Jega’s Controversial Polling Units

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Jega

Many Nigerians,  especially from the South are not happy about the sharing of polling units across the country and therefore, accuse Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, of ethnic agenda

By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Sep. 29, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT  |

ATTAHIRU Jega, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is literarily under fire. Since on Wednesday, August 20, when the INEC announced the creation of additional 30,027 polling centres for the 2015 general elections, Jega has been enmeshed in controversy over the real motive behind the creation of additional booths. While some people, especially those in the northern parts of the country see it as a welcome development, their counterparts in the south are up in arms against the INEC boss and questioning his ethnic agenda.

Some have described the creation of more polling centres as a plot by Jega to ensure that more votes come from the north during the 2015 elections. The critics are particularly angered by the fact that most of the newly created polling units are in the northern part of the country.

Indeed, apart from Lagos State, a chunk of the newly created units are found in Kano and Katsina states.

For instance, with its registered voters of 5,426,391, Lagos State got an additional 2,870 units thereby pushing its total polling centres to 11,565.

Kano State with 4,751,818 registered voters got additional polling units of 2,053 bringing its total number to 9,809 polling centres. Similarly, Kaduna State which has registered voters of 3,743,815 was given additional polling units of 2,878 bringing the total to 7,485.

Katsina State with 2,928,046 registered voters got an additional 1,339 polling units bringing the total number of polling centres in the state to 3,818. On the whole additional 21,000 polling centres or units were added to the northern states while the whole of the southern states got 8,000 news polling centres.

But Jega in defence of the new arrangement said contrary to the allegations in some quarters, there was no plan to favour any part of the country. Speaking at a media briefing in Abuja, Jega insisted that the allocation of more polling units to the North, especially the terror devastated North East states, was in order, arguing that there has been no demographic evidence of population drift from the states.

“From the figures that were made available to the media by the commission, while some states from the North got more polling units allocated to them after the initial 121 units that was evenly distributed to all states by the commission, some states like Anambra, Bayelsa, Enugu, Ekiti and Osun were not allocated other units based on the criteria that was used by the commission,” he said.

He argued that the commission’s decision to reconfigure the structure of polling units as well as creating additional ones was driven by the collective aspirations of both the commission and Nigerians to reform and improve upon the electoral process for free, fair and credible election in 2015 and beyond. The INEC boss insisted that he had no sectional or parochial agenda as critics had claimed.

He said that the decision to create additional polling units was among other things aimed at decongesting overcrowded polling units, locating polling units to more effective places within committing distances of voters as well as splitting large polling units to a minimum of 500 registered voters.

He noted that from 1996 when the already existing polling units were created, there had been an exponent growth in Nigeria’s population, adding that there had been severe demographic shift resulting from new settlements in major urban areas.

But Jega’s explanation has not assuaged critics of the INEC boss who have accused him playing out a script prepared by some northern politicians ahead of the elections.

Franklin Uwem, a lawyer based in Abuja, said the INEC boss had betrayed the collective confidence of Nigerians with the concentration of more polling units in the North. Uwem alleged that Northerners, had on every occasion, demonstrated a lack of regard for the oneness of Nigeria, a situation that could be seen in the reservation of more than 80 percent of directorate positions in the INEC for Northerners.

He, therefore, called for immediate removal of Jega and a complete restructuring of INEC. “My opinion is that Jega should reverse such ugly development as it has the potential of destroying the nation or resign. Jega has unwittingly let out of the bag the Northern agenda which has been hidden. Such attitude is making nonsense of the oneness of the country. This is another proof that this whole one nation thing is not working out,” Uwen said.

Another critic of the INEC controversial measure is Aniete Okon, a delegate to the just concluded national conference, from Akwa Ibom State. In a newspaper interview recently, Okon faulted the INEC on the new polling units, arguing that the commission’s action had given undue political advantage to the North.

Okon said that by creating more polling units in the north, the INEC was playing an ethnic card that could unwittingly polarise the country. He also accused the commission of deliberately “creating a bank of votes” that would enable the North have an electoral advantage over the South, especially in the 2015 presidential election.

The elder statesman, therefore, said the commission should be compelled to reverse the decision in order not put the unity of the country into peril. He also accused the Jega of being a part of an alleged plot by some unnamed group in the North to derail the second term bid of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015.

Taking a cursory look at the new structure, Okon said: “It is instructive that Kano State which has witnessed a huge exodus of persons arising from the prevailing insecurity is placed second after Lagos which with its 5,426,391 registered voters got additional 2,870 polling units, bringing its total to 11,565. Kano with its stated voting strength of 4,751,818 was allocated 2,053 new polling units, bringing its total number of polling units to 9,809.”

Apparently displeased by the development, the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, described INEC’s inequality in distribution of polling centres as a “political coup against Southern Nigeria.”Eric Omare, spokesman of the socio-cultural group, said INEC was plotting to give the north a political advantage at the 2015 election and subsequently called for the sack of the INEC boss.

Omare said in a statement: “It is common knowledge that in Nigeria, the more polling units that is allocated to a particular area automatically results in more voting population whether the population exists or not.

“The IYC, having studied the arguments against the lopsided allocation of polling units between the South and North and the feeble explanations offered by the Chairman of INEC, Professor Jega, has come to the inescapable conclusion that there is no justification for the so much disparity in the number of additional polling units between the South and North other than a hidden agenda to politically empower Northern Nigeria.

“The case of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, with less voting population having more polling units than the whole of South East is a clear case in point.

“Also, is Professor Jega telling Nigerians that the North West has more or equal voting population with the whole of Southern Nigeria?

“Furthermore, the arrogant posture of Professor Jega in responding to the call for his resignation by the leaders of Southern Nigeria clearly shows that he is carrying out an orchestrated agenda by vested interest in the North to destabilise the country and the Jonathan administration ahead of the 2015 elections.”

Despite the allegations by the IYC and some other groups in the south agreed that the new arrangement favoured the North in the build up to next year’s election. But that was not the impression created by Ishiaku Gali, director in charge of the INEC’s secretariat in Abuja, who announced the creation of additional polling units. Gali said the creation of new polling units would help to ensure that the elections were better than previous ones through free, fair and peaceful elections. The additional new polling units, he said, would bring total number of polling units to 150,000, up from the previous 119,973 units.

On its part, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, after a stakeholder meeting on Sunday, September 14, said that the new polling units gave the South advantage over the North. Speaking at the end the meeting, John Ubah, a retired colonel and secretary of the Forum, said that the northern group “reject the recent allocation of additional polling units by the INEC which deliberately conferred undeserved advantages on states in the south.” He said that “the creation of additional polling units should be re-visited, using standard criteria that the INEC is aware of. Attempts to blackmail and stampede the INEC into abandoning its hallowed responsibilities to do justice to all Nigerians, or sacrifice the rights of Northern voters are hereby condemned. The North expects the INEC to re-allocate the polling units in strict compliance with its standard guidelines without fear or favour,” Ubah said.

But with the criticism that has greeted the decision, it remains to be seen what steps the INEC would take as 2015 election year draws closer.

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