Deputy Editor, LEON USIGBE, writes on the controversy created by the suspected existence of underage voters on the register of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) particularly in Kano State and the final recommendations of the INEC committee.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has come under heavy scrutiny in recent times because of the emergence of certain incontrovertible evidence that Kano State electoral register contains a dose of underage voters. It came to light during the last council election in the state where toddlers were filmed queuing up to register and vote in the election, under the supervision of adults who appeared to be enjoying every moment of the illegal act.
Governor Umar Ganduje initially dismissed the video and still pictorial evidence as propaganda as he told State House correspondents, when asked for his reaction, that they were pre-recorded by opponents. INEC, on its own part had sought to distance itself from the illegality by saying that it was a local election over which it had no supervisory role. The commission’s Director of Publicity and Voter Education, Mr. Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, admitted this much when he told a media outfit that some underage voters were being registered in some parts of the country because the lives of registration officers were being threatened by some members of the community.
The electoral body, nonetheless, resolved to send a fact-finding team of eight to check out the claims of presence of underage voters in Kano’s register, a move that immediately stoked the anger of the leading opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The committee was headed by a National Commissioner, Abubakar Nahuche, with members including a National Commissioner, Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu; the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Mike Ingini; Adamawa; State REC, Kassim Geidam; Mr. Yakubu Duku of the Electoral Operations Department; Mrs. Rukayat Bello of the Voter Registry Department, Mr. Paul Omokore of the ICT Department and Mr. Jude Okwuonu. It was thought that the committee would screen the 4.9 million Kano State voters register for underage names. The PDP rejected in its totality, the composition and scope of the eight-man, in-house committee, set up by the Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu. PDP argued that the fact that the All Progressives Congress (APC) rose in staunch defence of INEC over the existence of the underage voters had further confirmed that the ruling party has more than vested interests in the illegality.
According to the party, the panel lacked credibility as it comprised members of the same indicted INEC. The PDP alleged that they had been detailed to arrive at predetermined findings and recommendations aimed at exonerating the Yakubu-led commission and play down on the electoral implications of the existence of underage voters. In rejecting the composition of the committee, the PDP also repudiated the scope of the inquest, particularly the exclusion of Katsina State from the probe, according to the party, despite vast evidence of underage voters in that state.
The PDP therefore charged Professor Yakubu to quickly “redeem his name by immediately disbanding the flawed committee and set up a more credible and transparent panel made up of political parties, credible NGOs and CSOs and extend the inquest to Katsina and other states.” IThe INEC team, contrary to the pictorial and video evidence, soon reported a verdict of no evidence of underage voters found in Kano to the consternation of the opposition party. The KANSIEC boss had added: “We are reviewing the pictures with our software. Most of the pictures were 2015 election pictures. It is more or less like blackmail but we expected such because before the election started, the PDP members opted out and they are the major opposition party that could have won something if they had contested.”
Despite the initial statement attributed to the INEC fact-finding committee and the stern denial of former KANSIEC chairman, former Kano state governor and senator representing Kano Central Senatorial District, Rabiu Kwankaso, believed that there was indeed underage voting during the Kano local polls. The PDP continued to insist that with what happened in Kano and INEC’s tamed reaction to it, the nation’s democracy has become endangered. The party in its latest reaction, berated the INEC Chairman for the suggestion that there was no evidence of underage voting in Kano. The party said the commission had obliterated a huge part of its honour by denying what is obvious to all instead of taking urgent steps to clean up the register and correct all anomalies ahead of 2019 general elections.
Nigerians will recall that when the issue first came to the fore, the APC mounted a staunch and unyielding defence for INEC, thus betraying their vested interests in the illegality. INEC, on its own part, issued an initial reaction confirming the existence of underage voting in the February 10, 2018 Kano council poll but attempted to shift the blame to the Kano state government which conducted that poll. When confronted with the fact that it was INEC and not Kano state that registered the minors and issued them with valid voters card, the commission again tried to exonerate itself by claiming that its officials registered the minors following threats by the communities.
In the face of these INEC’s embarrassing dances, how then did Prof. Yakubu’s committee arrive at its findings when even officials of INEC, including those who superintended over the registration of the minors, had already declared the reasons behind their action?
When INEC eventually unveiled the Committee’s report, the body attempted to dry clean itself and at the same time proffer solutions to the Kano underaged voters saga.
First, the committee reported that INEC was not culpable in the underaged voting drama as it insisted that the voters register was not used for the Kano local government election. That position appears to tally with the position earlier held by Senator Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso, who declared that the underaged voters might have just been invited to come and thumbprint since the PDP and the Kwakwansiya group had boycotted the election.
According to the report of the committee there was the need to clean up the voters register nationwide. It however claimed that most of the pictures circulated as evidence of under -aged voting in Kano were taken in 2011 and 2012 registration circles.