Barely two months to the much-awaited 2019 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has again raised the alarm regarding possession of voter cards by some foreigners residing in the country.
Independent reports that addressing a group of youth ambassadors and celebrities at an interactive session in collaboration with the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) recently in Lagos, a National Commissioner of INEC who also Coordinates the commission’s Outreach and Partnership Committee, Dr.Adekunle Ogunmola disclosed that some foreigners who attempted registering as voters were apprehended and that unspecified number of foreigners; more than hitherto anticipated, may actually be in possession of voter cards.
It is recalled that the National Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu had, at the commencement of the recently concluded continuous voters’ registration, expressed concern over possession of PVCs by foreigners.
The INEC chairman disclosed the commission had received large numbers of PVCs which were intercepted by the Nigeria Immigration Service.It is therefore instructive that the latest confirmation by INEC is coming at the heels of similar disclosure by the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) whose Comptroller General, Muhammad Babandede recently said in Abuja that the agency has retrieved more than 700 voter cards from non-Nigerians.
Without doubt, possession of voter cards by foreigners compromises the electoral process and therefore calls for vigilance by security agencies and the citizens as well. Nonetheless, illegal possession of PVCS by foreigners could hardly be possible without the connivance of vested interests whose primary interest is to undermine the electoral process through manipulation of the voters’ register.
In actual fact, infiltration of voters’ register by foreigners ought to have been anticipated considering the influx of illegal aliens into Nigeria from neighbouring countries. For some of the illegal immigrants; particularly from neighbouring countries who seek greener pastures in Nigeria on regular basis, possession of voter cards has become one of the means of legitimizing their stay in Nigeria.
While possession of voter cards by some of these foreigners are done in collusion with Nigerians as a way of securing electoral advantage, these foreigners also deploy such possession to enhance unimpeded entry into Nigeria. While socio-cultural as well as linguistic affinity of aliens from neighbouring countries remains a huge factor in the perpetration of illicit acquisition of voter cards, the fact also remains that the challenge has been heightened by the porous nature of the country’s borders coupled with the prevailing lack of effective oversight by immigration.
It is indeed worrisome that apprehension over possession of voter cards by foreigners is coming to the fore at a time INEC seems to be grabbling with quite a number of challenges in the build up to crucial elections in the quest to deepen electoral democracy.
It must be acknowledged that the election management body is already confronted with too many distractions, which ordinarily should have been prevented by other law enforcement agencies. In a situation where everybody seems to expect INEC to deliver credible election, it ought to be taken for granted that foreigners would find it almost practically impossible to undermine voters’ register and thereby compound the challenge of organizing free, fair and credible elections.
The implication of large number of voter cards in the hands of foreigners is manifestly grave for credible outcome of the coming elections; particularly the presidential poll.
Therefore, all stakeholders in the electoral process must accept the responsibility of ensuring proper vigilance in the respective domains. A more effective way of mobilizing vigilance against illegal voting by foreigners is for INEC and other partners in the electoral process such as National Orientation Agency (NOA) and the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria (BON)to immediately embark on sensitization of the electorate and the general public on the need for vigilance.
Regardless of the sheer numbers of the foreigners who are in possession of illicit voter cards, INEC with the support of relevant security agencies must be seen to be taking decisive steps to forestall the undermining of the forthcoming exercise through illicit voting by foreigners. Since it is now evident that likelihood of illicit voting by foreigners is, more or else, a matter of gravity rather than speculation, we would expect civil society and stakeholders to prioritize vigilance and monitoring of foreign mercenary voters as part of their oversight function in the electoral process.