Insight

2023: INEC, CVR and renewed zeal for PVC

As preparation for the 2023 general election gets under way and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), dots its i’s and crosses its t’s, the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) became a key part of the preparation, as many aspiring voters, especially among youths, had renewed interest in getting their Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC), to enable them participate in the election. However, the end of the CVR exercise on July 31 brought with it, mixed feelings among many aspiring voters. ANAYO EZUGWU takes a look at the challenge registrants faced in their bid to get their PVC and why INEC stuck to its gun in ending the exercise.

Experience of Registrants

Ego Amaechi, a businesswoman based in Alagbole, a suburb of Ogun State, is not happy that she would not vote for her candidates of choice during the 2023 general election. Amaechi lamented that she was unable to relocate her polling unit from her community in Enugu State to Alagbole before the deadline given by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). According to Amaechi, all the efforts to relocate her polling unit failed because of the difficulties locating registration points provided in the Ifo Local Government Area of Ogun State and Ifako-Ijaiye Local Government Area of Lagos State. She said that the INEC portal for the transfer of polling units was also not working. Amaechi said that whenever she tried to login into the portal after creating an account, the response she kept on getting was that her Permanent Voters Card (PVC) was invalid. She regretted that she would not be able to vote for her candidates of choice across all positions during the elections. She said, “I did my voter registration in the village in Enugu in 2011 when we travelled for the Christmas celebration and I collected my PVC in 2012 when we travelled again. But I couldn’t vote with my PVC because it is difficult for me to travel to Enugu during elections in 2015 and 2019. “When INEC announced that we can transfer the polling units I was very happy and I tried all I could before failing to succeed. My husband did his own in his office in Ikeja and told me that we can also do it online. That night he tried with my phone to create an account for me and do the relocation, but after the account creation was successful, to relocate my polling unit then becomes a problem. The portal kept on showing registration invalid even up to this morning (Saturday, July 30). “I also visited two different registration points around Alagbole and Ajuwon, but was unable to carry out the exercise. At the first place I went to, they told me that the registration form had finished and as a result, they couldn’t accommodate more registrants. In the second registration point, the story was the same because the number of people there was much.” Apart from Amaechi, a teacher in Lagos, Julius Babatunde, is another eligible voter that would not exercise his civic right during the 2023 general election. Babatunde, who is a fresh registrant, said he failed to register because of the limited registration points within his community. “The way INEC officials were moving from one place to another showed that they never considered some of us that are not self-employed. For instance, nobody knows the day they would visit a particular area and by the time people would inform us that they are registering people at a particular area because we were already at work it is always difficult to leave school that day. Then, the next day, we would rush down to the area only to find out that they have moved to other locations. So, it is always hard for you to take school hours for your personal issue,” he said. Amaechi and Babatunde’s cases are a bit different from others. A hairdresser, Blessing Amah, narrated how she struggled to transfer her polling unit from Abuja to Lagos. She said that her husband tried tirelessly to transfer it online, but she was able to carry out the exercise manually. She said, “I have never voted before, but my husband insisted that I must vote this time around. He said the first step was for me to transfer the polling unit from Abuja to Lagos, because I did the registration during my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). We tried online severally to trans-fer it, but it failed and one faithful day I was lucky to run into INEC officials registering people in our estate and they registered me.”

Some had to pay to register

On his part, a journalist, Paul Ogbuokiri, said he had to pay N3000 at Mushin Local Government Area of Lagos State before he could be registered. He noted that he had paid N1,500 at St Peter Claver Catholic Church, Ajao Estate, but was unable to register at the church. “St Peter Claver Catholic Church, Ajao Estate invited INEC to come and register the people for three days and I went there on the second day by 9 am and was the 850 registrant waiting to be registered. “They closed around 6 pm and told us to return the next day, I was there early, and paid N1,500 to the security people to facilitate the process. But after the entire struggle, I was also unable to register. I also went to SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church, I went there prepared with my wife and got there before 5 am and was the number 102 while my wife was 103. But only 36 people were registered. But at the end of the day, I went to Mushin local government area where I paid N3000 to be registered.” But for some other Nigerians, the exercise was seamless and devoid of challenges. A student of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Tunde John, said he didn’t face any challenge trying to register for his PVC. He said, “I told a member of my church that I wanted to get my PVC and one Thursday morning he called me that he saw the officials registering people around Alagbole, so I just stopped everything I was doing and started heading to the location.

“On arrival, the crowd wasn’t much, even from what he told me we could see it was true. I was expecting that it wouldn’t take more than 30 minutes and I’d be through, but in the process of waiting, I saw that people started flocking in. Some said that they had been there before and that they needed their registration done immediately. “The queue wasn’t long, but if they were able to coordinate it well it would not take more than five minutes for an individual to register completely, but the crowd and the way it wasn’t properly coordinated made it take time. So, when they saw they were about to close and there was no time again, they came up with a strategy to create two queues and select three from each and before we know it everyone was done. “So the only issue I faced was that it wasn’t properly coordinated. Assuming it was properly coordinated many people would have done it, because people came in the middle of it and the woman said she wouldn’t be able to spare her time, but they would come back another day. Unfortunately, that was a lie and they changed locations shortly after.” With the electoral umpire now focusing on the general election, media reports, particularly on July 31, suggest that many potential voters were not registered. Registration centres in many states of the federation were besieged by thousands of citizens, who were seen at registration venues as early as 6.00 am in a last-minute rush to beat the CVR deadline.

