Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has disclosed that voter registration will take place the first quarter of 2021.
Speaking on Wednesday in Abuja when he appeared before the Senator Kabiru Gaya, of All Progressives Congress, APC, Kano South led Committee on INEC for the Defence of 2021 Budget proposals, the INEC Chairman explained that the Commission is earmarking the sum of 1 billion Naira for the exercise.
He said, “For continuous voter registration, the Commission intend to resume voter registration in the first quarter of 2021. And once we resume, it will be continuous for one and a half years, at least until six months to the next general election. In other words, the Commission is not going to resume voter registration for a week, two weeks or a month but we are working out the details.”
Professor Yakubu, who is also throwing his weight behind diaspora voting, has however called on the National Assembly to amend the Electoral Act to accommodate diaspora and early voting.
He said: “The Commission is desirous of giving Nigerians living abroad the right to vote, after all, all our neighbouring countries do so. But it requires the amendment to the constitution and the Electoral Act for that to happen. And we have already worked out the document. Once the law is amended today, we can roll out. We are ready. We have had several meetings with the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) but we can’t go beyond what the law provides.”
The INEC Chairman who is also seeking the approval of the Senate to spend 5.2 billion Naira from the special INEC fund to make up for the shortfall in the 2020 budget which was cut because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said that the Commission is also working to a situation where the staff get a totally different salary structure against the backdrop of the hazardous nature of the job being carried out by the staff.
Yakubu said: “The Commission cannot be independent unless it is financially independent. There are some activities that happen that are time-bound or bound by some specific provisions of the constitution that the Commission has to undertake.
“So, the fund was established to allow the Commission to discharge those responsibilities. It was established in 2010, but there was no cause to spend from it, and from the last five years this Commission did not spend from it. But what has happened now is our budget for 2020 dropped to N40bn from N45.5bn in 2019.
“And as a result of the 10% COVID cut, it further dropped to N36bn in the middle of the year when we had already made preparation for expenditure, and therefore, since that fund is made for the rainy days, I informed the committee that the rainy day has come. So we are taking part in the fund to balance our budget for this year.”
The INEC boss has also disclosed that in the year 2019, the Commission had 1,700 Pre and post-election cases in Court. On money spent on election cases, adding, “Each time anyone goes to court, INEC is joined, but we have to hire lawyers to defend us. We are not playing fantastic fee we are applying the federal ministry of justice scale of fees. If for instance, you have a case for governorship election before the supreme court, it’s a maximum of N4.5 million.
“But because of the number of cases, we are almost getting close to 1700 pre-election and post-election cases in 2019 alone, and everyday you hear people going to court and joining INEC, but we will continue to do what we can within available resources.”
INEC chair on enhanced salary structure for Commission staff, said, “I remember when this matter was discussed last year you specifically tasked the committee to come back with suggestions and ideas on how we can enhance salary remuneration
“We promised to discuss salaries and wages commission and we will come back to see what can be done. We have not gone far on this matter mainly because there were many distractions. Essentially COVID-19 came in and the nation was shut down and after COVID we were confronted with two major elections, Edo and Ondo governorship.
“I assure you we will resume our discussions with the relevant agencies to see how we can get a totally different salary structure for INEC for the kind of work the commission staff are involved in. It is a work in progress.”
On some groups who are disenfranchised during the election, Yakubu said, “It is not just those in the armed services, the police involved in election duty, journalists, INEC ad-hoc staff and some INEC staff don’t vote. The reason is that you are posted for election duty to places other than where you are registered, and the law says you vote where are registered.
“So, if you pass some amendments to the electoral act to enable people to vote, two solutions perhaps; early voting, so that those involved in election duty can vote early or major reform of electoral legal framework to allow people to vote wherever they are.”
In his contribution, a member of the Committee, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, APC, Ekiti Central said, “We are going to really address the aspect of our own desired reforms to ensure that people that INEC relies on to be able to do their work as an umpire are also immune or sanctified against unnecessary temptations. We believe this issue of enhanced remuneration must be addressed. It is something that should be addressed because it is important.
“We appreciate if you can report back as soon as in the next three months specifically on this issue and it requires also any form of legislative action on our part this committee would be happy to work with the senate committee on the establishment and other relevant committees that can sit down with both INEC and the Physical moderation. It is an issue that is waiting to be addressed.”
Responding, Prof Yakubu said, “Let me on behalf of INEC thank this committee for this consideration and we promise we are going to come back under three months, it will not even be up to three months and I am sure that the staff of the commission will be excited to hear that the Senate is as interested in their welfare as we are in the commission.”
In his remarks, Chairman of the Committee, Senator Kabiru Gaya who congratulated INEC Chairman on his reappointment, said: “We are waiting for your name for clearance. For necessary screening. We know you have performed well, but still be ready for our questions. We are totally committed to a free fair and credible election.
“On your part, we expect that you make every money spent count for a credible and efficient electoral process.”