The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Friday constituted an investigative panel to probe the recent cases of alleged underage voting in Kano State.
Footages were recently circulated which showed some voters who were obviously children participating in the local council elections conducted across Kano State last weekend.
Following nationwide outrage that sparked fears of possible irregularities in the coming general elections, the electoral umpire initially responded that it should not be blamed for the brazen violations of the electoral law because it didn’t conduct the Kano council elections.
PREMIUM TIMES had not independently verified the authenticity of the videos, including whether they were captured in Kano or when.
But while INEC was procedurally correct that Kano State Independent Electoral Commission conducted the election and should be held responsible for alleged abuses, critics blamed INEC officials for registering people who have not attained the age of maturity, to begin with.
The Nigerian electoral law requires that a voter must be at least 18 years of age.
INEC is the only statutory body that registers voters and keeps the database of certified Nigerian electorate.
The investigative panel will start work next week, INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu said on Friday at an election preparation workshop which held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Lagos.
“Recent reports of violations by underage persons following the local government elections in Kano State are deeply disturbing,” Mr. Yakubu said.
He acknowledged that INEC supplied Kano State Independent Electoral Commission with a soft copy of the voter register in the state.
“The voter register in Kano State is the one used for the 2015 general election,” he said. “In July 2016, INEC used the same register to conduct a State Assembly bye-election in Minjibir Constituency which has 78,210 registered voters spread across 126 polling units clustered in 11 Registration Areas (Wards).”
However, during the by-election, which was conducted by INEC, “no single incidence” of underage voting was recorded,” he added. “What therefore happened in the last local government election conducted by the State Electoral Commission? Was the voter register actually used or not?”
Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje had dismissed the circulating videos as the handiwork of his political detractors. He said his political antagonists staged the event as part of their propaganda tactics to embarrass his government.
“Independent observers were there and they found no gross irregularities as widely alleged,” the governor said.
Mr. Ganduje’s party, the All Progressives Congress, emerged winner across all the 44 local council elections. The Peoples Democratic Party, which is the major opposition in the state, rejected the election as a charade and accused the APC administration of taking electoral fraud to an unimaginable level.
At the strategic meeting in Lagos, which held exactly a year before the 2016 polls are slated to commence, Mr. Yakubu said Nigerians should remain confident that INEC would conduct the upcoming general elections in a manner that would be acceptable to all.
He said the commission will harmonise the activities and needs of all departments/directorates in the commission into an implementable plan for the 2019 elections.
Mr. Yakubu listed the five priorities of INEC ahead of the elections as including the need to organise the 2019 elections in line with the highest global professional standards; Deliver a cost-efficient but high-quality general election; Ensure that all stakeholders are carried along and create a level playing field for all candidates and political parties in administering the election; Ensure accountability and responsibility of all INEC staff in the conduct of the election.
The chairman said the voters register would be sanitised and all the 1, 446 registration centres nationwide will continue registering citizens until a few weeks before the elections.
He said all the complaints relating to registering that Nigerians have pushed to INEC would be promptly addressed.
For those who registered last year, four million permanent voter’s cards would be ready for collection by May 2018. Those who are just registering this year would get their PVCs within the shortest period possible, Mr. Yakubu said.