Friday, 22nd September 2023

2019 election: Those who want to vote, but have no PVCs

By Kelvin Ebiri, Lawrence Njoku (Enugu) Inemesit Akpan-Nsoh (Uyo), John Akubo (Lokoja) Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt) Tina Todo (Calabar) Charles Akpeji (Jalingo) Murtala Adewale (Kano), Collins Osuji (Owerri), Charles Akpeji (Jalingo)
17 February 2019   |   4:17 am
Thirty-five year-old nursing mother, Chinasa Joy Nwanna, who resides in the Mushin area of Lagos State, took advantage of the recently concluded Continuous Voter Registration...

Thirty-five year-old nursing mother, Chinasa Joy Nwanna, who resides in the Mushin area of Lagos State, took advantage of the recently concluded Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) to register for a voter card in order to participate in the 2019 general elections, which got underway yesterday.

In September 2018, that is five months after she got registered at Olisa Primary School, 2 Olisa Street, Papa Ajao, Mushin, Nwanna took along her four-month old baby to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to inquire whether her Permanent Voter Card (PVC) was ready, but got a negative response.

Twice in the following month, she repeated the trip to the INEC office located at Oliyide Street, near the Mushin General Hospital, but did not get a positive response on both visits.

After officials informed her that they were expecting PVCs from Abuja for every one that registered, Nwanna resumed her weekly visit until the extended dateline expired last Monday, but without any success.

The mother of three is livid that she did not take part in yesterday’s presidential and National Assembly elections, and won’t also be able to participate in the governorship and state assemblies election slated for March, not as a result of her negligence, but due to INEC’s failure as a consequent of INEC’s gross incompetence.

“What really got me irritated is the fact that after the INEC national headquarters announced on national television that cards for all registrations done till the end of November had been printed and sent to the states, I was still being told, “your card is not ready.”

Yusuf Aderebigbe, is also very unhappy with being disenfranchised not because of his making, but due to failure of INEC to ensure that it puts its acts together.

He said: “Several times after I registered at Apapa where I reside, I continued visiting INEC’s office in the local council to demand for my PVC, especially after it was announced that ‘no PVC, no election,’ and officials there kept asking me to come back.

“By the last week of the collection exercise, I had visited the office up to five times, that is daily from Monday to Friday. Unfortunately, all they kept telling me and many others was that ‘INEC Headquarters has not yet sent the PVCs,’ which is very hard to believe. At the end of the day, those of us that were affected were asked to come back for our PVCs after the elections.”

Members of the public that have been disenfranchised by INEC have resigned themselves to fate, while still lamenting their inability to contribute to the emergence of new political leaders, including the president.

But the Social Democratic Party (SDP) governorship candidate in Ogun State, Mr. Rotimi Paseda, thinks otherwise. That is why he has called on the National Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, to order the release of his PVC.

Paseda, who expressed frustrations while speaking with newsmen at the party secretariat in Abeokuta, lamented that the electoral umpire has failed to replace his PVC six months after he applied for a new one as the old was failing.

He expressed regrets that INEC might end up disenfranchising him in the coming election if there is no replacement for the card, which he voted with in 2015.

Going into the general election, the country had a total of 84, 271,832 voter that were registered to cast their votes. About 14.5 million of this got registered during the 16-month continuous voter’s registration exercise, which lasted between April 27, 2017 and August 31, 2018.

A breakdown of the figures indicate that the North West has 20, 158, 100, which is the highest number of registered voters. It is closely followed by the South West zone, which has 16, 292, 212 registered voters. The zone comprises Lagos, Ogun, Oyo Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti states.

With its 13, 366, 070 registered voters, the North Central comes third, while the North East is fourth with 11, 289, 293 registered voters. South South is in fifth place with 12, 841 279 registered voters.

The South East, with its lowest number of states in the country has 10, 057, 130 to come first from the bottom.
Lagos State remains the state with the highest number of registered voters, and it stands at 6, 048, 156. Kano follows in second place with 5, 149, 070 voters. With a total of 754, 394 Bayelsa State has the least number of registered voters, which is lower than that of the Federal Capital Territory, which stands at 952, 815.

Even though the 84, 271, 832 was further pruned down after the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) was run, millions of registered voters missed yesterday’s polls, and would also miss the March 2 election because their PVCs are still uncollected at INEC offices, due largely to dire logistics challenges and sundry problems as reflected by the situation some of the states sampled below.

587, 440 PVC’s Uncollected In Kano
Despite the mammoth crowd that graced the Kano rallies of both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a good number of the so-called supporters may be without their PVCs, as INEC in the state has said that no fewer than 587, 440 PVCs were left unclaimed after the close of deadline for collection.

