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Nigeria Registers Voters for 2007 Polls

Some 60 million eligible Nigerian voters are expected to visit 120,000 polling centers to register as Nigeria begins the long-awaited voters registration exercise. Some question marks have been raised about the exercise.

The Independent National Electoral Commission has designated 120,000 polling units as registration points, but ordered only 33,000 electronic voting machines.

This means, several registration centers may not have the machines to register voters and have to wait for the voting to be completed in other areas before they can take their turn.

The electoral commission says the electronic registration of voters for the first time in Nigeria could be the solution to problems associated with voters registration in Nigeria, such as multiple registration.

Oye Bamiji of the electoral commission says Nigeria now stands a very good chance of compiling a more credible voters' register.

"The arrangement for now, is that we are using a different device which would check double registration," he said. "You can only register in a place and this machine we are using; it gives all the bio-data of an individual. So, it is not even convenient for an individual to go round and say he will register in another place. The machine will capture the picture, capture the fingerprint and all other data needed, in terms of age, sex, address and occupation. So, we believe the arrangement is far better than the previous method. We have a machine for four units for a period of 14 days."

Many Nigerians have questioned the commission's ability to conduct free and fair elections. There is a lot of concern that voters registration is only now happening, less than six months to crucial election next April.

Abuja-based lawyer, Maxi Okwu, who is also national chairman of a coalition of 22 opposition parties known as the Patriotic Alliance, says the machines could malfunction and that could put the elections at risk.

"With this voter re-registration, it appears something is lurking," he said. "One is that the machines seem to be collapsing all over the place that is what I get in the media. They are not capturing the date as fast as they ought to, and the machines seem not to be coping with the pressure of work. I hope that they do everything possible to see that the machines are in place as promised. Because if that exercise fails, that is the end of the whole exercise, we can't have elections."

About 60 million voters were registered in the last exercise in 2002. The electoral commission had rejected eighth million applications because of double registration and other irregularities.

To be eligible to register, each potential voter must be a Nigerian and be at least 18 years of age.

The 2007 elections would be the first time an elected president hands over to another. Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, returned to civil democracy in May, 1999 after decades of military rule.