By Innocent Eteng
He was only 16 the last time the window for voter registration was flung open, hence ineligible to register and vote during the 2015 general elections. But Achibong Monday has now crossed the age hurdle of 18 as he greets his 20th birthday.
Yet, he has still not been able to register, especially with 2019 elections being less than 356 days away.
Monday resides at Abuloma in Port Harcourt Local Government Area (PHALGA), Rivers State. He said the problem is that officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have not been stable and appear to have no known registration center close to him.
“I was told INEC officials register potential voters at U.P.E School here in Abuloma, but when I got there, I was told INEC no longer has a centre there. I was later told they moved to Abuloma Town Hall. I went there several times without seeing them, that is why I have not registered yet,” Monday said.
A quick check by our reporter shows that U.P.E. Model Primary School, which is shown on INEC’s website as a collation centre, used to service as registration center. But a resident living just a stroke away from the school’s gate said “I have not seen them since this year”.
Like Monday attested, the female resident redirected this reporter to Abuloma Community Town Hall, which, upon inspection, was found to be locked with no sight of any INEC official. “The last time I saw them here was January,” said a woman who sells food stuff just beside the Town Hall, about 25 meters away.
The same situation applies to INEC’s known registration centre at Elekahia, the Elekahia Community Town Hall. Our reporter was told that INEC had since relocated from Elekahia Town Hall to Nkpogu Community Town Hall. On reaching there, no INEC officials were in sight.
Residents around Nkpogu told our reporter that the last time INEC officials were seen at Nkpogu hall was two months back, and that each time they came, they spent about four days registering prospective voters and then disappear for a month or two.
It was gathered that rather than be at their known permanent registration centres, INEC officials utilise the services of town criers in consent with community leaders, notifying community members about INEC’S proposed visit and registration.
“I know that each time they are to come here for registration, a town crier goes round notifying people,” said Mrs Loveth Arimaka who runs a chemist store right opposite Nkpogu Community Town Hall.
However, while this method of voter registration might seem discouraging and strange to the likes of Archibong Monday, INEC in Rivers says the method is its designed approach towards easing associated difficulties.
In recent times, checks by our reporter reveal that over crowding and system failure are among factors challenging supposed seameless registration of eligible adults.
According to INEC’S Head of Department, Voter Education and Publicity in Rivers State, Mr. Edwin Enabor, the unstable registration method is a novel exercise done by INEC’s “mobile units” and aimed at curbing crowd-associated challenges.
Mr. Enabor, who spoke with our reporter via a telephone conversation, said each local government area in Rivers State was initially designed to have only one permanent registration center, but when the commission discovered unprecedented turnout in some areas, eight extra permanent centers were created and shared among high-turnout centres.
He said despite the added eight centres, turnout still outweighed capacity of registration centres, prompting the introduction of mobile registration units.
His words: “As much as possible, the commission is trying to get everyone who is eligible to register. They just have to bear with the crowd, which is what we did not envisage because Nigerians are used to coming in at the wrong time, rushing and all that.
“You know this thing is supposed to be done in just one unit per local government here, but because of all these complaints, the commission added more units. First of all, we had additional eight units, thereafter, we had another 10 units.
“But the beauty of it is that these (last 10) are mobile units. They are not stationed in one place. They move from one location to the other because we want to reduce the crowd.”
Enabor said many registration centres remain crowded because potential voters do not know about the mobile units. “Maybe these people are not aware of this development. We have gone on air. We also usually go to stakeholders (community leaders) in areas before we go there. So they (Community leaders) are the ones who get their people to come to the area (and register). But most of them are still having the mindset that the registration is being done in one center, which is not the case.
“Within PHALGA, for example, we have about six centres. We have three units (from the six) that are moving around covering all the wards. They move from one ward to the other.
“You know you have community leaders and stakeholders in every Community. So we tell them (community leaders) when we are coming to their area and that they should get their people (ready). By the time we get there, we spend a specific time, maybe a week, in your registration area, after that they move to another registration area.”