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Vigilance imperative against vote buying, PVC harvesting

By Editorial Board
19 January 2023   |   3:59 am
Alarm by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that some politicians have been buying up PVCs and financially inducing unsuspecting voters to harvest their Voter Identification Numbers ahead of the 2023 general elections should no longer be news to the commission and Nigerians generally.
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Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

Alarm by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that some politicians have been buying up PVCs and financially inducing unsuspecting voters to harvest their Voter Identification Numbers ahead of the 2023 general elections should no longer be news to the commission and Nigerians generally. It is almost given that politicians, by virtue of their desperation to occupy public offices, would go to great length to fulfill their aspirations even by unfair means. As an umpire, INEC must stand firm and insist on best practice.

The Federal Government, unless it is in any way complicit in the crooked machinations, must implement the provisions of the Electoral Act which clearly criminalise such moves. Until and unless culpable politicians and their cohorts are sanctioned in accordance with the extant law, desperate politicians will not stop exploring ways to fraudulently manipulate the elections next month and in March. The electorate must equally stand up to defend their votes and democracy. It is in their interest to do so because politicians who swindle their way into offices will have no obligation to serve the people or to account for their deeds to them.

Allegations of rigging and vote buying have been part of the electoral processes in Nigeria. Indeed, no election has taken place without politicians pointing accusing fingers at the opposing parties for a long list of electoral malfeasance. Some of the allegations may be credible while some are usually mere face-saving cries, typical of bad losers.

The run-up to the 2023 elections in Nigeria has raised concerns from many quarters concerning sundry issues of safety, credibility and adequacy of measures put in place by concerned authorities but it seems increasingly obvious that the chicanery of politicians when it comes to vote buying and sundry inducements are gradually occupying the front burners. Specifically, the issue of Permanent Voter Card (PVC) reported harvesting is an alarming dimension in the run-up to 2023 elections.

Hitherto, inducement to vote for candidates and parties are rife and so are allegations of outright buying of voters’ cards. But the new dimension as alleged in viral videos and attested to by many is the copying of details of PVCs of voters by some unscrupulous party operatives. In a viral video, a prospective voter was given a pack containing some cooking ingredients and small packs of rice, beans, cassava flakes (garri) in exchange for allowing the operatives to copy the details of his PVC. This approach represents a new high in the electoral manipulation process and it is worrying.

Earlier, electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission raised the alarm that some politicians have been buying up PVCs and financially inducing unsuspecting voters to harvest their Voter Identification Numbers ahead of the 2023 general elections. The INEC‘s alarm came during the launch of #YourVoteMatters project by an election observer group in Abuja last month. The commission’s National Commissioner, Mallam Mohammed Haruna said: “We are aware some politicians are more or less buying the PVCs. If you collect the PVC and then you sell it out or allow someone else to have it, you are aiding illegal possession of the PVC which is an offence in our Electoral Act.” He revealed that two people have been recently convicted for illegal possession of PVCs in Kano and Sokoto.

Haruna’s speech dwelt more on outright sale of PVCs but the perpetrators of the crime might have moved beyond INEC if recent revelations are anything to go by. They no longer go for outright purchase of PVCs but harvest certain information and return same to the owner. Given the sophistication of hackers and other technological advancements including artificial intelligence, the nation has to pay attention to what the harvesters of this information intend to do with them. Is there a possibility of cloning, in which case the original owner would be carrying a mere shell of the PVC? Are the INEC security features and measures so foolproof to stop these hackers before they strike? Assurances from INEC would seem to indicate their confidence in measures put in place but there is no harm in reviewing these measures in the light of the new developments. A little healthy skepticism on the measures is in order. It would amount to a monumental tragedy if genuine voters find out they have been upstaged by fake ones. That will make voting a mere hollow ritual.

Voters need more education on the dangers of surrendering their PVCs or any detail thereof to anybody. They should treat their PVCs the way they jealously protect their Automated Teller Machine (ATM) cards from fraudsters. Voters must be educated to know that when they sell their votes they are also selling their voices and a big chunk of their future. They lose the right to complain about bad governance and lack of amenities. Civil society groups and international organisations have made some attempts on enlightenment and strengthening the democratic process. They should not give up and should insist on transparency, credibility and fairness in the electoral process.

But above all, those saddled in one way or the other with the conduct of the election must show constant commitment and resilience to deliver on their mandates. These groups include the government, security agencies, the umpire and the political parties. The prosecution of earlier political offenders is imperative in breaking the cycle of impunity. Electoral offenders must not just be punished but must be seen to have been punished; this will deter potential offenders. The seeming impunity that has been the lot of former offenders is a fillip for further foray into misconduct. The general public must equally be vigilant. Eternal vigilance, the saying goes, is the price of liberty. The electorate must not only prepare to vote but must also defend their votes by all lawful means. This is not a time for fear or despair.

Challenges abound as the 2023 elections draw near but they are not insurmountable. Politicians will always seek the easy way out; it is the eternal vigilance of the electorate that will stop them on their tracks. In this instance, it starts with the electorate refusing to surrender their PVCs to anybody. This latest move at harvesting details of PVCs must be resisted by the voters and checkmated by the authorities.

Politics and the political process are too important to be left for politicians alone; it is the collective responsibility of all in the polity.