The subject of additional polling units – shelved prior to the 2015 general elections – has now returned to the front burner of our polity. Recall that in August 2014 during the watch of Prof. Attahiru Jega, INEC sought to create 30,027 additional polling units ahead of the 2015 general elections, with 21,615 in the north and 8,412 in the southern part of the country.
Controversy however trailed the proposed plan, leading to its suspension by the Commission. Nigeria’s rapidly growing population and ever-changing demographics, plus issues like; registration of new voters, creation of new settlements – including camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) – the need to decongest crowded polling units in urban areas et al, have again necessitated the creation of more polling units.
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has expressed the Commission’s plan to create additional polling units in Nigeria, in the build-up to the 2023 general elections.
Note that there are currently 119,973 polling units and 57,023 voting points across the country. The current structure of polling units was established in 1996, with INEC subsequently creating voting points prior to the 2011 general elections to enhance efficiency in election management, by decongesting polling units which exceeded 750 registered voters.
Voting Point Settlements (VPS) were also created in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), in addition to polling units and voting points (See section 3, INEC Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections 2019).
This move however seems to have created a political divide, with influential political juggernauts on both sides of the equation, thus setting the stage for a political showdown in the running to the 2023 general elections almost 2 years away.
Some stakeholders have supported the move by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to create additional polling units in the country before the 2023 general elections, saying it is within the jurisdiction of the umpire to create polling units for ease of electoral activities.
Nevertheless, they noted the fears being expressed in various quarters that the process could be manipulated in favor of certain parts of the country. And as a panacea to address this concern, this school of thought have pointed to the electronic voting system as an effective device to douse any brewing tension.
On his part, former National Chairman of the defunct, United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie addressing newsmen, said that in the intervening years between the past 25 years when the present polling units were created and present day Nigeria, the demographics of the country have changed exponentially.
He reasoned that Nigeria has experienced a population explosion of over 90 million potential voters, adding that many and new high-density cities and communities have emerged, coupled with massive migrations and displacements. He stressed that such factors have combined to make it imperative for INEC to create additional polling units, to enable greater number of voters exercise their franchise easily during the coming elections.
Addressing the concern that the process could be hijacked by some influential parts of the country, Chekwas said: “I am aware of the anxiety of the suspecting public that the process may be manipulated to shortchange some sections of the country, but the expected introduction of electronic voting system should address such fears.”
Dr. John Nwobodo, former Chairman of the Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC), Enugu State, stated that it is not true that the move by INEC to create additional polling units, is not based on the demand of the people.
According to the political stalwart, “It is to be noted that some voters walk long distances on Election Day in order to cast their ballot, because the location of some polling units are far from their residences. In other words, the points between the residences of the voters and the location of the polling units are far apart. Some voters in this category actually save themselves the stress of walking long distances on Election Day and end up not going to vote. Therefore, the issue of lack of access to polling units is not new,” says he.
A seasoned lawyer of repute, Nwodo further said that INEC was on the right path by making it a policy to embark on creation of new polling units. Hear him “Do not forget that the voting population has increased significantly over the years but the number of polling units remain unchanged since 1996”
Adding, “A polling unit is meant to serve a voting population of 500, but you find that some polling units have nearly twice the number. Therefore, as voting population increases, the need for expansion of access to polling units becomes inevitable and desirable.
“Moreover, INEC is not going about the creation whimsically. It received and processed requests for new polling units from Nigerians. As at February 15 2021, INEC received 9,777requests for new polling units. This speaks to the acceptability of the initiative by Nigerians.
“I do not see how creation of additional polling units will mar the 2023 general elections. On the contrary, it will enhance the integrity and credibility of the election in combination with other factors”.
Also speaking on this subject, Prof. Jehu Onyekwere Nnaji, who was the Enugu East senatorial candidate of the KOWA party in the 2019 general elections, stated that INEC’s intention to create more polling units ahead of the 2023 General elections can be seen as an exercise that lies within its purview and jurisdiction.
He was however cautious to note that, it is yet to be seen if the creation of additional 57,023 polling units would translate into making Election-Day voting seamless, adding that polling units need to be located within the proximity of voters, to encourage elderly and physically unfit people to navigate their ways with less difficulty to exercise their franchise.
“It will be necessary to juxtapose this exercise with what will be obtainable if INEC should upgrade its voter accreditation mechanisms as well as the methods of collation, transmission and publication of results. When all these factors are placed on a pedestal, INEC can make informed decisions to see, which areas they need to up their game,” he said
Nnaji a Professor of International law and Global Politics observed that so much electoral fraud has been committed on Election Day, due to failure of INEC to plug such loopholes.
“Without considering all the foregoing concerns as well as many others encountered by the electorate and INEC itself as a body, spending so much money in creating these new polling units might as well be an exercise in futility. I will support any approach that will ease voters’ movement and access to election materials as much as I will endorse credible efforts on the part of INEC at ensuring that the next General elections become good examples of free and fair elections, especially so when 2023 will mark nearly a quarter of a century of uninterrupted and continuous democratic rule in Nigeria,” argues the learned professor.