INEC Must Investigate Alleged Underage Voting in Kano State, and Validate all Voter Registers Nationwide Before the 2019 Elections.

(Position paper arising from the SI4DEV Governance group on the importance of youth involvement in leadership and political process in Nigeria.)

The Nigerian constitution has limited the voting to those over 18 years and resident in Nigeria, with INEC to maintain a voting register of all those who meet these criteria. Those who submit themselves to obtain a voter’s card, are thus eligible to vote in their local area. However, when numbers and population are illegally boosted by adding underage children to the list, this creates room for rigging elections in favour of whoever orchestrates this irregular registration. The voting exercise can no longer be called an election, but a selection, which is illegal and flies in the face of what is right and proper about democracy.

Underage voting reportedly took place during the 2015 elections, most especially in Northern states including Kano, Katsina and Jigawa, and more recently, there has been reports that election monitors, Centre for Information Technology and Development, (CITAD), and Action Aid International Nigeria witnessed voting by underage children during the Kano State local government elections on February 10, 2018. While there is no way to determine the severity of this irregularity, it calls into question most elections across the country – both those handled by INEC and the State electoral commissions because all elections purportedly rely on the voter’s register compiled by INEC.

All eligible voters in Nigeria, and by this we mean each and every one of us over the age of 18, should be worried about the incidence and prevalence of this underage voting because it can be used to nullify our votes so that the political aspirant most people voted for, and who is more popular and would have won fair and square in a well-regulated election, loses out to thugs and shysters foisted on us by any party cabal tricky enough, connected enough, or one with the fattest purse.

One of the drivers of this underage voting is the mind-set of do-or-die politics by our current political elite. The Director of Publicity and Voter Education, Mr. Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, said during a programme on the African Independent Television that INEC officials only registered underage persons because they had their lives threatened by members of the community. Some of these registration officials are members of the National Youth Service Corps doing a job in an unfamiliar territory. As fellow youths who have sometimes found ourselves in the same scenario, SI4DEV does not really expect corpers to stand their ground in such hostile environments.

But there is a solution to this underage voting, that will also ensure that no legal and eligible voter is disenfranchised. The idea of bringing along parents with the children to corroborate their age as over 18 should not be the case. SI4DEV believes there should be proper ways to identify the age of most of our population. Through WHO data, we understand that some of these northern states where underage registration and voting takes place are also the locus of malnutrition in Nigeria, leading to stunting into adulthood, and thus we cannot rely on physiology or looks alone. However, it has been proved that up to 95% or more of those aged 0 – 25 years have a paper-based health card for immunizations. In the absence of birth certificates, SI4DEV suggests that these cards can be used for validating the age of those wanting to be registered to vote in Nigeria.

It is gratifying to read that the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, realizes the great significance of underage voting and its impact on the legality of the forthcoming 2019 elections and has promised to investigate the violations by underage persons following the Kano Local government elections. While questioning whether the INEC voter register was actually used or not in the said elections, the INEC chairman averred that a comprehensive team will move to Kano to examine what happened, and share their observations with the public.

He also assures that INEC will interrogate the voter register nationwide to remove any possible illegal registrants. This supports Mr. Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi’s stand that mechanisms exist through which underage person could be removed from the register even after registration. SI4DEV looks forward to this exercise.

Kano State government has, unfortunately, so far acted defensively about this matter. Initially, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje claimed the photos and videos were from a school assembly. Then, the state Commissioner of Information, Mohammed Garba, insisted to the press that the videos and photos were from the 2015 elections, and were being circulated again by “mischievous persons”. SI4DEV can only hope that the state officials cooperate with INEC’s investigation and comply with a thorough examination of their voter registers.

SI4DEV is motivated by the INEC chairman’s comments that almost 4 million new registrations have occurred nationwide through the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise. We will be monitoring new information which the chairman promised will be posted on their website and will begin development of targeted voter education material for various groups and locations – for instance, the gender distribution of new registrants shows women trailing men at 42% while Ondo recorded the lowest registration.

In conclusion, the following positions were agreed upon by the SI4DEV Governance group members:

1. The issue of underage voting was identified as bane to credible elections in Nigeria as witnessed in 2015 general elections and other elections in some states in Nigeria;

2. It was agreed that the provision of electoral act which stipulated the age requirements for every electorate should be strengthened and enforce it to the latter;

3. Youths should not only discuss about politics and political situations in Nigeria but should be actively involved through getting involved in party politics;

4. Youths should champion the course of good governance through educating and motivating those in their sphere of influence, towards changing the current narratives of our politics;

5. Continuous voters’ education is crucial in solving issues surrounding electoral process in Nigeria. Education should be targeted at the electorate, politicians and INEC officials;

6. Every one of voting age – 18 years and above – should register and obtain their PVCs in order to take part in the coming elections, and help INEC weed out any underage voters.

About SI4DEV – SI4DEV is a non-governmental organization registered in Nigeria as Strategy and Innovation for Development Initiative. SI4DEV brings together individuals and groups and provides training on practical skills towards achieving democracy and economic prosperity for communities including the application of research and innovation products.