The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Attahiru Jega on Wednesday explained why the commission has allocated more polling units to the geo-political zones in the North, than those in the South, saying the plan is based on the existing number of registered voters in the country, which he put at 70,383,427.
Ahead of the 2015 election, the electoral body has proposed to allocate more than 21,000 new polling units to the north, while the south will receive about 8,000. The plan is not yet finalized.
But the ratio has angered the three geopolitical zones in the south, with some calling for Mr. Jega’s resignation, accusing him of bias.
At a press conference Wednesday, Mr. Jega vowed not to resign, and said those asking him to quit lack adequate information on the exercise and are being mischievous.
The Commission had last month announced its plan to create additional PUs before the general elections next year to bring the number of units in the country to 150,000 from the original 119,973.
According to the proposal, the three geo-political zones in the North will have about 21, 000, which is 70% of the new units, while the three zones in the south got about 8,000 units.
The state-by-state analysis shows that while Lagos will have the highest number of the PUs with 3,159 PUs, while Imo State will have the least with 42.
However, fierce criticisms have trailed the exercise with some groups alleging that it was aimed at foisting the dominance of one section of the country over the others for political advantage.
The South-South Peoples Assembly, SSPA, went a step further by demanding the resignation of the INEC Chairman and should not be allowed to conduct the 2015 general elections.
Mr. Jega, an indigene of Kebbi State in the North West zone, said the Commission’s plan is “sincere and well-intentioned,” and not designed to confer any political advantage on any individual, political party or region.
He said though the outcry was understandable, but regrettable given the low level of public trust in governance institutions in Nigeria, the decision of the Commission to re-configure the structure of the PUs and create additional ones was “driven by our collective aspirations as Nigerians to reform and improve upon the electoral process for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections in 2015 and beyond”.
Stating that there was no sectional or parochial agenda in this decision, the INEC chairman stressed that it was aimed at easing the access of voters to the ballot box by decongesting over crowded PUs and dispersing voters as evenly as possible among all the PUs.
The “need factor” more than political sentiments, informed the patterns of distribution of the PUs being proposed,” Mr Jega added.
“Still, the Commission has not been unmindful of the political nature of the exercise; and that is why it took the decision that (1) no state will lose any PUs from its stock of existing units, no matter the statistical outlook when voter population is exaggerated into units of 500 persons; and (ii) every state will get some additional polling units from 15% of the total being newly created on the basis of ‘equality principle’ regardless of the number of PUs already existing in each state in comparison to the voter population,” he said.
“We have already made the computed figures in this regard public. Contrary to the argument by critics, the Commission is not working on imaginary population sizes based on perceived patterns of migration by potential voters, rather, it is working with the documented register of voters as we have it at the moment.”
He expressed worry that critics seemed to focus on the allocation of the proposed units and urged them to compare the total allocations state by state.
Explaining further the methodology used in arriving at the new arrangement, Mr. Jega said since PUs are created to service registered voters, “the fairest and most logical criterion to use in distributing the 150,000 PUs nationwide is the number of registered voters.”
He stressed, “At present the post-AFIS (i.e. after removing duplicate registrants) figure of registered voters is the most appropriate figure of registered voters that is available nationwide, to use; hence the decision to use post-AFIS figures, as the basis for distributing the 150,000 polling units.
“The simplest way to distribute the 150,000 polling units is to divide the number of registered voters in each state by 500 (maximum of registered per polling unit.)
He explained that the present structure of PUs was created in 1996 by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, NECOM, which created 120,000 PUs and 8,809 wards (registration areas).
According to him, the structure of the polling units had been used for the 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 general elections and that there had been exponential growth in Nigeria’s populations as well as severe demographic shifts resulting from new settlements in major urban areas since 1996.
Mr. Jega further explained that the rise in population with corresponding increase in the number of eligible voters was clearly manifested during the 2011 fresh voter registration exercise.
According to him, in order to ameliorate the challenges of managing polling units with large number of voters, INEC introduced the concept of “Voting Points’ where polling units with large numbers of voters were subdivided into multiple of manageable numbers of about 300, with a maximum of 450 registered voters.
“About 150,000 polling units are required to ensure right-sizing of our polling units based on the number of registered voters,” he said.
The INEC chairman said the Commission had no plan to reverse the decision, stressing “We have taken a decision; we have not yet implemented that decision. People, because they don’t have enough information misunderstood it, some perhaps mischievously. But we are hoping that the information we are providing will make people understand.
“I cannot sit down here and tell you whether we will reverse or we will not reverse. What is clear is that many people are taking hard position on the issue when they are ill-informed and they are very passionate and emotive about it.”
On how the Commission would manage the creation of polling units in the areas of the country ravaged by insurgency, he said though the development was “unfortunate and regrettable” the situation would soon be addressed and that those displaced would return.
He said, “The hope of everybody is that normalcy will return and people will come back to their places. So the displacement of people in any of these places is a temporary phenomenon. You cannot say we should create polling units when we have information that people have registered in that area because they are temporary dislocated. The displacement is temporary.”
Mr. Jega said he was not bothered about the calls for his resignation over the proposed creation of the PUs because he and the Commission’s staff were convinced of what they were doing.
He said, “Anybody can say anything and they are entitled to do so. This is not the first time people are calling for my removal or resigning or being fired. That doesn’t bother me. I do my best and all the commissioners are doing their best.
“Forget about removal. Any of us here can fall and die tomorrow. So long as we are here we will do what we believe is right. We did not lobby anybody to come here. We were brought here because people knew we will do the right thing and we will continue to do it as long as we have the opportunity to continue to do it.
“So, don’t worry. I myself I won’t wait until I am fired. The day I know myself I can’t do this job to satisfy my conscience I will leave. I am here in INEC to do national service and I believe I am making sacrifices, not only myself but also the national commissioners.”