Sometimes in June, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) kick-started an online voter registration process ahead of the 2023 elections. Since announcing its intentions to move the registration online, INEC has attracted applause from both experts and members of the general public who, in the past, had stayed hours in long queues to get registered.
INEC is now amending the narrative by choosing to carry out the online registration through a portal that was assured by the commission to be one size fits all. The portal will allow for pre-registration for new voters and review of voter registration status for those who have registered in the past. The upgrade will also allow updates on basic voter information; relocation of polling units, and request for card replacements whether misplaced or damaged.
To some Nigerians who had experienced the misery of voter registrations in the past, all these features fused into may seem a breath of fresh air and a hot coffee served on a rainy cold morning.
Nonetheless, the process does not end online. Citizens who have undergone the online registration are also expected to have their thumbprint taken at any INEC center nearest to them.
You could say it’s a great early start towards the 2023 general elections. But for the indigenes of Anambra, Ekiti, and Osun states, the registration is timely. INEC has already slated the Anambra State 2021 gubernatorial elections for November 6th; Ekiti State for June 18th 2022, while Osun State is slated for July 16th 2022.
As you would have guessed already, voters in those states have taken the INEC online registration more seriously than citizens in other parts of the country. Anambra State has already registered 8,624 persons on the portal, the highest so far while Osun State is in second place with 8,114 voters already registered.
Issues with the registration vulnerable to interpretations
Yet the voter online registration is not without its own controversies. Some voters in those areas have accused INEC of nepotistic sidelining. That the commission has denied them access to register because of their regional and ethnic identities.
A typical scenario was on Twitter, when a user, Anambra1stson (@UchePOkoye) accused INEC of denying him access to the portal to register, “INEC is still denying us access to register its population. They are yet to rectify this.” He complained in a tweet, attaching a screenshot of the failed process.
This user, whose registration details suggest Anambra as his state of origin, made no further rendition as to why this was happening to him. However, other users who are apparently from the same region and also seem to have had issues with the registration process gave the case a more conspicuous meaning.
“How do we escalate this…Seems like an intentional conspiracy to reduce voter registration in the South East? Is this happening in Northern states… Who are the SE commissioners in INEC… Something needs to be done.” A user, HumanityFirst (@uwakings1) implied. This comment appeared to give the tweet a whole new meaning, especially when another user, Paul @Paul2586048833-31 tendered that “If you want to know how Nigeria is rigged, use Ahmed or Mohammed you will notice that they are still registering.”
It didn’t stop there, other users who also commented on the tweet felt that the issues with the registration were only peculiar to states conducting elections next year. “Not only in SE, the same issue with Osun State, I have been trying for over 10days now. The issue is peculiar to the states having their election next year”. Festus Adejumobi @SirPhe, Tweeted.
Looking for explanations
Yet it wasn’t just these persons, other users who further commented also shared their frustrations with the registration process, referring to the problem as a regional and ethnic sidelining. Aside from these postulated reasons, the electoral act of 2010 which temporarily suspends voter card registration 60 days to the commencement of the election might be playing out here. But not likely, since the Anambra gubernatorial election is more than 60 days away and both Osun and Ekiti elections will not take place until mid next year. So what could be the explanations behind these issues?
The INEC National Commissioner Information & Voter Education, Barr. Festus Okoye, offered some explanations to Dubawa. IHe said other issues far from what was implied is the source of the problem.
“Equipments have not been fully deployed to the Anambra headquarters due to the security condition, since the office was set ablaze on May 24, 2021, that is the reason Anambra INEC state headquarter is not an available slot, but other offices in Awka are available and so far registration has been going on successfully,” he said.
Mr. Okoye added, “When you are initiating your registration online, you must choose an appointment date and location to complete your biometrics, you can choose the nearest office close to you and If anyone has complications with the online registration, they can do well to visit the nearest state/LGA, INEC office nationwide for clarification.”
While the issues identified by these online users might be valid, the narrative tied to it might not be necessarily true. Another way to look at it is that registration portals are usually swarmed with eager applicants. This reality sometimes slows a website’s speed and even makes registration a nightmare.
Some Anambra State applicants have attested to successfully registering on the portal, while others, not just from the state, are still experiencing similar issues. This perhaps explains why Anambra and Osun State have the highest number of registered voters carried out so far via the portal. So maybe it is not the issue of social or ethnic sidelining but a technical one that usually ensues with online portals and that should attract immediate attention of the INEC.
The researcher produced this fact-check per the 2021 Kwame Karikari Fact-checking Fellowship partnership with JAY 101.9 FM Jos to facilitate the ethos of truth in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.