Nigeria’s national elections, due to be held in February 2019, are already being undermined by reports of mass registration of underage voters in the strongholds of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) admitted on February 14 that underage voters are being registered in parts of the country because the lives of registration officers are being threatened by members of the community.

The Director of Publicity and Voter Education of INEC, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, admitted this during a programme on the African Independent Television titled, ‘Kakaaki.’ Answering questions over pictures and videos on social media showing children registering and voting in the recent local government elections in the northern state of Kano, Osaze-Uzzi said when officials refused to register underage persons, their lives  were threatened by members of the community and they eventually caved in.

The INEC director said, “I agree that it is the responsibility of the registration officer to do that (refuse to register underage persons), but there are times that circumstances are such that where there is present and clear danger that he risks being assaulted or being killed, I think it will be unreasonable to expect him not to succumb to the pressure. But we encourage them to report immediately they get out of that dangerous zone.”

Osazze-Uzzi said INEC had received reports from some members of the National Youth Service Corps taking part in the exercise.

He added that parents came along with their children claiming that their children were over 18 and usually forced registration officers to register the underage children.

The INEC director said, “Even to the untrained eye, that child doesn’t look more than 15, but in such circumstances, you cannot argue too much with them. The law says the registration officer is entitled to act on some kind of identification or birth certificate or proof of age.

“But very often, they are resisted, especially when there are lots of people there. They are challenged in a charged atmosphere and they are there without any protection. Many of them are there in strange communities which they don’t know anything about. So, there is undue pressure on them to register at this point.”

He said the registers were usually inspected by senior INEC officials who could identify underage persons through their facial looks or through assistance from members of the community.

“It is not a complex process, you display the voter register and people come there. That is in addition to the fact that the registration officer can refuse anybody registration. But we don’t expect people to risk their lives for what is essentially a simple patriotic service.”

INEC was given massive credit for managing Nigeria’s March 2015 election, in which Buhari and his Party the All Progressive’s Congress (APC) defeated President Goodluck Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

The admission of underage registration and voting has been met with outrage and the PDP, now in opposition, has advised INEC to review and sanitise its voter register, particularly in Kano and Katsina states to prevent underage people from voting.

Kano and Katsina are the strongholds of President Buhari, who hails from Katsina State, and  videos and pictures on social media platforms recently showed underage persons voting in local government elections in Kano on February 10th.

The PDP said Nigerians had lost confidence in the INEC and condemned the commission for attempting to cover its complicity in the “widespread impunity recorded”, particularly under age voting that characterised the state local council elections.

The party said it was INEC that registered the minors as voters in the first place.

“We want INEC to note, and in very strong terms too, that Nigerians will not accept anything short of credible, free and fair general elections.

“The commission should therefore ensure that it does not allow itself to be used by the ruling APC against the will of the people, particularly in the 2019 elections, as such will be highly resisted.”

Meanwhile, Nigerians on social media have expressed concern over the competence of the INEC to conduct free and fair elections in 2019.

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