Again, court orders INEC to resume CVR exercise nationwide

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Federal High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) sitting in Abuja, Tuesday, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to resume the suspended nationwide Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise.

The court also ruled that INEC should continue the CVR exercise until 90 days to the 2023 General Elections.

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Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja

INEC had fixed June 30 as the deadline for the conclusion of the CVR exercise ahead of the 2023 elections, but extended it till July 31 after a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered continuation of the process following appeals by Nigerians and civil society organisations in the country.

In its latest ruling, the court presided over by Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a judgment, also directed the INEC to ensure that eligible Nigerians are not deprived the opportunity to have the voter’s card for the forthcoming poll.

Justice Ekwo held that it was the constitutional responsibility of the electoral umpire to make adequate provision for the exercise in accordance with the Nigerian laws.

“The case of the plaintiffs succeeds on merit,” the judge declared.

The plaintiff, Anajat Salmat and three others had sued INEC as sole defendant in a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1343/2022 arguing that INEC cannot stop the CVR contrary to the stipulated provisions of the constitution.

INEC PVCs

They prayed the court to order the electoral umpire to resume the exercise in accordance with the law of the country.

INEC had on July 31 suspended the nationwide Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, began ahead of the 2023 general elections.

The commission in a statement by Mr Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, made the decision after an extraordinary meeting of the commission in Abuja, explaining that it was to allow it perform the legal requirements it has to undertake before the general elections.

Okoye also said that to ensure that more Nigerians were registered before the July deadline date, the hours of registration had been extended to eight hours daily from 9am to 5pm, including weekends.

Okoye said the commission took the decision at its extraordinary meeting where it discussed among other things, the suspension of the ongoing CVR.

This followed the judgment delivered by the Federal High Court on Wednesday July 13, 2022 in which it dismissed the suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) seeking an extension of the exercise beyond June, 30 2022.

The Court had affirmed that INEC remained at liberty to appoint a date of its choice to suspend the CVR, provided it was not later than 90 days before the date fixed for the general elections as provided in Sec. 9(6) of the Electoral Act 2022.

Okoye said that in compliance with the interim injunction of the Court pending the determination of the substantive suit, and in order to enable more Nigerians to register, INEC continued with the CVR beyond June 30.

INEC National Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

He said that for that reason, the CVR had already been extended beyond June 30 for a period of 15 days.

“With the judgment of the Federal High Court, all legal encumbrances have now been removed. Accordingly, the commission has taken the following decisions:

“The CVR is hereby extended for another two weeks until Sunday July 31, thereby bringing the total duration of the extension to 31 days (July 1 to July 31, 2022).

“The exercise has also been extended to eight hours daily from 9am – 5pm instead of the current duration of six hours (9am – 3pm) daily; and; The exercise is also extended to include weekends (Saturdays and Sundays) as against only weekdays.”

Okoye said that INEC appreciated that the timeframe might be tight for many prospective registrants, but there was a lot that the commission was required to do under the electoral legal framework in relation to voter registration and compilation of the register that would  require time to accomplish.

He said that for instance, INEC was required to: “Clean-up  the register to remove multiple registrants using the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS);

“Consolidate the national register of voters (existing voters and new registrants) and display same on Polling Unit basis for each of the 8,809 Registration Areas (Wards) across the 774 Local Government Areas nationwide for public scrutiny which lasts for a period of one week.”

Okoye said that on the basis of a new projection of 95 million voters, on the basis of 10 voters per page, the commission had to print 9,500,000 pages for the display; adding further that the commission was also required to print millions of Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) for all fresh registrants and applicants for transfer and replacement of lost or damaged PVCs;

“INEC is required to: Ensure that there is ample time for voters to collect their PVCs ahead of the 2023 general elections; “Print the final register of voters in triplicate for the 2023 general elections involving a projected 28,500,000 pages for accreditation and display at 176,846 polling units for national elections (Presidential and National Assembly) on Feb. 25, 2023 and State elections (Governorship and State Assembly) on March 11, 2023; and Make copies of the updated national register of voters available to political parties not later than 30 days to the date fixed for the general elections.

However, despite requests for extension made by interest groups in the country, INEC insisted on discontinuing the exercise, even as it emerged that over seven million Nigerians, who began their voter pre-registration online could not complete the process at physical centres before the deadline date of July 31.

Consequently, a coalition of over 70 CSOs, requested for an extension of the exercise for another two months.

The INEC had in June 2021, begun the CVR exercise and launched a portal, where Nigerians could register by filing in their biodata and required documents, after which they would visit INEC designated centres to complete the process physically. Going to a physical centre for biometric capturing was a prerequisite to complete the voter registration process.

According to data released by the commission, 10,487,972 Nigerians carried out their pre-registration online. Of this number, only 3,444,378 Nigerians, representing 32.8 per cent, completed the process at physical centres.

This means 7,043,594 persons, representing over 67 per cent of those who started their registration process online, are not eligible to receive a Permanent Voter’s Card, PVC, before the 2023 general elections and will, therefore, not be eligible to vote.

Although, the INEC said 12,298,944 Nigerians completed their voter registration, it added that 8,854,566 of the number were individuals who did their registration entirely at the physical centres.

In August, this year, several civil society groups in the country had also appealed to the commission to extend the CVR exercise, citing the case of 7 million registrants who could not complete the registration process, as well as the rising security challenges facing many prospective electorate.

The coalition, which is under the aegis of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, said the exercise should be extended to accommodate more prospective voters, insisting that “there is still a window for extension in accordance with the Electoral Act, 2022.”

The Situation Room said it received reports of a tedious registration process in the just concluded CVR exercise, despite INEC’s assurances of a seamless process.

“Situation Room further notes that the CVR which ended on 31st July 2022 will leave many willing Nigerians disenfranchised from the 2023 polls even when the Commission can stretch itself a bit more to continue registering voters,” the CSOs said.

In a statement issued in Abuja, yesterday, the CSOs, further asked the Federal Government to activate steps to address the current economic challenges, alarming unemployment, plummeting exchange rate and financial hardship on the citizens.

It maintained that FG must desist from increasing or introducing new taxes, especially the proposed five per cent inclusive of excise duty on telecommunications services in Nigeria that will raise the tax to12.5 per cent.

While expressing its disappointment over the state of the nation the Situation Room said there was need for President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately rejig the entire security architecture of the country.

“The state of insecurity in the country has deteriorated so much that most parts of the country are now being threatened by non-state armed men with various nomenclature like Bandits, Boko Haram, Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), Kidnappers and Unknown Gunmen.

“According to reports, ISWAP and Boko Haram insurgents having occupied some territories in the North East of the country are now encroaching into Abuja and the rest of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Bandits continuous raid on villages fuelled with kidnapping of helpless villagers in the North West States of Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi, have continued unchallenged,” the group said.

INEC had fixed June 30 as the deadline for the CVR ahead of the 2023 elections, but extended it till July 31 after a Federal High Court in Abuja stopped it from ending the exercise.

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