The proliferation of NNPC Mega stations across the country, was initiated because of their very many attendant benefits, in terms of the provision and efficient delivery of adequate petroleum products across the country. Perennial fuel scarcity, year in year out, brought to the fore, the so many conspiracy theories and sabotage, that had arisen from the independent or private sector driven distribution of petroleum products across Nigeria. The smuggling of petrol to neighbouring countries, where per litre, it is almost 200 naira more expensive, than it is locally; has encouraged the diversion of petrol to Niger and Benin Republic. NNPC not only took over the importation of petroleum products, but is also partaking in its distribution across the country. This has stabilised the supply and pricing of petrol, as Mega stations have ensured the availability of petrol, at moderate or competitive prices. The more Mega stations there are in a particular state capital or local government headquarters, the greater the availability of petroleum products in that location.
The Mega stations policy, is what could help in easing banking operations’ difficulties, in terms of the management of customers and their basic needs; aside the availability of digital banking technologies like Internet banking and the use of Automated Teller Machines. Even the ATMs are inadequate and few and far between, with most as either dysfunctional or outdated, while a lot many act as ‘grave-portals’ for ATM cards. Cashier desks inside the banking halls are also usually inadequate, causing queues and congestion, anytime there is a need for ‘in-person’ banking. All the banks are culpable in this regard and some are more guilty of this than others, but generally– the trend is the same! With GTB declaring N239.7 billion as profit in 2021, surely the banks could do more to ease congestion, and improve on their customer care services.
Today, INEC is facing very similar problems in terms of congestion– especially as heralded by covid– and also the inadequacy of polling units across the country, which is responsible to a very large extent, for voter suppression. There has been a huge surge in the number of registered voters, with a whopping 84 million voters. This of course poses a unique threat to conclusive, all inclusive and credible elections. In recent times, INEC has showcased a great deal of re-invention and automation; embracing the optimisation of processes, in an IT driven era of the 21st century. In the off-season polls in Ondo state, we saw the deployment of Z-pads, by which electoral officers keyed in data from their respective polling units, onto an INEC portal, where we viewed the results in real-time, on the commission’s website, as voting progressed. This of course eliminates the manipulation of result sheets, and provides for the authentication of collated data, directly from the polling units. The incidences of theft of results, while being transported to collation centres, is also eliminated.
As it is, a grossly inadequate 120,000 polling units have been in existence since 1996, that were meant to cater for a population of 50 million. Today, we obviously need almost double that figure. Over 9,777 applications for the creation of more polling units have been received by INEC. This proves a genuine concern and need for more polling units. Moreover, the covid regime of social distancing and other protocols, is inevitably going to have dire consequences, on this shortage of polling units across the country. The Ekiti bye elections and the violence that ensued, is another glaring pointer, that has alluded to the need for more polling units that would ease out congestion, electoral fraud, and violence. More polling units would see to fewer voters on a particular queue, along with a timely accreditation of eligible voters. Fewer crowds would not only be in conformity with Covid protocols, but would also reduce overcrowding, as an enabler for thuggery and violence. It would also make it easier for the identification of the culprits involved in criminal activities around voting points, in a less congested vicinity.
Several attempts made by the Electoral commission before now, did not yield any results as it was misunderstood or poorly communicated. It wasn’t done in a timely manner, in good enough time, before the round of elections. As a result, the awareness and sensitization drive of the commission in this effort, fell short. Now, Prof. Mahmoud as a good student of history (a professor in history actually), has taken the prudent step of an early campaign for the increased polling units project. Various stakeholders, of course including the National Assembly, are being engaged as per the need for more polling units across the country. Political party leaders are also being briefed adequately as some may have believed before now that the exercise would favor one party, or some parties, over others. Prof. Mahmoud has briefed them that in countries all over the world, polling units are being increased regularly, after every voter registration exercise. In most cases, studies are conducted before every round of elections, to ascertain the number of additional polling units needed.
Without any doubt, INEC, this time around is properly positioned to ably sensitise stakeholders and the general public, on the need and importance of more polling units or points. As a fellow GARU man, I am not only proud of Professor’s achievements so far at INEC, but dare to say that the commission has never had it better; under the Chairmanship of Prof. M Yakub. But time shall tell.
Tahir is Talban Bauchi.