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Voter Registration

By Dr Bukar Usman

 

I registered at the Mississippi/Niger Embassy centre Maitama Zone 6 Abuja on January 22, 2011 at precisely 2.21pm as written on the card. I was told INEC Chairman had visited that centre before.

    I first went to the centre the previous day Jan. 21 about 5pm just to check the progress and the prospects of my coming to register the following day. The registration was about closing as they were no longer registering even though the registration team was still at post and several people were also there. People were discussing what would happen the following day. A volunteer undertook to take down our names so that the registration could commence with us. I was number 20 on the list. We were advised by the volunteer to turn up very early if we were to keep our position. Some suggested we try to come as early as 5, 6 o'clock am. I protested mildly that it was too early for me as a pensioner.

    The volunteer saw to my point but said all the same I should try to turn up by 7.30am latest. I made it between 7.30-8.00am.The arrangement was slightly changed. Being Saturday many had turned up some as early as 4,5am. A concession was therefore made to also list them meaning we have two lists including the one for the previous day. We then formed 2 lines one was for those of us on the previous day's list.

    We agreed among ourselves to register a female for every two males registered. The males are to come from the two lists alternatively. It was under this arrangement that I succeeded in getting registered at 2.21pm without leaving the place. Everything was peaceful except occasional rowdiness in protest against the few who tried to jump the queue or said they were there earlier and went home to eat after putting down their names. They lost their chance when their names were called by the volunteer and they were not there to answer. They were forced by public opinion to join the long queue again without the likelihood of registration reaching them that day.

    The registration was ok except that the process was damn slow due to a number of factors. The main one was the fingerprint which fails intermittently on almost every person being registered. Officials ask you to wipe away your finger while they wipe the face of fingerprint machine with a piece of cloth as many times as there were interruptions and such interruptions were quite frequent. In my case it was no less than 3 times. Others were more and in some cases the rejection or interruption occasioned a repeat of the entire process with retaking your photograph.

    One other cause of delay was the lap tap which gets hot and stops functioning. I was told it was because it had no inbuilt fan. It happened once during the 6hrs I was there. Someone volunteered his car air condition to cool it down and the offer was taken. The interruption took about 10 minutes or so. The laptop battery was also taken to a nearby private residence once to recharge.

    One lady who came to re-register because she was earlier registered with the thumb print also complained that she was registered as a ‘male'. The mistake was corrected in the re-issuance. I for one observed my ‘first name' was put as my ‘surname'.  Also under ‘occupation' I wrote on the piece of paper ‘retired'. However the INEC official without asking me entered ‘Civil Servant'. Though she guessed rightly I expected the official to have asked me to confirm.  It was partly my fault not to have noticed the mistakes until after the card was printed out. The point was that we were required to put down our personal details on a piece of paper which the official takes to fill in. I did not therefore bother to crosscheck before it was printed out.

    INEC staff including the security personnel remained dutifully at post throughout the time I was there and I did not see them put anything in their mouth. I saw 2 policemen with guns and 2 civil defence personnel. When I was living the volunteer pleaded with me to pity the chaps.

    Among those who registered with us at the centre was someone who lives at Mpape. He said he attempted twice to register at Mpape but could not do so because of the stampede at the place caused by the fact that there were only two machines in the whole of the high density Mpape.

    We also had some people who came to re-register because the earlier registration they did was declared invalid for having only a thumb print whereas all the ten fingers are to be thumb printed. They joined the queue as they received no special treatment at least not at that centre. Only that some of them angrily remarked that if they experienced difficulty they would give up altogether.

    The quality and poor performance of the set of registration equipment attracted several condemnatory and comical remarks any time there was interruption. Some say they were no better than ‘Aba made'. Others said we should have gone for ‘Made in Japan'. Yet many others referred to the ease and perfection of the SIM Card registration currently being carried out by the mobile telecommunication companies. No one addressed the issue of cost of procurement of those items in drawing comparison with the two exercises.

    It is said that INEC estimated 6 minutes to register a voter and aimed at registering 70m voters within the 2 weeks. Where I registered I saw no one who went through the process in less than 10 minutes at best. In Zuba a high density area I was told that it took 30 minutes to register, up to 100 people were on queue. Translate this to the 70m and it will give a rough idea of the needed time if everything works to clockwork which is highly improbable under our circumstances.

    The time frame for the registration was the common topic for discussion in and away from the registration centres. In view of the difficulties being experienced in the process many remarked that it was practically impossible to register all eligible voters who may come forward to do so. Not even in 2 months some say. The length of time one has to hang around to register has also put off some people from making any attempt to go and register patriotism or no patriotism. What I noticed at the centre were mainly young people and middle ageds enthusiastically wanting to register. I met very few of my age mate (68yrs) at the centre.

    On January 23 when I passed by the registration centre at Gana Street near NICON I noticed registration was still in progress at about 6.30pm with about 10 people around. By then my centre at Mississippi had closed.

    The whole concept of the DDC registration is ok in principle and we have invested a fortune. Unfortunately we are up against practical difficulties with serious time constraint. Will the product under the circumstances serve the intended purpose? Some may say ‘yes' in that it will be at least better than before. That may indeed be so but really what are we comparing it to? The doubts are there and there is serious misgiving arising from the reported manipulation by political zealots and glaring shortcomings which have attracted adverse remarks and strong editorial comments from the media.

 

23/1/2011 

 

 

 

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