For much of June through November 2022, there was a kind of citizen fight for democracy in Nigeria as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) began voter registration. Conversation around the integrity of the process is an ongoing one. The public display of the voter register by the election management body in compliance with the Electoral Act 2022 widened the conversations on child voters. During the two-week period of the display, the register witnessed an unprecedented level of scrutiny and screening to cleanse it of such voters. SODEEQ ATANDA reports his findings in Kaduna State.
From Amira Pharmacy in Zaria on December 14, 2022 , the journey to Anchau took about two hours in a 5-passenger capacity Golf car carrying nine passengers, including this reporter. Passing through Ahmadu Bello University, Kongo campus, and Federal College of Education, Zaria, the trip to an unfamiliar territory continued on the New Jos road. Except this reporter, every passenger was either a resident or a regular visitor to Anchau, the headquarters of the Kubau Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
This reporter was out to go in-depth and discover real identity and faces of some Nigerians of voting and non-voting ages who should not validly be in possession of permanent voter cards, the only legitimate credential to vote in any election.
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It goes without saying that this investigation was done in Zaria, Anchau and Kaduna, the capital of Kaduna State.
CONSTITUTIONAL CRITERIA TO VOTE
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) clearly sets out the criteria to vote and be voted for as a citizen of the country. It stipulates in Section 77 (2) that “every citizen of Nigeria, who has attained the age of eighteen years residing in Nigeria at the time of the registration of voters for the purposes of election to any legislative house, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election”.
The CFRN, therefore, vests the power to register voters in INEC when it states in Section 78 that “The registration of voters and the conduct of elections shall be subject to the direction and supervision of the Independent National Electoral Commission”.
In defining what makes someone a voter in the context of the law, INEC says a voter is a citizen who is 18 years old and above and is duly registered, whose names and details are in the register of voters. Among other requirements, the commission reinforces the position of the constitution when it stated on its website that a voter must have attained the age of 18.
Anchau Local Government Secretariat named after Governor Nasir el-Rufai. Photo Credit: Sodeeq Atanda/FIJ
LIES, FACIAL LOOK AND HEIGHTS QUALIFY VOTERS
Sources who spoke with FIJ revealed that the process was easy and without any challenge or evidential requirement to confirm their eligibility. According to them, all the INEC did was ask for their dates of birth.
They also said that on some occasions, if they looked younger than 18, they would lie to sail through the process. Cheating the system thus becomes easier where there is no verifying document to attest to the real age of a potential voter.
Zaradeen Musa* explained that to get to enroll unqualified persons for voter’s card requires a deep level of understanding with an INEC officer so that their candidates would not be rejected.
“I’m an APC member. What sometimes happens is that each time INEC announces voter registration, we discuss at ward level on how to mobilise people. During deliberations, we usually don’t take the position of enrolment officers for granted,” Musa told FIJ.
Prior to meeting Musa, my fixer had assured me on phone that if I needed 100 PVCs of underaged children, they were available. The moment we met, he said, “I only have three underage voters. They did there registration during the last continuous voter registration (CVR) and they have not collected it.”
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Even though this reporter created an impression that he was a student researcher, Musa would not completely take that. Before twisting his words, his friend asked to shift back for a head-to-head talk. As we resumed the conversation, he changed the direction.
“The young ladies that registered through me,” he said, “were between 16 and 17 when they registered. I know their real ages because I was their guide when they wanted to do their national identification number (NIN) registration. But if you see their faces, you cannot easily know they are below 18.
“There are times when the enrollment officer would reject our candidates. We mislead them into believing they are actually 18. As a party, we make provisions for their ‘entertainment and pocket money’ and will stand on the ground until all our people are registered.” he explained.
AN ENDEMIC PRACTICE
At two years below 18 years, Babayo Amode became a voter in 2011 and has since then been in possession of a voter card issued by INEC.
Speaking with this reporter in Kaduna, Amode revealed that while some aged people overstayed and left an INEC registration area in his community in 2011, many young children of his age stayed longer and got registered as voters.
Alluding to the ambition of Muhammdu Buhari, the then presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressives Change, he said everybody, regardless of age, was asked to register for PVCs in support of Buhari.
“I started voting in 2011 when I was just 16 years. I could recollect that many of us were mobilised for registration by politicians so that we could vote for Buhari so as not to lose his base. Like myself, so many of my friends also registered,” Amode, who just left secondary school, explained to FIJ.
