The stage is set for today’s election in the six Area Councils of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in what appears a litmus test for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ahead of the 2023 general elections.
The February 12 election is the first major election to be conducted by INEC in 2022.
Abuja is unique compared to Nigeria’s 36 states as it has no elected governor but a minister who is appointed by the president. Also, unlike in the 36 states where state electoral commissions conduct the council elections, Abuja’s are conducted by INEC.
Here are seven major things to know about the election:
1. Political parties and candidates
Fourteen political parties will compete for 62 councilorship and six chairmanship seats in FCT Area Council election when polls open on Saturday.
Political parties that are fielding candidates in the election include Action Democratic Party (ADP), All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Allied Peoples Movement (APM), African Action Congress (AAC) and Labour Party (LP).
Saturday’s election will be held in the 68 wards/constituencies spread across Bwari, Abaji, Gwagwalada, Kuje, Kwali and Abuja Municipal Council (AMAC) area councils of the FCT.
As published in its final list, the INEC noted that a total of 473 candidates sponsored by 14 political parties will participate in the poll with 55 of them seeking to be chairpersons of the six area councils.
Ahead of the election, participating political parties have signed a peace accord.
The representatives and candidates of 14 political parties, including Nigeria’s ruling APC and the main opposition PDP last week at the Nigerian Air Force Conference Centre, in Abuja, agreed to a violence-free election.
2. Polling units and Voters
The number of registered voters in the FCT are 1,373,492, while the number of polling units are 2,822, including the newly created ones.
According to INEC, the expansion of voter access to polling units resulted in the creation of 593 new polling units from the existing polling units in the FCT, making balloting more accessible to voters and less likely to be encumbered by lengthy queues.
But the election umpire noted that Saturday’s elections will only hold in the old 2,229 polling units as no materials or officials would be deployed to the 593 newly established polling units because no voters have yet been registered in those areas.
3. INEC preparation
INEC had announced the deployment of 2,822 Biometric Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) for Saturday’s FCT council elections.
Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman, at the distribution of sensitive materials to the area councils on Wednesday, said that 12,000 ad hoc staff had also been deployed for the elections.
Mr Yakubu said the sensitive materials were collected from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and brought to INEC FCT office, for distribution to the area councils.
“The materials were received from CBN and are being taken to the area councils starting with the farthest, Abaji, Kwali to Gwagwalada area councils,” he noted.
INEC’s National Commissioner for Information and Voter Education (IVEC), Festus Okoye, said the deployment of the sensitive materials was being observed by representatives of political parties, civil society groups and the media.
Abdulrazak Yusuf, the director in charge of electoral operations, said the sensitive materials included result sheets and ballot papers customised in different colours according to the area councils.
Mr Yusuf said INEC had a checklist containing the names of all polling units and ballot papers with their serial numbers and the number of result sheets that would be used.
The FCT INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Yahaya Bello, said that all was set for the conduct of the FCT area council elections. He said the Registration Area Centres (RACs) had been prepared, secured and ready for work and that the RACs would be opened on February 11 to accommodate all the ad hoc staff.
Mr Bello said all the BVAS devices had been well configured and the commission had also trained what it called “RAC Techs’’.
According to him, “there are technicians who are going to take care of the machines in the event of any breakdown”.
4. Security preparation
Towards ensuring adequate security during Saturday’s election, the FCT Police Command on Thursday announced that there will be restriction of movement from 12 midnight of Friday, February 11 to 4 p.m. on Saturday in Abuja. The police, on Friday, however, announced a relaxation of the restriction, saying residents were now free to go about their legitimate businesses on election day.
The FCT police command also announced the establishment of an emergency response team codenamed “9 sector re-enforcement team”, to curb any violence that may arise during the Area Council elections.
The security outfit comprising police officers and sister security agencies, located in all the area councils and perceived hotspots, would, among others, provide an immediate response to cases of emergency in their places of deployment and prevent security breach, the command said.
5. Voter Apathy and Vote buying
There have been concerns about voter apathy and vote-buying during the elections.
Both situations have been recorded during past FCT area council elections, prompting concerns from election observers.
Analysts say there is very poor awareness ahead of the polls, which may lead to voter apathy. They argue that FCT residents have lost interest in Abuja politics, saying that majority of them are not even aware that an election will be held Saturday.
On its part, INEC warned political parties to shun vote-buying during the election or face the full weight of the law.
6. FCT minister
Ahead of the polls, FCT Minister Muhammad Bello called for the active and peaceful participation of FCT residents.
In a statement Friday to FCT residents, Mr Bello said that since the return to democracy in 1999, the FCT Area Council elections have held unfailingly every three years leading to the entrenchment of an enduring democratic culture where the wishes of the people have prevailed.
According to the minister, conducting a smooth election is not the responsibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission alone, but also those of the electorate working in tandem with all stakeholders, including security agencies, civil society groups, the mass media, community and religious leaders and organisations.
He also reminded residents that the attention of the national and international community is focused on the FCT Area Council elections.
7. Few female candidates
According to INEC data, only 9 per cent of candidates for the various posts are women.
Women groups and gender-focused civil society organisations have decried the poor participation of women in the election. They also noted the relatively low number of women registered voters compared to their male counterparts.
The Director, Gender and Inclusivity Department of INEC, Blessing Obidegwu, said that as of the 2019 general elections in FCT, about 743,238 males and 61,618 females were registered in the FCT.
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