The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said it is unable to remove the names of dead persons from the voter register due to the absence of reliable data of births and deaths to rely on in expunging the names of such persons.
This implies that Nigeria may go into the 2023 general elections with a faulty voter register. This is compounded by allegations by some stakeholders that there are multiple registration and underage persons on the register.
They pointed out that a faulty register could affect the credibility of the elections as well as make the commission incur unnecessary costs, given that the commission might have to print ballot papers for the registered voters.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, said the commission could not remove names arbitrarily. He, therefore, asked Nigerians to support the commission in cleaning up the register.
Okoye said, “The commission displays the voter register for claims and objections but few Nigerians pay attention to the process. Nigerians must assist the commission to clean up the voter register by coming forward to point out deceased individuals or those that are not supposed to be in the voter register.
“Secondly, the country does not have reliable data of births and deaths and the commission cannot engage in arbitrary removal of the names of individuals it suspects are deceased.
“Our new software currently in use has been robust and has been detecting multiple registrants. We as a people and as a country must not condone and or connive in community aided and politically motivated under age registration. This commission is resolved and determined to prosecute all electoral infractions.”
Confronted by the compelling need to sanitise the register, INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had on September 24 asked the National Population Commission to periodically provide the commission with the data of deceased persons to update the voter register.
Yakubu had in 2018 made a similar request when he visited the then Chairman of the NPC, Mr Eze Duruijeoma, saying the cleanup was crucial for the 2019 elections.
But speaking in September when the Chairman of the NPC, Isa Kwarra, visited him at the INEC headquarters, Mahmood stated, “At present, technology cannot help us to identify and remove dead persons from the voter register.
“Therefore, I wish to once more appeal to the chairman of the NPC, in your capacity as the registrar of births and deaths in Nigeria, to periodically avail us of the data of deceased Nigerians.
“This is important so that we can use the official information from your commission to further clean up the voter register. Perhaps, you may wish to start by providing us with the list of prominent Nigerians who have passed on, civil and public servants compiled from the official records of government ministries, departments and agencies and other Nigerians from hospital and funeral records across the country.”
Commission helpless as NPC says only 10% of deaths registered
Meanwhile, there are indications that dead persons might continue to be in the voter register. Findings revealed that the National Population Commission does not have an updated register of deaths it could avail INEC with.
A senior staff of the commission, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said registration of deaths with the commission was only 10 per cent.
According to the source, the commission is worried that Nigerians do not pay attention to the fact that they are expected to register all births and deaths.
The source said, “The compliance level is very low. So far, with the analysis we have done, death registration is around 10 per cent, and the chairman of the commission has come out to say it is indeed very low.
“The reason is not farfetched, even with our reaching out to Nigerians to understand why we want every death recorded, many Nigerians have not taken it seriously.”
According to the official, many people come forward to register deaths or request death certificates when they need the certificates for financial gains.
The official said, “People only come around for death certificates when there is a need for it; maybe they want to claim something in the bank or the deceased has an estate and they want to claim it.
“We try to make people realise that what we are calling on them to do is to give the government the information that could help in planning, such as the causes of death. For example, if a higher death rate is registered in a particular region, state, local government or enumerated area, the government would want to know the cause of those deaths and if it requires intervention, the government will do so immediately.
“So, the national coverage as we speak today is only 10 per cent registration which is very low as the chairman said.”
Asked whether INEC had officially applied for the data, the source, who was not willing to answer the question, said the commission would release the data if it’s available.
The source said, “Certainly, if the commission has it, the data would be released. The Federal Government provides funds for the commission to function and the essence of that is for us to generate data and if INEC, an agency of government working for Nigerians, demands such data, and it is available, they would be obliged.”
When Okoye was asked if INEC had applied for the data from the NPC, he said he was out of jurisdiction and could not comment on the issue as of the time of the inquiry.
On the number of persons that had died in 2021 alone according to the register, the NPC official said, “That will be very difficult to say. It is the Vital Registration Department that has that record on the go. But what we have is the national coverage which is in percentage and usually, we categorise them state by state.”
“Regardless of how a person dies, every death should be registered with the NPC. That is what the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria clearly states,” the source added.
Section 1(i) of the fourth schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states, “The main functions of a local government council are as follows: registration of all births, deaths and marriages.”
But Paragraph 24 (b) of Sub-paragraph (J) of Part I of the Third Schedule of the constitution states, “The commission shall have the power to establish and maintain a machinery for continuous and universal registration of births and deaths throughout the Federation.”
Given the 10 per cent compliance the source cited earlier, the commission’s register may not be the true reflection of the active registered voters.
During the year, however, thousands of Nigerians have lost their lives to banditry, COVID-19 pandemic, Boko Haram insurgency, armed robbery, farmer-herder clashes, killings by unidentified gunmen, ailments and natural causes, among others.