Monday, February 14, 2011

After almost three weeks of fits and starts, Nigeria's election commission, INEC completed a voter registration exercise. The commission sought to register 70 million citizens and managed to register almost 64 million. INEC also announced that it will continue to add names to the register after the April elections in an effort to give even more Nigerians of voting age the opportunity to get on the voting register.

INEC and all other contributing parties must be commended for getting so many Nigerians to register. The reality is that conditions for the exercise were far from ideal in several parts of the country what with poll stations opening late, lacking working equipment or otherwise. These problems prompted the commission to seek an extension. It was granted said extension, Which required a change in the nation's electoral act, and registration was extended for an additional nine days.

INEC has announced that citizens will have between February 14th and the 18th to verify their information on the register. That gives only four days for this to be accomplished. That is a short amount of time for even half of the 64 million voters to check the register.

If the register can be verified using the Internet, that will make it easy for those with Internet access to check that their information on the register is correct. For the majority of Nigerians who do not have access to the Internet, they will be forced to endure lines and possibly ineffective procedures. Still, for those truly committed to participating in the upcoming polls, that will be but a small price to pay. Yet it would be foolhardy for election officials to not make the process as smooth as possible. Considering the chaotic nature of the registration period, an equally rushed and chaotic verification period will turn potential voters away and possibly increase disenfranchisement in the long run.

Speaking of making things smooth for voters, it must be mentioned that the first day to verify the register is valentine's day. While not an official holiday. Valentine's day is treated very seriously by the average Nigerian. And particular the young, who happen to make up half of Nigeria's population and likely constitute a large potential of those registered to vote. Undoubtedly, this segment of registered voters will be busy courting their loved ones on that day. As such it is possible that the distraction of Valentine's day could foster unproductivity on the register verification lines as well. Given this possibility, it might have been beneficial for the commission to allow verification to continue through the weekend and not just end on a Friday so as to give potential voters ample time to check their information.

That being said, the minutes and seconds tick away as elections approach. As of the date of this publication, national assembly elections are only 48 days away, presidential elections are 55 days away and the state government polls are 62 days away. This leaves INEC very little time to ensure free and fair elections. One can only hope that the commission will achieve it's mandate. After the hiccups of the last few weeks and given the realities of the country, anything can happen. Still, all hands must be on deck to help create a good ending. Hopefully, it will not include any extension or postponement of the elections.

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