The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has kicked against the proposed use of the national identification number (NIN) as a requirement for voter registration.
INEC, in an interview with TheCable, said the move is not backed by law and it does not share its powers to register voters with any other government agency.
The federal government had announced last week that NIN is compulsory for most government transactions, including opening of bank accounts, payment of taxes and voter registration.
Isa Pantami, minister of communications and digital economy, who announced this when he hosted the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, had claimed the policy is backed by law.
According to him, section 27 of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) Act criminalises benefitting from government services as a citizen without NIN.
“This is most important in the area of NIN, which is a mandatory number, based on the NIMC order of 2007 that has actively been neglected for years, ” he had said.
“There’s no identity that will define you as a citizen more than that number. It is mandatory. And it is mandatory for transactions such as opening bank accounts, paying tax, voter registration and many more.”
This minister’s comments unsettled many Nigerians who feared the move might disenfranchise millions of Nigerians who are yet to obtain their NIN.
But Festus Okoye, who is INEC’s national commissioner and chairman of its information and voters education, said such a policy is not recognised by the country’s electoral laws including the 1999 constitution and the Electoral Act.
The commission “does not share its voters registration constitutional powers with any other organ or agency of government,” Okoye told TheCable.
“And no organ of government is permitted to expand or constrict the powers of the commission relating to the registration of voters.
“No organ of government or agency can impose additional registration criteria other than the ones set out in the law. No section of the constitution or the Electoral Act makes the possession of national identity number compulsory for voters’ registration.
“The commission will not accede to any request or directive that will amount to the violation of the constitution and the law. The commission is a creation of the constitution and the law and must at all times maintain fidelity to the laws of the land.
“The constitution and the Electoral Act did not make the possession of a particular form of identification compulsory. The commission is not empowered to impose additional registration conditions other than those imposed by the constitution and the Electoral Act.”
True to Pantami’s argument, section 27 of the NIMC Act of 2007 makes it compulsory for any Nigerian to have their NIN before they are registered to vote.
According to the section, “as from the date specified in that regard in regulations made by the Commission, the National Identification Number issued to a registered individual must be presented for the following transactions, that is- (a) application for, and issuance of a passport; (b) opening of individual or personal bank accounts … (j) payment of taxes; (k) such relevant Government services; and (l) any other transaction which the Commission (NIMC) may so prescribe and list in the Federal Government Gazette.”
However, neither the Electoral Act of 2010 and the 1999 constitution makes any document compulsory for voter registration. The Electoral Act instead gives prospective voters options any of which they can choose to adopt.
Section 10 (2) of the Electoral Act states: “Each applicant for registration under the continuous registration system
shall appear in person at the registration venue with ANY of the following documents, namely—
(a) birth or baptismal certificate; (b) national passport, identity card or driver’s licence; or (c) any other document that will prove the identity, age and nationality of the applicant.”
On the other hand, the constitution which is above any other law in the country, lists the attainment of 18 years of age and residence in Nigeria as the only requirement for citizens to register to cast their vote in elections.
Section 77(2) states: “Every citizen of Nigeria, who has attained the age of eighteen years residing in Nigeria at the time of the registration of voters for purposes of election to a legislative house, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election.”
Therefore, unless the 1999 constitution is amended to accommodate the provision of the NIMC Act of 2007, the legality of the government’s plan to make NIN compulsory for voter registration will remain subject to debate.