Impact of Voter Register on 2023 Elections

By Wahab Shittu, SAN

The election, which is a feature of a democratic government, acts as a viable tool for change and the decision of the majority. Nigeria is no stranger to election given that such is the common means of appointment of leaders into political positions. However, only those eligible are allowed to partake in such means of political change. Whilst enfranchisement is encouraged and practised in Nigeria, there are still requirements to be fulfilled in order to enable qualified citizens to exercise their franchise. An example of which is voter registration leading to the inclusion of the detailed particulars of a person in the voter register.

In Nigeria, the voter register draws its legality from the Electoral Act, 2022. Thus, it is pertinent to the electoral process in the country; the breach of which depending on the nature of the breach could mar an electoral process. It is, therefore, necessary that in order to secure participation in the election process in the country the name of such prospective voter appears in the voter register. The recently updated register of voters, which was provided by the Independent National Electoral Commission, revealed that a total of 93.4 million people are eligible to participate in the forthcoming general elections, and this article will examine the register and how it impacts on election process.

Section 9 of the Electoral Act, 2022 identifies the voter register to be a document stating the names of those eligible to participate in the voting exercise in the country. This register is created by the INEC and also kept at the national headquarters of the commission. The register, in conformation with the technological development of the age, takes an electronic form as well as a paper form. The register is further broken down into parts containing a register of voters for each state, and the register of voters for each state of the federation is also broken into various parts which contain another voter register for each local government or area council in the state.

The particulars of an eligible voter, required by the commission, are also imputed into the register. Some particulars include the name of the voter, photograph, gender, occupation, and age amongst others for the purpose of identification. The requirement for the inclusion of the particulars curbs the participation of fictitious characters in the electoral process and also helps raise awareness to prompt the removal of those who are ineligible to partake in the voting exercise.

The register of voter is mandated to be free from alteration within 90 days to any general election, thus prohibiting the registration of voters or revision of the list within those days.

The right to vote is a right constitutionally available to citizens resident in the country. However, the right in itself is not exercisable, and it is only exercisable upon the fulfillment of certain requirements. Therefore, while a person above the age of 18 can vote in Nigeria, such a person does not merely advance to the polling unit to cast his vote; such person must fulfill the precondition of registration as a voter.

Furthermore, disenfranchisement involves the deprivation of one’s right and in this circumstance, one’s right to vote in an election. The requirement of the appearance of the details of an individual in the register of voter as a prerequisite to voting in Nigeria draws its validity from the legislature; therefore, rendering null the argument that the requirement of registration causes, encourages, or sponsors disenfranchisement. The court has also stated that to be disenfranchised involves a situation where an individual is validly registered to vote but was not allowed to vote in the election and to prove such, a voter register must be presented as evidence with his voter card, amongst others.

The Electoral Act, 2022, is the legislation that guides the activities involved in the electoral process. It gives life to the voter register as well as its uses in elections. Section 15 is a mandatory provision requiring the certified true copy of the voter register to be made and forwarded to the state, local government, or area council.

Ballot papers are only issued to those whose name appears on the voter register within that polling unit. After the casting of vote by an individual, it would be indicated on the register that such a person has cast his vote and failure to follow this procedure is a valid ground to challenge the counting of votes cast in such a polling unit.

The issuance of voter cards as directed in Section 16 of the Electoral Act, 2022, is also upon the fulfillment of the inclusion of details of an individual in the register of voters. Consequently, the validity of a voter card is traced to the existence of the individual’s name in the register of voters. Where a voter card is given to an individual without prior consultation in the register of voters, such card is null, as there is still a subsequent consultation of the register of voters before a ballot paper will be given to such a cardholder. Such a card is further made null as the register of a voter is required to identify the voter’s constituency. It is for this reason that a voter cannot vote in a constituency not ascribed as the voter’s constituency. In addition, the number of votes cast at a polling unit must not exceed the number of voters contained in the register of voters. Cancellation of the result of a polling unit is retained as a consequence in the Act where the number of vote cast exceeds the number in the register.

The particulars of the register are also displayed at each polling unit for the scrutiny of the public and failure to effect such action is met with sanctions. There are also sanctions for the inclusion in the register of the names of people who are not eligible to partake in voting exercises. Such sanction is imposed on those possessing knowledge of the absence of their eligibility but went ahead to supply false information in order to avail themselves a spot at the voting exercise. The Act also provides protection for those seeking to fulfill this threshold for election participation, thus it provides that the prevention of a person from having his name entered into the register without lawful justification attracts the sanction of a minimum of N500,000 fine or at most five years imprisonment.

The frenzy that ravages Nigeria at every four years’ interval returned to the country due to the upcoming presidential election. Whilst the register of voters has been officially utilised in determining the eligibility of people to vote, it has also been consulted by political analysts to determine the level of participation of the populace in the electoral process of the country. INEC stated that the particulars of 93.4 million resident citizens were contained in the register of voters out of a 213 million populace. The North-West with 22.5 million voters boasts as the highest number of eligible voters. Following the North-West is the South West with 17.95 million eligible voters. The region with the least number of eligible voters is the South-East with 10.90 million eligible voters. The number revealed a continued progression in participation as 2019 and 2015 recorded a total number of 84 million and 68 million eligible voters respectively.

However, the total number of eligible voters when compared with the total population of Nigeria reveals that more than half of the total population is yet to participate in the election process of the country. Stating that the result of the election reveals the opinion of the majority on the policy of the country will therefore be farfetched, thus leaving a key feature of democracy to be deficient. When compared with the 2019 elections, there is a slight increase in terms of the number of registered voters across the six geopolitical zones.

The number of registered voters in the six geopolitical zones in 2019 stood as follows: North-West 20,158,100 registered voters; South-West 16,292,212 registered voters; North-Central 13,366,070 registered voters; South-South 12,841,279 registered voters; North-East 11,289, 293 registered voters; South-East 10,057,130 registered voters. The total is 84,004,084 registered voters.

Despite the increase in the current number of registered voters, the regions still maintained their positions and this is a pointer to the fact that the 2023 elections could be largely decided by voters from the North-West and South-West regions. The register of voters will play a more active legal role during the election as it is pertinent to the casting of vote by a voter and the admissibility of the result of a polling unit. The voter register will also be utilised in identifying cases of disenfranchisement that occurred during the election process. Therefore, it is a useful piece of evidence in election tribunals to dispute the result of an election.

Shittu teaches jurisprudence and international law at the University of Lagos


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