The Independent National Electoral Commission has suspended its plan to establish additional 30,000 Polling Units after the proposal triggered controversy over the distribution between the north and south.
The electoral body had announced over 21,000 extra polling units for all the states in northern Nigeria, and a little above 8,000 for all states in the south, saying the decision was based on the number of registered voters in the two regional blocs.
The ratio brought INEC’s chairman, Attahiru Jega, under intense criticism with groups in the south south, south east and south west geopolitical zones accusing him of bias, with some leaders calling for his resignation.
Mr. Jega rejected the call, and said his critics were not well informed of details of the distribution.
The Senate also directed the commission to discontinue the plan to set up new polling units until after the 2015 election.
The electoral body said Tuesday the exercise will no longer continue until after the polls next year.
“The Commission met today, Tuesday, November 11th, 2014, and reviewed reports sent in from States by Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) on reconfiguration of the polling unit structure and creation of additional polling units,” a statement signed by INEC’s secretary, Augusta Ogakwu, said.
“Taking everything into consideration – especially the controversy over creation of additional polling units that has been overheating the polity, and the apparent inadequacy of time for the exercise – the Commission took a decision to suspend the exercise until after the 2015 general elections.”
The electoral body however said it will continue with the use of Voting Points, where necessary, to ease population pressure in overcrowded polling units during the forthcoming elections.
Also, polling units will be relocated from unsuitable locations, INEC added, an option likely to be applied in conflict areas such as the northeast where extremist sect, Boko Haram, wages a brutal insurgency.
INEC said as much as possible it will ensure that polling units are located in enclosures such classrooms, rather than in open spaces.
The commission had in August announced plan to create 30,000 PUs to bring the number of the PUs in the country to 150,000.
Of the 30,000 PUs, 21,000 were allocated to the 19 states of the North and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT while 8,000 were allocated to the 17 states in the South.
However, the proposal drew the anger of some groups, which rejected it.
The southern elders under the aegis of Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly, SNPA, whose membership includes a former vice president, Alex Ekwueme, former Federal Commissioner for Information, Edwin Clark and prominent clergyman, Emmanuel Gbonigi accused the INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega, of implementing a northern agenda.
Also, South East zonal chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, rose from a four-hour meeting in Umuahia, Abia State, and described INEC’s plan as a great disservice to the unity of the country and demanded its reversal.
Defending the proposal, Mr. Jega said the distribution of the PUs was based on the existing voter’s register.
He said the plan was driven by the Commission’s desire to reform and improve upon the electoral process for free, fair, credible and peaceful elections in 2015.
“There is not sectional or parochial agenda in this decision and there will never be any under this Commission,” Mr. Jega had said.
“The basic aim of the exercise we are presently undertaking is to ease the access of voters to the ballot box in the 2015 general elections and beyond by decongesting overcrowded PUs and dispersing voters as evenly as possible among all the PUs.”