The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is undoubtedly preparing for the 2019 elections with high hopes towards improving on its statutory mandate to conduct free and fair elections for the nation. Amid vital tools earmarked for use by the commission for the civic duty is the voter’s cards issued to all registered voters which license aged citizens to freely participate in the exercise.
Incidentally, one of the salient features of the voter’s card is the designation of polling unit/location where a holder is to be accredited ahead of exercising his electoral franchise. This, therefore, makes it static and places restriction on the movement of electorate without putting into consideration the constitutional provision under the fundamental human rights in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Section 41 of the Constitution clearly provides for freedom of movement. In contrast, based on electoral rules alongside the voter’s card, a voter who registered in a particular location is ineligible to exercise franchise in another even in adjacent polling units due to the use of on-site voter’s register and card.
This implies the fixed nature of voter’s register and card at elections is obstructive to free movement of persons since movement from one location to another disenfranchises citizens; a core civic duty. For citizens to be technically barred from exercising civic rights on account of movement to new locations circuitously negates the freedom of movement enshrined in the Constitution.
Movement is a striking characteristic of human beings, thus, the tendency of registered voters changing locations and places of domicile where they hitherto registered for elections is high. A good number often change residential locations; towns, cities and even states at ease. The implication is that these great numbers that possibly relocated a distant away from the registered polling units albeit may be willing to participate in the electoral process, will be mechanically disenabled from participation since voters cards and registers issued and obtained at a particular polling unit are only valid at the same polling unit as far as election is concerned.
Without doubt, the idea of using voter’s cards and registers for elections is unbeatable; nevertheless, there is a need to go extra miles to make it more flexible and efficient for optimal results. Election of leaders to pilot the affairs of the nation, states and local government areas cannot be a child’s play as that determines the destiny of the people in every four years, and therefore should be given all necessary attention and commitment.
By the present arrangement, a citizen that registered in a city but subsequently retired or transferred out of the area or wishes to relocate to place of origin will automatically be disenfranchised till death since the voter’s card is supposedly a permanent card with no room for modifications.
From observations, enthusiastic citizens who registered at polling units within places of work distant from residential areas and were issued with voter’s card had been ceaselessly disenabled from exercising electoral franchise due to no movement ‘standing orders’ on election days.
More worrisome is a situation where registered voters in a city subsequently wish to vie for elective offices in states of origin but cannot vote. It denotes that even as a candidate, such a citizen cannot cast a vote even for himself. This will essentially require that INEC should review voters’ registers periodically, not only to accommodate freshly ripened electorate but for all intents and purposes, to update whereabouts of existing eligible electorate who altered milieus to exercise their franchise without hitches.
Perhaps, a unique system which will make provisions for registered voters to indicate a choice location to vote in a particular political dispensation contrary to the location hitherto designated during voters’ registration is indispensable to curing the fundamental mischiefs. Otherwise, the voter’s card will become mere identity card for financial transactions to the detriment of its sacred priority despite volumes of public funds lavished on the project.
As 2019 election is drawing closer, INEC should thoughtfully put a mechanism in place towards ensuring that all willing citizens are enabled to participate in the elections by removing all avoidable hitches created by the existing arrangements on voters’ card and registers. The INEC registers of several years ago are inept to meet the present challenges without disenfranchising a great population of the electorate.
The voter’s card believably was dubbed from the Western world which operates virtual/e-voting, and therefore allows the electorate to exercise franchise without restrictions irrespective of locations.
Certainly, with good planning, the inadequacies can be systematically rectified. The presumptive eligible voters who were in the recent past technically hindered from participation in the elections on account of these inadequacies ought to give the electoral umpire serious concern.
Umegboro is a public affairs analyst and publisher.