The passion to participate in the forthcoming elections scheduled for February and March this year has made many Nigerians to register as voters. In fact, the last registration exercise witnessed an unprecedented improvement in numbers when compared to the past exercises.
Many Nigerians who have participated in the registration exercise are however currently facing hardship in the collection of their Permanent Voter Cards, (PVC).
INEC has warned that there will be no room for voting without PVC and this has made many people to show desperation in getting their cards ready before the poll kicks off in about six weeks.
Reports across the country indicate that many people are finding it difficult to obtain the PVC after initially going through the pain of registering their names. But with patience and perseverance, Nigerians are getting their PVCs especially with the extension offered by INEC for the collection at the ward level.
Across the country, the turnout of residents ranged from low, to moderate and high. The distribution was smooth in wards where the turnout was low but herculean in wards with high turnout of residents.
Many citizens, who trooped to their wards to collect their Permanent Voters Cards, PVCs, expressed fears that they may not be able to vote during next month’s presidential election and the state election in March this year.
To them, getting PVCs has become a tug of war. Most of them said they are not sure that they will get the cards.
They complained of the crowd as being too large. To them, though INEC has been telling people to go and collect their PVCs, it has not made it easy for people to do so.
Many have also expressed their frustration having gone to the Local Government for days without success.
In Lagos, some residents complained that the collection centres are too far from the places they registered and that having gone there more than two times and unable to collect the cards, they have already given up.
Others complained that INEC officials were not organized, accusing INEC of trying to disenfranchise people.
It was also gathered that those who could afford to pay, paid money to some agents who collect peoples’ slips and go inside to bring their cards. Some, who couldn’t pay, stayed outside the gate waiting endlessly.
Some, it was gathered, paid as high as N3000 while some paid more to collect their cards.
Another thing that played out according to the report is the issue of tribal sentiment as most of the people waiting endlessly were said to be non-indigenes.
But having followed the complaints of would-be voters and as a way of allowing more people to get their Voter Cards, INEC has extended the deadline for the collection of PVCs until Sunday 29th January 2023.
The electoral umpire earlier fixed the collection deadline at Sunday, 22nd January, 2023.
The Commission said it is determined to ensure that registered voters have ample opportunity to collect their PVCs ahead of the forthcoming election.
“For this reason, the time-frame for the collection of PVCs is extended by eight days,” INEC National Commissioner, Festus Okoye, said in a statement.
“Instead of ending on Sunday 22nd January 2023, the collection of PVCs will continue until Sunday 29th January 2023. At the moment, the period of collection is 9.00 am – 3.00 pm daily (including Saturdays and Sundays)”, he said.
He explained that the development signals “a consequential adjustment of the collection by location”.
He said collection at the Registration Area (Ward) level is extended by one a week from Monday 16th – Sunday 22nd January 2023 while collection at the Local Government level will resume on Monday 23rd and end on Sunday 29th January 2023
According to him, with reports of INEC officials extorting Nigerians at PVC collection centres, the Commission is launching an investigation into the allegations.
“Those found culpable will face disciplinary action and/or prosecution,” Okoye added.
“Similarly, the Commission is disturbed by allegations of discriminatory issuance of PVCs in some locations. This is against the law. All bonafide registrants are entitled to their PVCs and to use them to vote on Election Day in any part of the country where they are registered.
“Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) have been directed to ensure that no such practices occur nationwide and take immediate disciplinary action against violators”, Okoye further said.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has announced that the voter register had increased to 93.5 million.
While giving the analysis of the preliminary register, Yakubu revealed that Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Rivers, Katsina and Oyo states have the highest number of registered voters.
A breakdown indicates that Lagos has 7.57 per cent; Kano, 6.34 per cent; Kaduna, 4.65 per cent; Rivers, 3.77 per cent; Katsina, 3.76 per cent and Oyo 3.51 per cent.
According to the preliminary voter register, Lagos, Kano, Kaduna and Rivers states lead with 7,075,192; 5,927,565; 4,345,469 and 3,532,990, respectively.
They are followed by Katsina with 3,519,260 and Oyo, with 3,275,045.
Further analysis also revealed that the North-West geopolitical zone, which comprises the seven states of Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara and Jigawa, with a total of 22.27m voters, has the highest number of registered voters.
As of the 2019 elections, the North-West had 20.15m voters. However, the data from INEC revealed that the zone got additional 2.12m voters during the recently-concluded continuous voter registration.
