WITH the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) concluding the year-long voter registration, WALE AKINSELURE writes on the implications of the demography of an updated voter register to be used for the conduct of the 2023 general election.
The Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise which began on June 28, 2021 came to an end on August 31, 2022. At the end of the exercise, it recorded a total of 10,487,972 fresh registrants out of a total of 31,098,013 applications covering voter transfer, requests for replacement of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), update of voter information record among other requests. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as shown on its official twitter handle, completed registration stands at a total of 12,298,944 made up of 3,444,378 online registration and 8,854,566 physical registration.
All those figures are not mere statistics. They have far-reaching implications for the general election coming up in the country in 2023. The figures are critical for planning by all the major stakeholders in the elections. INEC will be fashioning and deploying part of its resources to align with new figures to achieve a seamless poll. But beyond the figures, the political parties, their candidates and their promoters are bound to distill the figures based on the age-bracket of the new registrants responsible for the astronomical rise in the voting population next year. The rising level of political consciousness and awareness among the youths culminated into many of them trooping out to register to beat the august 31 deadline. The candidates will want to scramble for that huge population of the youths as well as strategise on how to secure maximum votes from zones with the huge population of potential voters as reflected in the figures released by INEC.
The commission had declared at commencement of the CVR in a bid to update the voter register used for the 2019 elections. The old registered contained 84,004,084 voters and at the outset of the recent CVR exercise in June 2021, the commission had hoped to add at least 20 million new voters to its existing voter base. Chairman of the commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu said the registration would be carried out continuously for over a year until the third quarter of 2022.
INEC had also detailed quarterly schedules for the exercise with the end date of July 31, 2022 being quarter 4, week 16. The July 31 end date for the CVR came after INEC yielded to calls for an extension of its earlier June deadline. The CVR is being done in compliance with the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) which mandates INEC to carry out CVR nationwide and to make available to every political party within 60 days. The CVR is meant for registration of citizens who turned 18 years of age after the 2019 election or those, who for one reason or another, could not register in the previous exercises. Continuous Voter Registration also allows for updating or amendment of registration details by registered voters: misspelt names, omissions or wrong details, amendment in marital status. The CVR is to culminate in the issuance of Permanent Voters Card (PVC) which will enable registered voters exercise their civic right to vote in the general election. In embracing technology, the hitherto practice of intending registrants presenting themselves to the CVR officers at INEC offices or designated public areas for registration was substituted with the creation of a portal where intending voters do a pre-registration. In place of the previous laptop-based Direct Data Capture Machine (DDCM), the ongoing CVR involves the use of a new registration machine known as the INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED).
INEC chairman, Yakubu, however, added that the new device could also be used for other purposes such as voter registration during elections, dealing with registered voters who have had issues with their PVCs or fingerprints at accreditation during previous election. Those deemed eligible to partake in the CVR exercise were: Nigerian citizens who have attained the age of 18 years and not previously registered; registered voters who have encountered challenges with their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) or their fingerprints not being read by the Smart Card Reader; registered voters who want to effect a transfer of their voting locations; registered voters who want to effect changes to their personal details; Registered voters whose PVCs are lost or defaced/damaged. To address fears of those who are not digitally inclined, physically disabled or people living in rural areas without access to the Internet, the commission also established 2,673 centres where citizens can register manually. This innovation saw 87,083 persons living with disability complete their registration out of 216,442 that applied to the commission for one issue or the other.
However, pre-registration is just one step with intending registrants still mandated to go to INEC state or local government area offices for their biometrics and completion of their registration. As the exercise went on, officials of INEC kept reminding registrants that registering online is only one step, enjoining them to complete their registration by visiting INEC offices. Among other INEC officials, former Resident Electoral Commissioner, Oyo State, Mutiu Agboke, warned that registration is inchoate and incomplete if people only stop at the stage of filling the form online hence should not expect to get PVC before the election. With the conclusion of CVR, INEC is expected to display a preliminary register of voters for scrutiny, between a period of five and fourteen days, to clean up its data before commencing the printing of PVCs.
In the CVR exercise that preceded the 2019 election, a total of 14.2 million Nigerians registered between 2017 and 2018. The CVR, which started in April 2017 was supposed to end on 17th August, 2018 but was pushed to the last day of August 2018. The electoral body subsequently announced that it had a voter base of 84,004,084 going into the 2019 election. In the current voter register, used for the 2019 general election, Lagos state has the highest number with 6,570,291 registered voters, followed by Kano with 5,457,747 voters and Kaduna with 3,932,492 voters. Other states with high number of registered voters are Katsina with 3,230,230 voters; Rivers, 3,215,273 voters; Delta, 2,845,274; Benue, 2,480,131; Borno, 2,315,956; Imo, 2,272,293; Edo, 2,210,534; Jigawa, 2,111,106.
