The preparations for the 2023 general elections have really shown that the country and indeed the people are yearning for credible transition and better leadership at the end of the exercise.
One of such steps in the right direction is the introduction of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) technology which would ensure one man – one vote.
With the system which is relatively strange, especially to the Third World countries such as Nigeria, adequate education and sensitization is needed to keep stakeholders and all the parties involved in the electoral processes abreast with the requisites of the new system.
For the system to yield the anticipated effect, which is ensuring free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria, voter registration and collection of Permanent Voter Card (PVC) by every adult Nigerian is of the essence.
It is, however, lamentable that most persons of such ages are absolutely ignorant of their rights and power to contribute to the much anticipated change using the PVC.
From the survey by this reporter, it has been an uphill task to convince registered voters to see the need to collect their cards at the stipulated INEC Centres which are majorly the commission’s offices in different Local Government Areas.
Visits to collection centres in different wards all over Akwa Ibom state from the 12th to the 18th of November, 2022 showed that 99 per cent of the PVC’s were not collected at the time.
Random surveys in Uyo, Itu, Ibesikpo Asutan and other LGAs in Akwa Ibom State showed that some centres recorded almost zero activities during the one week ward collection window before it was extended.
At Mbak Atai Centre in Ward Seven, Itu LGA, INEC representatives were seen complaining that for the first four days of the exercise, only one person had come for identification and collection of PVC, out of over a thousand cards that were lying unclaimed.
At ward One, Uyo LGA, whose centre was Aka Road, open field, less than 20 persons had identified and collected their PVCs as at the time of visit by the reporter, out of thousands of unclaimed cards.
The slow pace of PVC collection in the state and county at large was so obvious, hence, the outcry by the INEC National Commissioner, Mrs. May Mbu, during a town hall meeting with electoral stakeholders..
The Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state, Mr. Cyril Omoregbe, expressed optimism on the success of the collection of PVCs in the state during a meeting with some journalists.
He assured that the cards would be collected and disclosed his resolve to invite the leaders of all the political parties in the state to sensitize them on modalities to get their members to collect their PVCs before elections.
INEC, however, has not rested on its oars to ensure that those who registered see reasons to collect their PVCs. They have taken voter education and sensitization to a higher level by going to markets, parks, road shows, apart from official announcements, jingles and other forms of publicity in the media.
They have also insisted on preferential treatment for the aged, persons living with disabilities, pregnant women and nursing mothers at the collection centres.
In recognition of the fact that election is not an all INEC affair, other stakeholders in the process such as the media, NGO among others have thought it wise to partner the electoral umpire to ensure a successful 2023 general election.
A Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) under the auspices of the Pan African Women’s Project (PAWP), during the Yuletide season took it upon itself to partner with INEC Gender and Inclusivity Department, to take the PVC collection sensitisation exercise to markets, parks and streets of town, where women and youths gather the most.
The sensitisation team led a crusade to Akpan Andem market, Etagha Itam, Ibom Plaza, among other thickly populated areas to preach the need to be armed with PVC and be a part of decision making in the coming elections.
The head of missions of the gender-based NGO, Dr. Eno Udensi, who spoke to this reporter, said the advocacy come on the heels of the many complaints that PVCs are not accessible by intending voters and the fact that an outrageous number of registered PVCs over the years are still lying unclaimed at INEC outlets across the country.
Eno, who was cornered by our reporter during a sensitisation exercise in Etagha Itam market, sees lack of information and proper education as the reason for the slow pace of PVC collection in the state and the country in general.
According to her, INEC has tried its best by making the cards available in their offices and outlets but the problem is for the registered voters to know when to collect their cards, hence the need for sensitisation.
“Pan African Women Project is a gender-based NGO from the 54 nations of Africa including Nigeria. We have partnered with electoral bodies over the years, we promote sustainable democracy in Africa, we observe elections, we sensitize voters especially; women, youths and persons with disabilities.