According to spokesman of the commission in Kano, Malam Mohammad Garba Lawan, out of 5, 457, 744 registered voters in the state, only 4, 870, 304 collected their PVCs ahead of yesterday’s polls.

Lawan who exonerated the commission of any blame in the inability to collect the PVCs, accused the disenfranchised persons of negligence, alleging that their turning out late contributed to their inability to collect their PVC.

“Before the extension of the deadline, several awareness and sensitisation programmess were organised on electronic media, as well as sessions with traditional and religious leaders. But the major problem with most Nigerians is this attitude of negligence and late turn out.

“When INEC extended the collection deadline for three days, our staff were left redundant on Saturday and Sunday as nobody showed up to collect their PVC, only for them to flood the place on Monday, the last day. How do you expect these thousands to collect their PVCs in just one day?”

But Muhammadu Tijani, one of those who could not collect his PVC told The Guardian: “Honestly I am not happy because without the PVC I could not take part in electing my choice candidate. I tried to collect it on Monday but the crowd in my Fagge area was very heavy and I had to go home.”

Aboki Emmanuel regretted his inability to collect his saying, “INEC could not find my name on the list despite the several visits that I made.”

500, 000 Uncollected PVCs In Imo
In the last general elections, Nicholas Mgbenwelu voted, but last year he relocated from Lagos to Owerri, Imo State and consequently applied for the transfer of the card. That card was still stock in the transfer process up to the time voting opened yesterday.

He admits part of the blame for waiting till the last day before making a move for his PVC.

“My own problem is self made. I waited till last day before I went for my PVC. So did some other people. I was at the Ikeduru INEC Office till 5pm last Friday to collect my card but without success. A staff of the outfit that was trying to help only showed up late to inform me that the cards were mixed up and difficult to sort out. I regret I won’t vote this time,” Mgbenwelu lamented.

After spending four hours on the queue, Miss Uchechi Ogbu, a student of Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Imo State was tersely informed that her PVC card could not be found and she had to return home devastated.

“My dad made it compulsory that all of us must register to vote and obtain our PVC. So, I came back from school and registered at Owerri Municipal and was given a temporary one.

“Last week, I went to INEC office to collect my PVC, but after hours on the queue, I was informed that my card was not ready. I was confused because almost all my friends and family members that I registered with sameday all got theirs.

“Even my dad is not happy about the development because he wanted all of us to vote for my uncle who is contesting in the election. Beyond that, I felt bad seeing others go out to vote while I just sat back at home. I really would have love to vote for the first time in my life,” Ogbu said.

Up to last Thursday, Mr. Chinedu Onwuka, a roadside mechanic made several attempts to obtain his PVC at INEC office at Owerri Local Council, but to no avail. “As usual, the INEC staff there were always acting as if our lives depended on the PVCs. They delayed things and people for no just cause until I got fed up and returned to my workshop.”

However, according to the Public Relations Officer of INEC in the state, Mrs. Ben Opara, as at Thursday, February 14, 2019, the commission was in possession of only 500, 525 uncollected PVCs out of about 2.27 million voters registered in the state.

At a recent press conference held at INEC’s Headquarters in Owerri, the state Resident Electoral Commissioner (INEC), Prof. Francis Chukwuemeka Ezeonu expressed concern over the backlog.

He explained that INEC in the state did everything possible to ensure that every registered voter got his/her PVC and also participate in the voting exercise

Over 300, 000 Disenfranchised In Rivers
In Rivers State, a total of 382, 172 persons were unable to take part in the voting process yesterday having failed to collect their PVCs within stipulated time.

INEC record obtained by The Guardian indicated that out of 3, 215, 273 persons registered in the state, a total of 2, 833, 101 collected their PVCs and were qualified to participate in yesterday’s election and subsequent ones.

Efforts by thousands of residents of the state to pick up their PVCs could be better be described as frustrating, as chaotic scenes played out at PVC collection centres across the state.

While Godpower Ani gave up the chase for his PVC “after spending four to five hours on queues, on different days at INEC Office in Obio-Akpor Local Council,” Mrs. Evelyn Odinioha told The Guardian that she visited INEC’s office in Obio-Akpor repeatedly to collect her PVC, but without success.

“I repeatedly visited INEC’s office to obtain my PVC, but without success. That I was unable to vote in these crucial elections is painful. More so, when the fault was not mine, but as a result of institutional laxity. Banks these days issue ATM cards within minutes. Why can’t INEC issue voter cards the moment voters are registered? This shouldn’t be difficult thing to do,” she said.

On the contrary, the Rivers State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Obo Effanga, told The Guardian that PVC collection in the state was quite impressive.

According to him, as at December 2018, there were more than 600, 000 uncollected cards, but by the expiration of last Monday’s deadline the number had reduced to 382,172.

