The race to 2023 tightens as Nigerians prepare to head to the poll for the general elections; one that many experts have described as a crucial election.
An important part of this election is collecting the permanent voter’s card for all those
already registered. According to the Independent Electoral Commission, 84,004,084 Nigerians are registered and the expectation is for them all to collect their PVCs to be able to vote come February the 25th.
It is less than 8 weeks to that election. Time is running out for intending voters who have
not collected their PVCs. More and more Nigerians are eager to vote and for the first time ever, more people are collecting their Permanent Voter’s Cards.
“ I think there has been a new spirit and a new resurgence. More people are interested in collecting their permanent voter’s cards now than we recorded before. The resident electoral commissioners in the various states of the federation have been sending daily reports of PVC collections from all the
local government areas of the country. We have a fair idea of the rate of collection per local government in every state of the federation. We are really encouraged by the fact that more Nigerians are coming out to come and collect their permanent voter’s cards.” Festus Okoye, Commissioner for Voter
Information and Education for the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC,
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?
Nigerians have only 4 days left to collect their PVCs. The collection now closes on the 29th of January, 2023. But several thousands of Nigerians have not collected their PVCs. It opened up for collection from the 12th of December to January the 22nd before it was extended to 29th of January. Many argued that the timeframe is too short giving the challenges they assumed they would face. And no doubts, the challenges did exist. (As at today, The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, cannot determine
the percentage of cards collected or not collected. It plans to publish the data two weeks to election when the collection period is closed).
I visited a popular local government, Eti-Osa Local government Area of Lagos State, where
collection of cards are ongoing. It is nothing short of chaos-the long queues, the different
stands to queue on, the angry crowd left unattended, several INEC officials busy sorting cards, attending to several complaints and yet completely overwhelmed. From the point of entry to the exit, intending voters hoping to pick up their cards seem to have met several hurdles and irregularities.
For C. John, on his profile on the INEC’s page online, it says his card was ready for pick up.
He would take permission for a day out of work to get it all sorted. But after 4 hours, he is told by an official that his card was “omitted”. “I asked the official what that meant? He said INEC did not print my card! I think this is a systematic disenfranchisement. If my card is not yet printed and elections is less than two months, how can I possibly vote? In this same polling unit, I see officials with tons of cards in their pockets. They pick and choose who to give. There is a lot of corruption going on here.”
Ifeanyi’s wife was called but he couldn’t collect it because INEC does not allow collection by proxy. They will both return next day and the card is declared “Omitted.” “I think these guys really don’t want people to be able to vote. They are too shocked to see many people coming to pick up their cards in order to vote and these guys are trying all they can to frustrate us. These people are doing the bidding of their pay masters to systematically disenfranchise us. My wife’s name was called here yesterday. I was there. I went to pick it up with her identity card to prove she is my wife. But they refused and I understand that. We came back today and this officer (pointing to an INEC Official) came back with a paper written “Omitted” and said my wife’s card was omitted. How? They called it yesterday! This is fraudulent. There is fraud going on in this Eti-Osa Local Government. We know it, go on twitter, people know this LGA. There is massive fraud going on here”
Odukoya got his card after several attempts. He had to print the temporary slip 3 times.
Each printing costs N500 (USD1.2). After all that, an official told him his card was not found. “I refused and I insisted that I will wait. What they do is come out with fewer cards and more papers indicating “not found”. I had to print and re-print the slip again. After a while, another guy shows up and gives me my card. There are so many people here who won’t get their cards. Go in there, you would find INEC officials wearing caps and T-shirts representing a certain candidate. Why? Is INEC not supposed to be neutral? Who is INEC in Eti-Osa LGA working for?”
This allegation of officials working for a political party is one that I confronted the Resident Electoral Commissioner with. She says no one works for any political party and the electoral officers here remain neutral.
WHY IS THE PROCESS THIS SLOW?
The crowd is growing and in my 3 hours of stay observing and interviewing people, I did not see up to 20 persons who collected their cards. Some did but were too angry to speak to me.
Even though the Permanent Voters’ Cards are chip based and maybe high-tech, it is rather
surprising to see that there are no other ways of sorting thousands and thousands of these
cards but manually.
“You have seen the crowds outside, you have seen these thousands of cards too, we sort
them by hand. People need to be patient. I try to sensitize them to try and be patient. We work everyday including weekends. We are really trying our best to serve the people”. The
resident electoral officer, Folayemi Bisoye would tell me.
But there are also allegations of corrupt practices. And to fast track the process, one can pay some money to get it done. Mathew tells me that even at the registration phase in this same centre, he had to pay to get it done swiftly. “We had waited for well over 5 hours and nothing was happening. We thought among ourselves what can we do? We raised about N10, 000 (USD22) and gave this officer and in less than 20 minutes, all of us, I mean every one of us was registered. It is all business! These guys are ripping people off too this time. They go in there, carry several cards and distribute to those who have paid them. And you wonder why cards are found in the gutters and several places? Corruption! Today, I was even ready to pay to get my card but these guys cannot find my card. They said it is missing!”
WHAT IS NEXT?
For missing cards and those omitted, the affected persons are required to write their names and numbers which according to Bisoye is forwarded to the headquarters for a reprinting.
With less than two weeks to the closure of the collection of the PVCs and the elections only
about 7 weeks away, how realistic is this? Bisoye tells me it is possible but of course those affected believe they cannot partake in these key elections as their card cannot be ready then.
INEC’s position remains that no voter’s card, no voting regardless of the circumstances. With these issues of massive irregularities, millions of Nigerians may be disenfranchised.
However, those who have collected their PVCs now have to make it counting by coming out
to vote en masse.
The road ahead to 2023 is indeed getting even more tougher.