The South-West, which earlier had 16.29m voters as of 2019, now has 17.93m voters, having added a total of 1.64m newly-registered voters.
Following in third place is the South-South zone comprising Akwa-Ibom, Rivers, Cross-River, Bayelsa, Edo and Delta states.
The number of registered voters in the zone has risen from 12.8m to 14.4m.
The North-Central, which is made up of Nasarawa, Kogi, Benue, Niger Kwara, and Plateau now has a total of 13.8m voters while the North- East which consists of Yobe, Borno, Taraba, Adamawa, Bauchi and Gombe added 1.07m new voters to reach 12.5m.
The South-East, which is the smallest geopolitical zone, and consists of five states — Ebonyi, Enugu, Abia, Anambra and Imo now has a total of 10.9m voters while the Federal Capital Territory increased from 1.3m to 1.5m registered voters.
The question on the lips of political analysts and watchers of political developments across the country is, how many of the cards announced by the electoral umpire will be collected before the election date?
So many people are not excited about the huge numbers of PVCs as announced by the INEC Chairman. The past experiences have shown that those who come out on election days are usually less than half of the registered voters.
Observers believe one of the reasons for this has been the inability of voters to collect the cards from INEC offices across the country.
With close to 20 million uncollected Permanent Voters Cards from 2011 and another over nine million new registrants between June 2021 and July 2022, Nigerians definitely deserve an effective way to ensure all eligible voters collect their cards and participate in the 2023 general elections.
INEC itself has continued to lament the low PVC collection across various states, which it said remains a major cause of concern and has been vociferous in pleading with Nigerians to strive to collect the cards.
It was gathered that there are about 1.7 million uncollected PVCs in Lagos State, about 500,000 uncollected cards in Abuja, while more than 160,000 people in Kogi State are said to have abandoned their cards at the INEC offices in the state.
A review of the situation across the 36 states in recent times had also shown that the same scenario is playing out as many Nigerians have abandoned their PVC as they are scared of the rigour they will undergo to collect the cards..
The initial enthusiasm shown by Nigerians is diminishing as they are going through hardship in collecting the PVCs from INEC offices across the country.
One is not in doubt that the attacks on INEC facilities in some parts of the country has not helped the preparation for the elections with over 50 offices attacked in the last three years most especially in the South East.
To quicken collecting the cards, INEC started distributing the cards at the Ward level. But it was still clumsy in many areas.
Many electorate are already giving up on the collection of the PVCs even with the extension of the deadline last Thursday.
While many Nigerians have commended the INEC for the extension of the period for the collection of PVCs, there is also the need for the electoral umpire to ensure a seamless process of collection.
INEC should know that the citizen’s participation in election is essential in a democracy and so should do all within its power to ensure that all cards are collected by the owners.
“There is no doubt that INEC has in recent times harnessed the use of innovative technology to promote transparency and ensure efficiency in its process. With comprehensive data of registered voters and PVCs printed, the commission with support of CSOs can develop a strategic standard of operation to make the process easier and faster.
“This intentionality will first enable the accurate identification of eligible voters whose PVCs are laying at INEC office via their names, phone numbers, email and location right from 2011 till date.
“In this vein, a bulk email or Short Message Service (SMS) can be sent to potential voters who are yet to collect their PVCs with information like local government, wards or address of where they could collect their cards.
“Although the SMS is said to be deployed but this has to be decentralised to all locations and to every citizen who is yet to collect their PVCs right from 2011.
“This will no doubt go a long way first informing citizens that their cards are indeed ready for collection and the exact location where they can collect it while alleviating the challenges of endless visits to either the wrong locations or meeting unavailable PVCs”, a political commentator recently said.
Also speaking with THEWILL, the spokesperson of a Non Governmental Organisation, Citizens Forum, Comrade Joe Akpan, said INEC should be commended for the extension of the date for the collection of PVCs.
“The extension becomes necessary and we thank INEC for the extension. Aside the extension of the deadline, INEC needs to talk and monitor the activities of its officials to ensure that more people collect their cards and are able to participate in the coming elections.
“We also appeal to our citizens to take time to collect their PVCs as they must participate in choosing those who are to govern them for another four years from May this year. Steps should also be put to end unnecessary and illegal extortion being carried out in some collection centres in some parts of the country.
“We can see the commitment and determination of INEC to ensure that the elections are held as scheduled in the face of high levels of insecurity”, he said.
Will the extension of date for PVCs collection by INEC solve the problem being encountered in centres across the country, only time will tell.