A former National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Lai Olurode, says he almost lost his life for refusing to allow underage voters to vote some years ago.
He, therefore, called on the Federal Government to ensure that registration officers, who are mostly members of the National Youth Service Corps, were protected at all times.
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Olurode was the INEC National Commissioner for the South-West from 2010 to 2015.
Olurode said this during an interview with one of our correspondents on Sunday while reacting to allegations of underage voting in the recently concluded local government election in Kano State.
The former INEC commissioner said, “If the people can be enlightened, underage voting will reduce. There are certain areas of this country where even if they know the person is a kid, they will insist that the child must vote.
“I had to run for my life at one of the election centres in a part of the country because these people said children must vote or there would be no election at all. It is that bad. The APC government has a responsibility to deliver an election that will be better than the 2015 election.
“The Kano State example is a bad signal and a warning that we really have a lot to do and the voter register is key. The register must be clean, it must not have ghost names or underage voters.”
Olurode said underage voting could be tackled by engaging community leaders and carrying out massive voter education.
The former INEC official said underage voting was more common in certain parts of the country than some others which would make it easier for INEC to tackle.
He added, “In the course of my service to the nation during the Jega’s era, it was happening in many parts of the country but there are specific geographic locations where it is very common which means the problem can be tackled if responded to promptly by all the stakeholders.
“When you see community leaders coming to meet you with a prepared list of children to be registered and you refuse, you come under threat.
“In some parts of the country, when you refuse to register a child, they go away but in some other parts, the people are the ones who will demand that the child is registered.”
Olurode called on the Federal Government to harmonise the several databases in the country as this would reduce underage voting.
He said if the database of persons with driving licences, passports, national identity cards and Bank Verification Numbers could be harmonised, it would be easier to get authentic information of Nigerians and curb underage voting.
Olurode also called on the government and community leaders to ensure that corps members were protected to avoid a repeat of the violence that marred the 2011 election which led to the death of some corps members.
He said there was a need for security agents to be trained better on how to carry out election duties.
Olurode added, “Some security agents look the other way or tell you to allow the underage voters to vote. In one election which I monitored, a commissioner of police said the presiding officer should ‘cooperate’ with the governor to allow them to thumbprint.
“Of course, that election was cancelled. So, there is a need for voter education among security agents and others. So that when they are asked to do the wrong thing, they can refuse.”
Also, two civil society organisations, the Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project and the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, said INEC should prosecute people involve in underage registration and other electoral offences in order to serve as a deterrent to others.
The SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said, “Anything that is offensive to the electoral process such as registering a person who is underage or double registration is all part of electoral offences. We have heard that INEC said a lot of people committed infractions against the electoral law, how many have been prosecuted? INEC must be ready to prosecute those who violate the electoral law. Once you treat people according to the law, this is the way impunity can be checked.”
Also, the CACOL Director, Debo Adeniran, said, “INEC must have a functional database backed up with biometrics. It is also good that INEC gets it right on electronic voting. We now have a lot of political parties and they may be too cumbersome on a ballot paper. It is also a good thing that INEC wants to use satellite to transmit election results. They must ensure that the satellite system is fool-proof and is not hacked into. I don’t think we should criminalise double registration because some people may have done it out of frustration encountered in their earlier registration. The INEC system by default must be able to identify double registration and strike it out.”
Meanwhile, the Kano State Independent Electoral Commission said that it would be vindicated by the outcome of the investigation into the underage voting during local government elections in the state.
Following the allegation, INEC said it had set up a panel to probe the allegations.
The Chairman of KANSEIC, Garba Shek, in a statement on Sunday expressed willingness of the commission to work with INEC to investigate the claim.
Sheka stated, “While we hail the INEC’s decision to investigate the allegation, we want to restate our stand that the election, which was supervised by independent monitors (civil society organisations) is adjudged most peaceful in the history of Kano State.”
Meanwhile, the Senior Pastor of ECWA Goodnews Church, Minna, Rev. Philip Weishe, has lamented difficulties being encountered by people who want to obtain their permanent voter cards.
Weishe said this on Sunday during a thanksgiving service for a former Niger State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Jonathan Vatsa.