Ahead of next Saturday’s elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission has created additional 57,023 voting points to address the large number of voters which now stands at 84 million.
Information obtained by The PUNCH showed that the voting points would be carved out of the existing 119, 973 polling units nationwide.
This comes barely a month after the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said more voting units would not be created.
Yakubu had said last month, “On polling units, the commission wishes to assure the media that there is no change in the number of polling units and voting points used for the 2015 general elections and the 2016 Area Council elections in the FCT.
“Any insinuation that new polling units, voting points or voting points are being created by the commission is utterly baseless and should be disregarded.”
However, it was learnt that following a high-powered meeting by INEC national commissioners and other relevant stakeholders, it was decided that 57, 023 new voting points had to be created.
It was learnt that the move had become necessary because the number of registered voters had risen by 15 million since 2015 and as thus the old arrangement was not feasible.
The additional voting points would also ensure that voting is done in record time in order to allow for quick collation of results which will be expected to take longer due to the high number of political parties which has since risen to 91.
The 2015 Presidential election had 14 candidates but 2019 has a record 72.
The PUNCH had reported that the collation and announcement of results which would require the announcement of each political party one after the other, might take as long as five days and INEC was doing everything possible to ease the process.
The commissioner explained that a voting point is created when a polling unit has more than 500 registered voters.
He said, “A voting point is derived from a polling unit. When a polling unit has more than 500 registered voters, a voting point can be carved out of it and set aside but it is not completely independent. Ideally, a polling unit should not have more than 750 voters.”
When asked why INEC changed its mind, the commissioner said, “Once a polling unit has more than 750 voters, it is best to devolve a new voting point out of it because if the entire 750 turn up for election, they will not be able to complete accreditation and voting by 2pm.
“In 2015, there were 69 million voters but now we have 84 million. So, that accounts for the increase in the number of voting points.
“As I said, these voting points are like a sub-polling unit. For instance, if Gaskiya Primary School is a polling unit but has 1, 200 registered voters, we can create a voting point out of that unit, to make it two to allow for a better and faster voting process. So, at the end, all the results from that unit would be collated as one.”
When contacted, the INEC National Commissioner for Voter Education and Publicity, Mr Festus Okoye, confirmed the creation of more voting points.
He said it had become necessary due to the large number of voters.
Okoye said, “We have created more because the number of voters has risen to 84 million. INEC regulation 3c states that voting points are created out of polling units based on multiples of 500 and a maximum of 750 registered voters or as may otherwise be determined by the commission.
“We cannot use the 2015 template because the total number of registered voters was 69 million but now it is 84 million. If we use the same template, it means we have not learnt any lessons at all.”
Army to deploy 95 per cent of troops for elections
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army has said it will be deploying 95 per cent of its troops to engage in security duties during the forthcoming elections.
The Director, Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen. Sani Usman, who said this on Thursday in Abuja, explained that 40 per cent of the troops would be stationed in the North-East zone alone, to combat the growing security concerns in the area.
Usman added that the personnel on election duties had been instructed to remain neutral, non-partisan and transparent in all their actions.
The army also refuted claims that the recent payment of uniform allowance to soldiers was done to sway their allegiance towards a political party.
The army’s spokesman said, “There are insinuations on various social media platforms that the recent payment of uniform allowance to officers and soldiers was done to sway their voting towards a particular political party. This is not true.
“The allowance was extended to all Nigerian Army personnel because of their increasing engagement in various internal security operations across the country. It is important to note that 95 per cent of Nigerian Army troops will be engaged in security duties during the forthcoming general elections. Out of this, almost 40 per cent are in the North-East.
“We further warn all officers and soldiers to desist from acts that are inimical to the Army’s code of conduct and discipline. We reiterate the Chief of Army Staff’s warning during his conference with General Officers Commanding and Operations Commanders that all personnel must remain neutral, non-partisan and transparent in all their actions. I need to reiterate that there will be zero-tolerance for any action and inaction by commanders at all levels that is deemed tilted towards giving undue advantage to any candidate, political party, ethnic or religious leanings to the detriment of the unity and integrity of Nigeria.”
DHQ investigates illegal arms, military uniforms’ importation for polls
Also, the Defence Headquarters, Abuja, has said it is investigating claims of illegal and secret importation of military equipment and uniforms into the country ahead of the general elections.
It warned that any civilian arrested in military uniform would be treated as a terrorist.
