Ahead of the 2019 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has raised the alarm over the high number of foreigners living in the country with voters’ cards. This is just as the electoral commission said it is collaborating with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other relevant security agencies to keep a tab on campaign spending by political parties and also on vote buying on the days of the election. The commission disclosed this at the weekend in Lagos at an INEC Interactive Session/Dinner with Youth Ambassadors/Celebrities.
The parley was put together by INEC in collaboration with the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES). Fielding questions on the recent recovery of about 700 voter cards from foreigners living in the country by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said there might be more foreigners with voter cards than the number already confiscated by the NIS.
The Comptroller-General of Immigration, Muhammad Babandede, disclosed last week in Abuja at the 2018 NIS awards presentation that the agency had retrieved over 700 voter cards from non-Nigerians. Yakubu, who was represented by the National Commissioner and Chairman, Outreach and Partnership Committee, Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola, said: “I want to confess that there may be more than 700 foreigners with voter cards. Let me explain the process of registration to you. When we ask people to register, we are always in collaboration with all agencies that have something to do with the registration process because we have some criteria that qualify somebody to be registered as a voter in the country.
“The first thing is that the person must first be a Nigerian and that is why Immigration is very important. We have immigration unit in all the local governments of the federation and that is why our electoral officers collaborate with immigration officers during the registration exercise. “In fact, during the registration exercise in Lagos, immigration officers were able to apprehend a lot of non-Nigerians that were about to get registered. They even assured us during one of our meetings that they have a way of identifying non-Nigerians during the registration. “But you know it will be difficult for any INEC official to identify who a non- Nigerian is.
When we display voters’ cards, we expect people to come out and raise objections about people who are not members of their communities. We will do our best to ensure that not so many non-Nigerians are captured,” he said. Speaking on the menace of vote-buying ahead of the election, the INEC commissioner said the mandate and rules guiding the electoral body makes it difficult for it to go beyond certain boundaries, just as he stressed that INEC will, within its limited power, ensure that votes are influenced within the polling units across the nation. “That is why we are saying that when you are going into the voting cubicle, you should do not take your mobile phones with you.
We have observed that in the past, people will snap their ballot paper to indicate which party they voted for and showed it to their paymasters. But that will no longer be allowed. “Beyond that, we are collaborating with EFCC not only in terms of keeping tabs with political party’s campaign spending, but also on the issue of votebuying and with other security agencies.”
He noted further that the commission is also keeping a tab on the spending of political parties and candidates, stating that: “We have a robust arrangement on the ground to ensure that we keep a tab on the finances of political parties, especially during campaigns and elections. We are collaborating with EFCC and other security agencies to ensure that people do not expend money beyond regulations.” According to the Electoral Act (as amended), a presidential candidate should not expend more than N1 billion on election campaigns. A governorship candidate is allowed to spend a maximum of N200 million, while a senatorial candidate must not spend more than N40 million.
The INEC commissioner also disclosed that the PVC of all registered voters would be available in all the 774 local governments of the federation by the end of December, adding that the distribution of the PVC will last to the first week of February. On the current number of registered voters, he said, “It is difficult to give a precise number of people on the voters’ register now. You know we registered about 14 million people during the voters’ registration, but the data collected will still be subjected to some other processes that will lead to a reduction of that figure. “That is why for now it may be difficult for us to give a precise figure. No doubt, it should be around 83 million and 84 million.
But by the end of December, we should be able to have the actual figure,” he said. ECES Project Coordinator, Mr. Rudof Elbing, represented by Dominic Weerts, called on all Nigerians to be committed to a fair, free and transparent election which is the concern of the European Union (EU). The 22 new ambassadors that joined 14 others already enlisted into the IYA scheme include popular musicians – Korede Bello, Chidinma Ekile, Cobhams Asuquo, Aituaje Iroube Waje and Yinka Ayefele. Others are Comedians Bright Okpocha, Abovi Ugboma (Bovi), Ayo Makun, Entertainer Uti Nwachukwu, Presenter Gimba Umar; Actress Adesuwa, Actor Sani Danja, among others.