By Smith Nwokocha
INEC, Guarantee Citizens’ Participation in #NigeriaDecides 2023 Through the Efficient Distribution of Permanent Voters Cards Across Nigeria
Global Rights calls on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to improve citizens’ access to participate in the upcoming general elections by improving the efficiency of logistics for the distribution of permanent voters’ cards (PVCs).
Notwithstanding the fact that we commend INEC for extending the dates for the collection of Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) both at the Ward level and Local Government Secretariat levels, we are concerned that the logistics for the distribution of the cards have been hampered by hiccups in the management of the process.
Recall that INEC had announced registered voters could pick up their PVCs between December 12th, 2022, and January 22nd, 2023, and subsequently at the 8,809 Registration Areas/Wards from the 6th of January to the 15th of January 2023 between the hours of 9am and 3pm every day, including Saturdays and Sundays. Relatedly, INEC had on January 4, 2023, revealed that no fewer than 6.7 million Nigerians were yet to collect their PVCs across 17 states. As of December 20th, 2022, 231,900 registered voters were yet to pick up their PVCs in Gombe state. As of, 2022, 1,693,963 PVCs were yet to be collected in Lagos State, and 661,783 in Edo state. Other states with a sizeable catalogue of uncollected voters cards included Oyo (700,000), Ogun (400,000), Imo (300,000), Kogi (160,966), Kwara (120,602), and Borno (80,117). In the FCT, 460,643 PVCs had not been collected as of December 24th, 2022. INEC also revealed that the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) had the highest number of uncollected PVCs in the FCT.
While we acknowledge the efforts of the Commission in ensuring that no citizen is disenfranchised in the forthcoming elections which are just a few weeks away, we are concerned about the needless hurdles Nigerians are being subjected to in obtaining their permanent voters’ cards. In our monitoring of the situation across the nation, we noted multiple challenges which created bottlenecks in the collection process.
INEC’s failure to resolve these issues to date suggests that a sizeable number of voters may not receive their PVCs before the new deadline elapses and thus will be unable to cast their votes.
For instance, while monitoring PVCs collection centres in the Federal Capital Territory, we noted that while the collection process has been smooth in some locations, the situation in other locations, serving larger populations, leaves much to be desired. Similar trends were noted in other states, including Lagos and Nasarawa states. We, therefore, call INEC’s attention to some of the specific difficulties that several duly registered voters in the Federal Capital Territory have encountered while attempting to obtain their PVCs: For instance, while monitoring PVCs collection centres in the Federal Capital Territory, we noted that while the collection process has been smooth in some locations, the situation in other locations, serving larger populations, leaves much to be desired. Similar trends were noted in other states, including Lagos and Nasarawa states. We, therefore, call INEC’s attention to some of the specific difficulties that several duly registered voters in the Federal Capital Territory have encountered while attempting to obtain their PVCs:
Voters in the Utako Ward of the AMAC LGA have complained of sluggish PVC distribution due to understaffing.
Several voters in the Orozo Ward reported visiting their wards upwards of three times and were repeatedly told that their PVCs were not ready.
At Lugbe Primary School (the collection centre for Kabusa ward), where there are over 60 polling units which include polling units in Kabusa, Airport Road, some parts of Apo and Life Camp districts, there have been complaints about the sorting process occasioned because new voters were not separated from those with cases of lost or transferred cards; this has significantly slowed down the process, leading to massive crowds, daily queue waits of more than 700 persons, reports of raucous behaviour, stampedes, and people fainting due to exhaustion from long hours of standing on the queue. There have also been reported cases of unprinted and missing PVCs.
Despite INEC’s declaration that official collection hours are 9am to 3pm, there have been reports of INEC officials resuming at about 11 am each day at some of the collection centres, resulting in people having to wait in line for more than 4 hours before any INEC official shows up, and then having to contend with long queues due to the late commencement.
Several people also complained of inaccuracies in the SMSs and emails sent by INEC to some registered voters, instructing them to pick up their card in a particular ward, but were then redirected to another after spending hours in long queues.
Global Rights applauds the patriotic enthusiasm displayed by citizens in collecting their PVCs which is an indication of their willingness to be active at the polls. It would be an unacceptable disservice to Nigeria’s fledgling democracy for INEC to disenfranchise willing and eligible voters due to a flawed collection process, as their continued frustration may trigger their resignation and deepen distrust for the electoral process. We, therefore, urge INEC to hastily resolve these challenges in order to enable citizens to fulfil their civic obligation as the extended PVC collection deadline draws near. This has become not only relevant but imperative to addressing the recurrent issue of voter apathy that has characterized elections in Nigeria. We will continue to monitor the process and call on Nigerians not to relent in the face of structural inhibitions but rather to demand accountability for smooth, transparent, free and fair elections in Nigeria.