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Why we’re giving more Polling Units to the North – Jega

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The Chairman of the Independent National

Electoral Commission, INEC, Attahiru Jega on

Wednesday explained why the commission has

allocated more polling units to the geo-political

zones in the North, than those in the South,

saying the plan is based on the existing number of

registered voters in the country, which he put at

70,383,427.

Ahead of the 2015 election, the electoral body has

proposed to allocate more than 21,000 new

polling units to the north, while the south will

receive about 8,000. The plan is not yet finalized.

But the ratio has angered the three geopolitical

zones in the south, with some calling for Mr.

Jega’s resignation, accusing him of bias.

At a press conference Wednesday, Mr. Jega vowed

not to resign, and said those asking him to quit

lack adequate information on the exercise and

are being mischievous.

The Commission had last month announced its

plan to create additional PUs before the general

elections next year to bring the number of units in

the country to 150,000 from the original 119,973.

According to the proposal, the three geo-political

zones in the North will have about 21, 000, which

is 70% of the new units, while the three zones in

the south got about 8,000 units.

The state-by-state analysis shows that while Lagos

will have the highest number of the PUs with

3,159 PUs, while Imo State will have the least with

42.

However, fierce criticisms have trailed the

exercise with some groups alleging that it was

aimed at foisting the dominance of one section of

the country over the others for political

advantage.

The South-South Peoples Assembly, SSPA, went a

step further by demanding the resignation of the

INEC Chairman and should not be allowed to

conduct the 2015 general elections.

Mr. Jega, an indigene of Kebbi State in the North

West zone, said the Commission’s plan is “sincere

and well-intentioned,” and not designed to confer

any political advantage on any individual, political

party or region.

He said though the outcry was understandable,

but regrettable given the low level of public trust

in governance institutions in Nigeria, the decision

of the Commission to re-configure the structure

of the PUs and create additional ones was “driven

by our collective aspirations as Nigerians to

reform and improve upon the electoral process

for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections in

2015 and beyond”.

Stating that there was no sectional or parochial

agenda in this decision, the INEC chairman

stressed that it was aimed at easing the access of

voters to the ballot box by decongesting over

crowded PUs and dispersing voters as evenly as

possible among all the PUs.

The “need factor” more than political sentiments,

informed the patterns of distribution of the PUs

being proposed,” Mr Jega added.

“Still, the Commission has not been unmindful of

the political nature of the exercise; and that is

why it took the decision that (1) no state will lose

any PUs from its stock of existing units, no matter

the statistical outlook when voter population is

exaggerated into units of 500 persons; and (ii)

every state will get some additional polling units

from 15% of the total being newly created on the

basis of ‘equality principle’ regardless of the

number of PUs already existing in each state in

comparison to the voter population,” he said.

“We have already made the computed figures in

this regard public. Contrary to the argument by

critics, the Commission is not working on

imaginary population sizes based on perceived

patterns of migration by potential voters, rather,

it is working with the documented register of

voters as we have it at the moment.”

He expressed worry that critics seemed to focus

on the allocation of the proposed units and urged

them to compare the total allocations state by

state.

Explaining further the methodology used in

arriving at the new arrangement, Mr. Jega said

since PUs are created to service registered voters,

“the fairest and most logical criterion to use in

distributing the 150,000 PUs nationwide is the

number of registered voters.”

He stressed, “At present the post-AFIS (i.e. after

removing duplicate registrants) figure of

registered voters is the most appropriate figure of

registered voters that is available nationwide, to

use; hence the decision to use post-AFIS figures,

as the basis for distributing the 150,000 polling

units.

“The simplest way to distribute the 150,000 polling

units is to divide the number of registered voters

in each state by 500 (maximum of registered per

polling unit.)

He explained that the present structure of PUs

was created in 1996 by the defunct National

Electoral Commission of Nigeria, NECOM, which

created 120,000 PUs and 8,809 wards (registration

areas).

According to him, the structure of the polling units

had been used for the 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011

general elections and that there had been

exponential growth in Nigeria’s populations as

well as severe demographic shifts resulting from

new settlements in major urban areas since 1996.

Mr. Jega further explained that the rise in

population with corresponding increase in the

number of eligible voters was clearly manifested

during the 2011 fresh voter registration exercise.

According to him, in order to ameliorate the

challenges of managing polling units with large

number of voters, INEC introduced the concept of

“Voting Points’ where polling units with large

numbers of voters were subdivided into multiple

of manageable numbers of about 300, with a

maximum of 450 registered voters.

“About 150,000 polling units are required to

ensure right-sizing of our polling units based on

the number of registered voters,” he said.

No reversal

The INEC chairman said the Commission had no

plan to reverse the decision, stressing “We have

taken a decision; we have not yet implemented

that decision. People, because they don’t have

enough information misunderstood it, some

perhaps mischievously. But we are hoping that

the information we are providing will make

people understand.

“I cannot sit down here and tell you whether we

will reverse or we will not reverse. What is clear is

that many people are taking hard position on the

issue when they are ill-informed and they are very

passionate and emotive about it.”

On how the Commission would manage the

creation of polling units in the areas of the

country ravaged by insurgency, he said though

the development was “unfortunate and

regrettable” the situation would soon be

addressed and that those displaced would return.

He said, “The hope of everybody is that normalcy

will return and people will come back to their

places. So the displacement of people in any of

these places is a temporary phenomenon. You

cannot say we should create polling units when

we have information that people have registered

in that area because they are temporary

dislocated. The displacement is temporary.”

Mr. Jega said he was not bothered about the calls

for his resignation over the proposed creation of

the PUs because he and the Commission’s staff

were convinced of what they were doing.

He said, “Anybody can say anything and they are

entitled to do so. This is not the first time people

are calling for my removal or resigning or being

fired. That doesn’t bother me. I do my best and all

the commissioners are doing their best.

“Forget about removal. Any of us here can fall and

die tomorrow. So long as we are here we will do

what we believe is right. We did not lobby

anybody to come here. We were brought here

because people knew we will do the right thing

and we will continue to do it as long as we have

the opportunity to continue to do it.

“So, don’t worry. I myself I won’t wait until I am

fired. The day I know myself I can’t do this job to

satisfy my conscience I will leave. I am here in

INEC to do national service and I believe I am

making sacrifices, not only myself but also the

national commissioners.”

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