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2023 Presidency sparks rush in voter registration

By Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Seye Olumide (Ibadan) Sodiq Omolaoye, Ernest Nzor (Abuja), Chijioke Iremeka, Kehinde Olatunji and John Ayorinde (Lagos)
11 June 2022   |   4:33 am
As political parties conclude their presidential primaries ahead of the 2023 general election, efforts by Nigerians to obtain their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) has reached a fever pitch.

Residents queue for PVC registration and collection in Lagos PHOTO:GREGG EBUKA ONYEJOSE

• Condemnations Trail Alleged Disruption Of Exercise By Hoodlums In Lagos
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As political parties conclude their presidential primaries ahead of the 2023 general election, efforts by Nigerians to obtain their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) has reached a fever pitch.

From Lagos to Ogun, Oyo, Enugu and other states of the federation, as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are battling to cope with the number of people who turn out daily to either collect their PVCs or be registered by the Commission.

The Guardian gathered that the sudden upsurge in the number of people seeking to be registered, as well as those who want to collect their PVCs to enable them participate in the 2023 elections, was the result of the emergence of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as presidential candidate of PDP, Bola Ahmed Tinubu as flag bearer of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Mr. Peter Obi as the candidate of Labour Party (LP).

However, INEC’s Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Victor Aluko, told The Guardian that additional registration machines would be deployed to ease the surge at some of the congested Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) centres across the country.

While blaming Nigerians for the recent surge at registration centres, he urged the public to disregard reports in some quarters that officials of the Commission were collaborating with politicians in some areas to disenfranchise some Nigerians.

He said: “It is also good to ask Nigerians what they have been doing for the past one year we started this programme. Why didn’t they push before now? There are days we don’t see anybody in our centres and now they are complaining as if they didn’t know that the registration was on before.

“Despite that, the Commission is trying to deploy more registration equipment to where they are needed. We are going to put additional machines where they are needed because it is not everywhere that we have crowd.

“At last Thursday’s meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners, the officials gave reports on where more equipment are needed and the Commission has taken note of that.”

Aluko, however, added that the rush for PVCs portray the level of confidence Nigerians have in the Commission .

“By the time we finish completely, it would be a reflection of the confidence people have in INEC. By so doing, we believe that the large turnout now also is a positive development.

While assuring that INEC will not disenfranchise anybody, he said, “You know naturally, people are impatient. These same people who did not come in the past 11 months are the ones blaming our officials now. When there is crowd, people need to wait and at that process, they become inpatient and start saying all sort of things just to put INEC under pressure,” he added.

INEC’s Chairman of Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, confirmed Aluko’s assertions when the disclosed via a statement yesterday evening that the Commission has deployed additional 209 registration machines to the five Southeastern states as well as Lagos and Kano states.

He noted that the Commission was aware of the challenges faced by citizens across country, hence the deployment, adding that in some states, the sudden turnout of prospective registrants was overwhelming.

“Consequently, the Commission convened an urgent meeting with all the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) on Thursday, June 9, 2022 to review the situation so that eligible Nigerians who wish to register are able to do so. The necessity to urgently deploy more voter enrolment machines to ease the congestion at the registration centres was identified as a priority. 

“In response, the commission has immediately released additional 209 machines deployed mainly to the five South Eastern States, Lagos and Kano where the pressure is most acute,” he stated. 

Okoye said INEC would monitor the situation over the next few days, adding, “Thereafter, it will meet to review the progress of the exercise”. 

He gave the assurance that all options would be explored to ensure that eligible Nigerians are given the opportunity to register as voters.  

“The Commission appeals for patience and understanding of all citizens. Every Nigerian who is 18 years of age and above has the constitutional right to register and vote in any part of the country he/she resides without let or hindrance.

“The sudden surge is an affirmation of the increasing confidence Nigerians have in our electoral process. The Commission will continue to ensure that this confidence is sustained,” he reassured.

