On May 29, instead of rolling out the drums in celebration of Democracy Day, Enugu State mobilised to actively participate in the INEC continuous voters’ registration exercise, to be on their guard as the country marches towards the 2015 general elections, particularly, in view of the sudden disappearance of the state’s 621 poling units from the commission’s register. Christopher Isiguzo writes
The recent five-day voters’ registration exercise announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission clearly overshadowed the last Democracy Day celebration in Enugu State. The exercise was meant to capture Nigerians who could not register during the last registration exercise, those who just turned 18 years, as well as those whose names had suddenly disappeared from the INEC register due to some human and machine errors.
The issue of the over 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram at Chibok, in Borno State, since April 14 also added to make the seventh Democracy Day anniversary of the Governor Sullivan Chime administration solemn rather than celebratory. But for the governor’s commissioning of the remodelled Maryland Estate built by the Enugu State Housing Development Corporation, under the headship of Hon. Ikeje Asogwa, nothing suggested anything special about May 29 in the state.
‘Missing’ Polling Units
Tension had gripped the state over the sudden disappearance of the names of prominent stakeholders in the state from the INEC register. This led to allegations and counter-allegations as well as threats of law suits against the commission over the missing names, which were said to constitute about 45 per cent of voters in the state.
A breakdown of the missing polling booths in the INEC register showed that the worst hit was Nsukka and Igboetiti councils, where 230 and 190 booths, respectively, were returned with zero registered voters. Others include, Aninri, where two polling units were missing; Awgu, six polling units; Enugu East, 20; Enugu North, two; Enugu South, four; Ezeagu, two; Igboeze North, 25; Igboeze South, four; Isi-Uzo, one; Nkanu West, 148; Oji River, five; Udenu, three; and Uzo Uwani, four. Two polling booths were missing in the governor’s Udi council area.
Apart from the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state, the state House of Assembly also threatened to drag INEC to court if the anomaly was not corrected. The party specifically accused the electoral body of deliberately trying to collude with some “desperate” politicians to disenfranchise majority of the people of the state in the coming elections.
From Incomplete to Zero Registration
INEC had recently announced that more than one million voters were expected to participate in the distribution of permanent voters cards (PVCs), as well as the continuous voters’ registration (CVR) exercise, both of which have ended. The exercise, it had said, would be conducted in 621 polling units in the state due to incomplete data.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner of INEC in Enugu State, Dr. Lawrence Azubuike, said apart from incomplete data, there were also other reasons that had rendered registration in the 621 polling units invalid.
He disclosed that details of the affected units in each local government area could be ascertained and accessed by members of the public during the display of voters list as scheduled, and urged those who were not up to 18 years in 2011, during the last exercise, to take advantage of the current one to register.
But PDP said of the total of 2,940 polling booths in the state, 621 were completely missing from the INEC register. The state PDP chairman, Mr. Vita Abba, expressed dismay at the development and alleged that what happened in Anambra State in the November 16, 2013 governorship election, where registered voters could not find their names in the register, was about to be repeated in Enugu State.
PDP said that it had discovered that names of notable politicians, including the speaker of the state Assembly and frontline governorship aspirant, Eugene Odoh; chairman of the PDP in the state, Vita Abba; a serving senator and members of the House of Representatives, mostly from Enugu North senatorial zone, were missing from the register. It said that the name of Chime, Minister of Power, Professor Chinedu Nebo, as well as other prominent officials of the state government were missing in the INEC register.
The House of Assembly held a special sitting to protest the anomaly and take a position on the matter. During the sitting, the Assembly reprimanded INEC and directed it to rectify the faulty voters register before May 27 or face a lawsuit from the lawmakers.
The lawmakers refused entreaties from the commission to go through another registration exercise, arguing that the Electoral Act stated that anybody with temporary voter’s card cannot vote in 2015 election. The Assembly wondered where those that will take part in the proposed re-registration exercise slated for May 29 to June 2 would get their permanent voters cards since it took nearly four years for those that registered in 2011 to get theirs.