The Director, Defence Information, Brig. Gen. John Agim, stated this on Thursday during a press conference on the preparedness of the armed forces for the elections. He noted that only soldiers deployed for election duties were expected on the highways, while other personnel should go to the polling units in mufti and vote.
Agim said the military had started investigations into plans by some people to scuttle the elections in parts of the country.
He added that “anyone caught, be they serving or retired military personnel, or civilians, no matter how highly placed, will be arrested and treated in accordance with the extant laws of the land.”
Don’t wear uniform during polls except on duty, DHQ tells troops
The military spokesman said, “In a few days’ time, the country will be conducting the presidential election, and the armed forces wish to reaffirm its neutrality, impartiality and strict adherence to professional code of conduct before, during and after the general elections.
“All military commanders have been tasked to ensure adequate security in their areas of responsibility. They have been directed to ensure the adherence to code of conduct and rules of engagement. These tasks include arrest of anyone in military uniform who is not on essential duty on those days. Likewise, any civilian caught in military uniform will be treated as a terrorist. Already the military is inundated with allegations of illegal importation of military equipment and uniforms into the country which are being investigated.
“No military personnel are expected to fraternise with any political party and association. While military personnel have the right to vote as enshrined in the constitution, they must approach their polling units in mufti, devoid of any military accoutrement.”
The Defence Headquarters said the military exercise, Python Dance III, ongoing in various parts of the country would be sustained to deal with people or groups who want to manipulate the electoral process.
Police promise peaceful election
Also, the Federal Capital Territory Police Command on Thursday assured residents that it would ensure a peaceful environment during the elections.
An Assistant Commissioner of Police, Samuel Musa, who represented the Commissioner of Police, gave the assurance at a stakeholders’ meeting organised by the Centre for Transparency Advocacy in Abuja.
He said, “We are committed to ensuring law and orderliness before, during and after the elections. We will protect the electorate as well as the electoral materials to avoid diversion.
“We know those things that constitute electoral offence such as soliciting of votes on election day and ballot box snatching. We will ensure that none of these happens. We have had a series of training for our officers and men. Some of the training is still ongoing as we speak. We are set to assist INEC to organise credible elections. The elections in FCT will be the best and most peaceful in Nigeria. We have done our deployment that covered all polling units and collation centres.”
NCC bars mobile operators from disseminating violence-inciting SMS
In a related development, the Nigerian Communications Commission has announced the temporary suspension of the Do-Not-Disturb facility on mobile networks.
In a statement issued in Abuja on Thursday, the regulatory commission said that it suspended the DND to enable mobile operators to disseminate information on the elections.
The commission explained that the suspension was necessary to enable Mobile Network Operators to disseminate specific information on voter education on behalf of INEC.
The NCC had issued Guidance to all MNOs and Value Added Service Providers to the effect that:
“MNOs should ensure that their facilities are not used to disseminate political or religious contents which are abusive, insulting, intimidating and harassing, and/or which incite violence, hatred or discrimination against any person or group of persons.
“MNOs shall provide service to participants in the political process, only to the extent that their licence and the regulatory process permit.
“MNOs shall maintain the principle of neutrality in all their dealings regarding all the political processes.
“MNOs shall at all times seek and obtain the approval of the commission.”
The commission also expressed its readiness to strictly monitor the activities of the MNOs for the duration of the temporary suspension.
INEC meets, CSOs, NGOs, women ahead elections
Meanwhile, INEC on Thursday met with the Civil Society Organisations, Non-Governmental Organisation and various women groups from across the South-West states.
The zonal meeting, which held at the Premier Hotel, Ibadan, was organised by the Centre for Enterprise Development and Action Research on Gender and Participation in the general elections.
According to INEC, the main objective of the meeting the women groups was to increase participants’ awareness on women’s low representation in elective positions.
In his opening remarks, the Oyo State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr Mutiu Agboke, said the commission recognised the need to orientate the women to take part in political decisions that affect their lives.
Agboke, who was represented by the Administrative Secretary, Mr David Asemo, recounted that the commission had within the last one year embarked on a series of sensitisation initiatives for stakeholders particularly the women so as to reduce incidents of void votes during elections.
He said, “INEC has been going to various markets, groups and societies to talk to women to let them know the roles they have to play in election and its importance.
“We know that women are the grass-root mobilisers and those who take care of the home front at the same time, so we need them to help spread the message on why people must shun electoral violence, vote-selling and buying, among others.
“Women are the first victims of any crisis in the society either as wives or mothers. And we know that they are the most important tools to help sensitise the people to the implication of electoral crisis, hence the need for this meeting.”