Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, said yesterday that voters’ registration will take place during the first quarter of 2021.
Yakubu, who stated this when he appeared before the Senate Committee on INEC for 2021 Budget proposals’ defence in Abuja, explained that the commission was earmarking N1 billion for the exercise.
The committee is led by Sen Kabiru Gaya, APC, Kano South. Yakubu said: “For continuous voter registration, the commission will resume voter registration in the first quarter of 2021. ‘’
Once we resume, it will be continuous for one and 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, called on the National Assembly to amend the Electoral Act to accommodate diaspora and early voting. “
The commission is desirous of giving Nigerians living abroad the right to vote, after all, all our neighboring countries do so. But it requires the amendment to the constitution and the Electoral Act for that to happen. ‘’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,’’ Yakubu said.
The INEC chairman, who is also seeking the approval of the Senate to spend N5.2 billion 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 the commission was also working on a situation where staff would get a totally different salary structure, in view of the hazardous nature of the job being carried out by them.
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 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 N40 billion from N45.5 billion in 2019.
And as a result of the 10% COVID cut, it further dropped to N36 billion in the middle of the year when we had already made preparation for expenditure.
‘’Therefore, since that fund is made for the rainy day, I informed the committee that the rainy day has come. So we are taking part of the fund to balance our budget for this year,’’ he said.
The INEC boss also disclosed that in 2019, the commission had 1,700 pre and post-election cases in court, adding that “each time anyone goes to court, INEC is joined, but we have to hire lawyers to defend us.
‘’We are not paying fantastic fee, we are applying Federal Ministry of Justice scale of fees,” The INEC boss said. 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.”
On enhanced salary structure for commission’s staff, Prof. Yakubu said: “I remember when this matter was discussed last year, you specifically tasked the commission to come back with suggestions and ideas on how we can enhance salary remuneration. “
We promised to discussed with 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 work in progress.” On some disenfranchised groups during election, Yakubu said: “It is not just those in the armed services, the police involved in election duty, journalists, INEC adhoc 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.