The lawmakers then resolved that INEC should resort to its backup/hardcopy resource pool, or request her sister agencies, that is the State Independent Electoral Commissions, to assist her retrieve their data if the commission had misplaced it. The Assembly urged INEC to revert to the established registration that was used in the 2011 general elections in Enugu State as it concerns the affected local government areas.
The house also directed INEC to tender an apology to the affected local government areas for the unwarranted socio-political and psychological trauma caused them. It said INEC should take full responsibility of the financial implications of the exercise and pay damages in terms of money. The house also resolved that as a matter of exigency, INEC should extend the duration for revision of the voters register from five days to a period not shorter than one month.
The controversy generated by the disappearance of the 621 polling booths made the state government to declare public holidays in order to ensure that residents of the state were mobilised to take part in the rescheduled registration exercise, which lasted between May 28 and June 1, before it was extended to June 3 in order to capture more people.
But the exercise still witnessed pockets of hitches across the state following the failure of many of the machines deployed by INEC for the exercise. Residents of the state who came out in their numbers to take part in the exercise were disappointed as a result of the problems with the machines, which ranged from battery, cord or thumb-printing issues. The ad hoc INEC staff manning the machines had to shut them down frequently, thereby slowing down the process.
All these combined to take the shine off the Democracy Day celebration in the state.
Commissioning of Maryland Housing Estate
However, residents of Enugu metropolis still found time to come out in their numbers to witness the commissioning of the remodelled Maryland Housing Estate. The estate, which was commenced by the past administration of Senator Chimaraoke Nnamani, was totally overhauled with a new architectural design.
Many traditional dance groups and gospel singers as well as notable compares, Ndudi Chude and Paul Nnajiofor, performed to add colour to the event. Their message was that despite the challenges facing the country, the people of Enugu State still had cause to celebrate service delivery, fulfilment of campaign promises and good governance as displayed by the Chime administration.
Speaking at the event, Sullivan Chime said with the commissioning of the 384 housing units Maryland Estate, the stage was set for the development of more housing estates for low income earners before the end of his administration next year. Chime said that the housing estate was the second after the Ekulu-East Estate inherited by his administration from the previous government to be completed, stressing that nothing tangible had been done on the projects when he took office in 2007.
“We took it over and revoked plots and gave it to more serious people who are willing to develop and today the place is one of the best estates in Nigeria,” he said.
While praising the managing director of the state housing corporation, Asogwa, for his efforts, the governor urged the incoming administration to continue with affordable housing policies in the state, adding, “With what we have seen on ground, if I am given the opportunity, I will reappoint Asogwa a million times because he has done the state proud.”
The governor said his administration had a policy of not rejecting any land application, assuring that the 200,000 hectares of land recently acquired would meet the land needs of residents.
In his remarks earlier, Asogwa said that his corporation had provided basic infrastructure at the estate, including asphalted roads, transformers, streets lights, and underground reservoirs, as well as a sub-station of the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company.
He, however, called on the governor to intervene on the issue of potable water at the estate, stressing that it is the biggest problem facing occupants at the place.
Asogwa said the corporation had in the last six years assisted the state government with the construction of 37 kilometres asphalt roads, 19 kilometres of earth roads, 53 culverts, 97 drainages, and three bridges, and provided transformers for completed estates in the state.
Other speakers at the event included the Commissioner for Housing, Victor Okolo; chairman of the Governing Board of the State Housing Development Corporation, Paul Nnaji; and a resident, Emma Ndulue.
The speakers described the commissioning of the estate as a fitting Democracy Day present to residents of the state.
“Instead of rolling out drums like other states, Enugu State has rather decided to identify with the mood of the nation where over 200 students are still being held; hundreds of people are killed daily in the North-east and, of course, the need to encourage our people to take part in the voters’ registration exercise by not engaging in celebrations. This speaks volumes for the kind of leadership we have in the state,” Ndulue said.