Disenfranchising Citizens Through Voters Registration

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Disenfranchising Citizens Through Voters Registration?

By

 

Segun Gbadegesin

 

 

culled from THE NATION, November 24, 2006

 

Theorising conspiracy is a staple of Nigerian political scene and the ongoing voter registration exercise has successfully spawned not a few of such theories. I was enjoying what I thought was a cool fall evening when my telephone rang. Of course it was Triple A. "Do you know what they are now trying to do?" he asked. "Who?" I threw back his question at him. "Who else, the combined team of INEC and the Presidency", he replied. "The voter registration exercise is in fact a bold effort on their part to deregister voters and disenfranchise citizens', he said emphatically. "What makes you so sure about this?" I asked.

 

"Listen, this is not an academic matter and you don't indulge in your skeptical attitude because it is a serious matter", he responded. "They announced to the whole world that they were going to adopt an electronic system of voter registration. They announced the timing of the exercise. They had a pretty good idea that the number of likely voters they hoped to register should be about 70 million. You would expect then that they would make adequate arrangements for the hardware, software and "humanware" that they would need for the exercise, wont you?" I replied that I would if I was in charge.

 

"Well, there you confirmed my point. The Chairman of INEC is a reasonable professional, a professor of repute. I am sure he would do what you just said if there was nothing untoward. He would ensure that there were enough machines to go round. He would ensure that the machines they ordered were not faulty. He would ensure that his personnel were up to the task because he should know that the very future of this country hangs in the balance over 2007." "So are you saying he didn't do all these?" I asked.

 

My friend then went over a long list of complaints from all the states of the federation.

In Oyo State, there should be 1, 119 voter registration machines; only 36 are available out of which 6 have broken down. In Lagos, citizens are given a run around in the search for the location of registration centers. It has even been alleged that the few machines available are housed in the residences of PDP stalwarts in the state. In Enugu, there are at most three machines per local government. In Rivers State, even party leaders don't know where the machines are. The story is the same in Kano, Plateau, Jigawa, Oshun and Ogun states.

 

"How did all these happen?" I asked. My friend told me that INEC designated 120,000 polling booths throughout the federation. Each of these is to be a registration center for the purpose of voter registration. Eligible voters are to register in the station closest to their residence and are to vote where they registered. However, INEC placed order for 33,000 voter registration machines. And out of these only 150 were delivered at the start of the exercise. Finally, he asked whether this situation can be explained other than by appeal to the worst in human rationality, a conspiracy to disenfranchise millions of Nigerians.

 

For once, it occurred to me that my friend was making sense. Commonsense requires that adequate preparations be made for this kind of exercise on which the future of the country as a democracy hangs. The Chairman of INEC is a respectable gentleman with an eye on history. The president has put his reputation on the line with regard to the integrity of the elections of 2007. Even if does not care what Nigerians think about him, he cares a lot about international opinions of his performance. International leaders including President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have expressed confidence in Nigeria's determination to lay the ghost of failed democratic transitions. Even the Chinese are offering counsel. Why then would the Obasanjo administration not make the necessary preparations?

 

My friend offered his own explanation: "Here is what is going on. The president has taken in his defeat over the attempt to elongate his tenure. But he has decided to control the system by ensuring that whoever he anoints is installed as his successor thereby blocking his enemies from getting the nod of the electorate. This was why he had to take control of the PDP in order to ensure that Atiku cannot smell the nomination of that political party. You may recall that the strategy that the president adopted was to de-legitimize the register of PDP members and to require a completely new registration. At the point of registering members anew, the president ensured that only his people got registered into the party. The vice president was unable to register in his Adamawa State PDP. The embarrassment that ensued was too much and the chairman of the party had to personally take Atiku's registration card to him in Abuja. But millions of Atiku loyalists were deregistered in the process. The strategy was considered a success with respect to party control, and now it is being adopted with a view to controlling the nation. This is the only rational explanation of the bizarre events going on in the name of voter registration", my friend submitted. But he was not done.

 

"Look at it this way", he continued. "What sense does it make to reject the entire registration list that had been compiled for the two previous general elections of 1999 and 2003? The election of 1999 was considered credible by international observers. 2003 was rigged but the voters' registry was not the major cause of the rigging. Ballot stuffing and vote swapping cannot be blamed on the list of voters. And where there were problems with the old list, they could be corrected without throwing away the whole register. And if anyone felt that it was necessary to compile a new list, why not use the old tested method especially since the country does not control the manufacturing of the equipment?"

 

When I reminded my friend that INEC had argued that the country cannot remain in the 19th century mode of manual registration, he replied that INEC should remember the famous line of the out-going U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld: you go to battle with the army you have not the army you would want to have. He thought that it was a realistic view and that it was unfortunate that Rumsfeld was misunderstood by the Americans. "In any case, it has now turned out that the INEC has been "419ed" by the so-called contractors, including the foreigners. And the machines may not be forthcoming after-all. So what is INEC going to do?" my friend asked despondently.

 

I replied that my own question is about what our people are going to do. There is no doubt that if the problems facing INEC's current registration exercise are not rectified with speed, many citizens would be disenfranchised. And the conspiracy theory would start to make some sense. As part of the strategy of the ruling group, the president and his camp have placed office holders on the edge of their seats. Governors who should worry about the problem of disenfranchisement of their people seem more worried about the gale of impeachment and whether they are next in line. Political aspirants are running around with posters and campaign brochures, but their supporters are unable to register. One wonders if posters and brochures are substitutes for names of eligible voters on the voters' register. Civil libertarians and lovers of democracy must now assume the responsibility of responding to the conspiracy of those who are deregistering voters and disenfranchising the citizens.

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