President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has said that the National Assembly would support the Independent National Electoral Commission in its bid to provide a secure and safe voting environment, with the ultimate aim of fostering democracy by ensuring electoral integrity and transparency in the conduct of elections.
Lawan made this known while speaking during a meeting between the National Assembly Joint Committee on INEC and Electoral Matters and a delegation from the Independent National Electoral Commission, led by its Chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu.
In his presentation, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, while underscoring the need for the creation of additional Polling Units across the country, said the current configuration of 119,973 Polling Units was established by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) in 1996.
According to him, “the problem of voter access to Polling Units has far reaching implications for the quality of elections and democracy in Nigeria. It is tied to a most fundamental aspect of democratic governance which is the right to vote.”
He explained that previous attempts by the Commission to expand voter access to polling units resulted in the creation of “Baby units” to serve the rapidly growing Federal Capital Territory in 2007.
He added that, “in 2014, in the buildup to the 2015 general election, the Commission proposed the creation and distribution of additional 30,027 new polling units.
“This was with the objective of decongesting overcrowded polling units and dispersing voters as evenly as possible to disruptions, delays and violence on Election Day.”
The Senate President, in a speech delivered during the meeting, emphasized the need for more polling units to be created to ensure voter safety and a better voting environment in Nigeria.
According to him, the creation of more polling units across the country would facilitate ease of access and enable registered voters exercise their civic rights of participating during elections.
He said: “Let me assure the Chairman of INEC and, indeed, Nigerians, that the National Assembly will support INEC fully, completely and wholly in ensuring that we provide a better voting environment for our citizens.
“Whatever it takes, we will do so because democracy is about participation by the people, and voting is probably the most important thing a citizen could do to decide who leads him or her.
“Therefore, to provide a more convenient, safe and secured environment for voters is one thing that the National Assembly would always support INEC.
“And, we have supported INEC many times, whether through budgeting or other engagements that will facilitate the work of INEC, therefore, this one is a request that we should not even hesitate to grant. So, you have our support.
“On behalf of everyone in the National Assembly, I want to assure Nigerians that the National Assembly is ready and willing to support INEC to do better, especially in the area getting more polling units.”
The Senate President, who underscored the need for more eligible Nigerians to participate during elections, charged politicians, political parties and Civil Society Organizations to mobilize registered voters ahead of the forthcoming General Elections in 2023.
According to him, mobilizing more registered voters to participate during elections would improve Nigeria’s electoral process besides the creation of more polling units by the Commission.
“The issue is not only creating more polling units but even mobilizing voters to participate, because if you have 85 million, and at the end of the day, just about 29.8 million go out to vote, it means you have left out about 50 million Nigerians.
“And, that is not a responsibility of INEC alone. Mobilization of voters is something that politicians and political parties are also supposed to do. And, of course, the same with Civil Society Organization that have any relationship interest or concerns with voters or voting.
“So, in addition to getting more polling units, we need to also mobilize voters to go to those polling units to vote.
“Probably, now our challenge would be how do we improve from 35 percent to something like 50 percent in the 2023 Presidential election, because that confers more legitimacy when more voters come out to vote,” he said.
Lawan, therefore, urged INEC to identify communities where voter access is severely restricted as a result of insufficient polling units, and create additional polling units to enable registered voters participate during elections.
His words: “There are so many communities that go through this rigorous struggle to go and vote because of the limited number of voting or polling units, but they might have not written to you to say they need more polling units.
“I would urge INEC, therefore, that we should go beyond those communities that have requested for additional polling units.
“We should have a very fair and equitable process where even communities that have not requested for polling units are covered, because some may not even know where to go.
“Probably, those that have requested are those that are more enlightened, and there could be so many suffering from this.
“But there are so many of this kind of community suffering, so we should have a diligent process that will give people who have not requested for additional polling units to have more polling units, otherwise we may end up creating additional polling units or moving other polling units to those areas we think are not served or covered properly, and still have other people suffering in silence.”
On the Electoral Act amendment presently before the National Assembly, the Senate President said the Senate and the House of Representatives “are working so hard and the two chambers are prepared to look into the report.”
“Let me take this opportunity to assure Nigerians that the Electoral Act amendment – the Constitutional review that our committees in the House and Senate are doing – would be passed before we go on our second break. Our second break is normally between June and July.
“We want to do a very thorough job, we want to create legislative amendments that will ensure that our electoral environment is enhanced, that our elections are better in terms of integrity and transparency,” he added.