The Guardian’s findings indicated that the rush for the collection of PVCs or fresh registration was more heightened in the South East zone and others states of the federation where the people have a large population.

Sources stated that their renewed zeal in the electoral process was not unconnected with the apparent snub of the zone by the PDP and APC while choosing their presidential candidates.

It was gathered that the development was seen as a serious slap on the people of the zone who feel that they have been relegated to the background by the rest of the country since control of power at the centre “now appears to be between the Hausa and Yoruba.”

This resulted in increased campaign in the social and conventional media by various groups in Igboland, asking their people to go and register and ensure they that they vote on the day of the election.

Some churches have also joined in the campaign and have not just advised their members on the need to perform the exercise, but have also imposed penalties such as denying those without PVCs Holy Communion.

Such messages have no doubt yielded the desired result as The Guardian counted about 15 canopies fully occupied by those seeking to be registered when it visited Michael Okpara Square in Enugu yesterday.

Okechukwu Okoye, who was waiting to be registered at Okpara Square told The Guardian: “I want to do this, because time has come for us to stand to be counted. It is sad that despite the various appeals for power to rotate to the South East, the rest of the country feels that Ndigbo has no right to lead. I will register and vote in the presidential election for an Igbo man. That’s all.”

Another registrant, Obiageli Ugwu, said there was no better way to protest “what happened at the primaries of the PDP and APC except by voting against their candidates. Let the Yoruba vote Tinubu and Hausa Atiku and Igbo will vote Peter Obi. With this, let us see how they can achieve 25 per cent spread to win the election in 2023.”

Also speaking, an observer with Reclaim Niger Under Situation Room, Achike Chude, said the upsurge in quest to collect PVCs and to register to vote was precipitated by Atiku and Tinubu’s emergence as PDP and APC flag bearers respectively.
According to him, there was more awareness as several organisations, including market associations and professional bodies, were encouraging their members to register and ensure that they collect their PVCs.  
“Interestingly, some organisations now use it as a yardstick to determine certain things. So, I will say it is the level of awareness. Nigerians now realise that they are in a very dangerous and precarious situation and their destinies must be taken in their hands,” he said.
Chude also attributed the surge to the 2020 youth #EndSARS protests against police brutality, which according to him, opened the understanding of youths that they really have what it takes to change their destinies by making higher demands from the government.
He said: “The use of electronic devices like Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and others are also encouraging the upsurge.”

The Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralph Nwosu, also concurred that Atiku and Tinubu’s emergence was responsible for the upsurge, saying Nigerians were angry over what the two major political parties offered to them as candidates for the next presidential election.

He said: “When PDP voted Atiku, Nigerians waited to see what APC would offer and having presented Tinubu, it aroused their anger and hence their determination to vote the two parties out of power next year. You will still see more registration and that’s the reason we all should impress it in INEC not to close its portals for registration and collection of PVCs until next year or towards the end of this year as against the June ending it proposed.”

On his part, the Executive Director of Adopt A Goal Initiative, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said the increased awareness regarding the collection of PVCs and the need to be register indicates Nigerians’ willingness to participate in the 2023 elections to vote in a credible leader.

According to him, the people now take this process of getting their PVCs as a tool of voicing out and voting in a credible leader.

His words: “I’m a non-partisan citizen, but it’s possible to have a leader aside from APC or PDP aspirants. Having an alternative to PDP and APC is what is driving this surge. The people are not confortable with the candidates of the APC and PDP and they are moving inward for a better choice in voters’ registration to enable them to make impact.

