There are strong indications that names of some dead persons may be retained on the current voter register of the Independent National Electoral Commission as the commission concludes plans for the conduct of the general elections slated for February and March.
Investigations by The PUNCH had earlier revealed that names of dead Nigerians including three former governors who died years back were still on the INEC register for the general elections.
The former governors are Diepreye Alamieyeseigha (Bayelsa State), Isiaka Adeleke (Osun State) and Patrick Yakowa (Kaduna State). While Yakowa died in December 2012, Alamieyeseigha and Adeleke died in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Also on the voter list are the names of the late former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme and the late former Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili.
Saturday PUNCH gathered that the electoral commission would use the current register, which had been sent to all political parties, for the 2019 General Elections.
It is also not certain if the names of the dead prominent Nigerians which were on the commission’s voter register late last year had been removed as no official of the body gave a definite response to enquiries on whether the names had been removed or not as of Friday.
In an exclusive interview with Saturday PUNCH, the National Commissioner and Chairman (Information and Voter Education Committee), Festus Okoye, said the commission would go ahead to use its current register for the 2019 elections.
He explained that the commission could not unilaterally delete names of dead persons on its register of voters because it did not fall within its mandate to do so.
According to him, the National Population Commission has been charged with the responsibility of registering births and deaths in the country.
He said, “The commission will not unilaterally remove any name from the voter register without concrete and verifiable information. The commission has published the official register for the 2019 General Elections containing 84,004,084 registered voters. The official register of voters has been published and handed over to the registered political parties. The commission will continue with the clean-up of the voter register after the 2019 elections.
“The removal of the names of the deceased from the voter register is ongoing and will continue immediately after the 2019 elections. We have a register that is good for the conduct of the 2019 elections.’’
He said the commission would continue to partner with agencies and commissions responsible for registering births and deaths in cleaning up the voter register.
“On its part, the commission will continue to run its Automatic Finger Identification System and maintain business rules on the register of voters for purposes of making the register a credible source of information and data for the Nigerian people,” he added.
Alluding to the reason why names of some dead prominent Nigerians could still be on the register despite the public knowledge of the deaths of such people, he said, “The commission and its members do not use their personal knowledge of issues and events to remove the names of persons from the voter register.
“The implication is that INEC can only remove a name from the voter register if the NPC confirms the official demise of a particular individual.
“INEC is not saddled with the responsibility of keeping the register of births and deaths. The responsibility of the commission is to use the register supplied by the organisation saddled with such responsibility for births and deaths. The commission is obligated to display the voter register for claims and objections.”
He added, “The commission displayed the voter register for this assignment. It is the responsibility of the commission to use information supplied by members of the public for purposes of cleaning up the voter register.
“INEC carried out the display of the voter register for claims and objections and urged the members of the public who had lost their loved ones to make the information available to the officials of the commission appointed to handle incident claims and objections and very few Nigerians came forth with the information.”
He, however, said the commission would use the upgraded Smart Card Reader for the conduct of the 2019 elections, adding that “the picture and details of the holder of the Permanent Voter Card must match the details in the EVR before an individual would be allowed to vote.’’
In the updated regulations and guidelines issued by the commission, it is an electoral offence for a presiding officer to violate the provisions of the law relating to the use of the Smart Card Reader. He said this provision would be enforced.
“It is the responsibility of the media to focus attention on those who mobilise fake persons to use the identity of the dead to attempt to cheat the process. The commission will continue to be proactive and upfront in protecting the integrity of the process but the violators of the process must be named and shamed.”
The commission also said it would not be able to give an accurate number of the deceased persons removed from the voter register as the exercise was ongoing and the figure was expected to be harvested from the various states where the voter registers were displayed.
The commission will review the list of the deceased and release the number to Nigerians at the end of the 2019 elections, according to Okoye.
Okoye however said collating the figures of the number of persons removed from the voter register “is not the immediate priority of INEC.”
Speaking in the same vein, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, the Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Prof. Yakub Mahmood, said the commission had cleaned the register to the best of its ability, adding that card readers would play a critical role in authenticating the actual person to vote in this year’s general elections.
He warned that anybody hoping to use the voter card of any dead person would be arrested and prosecuted.
He said, “Assuming there are names of dead people on the current register, if you are dead, you are not expected to vote. If anyone turns up with a dead person’s PVC, they will be arrested. The commission has instructed that the card reader must be strictly used for accreditation.
“The card readers have been enhanced and we have backups to handle emergency situations. We can only warn people to be careful because we heard that some people are allegedly buying PVCs belonging to dead people; if they are caught , they will be arrested and prosecuted.’’