Underage voting, INEC’s big test ahead of 2019
Reports about underage registration and voting are not new but as Nigeria prepares for the next general elections, the awareness of its dangers appears to have grown stronger, GBENRO ADEOYE writes
The 2019 elections are nearing – the season of hopes has begun. In the buildup to the last general elections, by this time, the hope for a change of government, particularly at the federal level had begun to sweep through the country. As the elections near, a fair assessment is that the country is actually performing well below the expectations of many Nigerians. And since we are again in the season of hopes, the subjects of public discourse have gradually narrowed in scope to issues surrounding the polls.
Arguably, one of the biggest issues surrounding the buildup to the upcoming elections is the likelihood and indeed the alleged incidence of underage registration in some parts of the country. This was more recently brought to the fore by the viral videos and photographs of underage voters casting their votes during the last local government election in Kano State. The situation has generated various public reactions, including anger, frustration and shifting of blames.
First, it was the Independent National Electoral Commission placing the blame squarely on the Kano State Independent Electoral Commission, saying it had no legal control or responsibility whatsoever over the conduct of elections at the local government level.
Following the apparent public discontent over the controversial videos and photographs, a statement by the Director, Voter Education and Publicity, INEC, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, had said the images contained in the videos did not relate to any election organised, conducted or superintended by the commission.
It said it could not be “be held directly or vicariously liable for an exercise outside our legal purview,” adding that “it should be pointed out here that local government elections are exclusively the constitutional responsibility of the respective state electoral commissions, which are in no way under the control or supervision of INEC.”
Then INEC’s denial was followed by the Kano State Government’s declaration that the controversial viral videos of underage voters belonged to INEC and not KASIEC.
Replying INEC, the state Commissioner of Information, Alhaji Muhammad Garba, said: “the viral video contained scenes where INEC card readers were deployed, and nothing of such was used in the last council poll in Kano.”
INEC’s Osaze-Uzzi then admitted that some underage voters were actually being registered in some parts of the country because the lives of registration officers were being threatened by the members of such communities.
“Even to the untrained eye, that child doesn’t look more than 15, but in such circumstances, you cannot argue too much with them. The law says the registration officer is entitled to act on some kind of identification or birth certificate or proof of age.
“But very often, they are resisted, especially when there are lots of people there. They are challenged in a charged atmosphere and they are there without any protection. Many of them are there in strange communities which they don’t know anything about. So, there is undue pressure on them to register at this point,” he had said.
Similarly, a story recently shared by a former INEC National Commissioner, Prof. Lai Olurode, about how he almost lost his life for refusing to allow underage voters to vote some years ago, lends credence to the threat of underage registration and voting in some parts of the country.