Strategy and Innovation for Development Initiative (SI4DEV), a non-governmental organisation registered in Nigeria, has identified underage voting as the bane of credible elections in the country.
The group has, therefore, called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to investigate the alleged voting by underage persons in the recent Kano State local government elections.
SI4DEV brings together individuals and groups and provides training on practical skills towards achieving democracy and economic prosperity for communities, including the application of research and innovation products.
In a recent position paper on the importance of youth involvement in leadership and political process in Nigeria, the SI4DEV Governance Group reiterated the constitutional provision that limits voting in elections only to Nigerians that have reached the age of 18 years and resident in the country, adding that when numbers and population are illegally boosted by adding underage children to the list, it “creates room for rigging elections in favour of whoever orchestrates the irregular registration”.
“Underage voting reportedly took place during the 2015 elections, most especially in Northern states including Kano, Katsina and Jigawa, and more recently, there have been reports that election monitors, Centre for Information Technology and Development, (CITAD), and Action Aid International Nigeria witnessed voting by underage children during the Kano State local government elections on February 10, 2018.
“While there is no way to determine the severity of this irregularity, it calls into question most elections across the country – both those handled by INEC and the state electoral commissions because all elections purportedly rely on the voter register compiled by INEC,” SI4DEV said.
It said all eligible voters in Nigeria should be worried about the development, adding that it could be used to nullify legitimate votes so that the popular political aspirant most people voted for and who would have won fair and square in a well-regulated election loses out to “thugs and shysters foisted by any party cabal tricky enough, connected enough, or one with the fattest purse”.
It blamed underage voting on do-or-die politics by the current political elite, suggesting there should be proper ways to identify the age of most members of the population so as to ensure that no legal and eligible voter is disenfranchised.
“It has been proved that up to 95 percent or more of those aged 0-25 years have a paper-based health card for immunizations. In the absence of birth certificates, SI4DEV suggests that these cards can be used for validating the age of those wanting to be registered to vote in Nigeria,” it said.
SI4DEV lauded Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, on his realization of the significance of underage voting and its impact on the legality of the forthcoming 2019 elections and his promise to investigate the alleged violations in the Kano local government elections.
“While questioning whether the INEC voter register was actually used or not in the said elections, the INEC chairman averred that a comprehensive team will move to Kano to examine what happened, and share their observations with the public,” SI4DEV said.
“He also assures that INEC will interrogate the voter register nationwide to remove any possible illegal registrants,” it said.
SI4DEV, however, called on INEC to live up to its promise and use existing mechanisms to remove underage persons from the voter register even after registration.
It also called on Kano State officials to cooperate with INEC’s investigation and comply with a thorough examination of their voter registers.
“SI4DEV is motivated by the INEC chairman’s comments that almost 4 million new registrations have occurred nationwide through the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise. We will be monitoring new information which the chairman promised will be posted on their website and will begin development of targeted voter education material for various groups and locations,” it said.
The group further called for strengthening and enforcement of the provision of the Electoral Act which stipulates the age requirements for every electorate, even as it called for more active youth involvement of youth in party politics.