“I think that many people made effort to collect their cards but just that a lot of them came quite late in the day. Many also did not register early enough during the registration. It was the last few days that a lot of people turned up. The recently called off ASUU strike also contributed to making the situation bad as many undergraduates registered in school, and when it was time to collect their PVCs, their schools were shut. However, I actually think that the collection figure for PVCs in the state is not that bad,” he said.

Last Minute Rush, Not INEC Disenfranchised Cross Riverians
Some residents of Cross River State have frustration written on their faces because they could not take part in yesterday’s presidential and National Assembly elections. They also could not their PVCs before the closure of deadline.

Some of them who trooped to the INEC office last Tuesday, despite the deadline ending on Monday February 11, 2019 said they had no information about the deadline, hence they had to embark on the journey to the state capital, from different local councils.

One of them, who declined to divulge his identity questioned, “what is the reason for elections? And what do they expect us to do when we don’t have our PVCs? Why is it only in the South that getting PVCs is a big issue, while it is a non-issue in the North? In fact, I understand that they are even begging people to come and pick up their PVCs there. But I have been visiting this state office of INEC for over two weeks, and the crowd has consistently been large.”

Another aggrieved registered voter, who gave his name as Innocent Odima said INEC has performed woefully when it comes to distribution of voters’ cards in the state because there was very poor awareness and sensitisation on the issue. I had a role to play in yesterday’s election in my polling unit, yet I did not have my PVC to also cast my vote.

“My advice to Federal Government is to think of a better way to solve this problem of giving out PVCs,” Odima added.

While reacting to the issue, INEC’s Public Affairs Officer in the state, Mrs. Anne Etekpi questioned: “As a journalist and a stakeholder in the electoral process, do you think it is right to continue collecting PVCs few days to elections? The Electoral Act says we should stop issuing PVCs eight days to election. The distribution of PVCs that just ended started on April 11, 2018, but many people stayed back at home only to rush here in the last two weeks to collect their PVCs. It is even when they arrive this late that you find out that they may not have even been captured, and this is what they should have done some months ago so that we can look for alternatives. It is unfair for them to show up now and claim that INEC has disenfranchised them.

“Some of them did not even make any attempt to get their PVCs even with the extension. On Sunday, our staff were there and very few people came to collect, then on Monday which was the last day you see people rushing in to collect their PVCs. Like I said, they are not being fair to us,” Etekpi explained.

Enugu State’s 383, 281 Uncollected PVCs
Although INEC in Enugu State claimed it succeeded in raising voter awareness and increased their participation in the electoral process, many eligible voters across the state could not participate in yesterday’s elections because they could not collect their PVCs, after fruitless trips to the commission.

Ijeoma Ugwu, a student of Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State, registered in Enugu in 2014 before gaining admission. She told The Guardian that she abandoned classes severally to enable her get her PVC, but all to no avail.

“After I was informed that my PVC was ready, I made several trips down to Enugu State from Oko to collect the card, but I could not. On each occasion, it was either the officials were not there, or the place would be so crowded that I hardly got attended to. One of those days, I succeeded in writing my name on the sheet of paper provided for that purpose, but before it got to my turn, the officials said they had closed for the day. They asked us to come back the next day. I did with the hope that they would continue from where they stopped, but no. Instead, they gave us a fresh sheet paper to write our names. My brother and I were so frustrated. That is the reason that I refused to even show during the extended deadline. Now I have been robbed of the opportunity to cast my first vote because you must have your PVC to qualify to vote,” she said.

John Okeke, who registered at the INEC office in Aninri, said he returned the TVC to INEC in August last year after he was told that it would be replaced with the PVC. Unfortunately, each time I visited the office I was told my card was not ready. After a while, I got tired of bothering them and decided to keep away,” he said.

Okeke, who said it was painful to always shut down his business and travel to Enugu Local Council anytime the need arose, expressed regrets that he eventually did not collect the PVC, which would have qualified him to vote.

He said many other registered voters developed cold feet and became less enthusiastic about voting following the widespread belief that “votes no longer count in the country. But I was spurred to be part of the process when a schoolmate told me he would contest for a seat in the state assembly.”

Okeke, however, expressed annoyance that Nigerians were being exposed to so much stress by INEC, stressing that the commission needs to get creative in order to achieve more, while the people suffer less.

“I and many others may not want to return to the commission to ask for the PVCs again because of the stress. So, INEC needs to improve on this system if it must not discourage Nigerians from participating in the election.”

Insisting that the commission was not to blame for uncollected PVCs, the state REC, Emeka Ononamadu stated that the commission put in enough efforts to ensure that genuine voters got their PVCs.

He said the 383, 281 uncollected PVCs in its custody were for both 2014 and 2018 registration cycles. In all, a total of 1, 559, 495 voter cards have been collected.