States declare PVC holidays

New Telegraph had reported that thousands of Nigerians across the country could not participate in the exercise which ended on Sunday, despite some state governors declaring work free-days to enable civil servants to obtain their PVCs. For instance, states like Lagos, Adamawa, Borno, Bauchi, Kaduna, Niger, Ogun, Osun, Plateau, Yobe, and Zamfara states at one time or the other in July gave workers the opportunity to register and get their PVCs. But the electoral umpire on Wednesday, July 27, disclosed that over 11 million new applicants have completed their voter registration. INEC also revealed that Lagos is presently leading in terms of the state with the number of completed registration with 508,936; followed by Kano with 500,207 and Delta with 481,929. According to data released by the commission, the total number of persons who have completed their registration was 11,011,119 as of Monday, July 25. According to details released by the commission, 3,391,940 started their registration online while 7,619,179 carried out their registration physically. It also disclosed that youth aged between 18 and 35 constitute the highest number of completed registrations with a total of 7,828,570. The CVR exercise ended on Sunday, July 31 after the electoral umpire extended the period of registration beyond June 30, 2022, by one month. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had, before the initial deadline, filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking an extension of the exercise beyond June 30, 2022. It would be recalled that INEC, even before the court verdict on SERAP’s suit, had, in compliance with the interim injunction of the court pending the determination of the substantive suit, continued with the CVR beyond June 30 in order to enable more Nigerians register. The order was vacated on July 13 by the court, which affirmed that INEC has the power to appoint a date to suspend the CVR, provided that it is not later than 90 days before the date fixed for the general election, as provided in section 9(6) of the Electoral Act, 2022.

INEC explains why registration had to be suspended

INEC National Commissioner Festus Okoye had explained that the July 31 date for termination of the exercise was to enable the commission clean up the register to remove multiple registrants with the use of the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS). According to him, the commission would display the national register of voters (both existing and new registrants) in each of the 8,809 registration wards across the 774 local government areas, for public scrutiny, for a period of one week. Okoye added that INEC would use the remaining period to print millions of PVCs for all fresh registrants and applicants for transfer and transfer of lost or damaged PVCs, as well as ensure that there is ample time for voters to collect their PVCs ahead of the 2023 general election. Irrespective of the decision of INEC not to continue the exercise, various political and ethnic groups have asked the electoral commission to extend the exercise by at least one month to enable prospective voters to register. While others urged the commission to allow those who want to transfer polling units and lost of PVCs to still have access to the portal.

Parties, groups disagree with INEC

The National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Debo Ologunagba, pleaded with INEC to ensure that many Nigerians register ahead of the crucial 2023 polls. He said although there was a need to allow INEC to prepare fully for the elections, this could still be done in such a way that a large number of Nigerians would not be denied the right to vote. He said, “We believe that people should be able to register, but we don’t want a situation where people will register and cannot vote. Obviously, there must be a timeline. So, inasmuch as we want everyone to be able to register, we support INEC to do what will make it more effective. We are not in INEC, but we encourage INEC to open the doors for as many people as possible. That is our demand. Every Nigerian that is qualified to vote should be afforded the opportunity.” Similarly, the Zonal Publicity Secretary (North West) of the All Progressives Congress, Musa Mada, called for the extension of the registration exercise by one month after the deadline.

“INEC has shortchanged Nigerians through this unfair process. I released a statement in Kaduna two days ago, where I asked INEC to extend the deadline. The reason INEC gave that they need time to produce the PVCs is not tenable enough. They still have time for that process. After all, the campaign has not even started yet. “As I said earlier, INEC shortchanged Nigerians through this voters’ registration deadline. Why did I say that? There are very few registration centres across the country. If you want to give this type of deadline, you need to open up more centres for people to access easily.”

The Peter Obi Support Network (POSN) also called on INEC to extend the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration exercise until at least, November 2022. The group said it might be left with no other option than to seek redress in court since all entreaties to INEC to continue the CVR have fallen on deaf ears. The POSN Director (Legal/Election Monitoring), Modupe Olufemi-Akodu, said, “We have made several appeals to INEC to stick to the Electoral Law which stipulates that voter registration should stop 90 days before the general elections. But all our entreaties seem to have fallen on deaf ears as INEC is going ahead with its plans to suspend the exercise on July 31.

