Despite the efforts of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to make the process of collecting Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) as smooth as possible, many eligible voters in Nigeria are still facing difficulties in obtaining their cards. There have been widespread reports of PVCs unavailable for collection even though their owners had been notified.
It has become a common sight recently to see hundreds of people gathered at INEC offices to collect their PVCs. These gatherings often include nursing mothers, traders, businessmen and women, commercial motorcyclists, factory workers, and students, standing or perched together under the scorching sun. Many of them are frustrated by the delay and calling for food vendors to provide them with sustenance as they wait. Some of these Nigerians are employees who do not have an unlimited window for PVC hunting and they know that they may have a difficult time picking them up later as we approach the deadline for PVC collection.
INEC had previously announced that PVC collection would begin on December 12, 2022, and end on January 22, 2023. However, it extended the deadline until Sunday, January 29, 2023. Still, many of the persons waiting for their PVCs and trying to beat this deadline have expressed frustration with the process and inconvenience of waiting for long periods of time to collect their PVCs.
The disturbing reality for these frustrated Nigerians is of grave concern considering the significance of the 2023 elections. We are at a crossroads in our existence as a sovereign nation and this election cycle presents us a unique chance to right the foundering ship of state and determine our destinies. For a cross-section of the country to be going through this pain over collection of PVCs rubs off negatively on the electoral process and INEC. This is not how it should be.
Despite INEC’s assurances and implementing the ward-to-ward distribution of cards to make it easier for collection, the frustration still lingers. In the strongholds of some parties at the ward level, reports have it that people who have attempted to pick their cards have been denied access if they are not considered to be supporters of the party in power in that locality. This has led to suggestions that, for ease of card collection, the best approach is to act and appear like a party faithful. As comical as it is, it is but one of the realities that the average Nigerian has had to put up with in this period.
The frustrating nature of the process has evoked a debate around making INEC allow the use of temporary cards rather than disenfranchise the whole block of Nigerians who have been unable to get their PVCs. It is a suggestion that INEC has repeatedly refused to accept for good reason. Though INEC’s decision to not allow registered voters who failed to collect their PVCs before the deadline to participate in the forthcoming general elections has been met with criticism, the electoral body argues that the PVC is critical to its planned accreditation process. Unlike in previous elections, INEC insists, only those with PVCs authenticated with the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) will be allowed to cast their ballot in the impending elections.
INEC’s insistence and the frustrating collection process has led to a lawsuit filed by a non-governmental organization, the Incorporated Trustees of International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law, alongside two other plaintiffs, Emmanuel Chukwuka and Bruno Okeahialam, on behalf of registered voters. In the FHC/ABJ/CS/2348/2022 suit, the plaintiffs argued that many registered voters will be denied the right to exercise their franchise due to administrative bottlenecks and challenges currently facing the collection of PVCs across the country. They further argued that INEC had previously disclosed that the BVAS could authenticate electorates using the last six digits of the Voters Identity Number, VIN, and that could be the way out.
However, INEC, in a counter-affidavit it filed before the court, challenged the competence of the suit, insisting that the legal action was premature, frivolous and speculative. In her opinion, Justice Binta Nyako, before whose court both parties argued their positions and presented their case, narrated how members of her own household had been frustrated as well in attempting to get their PVCs, before she adjourned the case till January 30 for judgment.
This year’s presidential election is shaping up to be an exceptional event. For the first time since the end of military dictatorship in 1999, a third-party candidate, Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party, is presenting a real challenge to the dominance of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). With Nigeria in the throes of rising insecurity, high cost of livings, and increasing economic uncertainty, the PVC collection crisis only adds to the frustration and disappointment of eligible voters who want to exercise their right to vote in this crucial election.
It is therefore imperative that INEC takes all necessary steps to resolve the PVC collection crisis as soon as possible. The ward-to-ward distribution of cards is a step in the right direction but more needs to be done to ensure that every eligible voter has access to their PVCs. The commission must also consider alternative methods of voter accreditation, such as using the National Identity Number (NIN) or other forms of identification to ensure that no eligible voter is disenfranchised.
The PVC collection crisis is a major obstacle that needs to be addressed urgently. Eligible voters have a right to participate in the democratic process and their ability to do so should not be hindered by administrative bottlenecks or challenges. The electoral commission must take all necessary steps to resolve the crisis and ensure that every eligible voter has access to their PVCs in time for the upcoming presidential election.
Voter card problems are not new in Nigeria’s electoral process. This is not the first time eligible voters have faced difficulties in obtaining their prerequisites for the balloting and it is clear the current system is not perfect. INEC must take this opportunity to review and improve its processes to ensure that future elections are not marred by similar problems.
One possible solution to the PVC collection crisis is to introduce an online system for voter registration and PVC collection. This would allow eligible voters to start and complete their voter registration and collect their PVCs from the comfort of their own homes, eliminating the need for them to travel to INEC offices and stand in long queues. Additionally, an online system would make it easier for INEC to keep track of voter registrations and PVCs, reducing the likelihood of administrative errors.
It is also important for INEC to improve its communication with the public. Many eligible voters have reported that they were not informed of the availability of their PVCs for collection or were given incorrect information by INEC staff. By improving its communication with the public, INEC can ensure that eligible voters are well informed and can take the necessary steps to obtain their PVCs in a timely manner.
Lastly, INEC should scrap its current January 29, 2023 deadline and allow registered voters pick up their cards up till at least two days before the commencement of elections. I also suggest that in the future, INEC should give registrants the option of receiving their cards via mail using reputable courier services like UPS, Fedex, DHL etc.