Before now, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Nigerian authorities have always rued the low voter turnout on elections days in the country. The officials would lament like a celebrant who organized an elaborate ceremony with sumptuous dishes only for invited guests not to show up. Alas, Nigerians are beginning to realize that all the ululations about voter apathy were just the officials shedding crocodile tears. If not, how else does one explain that in the face of Nigerians’ huge awakening on the need for them to participate in the ongoing continuous voter registration (CVR), INEC has been caught napping? The failures of the electoral body have now added impetus to the conspiracy theory of the system being rigged to frustrate or dissuade enlightened voters from being part of the process of selecting the leader.
A case in point is the plight of residents of Amuwo Odofin and Alaba market in Lagos State who closed their shops and businesses in order to go for the CVR only to be disappointed by INEC officials. What is more disturbing about the failure of the electoral commission to simply register these enthusiastic citizens is that they had issued a prior notice about the closure of the international market on Thursday to allow traders to go for their permanent voter cards (PVCs). Although this information was all over the place and trended on social media, INEC failed to prepare for the crowd who trooped to its offices to participate in the exercise. Worse still, these patriotic citizens were attacked by hoodlums who would not have harassed or harmed them if the registration process at the INEC office was as it should be.
On Twitter, @Chude__ wrote: “Massive crowd at Ojo. @inecnigeria, People have been out since 5am, and none have been attended to them. The center have only 2 machines with over 1000 people waiting to be registered. Lagos thugs who came to attack the center were resisted”. @B.bosz: “INEC officials didn’t show up today at LA primary school iba. People have been waiting for hours but no show. What’s going on???” As seen in a video circulated online by the affected residents, the people who thronged INEC’s office in the FESTAC area of Lagos State to exercise civic responsibility were seen calling out officials who remained in their office cubicles rather than coming out to attend to the anxious citizens.
The story is the same in other parts of the country, with complaints ranging from faulty devices and internet disruptions to hundreds of Nigerians being served with one machine. There was also a video of enthusiastic Nigerians left stranded at the Garki office of INEC where they had gone for data capture. The failings were such that one of the leading presidential candidates tweeted on Thursday, “Information reaching me indicates that voter registration across Nigeria, more so in the South East, is dogged by inertia & bureaucratic bottlenecks. I respectfully call on INEC to facilitate speedy registration of Nigerians to enable them to exercise their voting rights”.
Naija News considers it contemptuous of the citizenry that despite these rife complaints, INEC has not deemed it fit to issue a statement re-assuring disappointed citizens, and condemning the skirmishes and attacks on Nigerians who went to its Lagos offices for the CVR. This insouciance questions the sincerity of INEC to grant every Nigerian eligible to vote in the 2023 general election an opportunity to do so. These shortcomings are highly unacceptable in view of the billions of taxpayers’ money budgeted for INEC to carry out the exercise. Ordinarily, the state should spend money on campaigns mobilizing citizens to come and be registered to vote. So, when the citizens take it upon themselves to be a part of the process of electing leaders, the least INEC can do is to meet them halfway. The authorities should be worried that in a country with a population of 200 million, only about 16 million Nigerians elect the President of the Federal Republic.
If citizens who have been castigated for voting more in reality TV shows than in their country’s general election now wake from their somnambulism into doing the right thing, why shouldn’t INEC give them the needed support? This is their future at stake here and the electoral umpire must not be allowed to toy with it. It is unfortunate that INEC officials will be this lethargic to one of their core mandates when only last month, the commission was lamenting that 20 million PVCs have been left uncollected in their offices across the country. At the launch of a campaign to drive the collection of PVCs and increase participation in the ongoing continuous voter registration exercise, INEC National Commissioner of FCT, Nasarawa, Kaduna, and Plateau States, Mohammed Haruna said, “I think close to 20 million PVCs have not been collected… It may be a small percentage, but in terms of absolute number, that’s huge.”
Twenty million is in no way a small number, and the INEC chief was spot on in pointing out that “20 million is probably more than the voters of so many West African countries put together”. Nigerians wouldn’t have taken the pains to register for their PVCs only to abandon the same when it is ready for pickup. There is no doubt that this staggering number of voter cards is still with INEC as a result of unnecessary hurdles citizens face in their bid to collect their PVCs. For starters, it is such a long time between when they register and the time the PVCs are ready for collection, even timelines given by the electoral body for the availability of the cards are usually not met by the commission. After futile visits to INEC offices for the cards, the prospective voter soon gives up, thus swelling the number of uncollected PVCs.
In this age of technology where bank customers get their ATM cards printed within minutes of registering for it, Naija News wonders why the same approach isn’t adopted in the ongoing continuous voter registration. Even if this will be a tall order, the least INEC can do is to make the process seamless rather than the laborious system currently in use. It is quite clear that the ratio of those who have been electing public office holders in the country is infinitesimal when compared to the percentage of those who stay away from the polling station or refuse to enroll as the electorate. It should be good news to INEC that the tide is changing. In Lagos, the Youth Vote Count Mega Concert has been slated for tomorrow, with top-rated artists and entertainers billed to perform. Admittance to the concert is dependent on the presentation of PVCs or the temporary voter’s slip. This goes to show that it is already becoming a fad for Nigerians to go for their voter cards.
INEC must therefore rise to the occasion. Naija News welcomes the innovation where a part of the CVR is done online to be completed offline at the electoral commission’s offices. This should make the process seamless and less cumbersome for Nigerians. The Commission must do away with instances of poor network and inadequate data capture machines. It must also ensure that all those who have been or are currently being enrolled, get their PVCs ahead of the 2023 general election. Given the hiccoughs that have so far dogged the CVR and the increasing resolve of Nigerian youth to take back their country through the ballot, INEC should extend the June 30 deadline for the CVR. If political parties could be indulged with an extension in the timeline for the conduct of primaries, INEC has no justification to deny eligible Nigerians more time to be able to exercise their franchise in the next general election.
This is more so as the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) provides in Section 14(1)(c) that, ‘the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.’ This newspaper’s call for an extension of the deadline for the CVR is further hinged on Section 9(6) of the Electoral Act 2022 which provides that “the registration of voters, updating and revision of the Register of Voters under this section shall not stop not later than 90 days before any election covered by this Act”. While INEC does what is necessary, we call on all eligible Nigerians to remain resolute in their quest to ensure that illiterates and vote sellers do not yoke the country with another failed leadership for the next four years. The manifest quest of young Nigerians to take back their country truly starts with getting the PVC. INEC should not stand in their way!