Asked if his friends could be reached for an interview, Amode said most of them had left his neigbhourhood either because their parents relocated or for other reasons.
“Virtually my friends then have left this environment. Some of them left when their parents relocated and some are now in different places trying to eke a living,” he said.
“During the registration, there was no genuine effort to ascertain our real ages. Whatever we told INEC staff was what they recorded for us and in the end, we got our PVCs. After voting for Buhari in 2011, I have not really been voting in subsequent elections, but the card has been useful for me in other areas of life.”
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Although electoral violence erupted in the state during the elections, Buhari had the highest votes in the presidential election as stated by the electoral body in its post-election report.
DOUBLE PVC POSSESSORS
Muhammad Haruna* and Gabriel Badmus* have something in common. They have multiple voter cards each. The kind of confidence they exuded showed they were not unaware of the illegality of their acts, but sure that the system would hardly punish them.
According to Haruna’s account, he had two voter cards. He told this reporter that he obtained the first one in 2011 when he was 17 years old and the second was was done in 2018. He was able to show this reporter the first one while he said the second was was with his father.
“Since I was 17, I have been participating in voting processes. Despite not being 18, I collected my PVC in 2011 and another one in 2018. Both of them have been useful to me since then,” he said.
The framers of the electoral law might have had Badmus, a graduate of public administration, in mind when inserting Section 117 (c) into the Electoral Act 2022.
According to Badmus, he had just, few days earlier, returned the over 50 voter cards he had in his custody to their owners because of a fall-out between him and his ward’s exco members.
In response to this reporter’s question on why he kept over 50 PVCs, Badmus simply said, “In preparation for 2023 elections.”
Our reporter was “lucky”, in his words, to see about 10 photocopies of such voter cards he still had with him.
“Because of the research that you are doing, let me tell you one thing; I have five voter cards personally: four are PVCs while the fifth one has not been issued as I just registered for it during the just-concluded registration exercise in July. Three are in Lagos and two are with me now,” Badmus revealed to FIJ.
VOTES FOR SALE
Justifying his possession of five voter cards against the letters of the constitution, Badmus, said, “I believe you understand how tough this country is when seeking an employment. So, one of the reasons I do that is to backdate my age.
“Secondly, votes are sold in Nigeria. So, to make sure I get more money, I go to different places where my cards are attached, vote and get money.
Badmus is a 1987-born Nigerian. However, his 2018-issued PVC announces him as a 20-year old. “Look at this (a PVC), it shows my year of birth as 1998. Meanwhile, I was born in 1988,” he revealed.
He pored through his document folder in his room and produced the paper evidence for his latest voter card.
“Each time voter registration commences, I don’t waste the chance. Even if they resume the registration again tomorrow, I will still go there to register,” he said.
VOTERS DATABASE OF THE GOOD, THE BAD
Earlier in October 2022, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman, announced that the total number of registered voters ahead of 2023 general elections was 93,522,272.
Following the mandatory public display of voter register in November, Nigerians were able to file complaints against ineligible voters to INEC. The exercise informed the commission’s announcement on January 11, 2023, that 53,264 objections were received from Nigerians over ineligible persons on the register by virtue of age, citizenship or death. Accordingly, the affected names have been verified and expunged.
Mathematically, INEC now boasts of 93,469,008 PVC holders on its system as eligible to participate in the next election.
At any rate, the current figure will be the highest body of voters to be recorded in the democratic history of Nigeria since independence, and going into the elections, these eligible voters will decide who leads the country at the national and subnational levels for the next four years.
As revealed in this report, there could still be as many Badmuses and Harunas on the list of voters warming up to partake in the next decision-making exercise slated for February 2023.
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ELECTORAL ACT ON ELECTORAL OFFENCES
In August 2022, Buhari assented to the much-awaited amended Electoral Act, which introduces new innovations to the electoral processes in the country. The law, in prescribing punishments for persons found to have run afoul of its letters in Section 117, states inter alia:
“Any person who— (a) being entitled to a voters card, gives it to some other person for use at an election other than an officer appointed and acting in the course of his or her duty under this Act, (b) not being an officer acting in the course of his or her duty under this Act, receives any voters card in the name of some other person or persons for use at an election uses it fraudulently, (c) without lawful excuse has in his possession more than one voters card, or (d) buys, sells, procures or deals, with a voters card otherwise than as provided in this Act, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both.”
This is the first part of a two-part series investigation done Kaduna State to explore how and why underage voting and multiple registrations by a single individual is thriving in Nigeria.
This story was produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)
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