The Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) is being pressured to prematurely halt the ongoing continuous voter registration exercise by powerful political interests, SaharaReporters has gathered.

INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, is said to be buckling under the pressure despite various assurances by the commission that the electoral law stipulates that such an exercise can only be stopped not less than 60 days to elections.

This implies that the appropriate terminal date of the exercise is December, not June 2018. The calendar for the general election issued by INEC indicates that next year's polls will take place from February.

A fortnight ago on a live Channels Television programme monitored by SaharaReporters, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, spokesperson to the INEC Chairman, said the exercise would end in December and resume on a continuous basis after the elections to accommodate other people of voting age.

Mr. Oyekanmi was responding directly to a question by Maupe Ogun, the programme anchor, on when the programme would end.

At different times also, the INEC Chairman has been quoted by the media as assuring Nigerians that in view of the challenges being experienced by prospective registrants, the exercise would be decentralised in the future to make things easy.

Should INEC give in to the pressure, it will deny many unregistered voters across the country the chance to be part of next year's electoral process.

Observers are already questioning INEC's capacity to conduct credible polls, given its pattern of not keeping to promises made.

The looming stoppage of voter registration exercise has coincided with the refusal of INEC to take responsibility for the underage voter-strewn election register used by the Kano State Independent Electoral Commission (KANSIEC) in the recent council polls in the state.

The allegation of underage voting assumed a life of its own when images and videos of primary school-age kids surfaced on the social and traditional media respectively. 

In March, SaharaReporters had exclusively reported an attempt to cover up the scandal or a rejection of the report of the investigative panel established by INEC to ascertain the veracity of the allegation.

INEC kept denying responsibility until March 25 when the panel submitted its report, a document that has not been made public since then.

There has been clamour by the media for the release of the full report, which would confirm or repudiate allegations that the election register has underage voters instead of claims by INEC that it did not conduct the council.

Professor Mahmood stripped the Kano council polls of credibility by saying KANSIEC did not use the register provided by INEC in many instances, adding that  INEC was not responsible for any underage voting.

Observers are wondering why INEC is unwilling to declare the number of underage voters on its register and what it plans to do to eliminate the errors to restore its credibility.     

Observers also stated that the partial reporting by the INEC Chairman has been accompanied by huge political costs, as there are indications that some political groups in Kano State may have obtained copies of the investigative report in the hope of interpreting it to suit their respective agenda, while others are planning to use it as a gauge of where the commission will lean next year so as to make contingency plans.

Analysts have warned that INEC needs to abide by high administrative standards by posting the reports of its findings on the Internet to restore public confidence.

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