head of preparations for the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is pushing for the creation of additional 57,023 polling units.

The initiation is to enable more Nigerians to vote.

The agency has called a meeting for on Friday with the political parties in Abuja to table its proposals.

The INEC will also hold talks with Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Arewa Consultative Forum, PANDEF, the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs( NSCIA) and civil society groups, to secure their support for the plan.

If all the stakeholders endorse INEC’s plans, it will be the first time since 1996 that additional polling units, will be created.

Despite its surging population, the nation’s Polling Units in the last 25 years have remained at 119,973.

INEC will also no longer allow the setting up of Polling Units in private compounds, royal palaces, government houses, political party buildings, or facilities that are in dispute.

The proposals are contained in an INEC document titled “The State of Voter Access to Polling Units in Nigeria”.

Section 42 of the  Electoral Act empowers INEC to create Polling Units.

Although INEC has not succeeded in the last 25 years to create more Polling Units because of suspicion, it explained that the time is ripe now.

In the document, the INEC said it is weighing three options.

These are:

  • Conversion of the existing 57,023 Voting Points and Voting Point Settlements to Polling Units
  • Application by residents of new area/settlement for Polling Units
  • Creation of Polling Areas in line with Section 13(3) of the Electoral Act 2010(as amended).

Although INEC said it has received 5,747 requests from communities and groups across the country, the electoral agency said it prefers to convert the existing 57,023 to Polling Units (PUs).

It claimed that such conversion will be less controversial.

It added: “The current configuration of 119,973 Polling Units was established by the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) 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. Although 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 (AFIS) 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 number of registered voters and the number of Polling Units since 1999 has resulted in congested Polling Units on Election Day and lack of Polling Units in many developing suburban and newly established settlements.

“The effects have been low voter turnout and voter apathy, insecurity at the Polling Units, disruption of elections and, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, unsafe voting environments.

“Indeed, presently, the average number of voters per Polling Unit in Nigeria, which stands at 700, is 37% more than the situation in Ghana.

“Yet, this could be quite misleading because in some States in Nigeria, the average number of voters per Polling Unit is well over 4,000. Indeed, in one Polling Unit, Mararaba Garage II in Karu Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, there are 15,061 voters, which is more than 2000% above this national average.

INEC however said it will no longer allow setting up of Polling Units in private compounds, royal palaces, government houses, political party buildings, or facilities that are in dispute

INEC said: “Also, the Commission does not encourage the location of Polling Units in private compounds, royal palaces, government houses, political party buildings, or facilities that are in dispute, as well as very isolated or inaccessible locations such as forests or shrines.

“Consequently, by voter access to Polling Units we designate three things: first, it means adequacy of Polling Units, which has to do with establishment of Polling Units under Section 42 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).

“Second, location of Polling Units in places that are conducive for voters to participate freely in the process. Third, ensuring that the environment at specific Polling Units is conducive to good voter experience, implementation of Commission’s guidelines on organizing Polling Units, as well as adequate security and safety of voters, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a result, the Commission prefers to talk of voter access to Polling Units given the fact that accessibility to voting locations as guaranteed in the electoral legal framework, is a democratic right for all citizens. In other words, the intent of the Commission is best captured by expanding access to Polling Units, rather than just the establishment of Polling Units, which is more limited in scope.”

The commission explained why it has decided to engage stakeholders like registered parties,  socio-cultural organizations, CAN and NSCIA.

“The commission has identified several stakeholders for this engagement. This is based on the work of the commission and its past engagements with stakeholders.

“These stakeholders have a direct bearing on the work of the commission. Some of them such as political parties, civil society organizations and the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) already have programmed regular (quarterly) engagements with the Commission.

“We are beginning with political parties on Friday.”