“This should be a lesson to all political parties that giving credible leaders the opportunity is capable of eradicating voter’s apathy in the country. So, what we see with this latest surge is that the choice of candidates of APC and PDP are not attractive to the people and they are seeking an alternative.”
A media practitioner, Mr. Bolaji Tunji, who served as Special Adviser to the late governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State, however, said the upsurge in the number of people who are determined to collect their PVCs or register to vote was not necessarily triggered by the personalities that have emerged as the candidates of the two major political parties.
He said the rate of political awareness has become higher, adding that Nigerians were becoming conscious of the fact that there is no other alternative to change their fortunes than to participate in the electioneering process.
According to him, there was no statistics to support the argument or insinuation that Atiku and Tinubu’s emergence as flag bearers of their political parties was responsible for the upsurge.

A former local council chairman in Lagos State and human rights activist, Adewale Ayodele, made a similar submission, saying, “there had always been a pattern of rush among Nigerians to register and collect their PVCs when it was getting to the closing time for registration.”
He also attributed the rush to the new Electoral Act, which according to him, guaranteed the voters that their votes would count this time unlike before when voting did not impact anything.
Ayodele added that the emergence of Tinubu as APC presidential candidate was another critical factor that has motivated people to register and collect their PVCs, saying: “Tinubu’s candidature seems to have rekindled hope among Nigerian voters that the situation of the country would change for the better if eventually elected.”

He went further to say that the demography of the electorate has become more youth and women oriented with advanced knowledge in electronic base voting.  

Weighing in on the development, spokesman of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), Abel Oshevire, also said Nigerians were becoming more conscious of the dire situation confronting them and have realised that there is no alternative means to redeem their predicament except by participating actively in the electoral process to determine who governs them.
Oshevire stated that if there was anything that pushed Nigerians to want to participate, it was the hard situation the incumbent administration has put them through in the last seven years in areas of security and economy.
“Nigerians can longer fold their arms and allow the few politicians to mismanage their destiny,” he said.

Meanwhile, against the backdrop alleged disruption of the registration process in some parts of Lagos State, which is highly populated by Ndigbo, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council Worldwide (OYC), has called on Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to call the hoodlums to order.

The group was reacting several videos circulating on the social media, which show several youths being attacked by political thugs where they had gone to obtain their PVCs.

The victims could be heard wailing in the video that despite closing their shops for that purpose, some hired thugs had prevented them from being registered.

Reacting to the development in a statement by its President-General, Mazi Okwu Nnabuike, the group said: “We have already been pushed to the walls; what they are doing now amounts to pushing Ndigbo beyond the walls and the consequences could be drastic.

“The two major political parties in the country cannot deny the South East their presidential tickets and at the same time deny them the opportunity to exercise their franchise. This is a call for total anarchy in the land and we are urging the security agencies to rise to the occasion.

“We are saying this because Bola Tinubu has serious hatred for Ndigbo, which he demonstrated by shunning the entire South-East during his consultations with delegates ahead of his party’s primary election.

“We do not begrudge him as it is within his right to choose who to interact with. However, what we will not condone is the mindless and unprovoked attack on Igbos resident in Lagos State.

“If those behind this mayhem are not doing his bidding, he should come out and condemn their actions in strong terms. The same goes for the Lagos State Governor, who is the chief security officer. He must ensure the protection of every resident of Lagos State no matter where the person comes from.”

The governorship candidate of the PDP in the state, Dr. Abdul-Azeez Olajide Adediran (JANDOR) also cautioned the ruling APC to desist from harassing and intimidating Lagosians bent on exercising their civic responsibility.

Jandor, who spoke in a statement signed by the head of media of his campaign organisation, Gbenga Ogunleye, charged INEC to take proactive measures towards forestalling rising incidences of violence at the registration centres.

He also urged the commission to address the rising complaints of slow pace of the exercise.

Jandor, however, expressed his excitement over the impressive turn out of traders in Alaba International Market, ASPANDA, Trade Fair, Ladipo Market, among others, for the exercise. He commended them for taking time off from their private engagements to get their PVCs, which would enable them participate in the 2023 election.

He noted that any attempt to attack or disenfranchise anybody seeking to collect his/her PVC or to be registered would henceforth be met with stiff resistance.