How foreigners registered to vote in 2023 Nigerian elections

How foreigners registered to vote in 2023 Nigerian elections

How foreigners registered to vote in 2023 Nigerian elections

By Yemi Sodeeq

Without a thorough audit of the voter register before the 2023 general elections, many foreigners who are already in possession of Nigerian permanent voter registration cards will cast their ballots.

In Kosubosu, a border community in Baruteen Local Government Area of Kwara State, a number of foreigners from the Republic of Benin have registered to vote, The Informat247 has found.

“Since I have stayed here for 3 years and I will still be here after 2023, I decided to get a voter card and participate in the coming elections,” a 23-year-old Beninese who is a farm worker in Kosubosu told The Informant247.

Many of the Beninese who have registered to vote speak Bariba as the Nigerians in these border communities. Some of them who spoke on the condition of anonymity acknowledged their wrongdoing but said they were motivated by the monetary inducement from politicians during the elections.

The Informant247 could not figure out the number of Beninese citizens who have registered to vote in the 2023 general elections in Kosubosu but local observers said the number could be significant to influence the outcome of the elections in the area.

Earlier this month, the Nigerian Immigration Service said it arrested some foreign nationals with voter card

The Comptroller of Immigration in Oyo State, Isha Dansuleiman, said those arrested had been repatriated, adding that the exercise to arrest any foreign national in possession of such document was continuing.

“Foreigners must not be involved in the 2023 general elections,” he said. “You are allowed to stay in Nigeria provided you have your documents, but that does not make you a Nigerian.”

Porous border, cultural affinity aid Baruba-speaking Beninese to acquire Nigeria voting rights

Nigeria is bordered by Benin Republic at Chikanda in Baruteen Local Government Area of Kwara State.

The proximity between communities in Baruteen, Nigeria, and the Benin Republic has over the years occasioned the unrestricted flow of the Beninese in and out of Nigeria. Not only that some of the border towns share the same culture and language, they have also established a cross-country marriage with each other, hence an age-long relationship.

Immigration officers look on while foreigners move in and out of Nigeria via Kenu Sinau road
Immigration officers look on while foreigners move in and out of Nigeria via Kenu Sinau road

The Informant247 correspondent observed the porosity of the route from Okuta through Kenu in Nigeria to Kabo and Nikki in Benin Republic. Despite the presence of immigration, customs, and other security officials, it was easy for anyone to move in and out of Nigeria – without a passport or any travel document through the route.

“Going to Benin Republic isn’t an issue,” Aminat Ibrahim, a 40-year-old resident of Ilesha Baruba told The Informant247. “We move in and out freely. I was there last month for a wedding. We marry each other and do things together. Except for maybe the traditional rulers, we live peacefully. In fact, my three children and I have Benin Republic citizenship and an international passport. We are one people that found ourselves in two countries,”

Ibrahim claimed that Baruba-speaking Beninese also possess Nigerian passports and voter registration cards.

Boarder Police Post of Benin Republic
Boarder Police Post of Benin Republic

“Sometimes it is not that they come from their country purposely because of the voter card or to vote. But what used to happen is that someone already in Nigeria and living here decided to register and there was nothing anyone could do about it,” she said.

No verification – anyone can turn up for registration

Section 1 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended empowers INEC to carry out voter registration exercises for eligible persons. The criteria for eligibility are (1) Nigerian citizenship, (2) residency in Nigeria, and (3) attainment of a minimum age of 18 years.

But previous registration exercises, including the last one that ended in July, did not make provision for the presentation of any form of evidence to verify the eligibility of persons. As a result, foreigners found their way onto the list of registered voters.

INEC office Kosubosu 1
INEC office Kosubosu

Observers told the Informant247 that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ought to properly verify persons who turn up for the voter registration exercise, but due to the negligence of the commission and immigration officials, the country has already recorded several nationals of Benin who are either in possession or will soon get a Nigerian permanent voter card.

“I went to do my registration at KosuBosu, our local government headquarters. When I got there, the officials didn’t ask me for any means of identification,” said Yunusa Habeeb, a farmer from Bakuro in the area. “They just ask for my age, where I will be voting, and some other basic questions. I expected to see some immigration officials, but that didn’t happen.”

Habeeb continued: “I even saw some guys from Benin Republic there. They are my friends. Though they have been staying in Nigeria for a while now – maybe close to 7 months. I think they want to get the card so that they will be voting next year since they will be in Nigeria.”

When asked if people come in freely from the borders on elections day, he responded, “No. Not at all. A few days before the election, they will shut the border and close all the roads. No one will be able to come into or leave Nigeria again until after the polls. That is why, when the election is approaching, all these Benin people you see around will leave and those at the other part too will return home – they usually don’t want to be trapped.”

For Abdullahi Mohammed, the case wasn’t different. He owned a big farm in Sinau-Kenu where 10 Beninese worked for him.

He pointed out that the Beninese have always come around to work for a while after which they would go back to their country, adding that some of them have also acquired Nigerian voters card even though they are only in Nigeria to work.

“They don’t need any work or residency permits. Not even travel documents,” Mohammed said. “Some of them also have voter cards because no one will ask during the time of registration whether they are Nigerian or not,” he added.

“Most of them – including some of my guys here – went to the registration centre in Kosubosu to register for the card. There were no immigration officials there to check them. Although not all of them staying here care for the voter cards. The ones that are interested in it have no problem getting one,” he said.

When The Informant247 visited the INEC office in Kosubosu, the official refused to comment on the issue, saying any information needed can only be obtained at the state office in Ilorin.

They will not be able to vote even if they scale through the PVC registration – INEC

Garba Attahiru
Garba Attahiru

The Residential Electoral Chairman of INEC in Kwara State, Garba Attahiru said even if foreigners were able to register, they won’t be able to vote in the state.

“If you’re not a Nigerian, you can’t register. That is why I have immigration on my committee to arrest them. Even if they are able to register, I will find out that they will not vote,” Garba said.

He, however, insisted that no foreigners were able to register in the last voter registration exercise in the state.

Despite several residents’ claims that immigration officers were not present at the registration point in Kosubosu and no form of identity – as prescribed by the electoral law – was requested from the registrant, Garba insisted that the INEC staff followed due process during the registration exercise.

“They are lies. If it is true, bring me the person who is not a Nigerian that registered and I will order his arrest and that of my staff that registered him and jail them. They know this is what I can do. None of my staff will try it. They dare not do it and they know me,” he said.

This report was published with support from the Civic Media Lab.

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