This is suspected to be a trick to disenfranchise millions of young potential voters who have not been able to register or transfer their cards within this period.” Another group, Kamis Darazo Movement also urged INEC to extend the PVCs registration exercise and urged eligible youths in Bauchi and Gombe states to take advantage of the ongoing voter registration to get registered.

The leader of the group, Mr Khamis Musa Darazo, said it is mobilising 200,000 youths, and residents in Bauchi and Gombe states to get registered for their PVCs and collect the same in order to exercise their franchise in the forthcoming 2023 general election in the country. Khamis said that hundreds of youths in the two states have not done their PVC registration because of the hectic nature of the registration and other challenges they are facing. He said, “The reason for this rally is because we have understood that over time, youths believe that their votes are not needed and do not count and we are here today to tell the youths that their votes count and that Nigerians should come out en masse come 2023 elections. “So, I started mobilising the youths because they have to be encouraged.

Some have refused to do their PVC registration because of the hectic nature of the process. Due to the challenges they encounter, I took it upon myself to pay their transportation fare and even provide feeding for them, because some of them will leave their homes as early as 6 am until 2 pm.” Likewise, the Coalition of Nigerian Voters (CNV) also called for an extension, claiming millions of Nigerians are still surging the sparsely located registration centres across the country struggling to get registered. The group, however, urged Nigerian voters not to relent in their push and quest to exercise their franchise in the 2023 general elections.

Convener of the group, Asuzu Echezona, contended that many Nigerian voters were taken aback by the INEC deadline directive, given the earlier promise by INEC that every Nigerian is willing to vote in the 2023 general elections would be given the opportunity to register and to collect their Permanent Voters Card. “As it stands today, there are still millions of Nigerians who are surging the sparsely located registration centres across the country struggling to get registered. With the current rate of registration, it is public knowledge that there is no magic that would make INEC accommodate every voter who wants to register for the 2023 general elections before the current deadline of July 31, 2022. This would result in the disenfranchisement of millions of Nigerians willing and eager to perform their civic responsibilities in the 2023 polls. This would be defeatist of INEC’s objectives.

“We are also concerned about the insufferable difficulties faced by Nigerian voters trying to register especially those in many parts of Northern Nigeria, South West, South-South and South East. There are cases of registration centres located in private homes. There are instances of voters being extorted of different amounts of money to be registered. We are also worried about the suspension of registration as a result of violence in the South East, particularly in Enugu State. “We believe that if INEC could allow voter registration to go on in parts of Nigeria where terrorist operations and banditry have become entrenched, it is suspicious and an exercise in bad faith to disenfranchise numerous communities in the South East on the guise of isolated security breaches. This suggests a hidden agenda wrapped in mischief.”

Also the Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL), the apex socio-political youth group in the South East geopolitical zone called on INEC to extend the voter’s card registration exercise to enable Nigerians who are eligible to register to vote. The group in a statement by its President General, Goodluck Ibem, noted that since the exercise commenced, so many Nigerians could not register for their PVCs because of the non-availability of adequate equipment and computers for the registration exercise.

He further pointed out that the situation was worse in the Southeast which he claimed had two computers per local government as against the North where registration centres were ubiquitous with verse machines for registration. COSEYL recalling that it had earlier urged INEC to provide more equipment and multiple registration centres in the South-East said it was disappointed the commission did not grant its request till the exercise ended. “But to our dismay, the Commission did not provide adequate materials and people in the South East and other Southern states were subjected to serious stress and difficulty to register for their PVCs. “A lot of people paid exorbitant high transport fares to INEC offices in South East local government offices, but could not register for their PVCs after several months of trial because of a large number of people who came for the exercise in the INEC offices.”

INEC insist registration must be suspended

Despite the clamour for an extension of the exercise by many groups, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, said the commission would not be able to extend the deadline because there is a lot that it still needs to do ahead of the election. Oyekanmi said, “The commission is pleased to see the renewed citizens’ interest in the Continuous Voter Registration exercise. Unfortunately, the CVR would have to be suspended today July 31, because there is a lot that the commission is required to do under the electoral legal framework, in relation to voter registration and the process of compiling the register requires ample time to accomplish.” He added that INEC would need to clean up the voter register in order to remove multiple registrants using the Automated Biometric Identification System. Oyekanmi added that the electoral body would also need to consolidate the national register of existing voters and new registrants and display the same on a polling unit basis for each of the 8,809 wards across the 774 Local Government Areas nationwide for public scrutiny. “The commission needs to print millions of permanent voter cards for all fresh registrants and applicants for transfer and replacement of lost or damaged PVCs, and ensure that there is ample time for voters to collect their PVCs ahead of the 2023 general elections,” he said. Nevertheless, it is obvious that many Nigerians are now aware of the need to get involved in the electoral process. As a result, Nigeria may witness a high turnout of electorate in the 2023 general election, but the challenge remains, how prepared is INEC to conduct a free, fair and creditable general election? With the outcome of the electoral umpire in the recent Osun State governorship election, many Nigerians are anxiously waiting to cast their voters.

 

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