In the current register, a breakdown of voters by zones showed that the North-West with 20,158,100 had the highest number of registered voters for the 2019 election followed by the South West which posted 16,292,212 registered voters. Continuing the order from highest to lowest, the North Central had 13,366,070 registered voters; South-South, 12,841,279 voters; North-East, 11,289,293 while the South-East has the lowest number of registered voters with 10,057,130.
The registration figure as of July 31, 2022 showed that more people in the northern part of the country completed their registration, compared to those in the southern part of the country. While 6,359,711 completed their registration in the North, a total of 5,939,233 completed their registration in the South. While for three quarters, Osun State had the highest number who had completed their registration, it was overtaken in the fourth quarter by states like Lagos, Kano, Delta, Kaduna, Rivers, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Oyo, Niger, Edo and Kogi. At the close of registration, top states, in terms of completed registration are Lagos – 585,629, Kano – 569,103, Delta – 523,517, Kaduna – 479,231, Rivers – 473,924, Bayelsa – 444,652, Ebonyi – 401,510. Ekiti has least number of those who have completed their registration with 124,844 registrants.
In terms of completed registration across the zones, the North-West is in the lead, followed by the South-South, then the North-Central, the South-West and then the North-East. The South-East has the least number of registrants for PVC so far with 1,441,156. The statistics showed an exponential drive in the South-South towards registration compared to the 2019 election. Like in 2019, there are a large number of people keen on having their PVCs in the North West, South West and North Central. However, as in 2019, the people of the South East are still least in number of people being registered as eligible voters.
At outset, INEC projected having about 20 million new voters added to the present voter register but over 12million voters completed their CVR in the past one year. With more than 84 million voters on the present voter registration, about 96 million voters are set to be registered to vote in the 2023 general election. But, INEC National Commissioner for Information and Voters Education, Mr Festus Okoye said not all who registered would get the PVC that would make them eligible to vote. He warned that prospective voters who indulged in multiple or double registration would be deleted from the commission’s database and ultimately denied PVCs. Interestingly, this year’s CVR exercise falls short of the exercise that preceded the 2019 election where a total of 14.2 million voters were registered between 2017 and 2018. This is despite INEC adopting online pre-registration and offline biometric capture at designated registration centres with the hope that the process of getting eligible Nigerians to register to vote is being eased. INEC had noted that somewhat simplifying the CVR process will increase the number of eligible voters and, in turn, address the issue of dwindling voter turnout that has characterised election in recent years. Stakeholders hold that CVR apathy might not be unconnected with inadequate sensitization by the various stakeholders on CVR, oppressed Nigerians who do not trust the nation’s electoral process. While PVCs are being produced for new registrants, there are still many uncollected PVCs from the over N84 million that were registered by INEC for the 2019 election.
Place of youths
Right from the beginning of the CVR, youths made a bold statement about their keenness on participating in the 2023 general election leading from the first week of the first quarter of the exercise. At the end of the first quarter of the exercise in September 2021, youths between the ages of 18 and 34 constituted the majority with 771,770 (71.33 percent) completing their registration. In similar fashion, students also formed the largest category with 439,608 (40.63percent). The youths have sustained the momentum of being in the lead for the CVR. At the close of registration, a total of 8,784,677 youths, within the age of 18 and 34, made up the highest number out of the 12,298,944 that had completed registration. In terms of occupation, students, at a total figure of 4,501,595 also constituted the highest number of registrants. Even, in terms of the total applications for various voter issues of 31,098,013, youths also made up the largest number with 18,196,782 registrants. The youths are followed by those in the middle aged bracket of 35-49 years with a total of 2,430,709 registrants, elderly (50-69) with 956,017 registrants while the old (70 and above) make up the least with 127,541 registrants.
Going by the numbers that have completed registration, the youths have, more than ever, shown great interest in participating in the 2023 election. The numbers point to the desire of the youths to take their yearnings to determine those who govern them from the digital media space to reality. However, it waits to be seen if the huge number that have registered will also go to collect their PVCs when they are produced and then go to their various polling centres to vote on election day. Overtime, the youths have been chastised for limiting their political campaigns, yearnings to the social media while leaving the elderly to do the actual going to the polls to vote. As a result, pictures of elderly people queuing in the sun to vote are commonplace. It waits to be seen if it will be more of the youths queuing to vote in the 2023 election. On the interest shown by the youths concerning the 2023 election, programme manager, election, Yiaga Africa, Mr Paul James said a drastic change may be on the way. He described the huge turnout for CVR as a good starting point in the desire to have more youths participate in electoral process.
With about five months to go before the 2023 elections, James said it was imperative for Civil Societies Organisations to step up voter education, youth engagement so as to sustain the interest of the youths till February next year when the elections are to hold. An activist, DeboAdedayo also noted that the ball was in the court of the youths to make the figures they have count in the 2023 election. “According to INEC, the number of completed registration so far is over 12 million. And about 8.7 million of the 12 are youths. Nigerian youths, please make sure you collect that PVC and use it to vote because in 2023, these numbers will matter.” Meanwhile, there are more females that have completed their registration than males. A total of 6,224,866 females have completed their registration as against 6,074,078 males.