As part of efforts to curb underage voting, the Independent National Electoral Commission will on Wednesday (today), hold a meeting with the 36 States’ Independent Electoral Commissions.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, said, “You are cordially invited to cover the courtesy visit of the Forum of State Independent Electoral Commissions of Nigeria to INEC headquarters on Wednesday, February 21, at 2pm.”
Although Oyekanmi did not state the purpose of the meeting, INEC had last week claimed that elections in which underage voters allegedly participated were not organised by INEC but states’ electoral bodies.
The local government election in Kano State which was won by the All Progressives Congress by a landslide was said to have been marred by underage voting as pictures were circulated on social media showing children between the ages of eight and 15 voting.
The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had last week announced that the commission would probe underage voting, adding that a committee would be set up to look into the matter and submit a report.
Sources within the commission told one of our correspondents that a committee headed by a national commissioner had been set up to look into the underage voting.
The source said the terms of reference and the method of investigation were still being worked out.
The source revealed that the committee would also investigate why and how underage voters were being added to the register handed to state electoral bodies by INEC.
The senior INEC official said, “The meeting will centre on underage voting and how the names of child voters can be purged from the register.
“We will also be looking at how INEC and SIEC across the states can cooperate and work better together.”
Electoral bodies at state level have been accused of rigging elections for the party in power in most states.
Meanwhile, the national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party says it has lost confidence in the INEC chairman’s capacity to conduct free, fair and credible elections in 2019.
It, therefore, said that Yakubu should quit and allow a new leadership to emerge.
The party said that it was sad that the commission claimed that it registered underage voters in some states like Kano and Katsina because of threats to the lives of its officials.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, who spoke at a press briefing in Abuja on Tuesday, also accused the commission of embarking on illegal acts.
For example, Ologbondiyan said that it was wrong for Yakubu to cede the power of the commission to monitor political spending to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
He said under the law, the anti-graft agency would be embarking on an illegal act if it takes on the assignment.
Ologbondiyan said, “As you are aware, INEC has been indicted for registering and issuing permanent voter cards to millions of underage persons, particularly in Kano and Katsina states respectively.
“You are also aware that it took a press statement from the PDP and concerted outcry by Nigerians before the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led commission reluctantly accepted responsibility for this illegality.
“However, INEC has refused to take decisive steps to restore the sanctity of its register, particularly in Kano and Katsina states, but has rather made a puerile explanation of plans to investigate the allegation.
“As we speak, the credibility of our electoral process under the current INEC is hugely in doubt. The nation was last Wednesday terrified by the commission’s Director of Publicity and Voter Education, Mr. Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, who announced that INEC registered minors because its agents were threatened by members of the communities in those states.
“By this alarming and unpatriotic statement, INEC under Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has completely discredited and disqualified itself and cannot be trusted to conduct credible, free and fair general elections in 2019.
“The import of this statement is that INEC under Yakubu is not firm in its acts and will consequently cave in and accept any form of irregularities once it is put under pressure by members of a voting community.
“It goes to say that this INEC can readily announce false results, cancel elections, alter polling procedures and allow any irregularities during the 2019 general elections once it is threatened by the All Progressives Congress or any other group for that matter.”
In his response, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Oyekanmi, called on concerned parties to be patient as the INEC boss was working day and night to ensure that the 2019 elections would be free, fair and credible.
Oyekanmi told one of our correspondents that Yakubu had set up a committee comprising a national commissioner and Resident Electoral Commissioners to investigate underage voter scam.
He said the committee would also visit Kano and compare its register with the one used by the electoral commission in Kano during the controversial local government election.
The spokesman said, “To the extent of having a credible electoral system, we are on the same page with the PDP and other Nigerians. We want a good system that is credible. You will recall that the chairman announced the constitution of a committee to be headed by a national commissioner and assisted by some RECs.
“Our officials from two departments – voter registry and ICT – are also involved and the terms of reference will include going to Kano to investigate what really happened. They will also find out if the Kano State electoral management body actually used INEC register and what kind of process they undertook.
“We believe after all the investigations, all the findings will be made public.”
While demanding an immediate review of voter register, particularly in Kano and Katsina, Ologbondiyan also demanded revalidating the voter register to eliminate all the minors and insisted that no election must hold in these states until the registers were sanitised.