Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu, has said unless additional polling units are set up in 2023, millions of eligible Nigerian voters may not have the opportunity to vote.

While addressing members of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), yesterday, in Kaduna as part of sensitisation with stakeholders on the need for new polling units, Yakubu said polling units in the country are in a state of crisis because our population has exploded and those polling units originally established for 50 million Nigerian voters in 1996 can no longer suffice.

The INEC boss disclosed that as at February 15, the commission had received 9,777 unsolicited requests from across the country for the establishment of additional polling units. He observed that the requests, which were 5,700 as at October 2020, had spiralled by over 4,000 in just four months.

Yakubu, who was accompanied by other national commissioners, said: “It is time to work the talk because two years to general election is like two days for us in INEC as it involves processes. There is no part of this country that has sufficient polling units. Crowded polling units is not peculiar to one section of the country alone, it cuts across the country.

He said in part: “We know ACF is a non-political organisation, but you can help the commission to solve this problem by talking to your members to see the need for new polling units.

“We are going round the country to interact with other socio-cultural organisations and other stakeholders about request made for new polling units by some stakeholders.

“The current configuration of 119, 973 polling units was established by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria in 1996.

“In the nearly 25-year period since then, every attempt to review or reconfigure the polling unit structure has been unsuccessful for sundry reasons.

“Consequently, the 1996 polling unit configuration was used for the 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 general elections.

“When the polling unit structure was established in 1996, it was projected to serve about 50 million registered voters. However, the number of registered voters for the 1999 general election was 57.93 million.

“This rose to 60.82 million in 2003, 61.56 million in 2007, and 73.52 million in 2011.

“Though, the number declined to 68.83 million for the 2015 general election following the cleaning up of the register through the use of Automated Fingerprints Identification System to eliminate double registrants. It rose to 84.04 million in 2019 as a result of the commission embarking on a robust continuous voter registration exercise, as prescribed by law.

“The import of this development is that while the number of registered voters increased from 57.93 million in 1999 to 84.04 million in 2019, which is an increase of 45 percent, the number of polling units remained the same.

“This lack of correlation between the registered voters and the number of polling units since 1999 has resulted in congested polling units on election days and lack of polling units in many developing sub-urban and newly established settlements.

“The effects have been low voters turnout and voters apathy, insecurity at the polling units, disruption of elections and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, unsafe environments.

“Declining access to polling units for voters is potentially disenfranchising millions of Nigerians. It has become so critical that it must be addressed urgently if the credibility of our electoral system is not to be profoundly damaged.

“With over 5,000 specific requests for the establishment of new polling units, the commission will be failing in its responsibility if it does not address the declining voters access to polling units across the country prior to upcoming major elections.”

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