To Register Or Not To Register?

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For all those who are eligible to register to vote but have not done so till now, INEC is once more widening the window for registration.

Andy Ezeani

What is your vote worth? That is a weighty question in democracy. The actual answer does come down when results of polls are tallied. For every citizen who wields his voter’s card, the full worth of his vote is often realised when he speaks with his thumbprint in the confines of the polling booth. There, at the end of the day, especially in the context of a tight contest, the question of the worth of a single vote is answered quite loudly.

In the context of Nigeria’s contemporary democracy, so ably represented by events of recent time, the question “what is your vote worth?” could receive and indeed has received very straight answers in figures. Without too much sophistication and grammar, the question and answer can, in a banal form, simply come down to:

Question: what is your vote worth? Answer: Five thousand naira.

This is how practical and base it has become. We shall return to the worth and assessment of a vote in the hand of a voter in Nigeria.

Come Friday, August 17, 2018, at 5pm the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will temporarily suspend continuous voter registration (CVR) all over the country. What this simply means is that no person will be registered any more as a voter until the 2019 general election is over in the second month of that year. What this notice from INEC transmits to all those who are qualified to register to vote but have not done so is that there is less than two weeks for any person who is keen to get registered. Of course, you have to have your voter’s card before we can meaningfully discuss what it is worth.

But for the tendency in many to act at the 11th hour, every eligible person with the desire to register as a voter ought to have done so by now. The window for registration of voters has been opened so wide by INEC that anyone who is still left unregistered by August 17, 2018, can arguably be said not to be keen on being registered.

In the last 15 months, since the INEC commenced CVR all over the country, the commission has pursued the exercise of fishing for prospective voters to register with something of a proselytizer’s zeal.

Even the deaf among us must have heard about CVR in the last one year. If anyone had not seen officials of INEC discussing CVR on television, the person must have heard about it on radio stations. Or read about it in newspapers and magazines. Or seen posters and handbills on CVR. And if you are a rural dweller, chances are that town criers, village meetings, traditional rulers and religious worship places must have brought messages of the need to register to your doorstep. The CVR campaign has been that comprehensive

Across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the campaigns and public enlightenment programmes designed to promote and call out prospective registrants have been quite intensive and extensive. Side by side with the sensitisation schemes for the CVR has been a vast deployment of personnel and direct data capture machines (DDCM), all out to literally capture every eligible voter.

Even for all this effort, you can bet that after August 17, there will arise some elements who will open loud arguments on why they need extra time to register. Some will even castigate INEC for suspending the registration without waiting for them.

For all those who are eligible to register to vote but have not done so till now, INEC is once more widening the window for registration. It used to be that the CVR was carried out all over the country Monday to Friday, from 9am to 3pm. Weekends (that is, Saturdays and Sundays) and public holidays were not registration days. That old schedule was recently altered as INEC extended registration days and time. Since July 18, 2018, till August 17, 2018, registration of voters has been running every day of the week, including Saturday and Sunday, from 9am to 5pm.

All the three components of the CVR have continued to be carried out simultaneously throughout this period viz: (a) Registration of voters (b) Transfer of registration from one location to another according to the preference of the voter and (c) Collection of the permanent voter’s card. Of these three activities, the first two will be temporarily suspended on August 17, 2018. The third leg, collection of PVCs, will continue without a break until one week before the general election, which would commence on February 16, 2019.

Now, there is a question that needs to be answered and explained at this juncture. Why suspend the CVR? Why will INEC not continue registering voters till the eve of elections?

The answer is found in the need for the election management body to do a thorough housekeeping necessary for the production of a credible register of voters that will be used for coming elections. That is to say, INEC needs time to consolidate the data obtained from the registration exercise, run the AFIS (Automated Fingerprints Identification Systems – which locates multiple registration), compile a clean credible register and then print the PVC. Without doing all these, the elaborate voter registration that has gone on for months faces the danger of possibly being jeopardised by glitches that crop up in the course of such sensitive technical exercises.

The prospect of ending up with a poor voters’ roll is for an election management body a nightmare that must be avoided by all means. While many outside the election management loop may not understand how fundamental the final leg of the voter registration exercise is, that is, the ultimate production of a credible Register of Voters, election administrators at INEC and all those knowledgeable on electoral matters know quite well that a credible register of voters is the foundation of a credible election. And a credible register of voters does not habour funny data. It takes time to clean things up. It takes time too to produce the smart card PVC.

The good thing here is that all those interested and eligible to register still have ample time to get registered. What more, you can go out to register now at your convenience on Saturdays and Sundays.