Ononamadu said the commission carried out door-to-door campaign sensitising the people on the need for them, especially those who have not collected their voter cards to come out and collect them, engaging the services of civil society groups in all local councils of the state.

Even though he admitted that the exercise was an effective tool that yielded great dividends, he said going forward, there was need for sustained voter awareness, especially in the South East zone, where activities of pro-Biafra groups have given birth to apathy.

“We need to educate the people that they can change certain actions that are not in their favour by participating in the elections. Sitting down and saying it does not matter will matter when you allow others to decide for you. In the last few elections, less than five hundred voters have decided the fate of over a million voters in the zone because the people showed some apathetic. That is why we are here, to tell them that democracy does not thrive on apathy, and that they must join others in doing what they are doing as much as they agitate,” he stated.

INEC Not Deliberately Holding Back Any PVC In Akwa Ibom
When Uduak Eyo registered at the Uyo INEC office during the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, all was calm and smooth, but when it was time to collect her PVC, officials of the commission kept telling her one story after the other.

In fact, on several occasions, she was told that her PVC was yet to come from Abuja. This continued until the deadline and extended deadlines expired.

Many others encountered similar and even worse scenarios. Among them is Etim Edet Umo, an Uyo resident, who still has a TVC that dates back several years. He said: “I don’t know why they are telling me that my PVC has not come from Abuja since 1999. The unfortunate thing is that I am being told that without a PVC I cannot vote, meanwhile this is the time that I really need to be part of those that are ready to bring about a change in the leadership in this country.”

Others affected expressed grief over their inability to get their PVCs despite several attempts just as they blame INEC for the sloppy pace of distribution of PVCs, stressing that it has disenfranchised them.

But briefing reporters ahead of yesterday’s polls, the state’s REC Mr. Mike Igini, appealed to those affected to remain calm as the commission was in no way deliberately disenfranchising them.

According to him, what led to some persons in the state not collecting their PVCs “is not in any way deliberate, but we are also limited by the law.

“The PVC collection ended on Monday February 11, 2019. By today I can tell you that 2, 151, 956 PVCs that date back to 2014 have been received in the state. We have on record 1, 933, 362 people who have collected their PVCs. What we have uncollected here stands at 183, 604.”

Kogi Records 88% PVCs Collection
The three-day extension granted by INEC for the collection of PVCs was indeed, a window of opportunity for some of those, who were yet to do so in Kogi State, even though some still found themselves stranded at the expiration of the extension.

For instance, Mrs. Agatha Okoliko, rushed to the distribution centre at Ganaja Village, in Lokoja, after 5pm only to be told that the INEC staff that carried out the assignment had closed shop. Okoliko was transferring her PVC to the state from Jigawa State.

Another registered voter, Mrs. Mary Adinoyi, who resides in Lokoja said when she approached the commission for her PVC, she was told hers was not ready for collection.

Interestingly, many whom The Guardian spoke to said the PVC collection exercise, especially at the INEC office at Lokoja Local Council was smooth, and they collected theirs without much stress.

INEC REC in the state, Prof. James Apam said the commission attained 88.25 per cent distribution of PVCs in the state.

He explained that of the 1, 646, 350 registered voters in the state, 1, 452, 969 have collected their PVCs leaving a balance of 193, 381 uncollected as at last Wednesday.

The REC who was represented by the Administrative Secretary of the commission, Alhaji Mohammed Sadiq, urged women to take advantage of their numerical strength to increase their political participation, by seeking elective positions.

He said about 50 per cent registered voters were women and impressed on them the need to ensure that their numerical strength could be legitimately exploited to advance their cause.
Taraba Unsure Of Number Of

Uncollected PVCs
Taraba State was still battling to ascertain the number of eligible voters that have collected their PVCs, as well as the number of uncollected PVCs in its care hours before polls opened yesterday.

When The Guardian made enquiries only a few days to the opening ballot, spokesperson of the commission in the state, Fabian Yameh, said the commission “is still expecting reports from the local government council’s before it can give out such information “adding “now we can’t give you the exact figures of those who have collected their PVCs in this state.”

Yameh, who said only seven out of the 16 councils had so far reported to the commission as at the time of the inquiry, however, expressed optimism that all local councils would file in their reports before voting commenced yesterday.

That notwithstanding, Garba Junior who was yet to collect his PVC before the deadline lamented, the sincerity of the commission in view of all what happened during the PVC collection exercise.

Mallam Dantijo Abba, who suffered the same fate as Junior wants INEC to step up its game, maintaining that collection of PVCs should not be as cumbersome as it has been of late, especially with availability of technology.

Agnes Williams, one of those lucky to collect theirs on her part alleged that, “those assigned with the responsibility of issuing out the cards are not helping matters at all, they were just frustrating people for the sake of nothing.”