“In the aspect of PVC, we had an experience in Ekiti and Osun States. We were there as an international observant group and we saw that many PVCs were not collected. We know that INEC has done so much, so we said to them: ‘we are going to take it up’.
“We know that the people that vote in general elections are women and youths, not just ordinary women but women from the grassroots. Many professors don’t vote but they criticize the government. All these women you are seeing in this market have registered and are ready to vote. Many of them have PVCs in their bags and many are yet to collect.
“We decided to partner with the Gender and Inclusivity Department of INEC at the national level, we started with the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), we choose two states in each geographical zone to sensitize women, youths and persons with disabilities,” she explained.
The NGO, which engaged several strategies including one on one engagement, spreading of fliers, open-air announcements, jingles and finally, gathering the people under canopies, practically were able to reach thousands of people and get their issues resolved.
Eno was able to boost the hopes of the many people by educating them that the cards were released in batches and that the final batch before the 2023 elections would be released before the end of December 2022.
When the final batches were taken delivery, with the information and the fact that their frustrations were addressed, confidence was rebuilt, the January window of PVCs collection in respective LGAs in the state was receiving a huge positive response.
The latest survey shows that voters are struggling to meet up with the two weeks opening for collection at the ward centres. Long queues were seen in all the centers with some party leaders on hand to help organize prospective voters to ensure smooth collection exercise.
Some INEC officials who spoke on the exercise, expressed satisfaction hoping that at least 90 per cent of the cards would be collected except those who may have died, relocated or incapacitated.
Other electoral stakeholders like political leaders, party elders, traditional rulers, women leaders among others are not left out of the PVC collection campaign hence the huge success.
Mr Ekom Umoh, the Public Affairs officer of INEC, Akwa Ibom State, expressed gratitude to the Pan African Women team for birthing such an idea and putting the interest of the people first.
In his words: “The introduction of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS), will make this year’s election the most credible, and your PVC is your determining factor”.
He further urged those who had registered, revalidated or transferred their voter registration cards and are yet to collect their cards, to approach their respective ward headquarters to obtain them as all the cards have been taken delivery from Abuja..
The INEC Gender Desk Officer, Mrs. Uduak Akpabio, assured the women that no one will do anything with their PVC, because the BVAS has come to stay. She urged everyone to go and collect their PVC.
“Those buying PVCs from people are doing vain jobs. They cannot use it for anything. With the BVAS technology, your identity will be verified, you will be accredited, and after voting, the results will be transmitted electronically to the national office.
“Don’t sell your PVC to anybody because you will not vote without your PVC. The person buying it only wants to stop you from voting in the election,” Akpabio cautioned.
On the media scene, the International Press Center (IPC) in collaboration with the European Union (EU) under E-U Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (E-U SDGN 11) Support to media, Electoral stakeholders, female aspirants et cetera, organized a workshop which took place in all the political zones of the country.
The EU-Support to Media saw a two-day skill enhancing and capacity- building/mentoring workshop for female journalists held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State for the South-South, South West and South East zones, between November 7 and 8, 2022.
The workshop, which aimed at “exposing female journalists to the rudiments of effective reportage and mentorship preparatory to reporting the 2023 electoral processes,” was organised by the International Press Centre, IPC, with support from the European Union-Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria, EU-SDGN ll, in partnership with the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists, NAWOJ.
The workshop harped on the need for female journalists and indeed all journalists to focus on accurate, balanced and factual reporting of the upcoming general elections.
Executive Director of the International Press Centre, IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade urged participants to be the much needed change agents by carrying out proper investigation so as to arrive at credible information.
He advised them to do everything possible to fight fake news, provide voter education to the public, and encourage underrepresented groups like women, youths and persons with disabilities, to vote in the election.
In her presentation titled: ‘Factual Accuracy and Combating Fake News: The place of fact-checking and data use in reporting of 2023 elections,’ the Deputy Editor, Africa-Check, Mrs. Motunrayo Joel, advised journalists to always fact-check information already in public domain so that they will not misinform or disinform the public.-