matter?

No, I think INEC only provided data to show that citizens are determining the process. The process was to be done in 2014 but failed because it was close to election time and many. Polling unit expansion has been one of the considerations of YIAGA Africa and other organisations over the years. The conversations show that people are part of this process. What is required is for INEC to use some acceptable benchmarks in converting over 50,000 voting points and settlements into units, to inform the decision to relocate voting points.

INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu said experience has shown that enhanced access to polling units increases turn out of voters at elections. Do you support that view.?

It is debatable, because there some other factors that are responsible for low voter turn out during elections. People are dissatisfied with the quality of governance and do not want to participate. But closeness to voting units and points can ensure turn out on election days when there is usually a restriction of movements.

People would not like to move too far from location in places, which has witnessed communal conflict. Flood disasters like it happened in Kogi and Bayelsa before the elections there mad it impossible for people who are displaced but still wanted to vote. These are some of the factors INEC need to consider because some of the locations in such disaster-prone areas do not exist•

Source: The Will.

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