CVR: Frustration in Lagos as scarcity of machines mars exercise

…Thugs invade church, cart away PVC reg machines ...Millions to be disenfranchised

Millions of eligible voters in Lagos and several other states across Nigeria could be disenfranchised because of their inability to register and get their Permanent Voters Cards in the Continuous Voter Registration exercise (CVR), which ends today as several registration centres are hit by logistics hiccups and absence of capturing machines, checks by BusinessDay Sunday has revealed.

The CVR, which started last year June was initially scheduled to end on June 30, but pressure and litigations by stakeholders forced the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to extend the deadline for the registration exercise to July 31.

In the last few months, there has been a sudden large turnout of prospective registrants, resulting from increased publicity and mobilisation by INEC and stakeholders across the country.

To help the situation, the commission extended the time for the exercise to eight hours daily from 9am-5pm, instead of the former time of 9am-3pm daily. The registration days were also increased to include Saturday and Sunday.

The commission also promised that it would deploy additional 209 voter enrolment machines to five South-Eastern states as well as Lagos and Kano to ease the congestion.

But despite the promises, investigations revealed that nothing has changed in several registration centres visited as the exercise ends today.

It was observed that logistic challenges, which has characterised the exercise from the beginning, has persisted leaving prospective voters frustrated.

Equally, it was observed that some prospective voters lacked the right information of the registration procedure, especially those that want to change their voting points after changing their state of residence.

Despite INEC information that state could be done online, some of the prospective voters claimed they have no access to the internet, had no knowledge about online registration.

“I don’t have a browsing phone to do it online, even if I get one, I can’t do it on my own,” Tawa Ogun said.

Furthermore, in a particular Local Government Area in Lagos State, there were large numbers of prospective voters, but logistic hiccups, shortage of manpower, and shortage of capturing machines hampered smooth running of the exercise.

There was tension and frustration among the prospective voters as they waited endlessly in the queues to be attended to. Some of them had arrived at the centres as early as 4am to write down their names.

Similar situations were observed in several centres visited in Lagos State.

The situation left hundreds of eligible voters stranded, while some said they had given up on registering to get their PVCs, to vote in the 2023 general election due to the July 31 deadline.

Njoetene Chioma, 24, a prospective voter in one of the registration centres, complained bitterly about the rigorous procedure and the inability of INEC officials to attend to her after three days of visit and attempt to register.

“I have been away from this state for the past one year, I did not want to register where I went, since I wanted to vote in Lagos where I reside, but the whole process is frustrating.

“You can see the crowd here, I came here as early as 5am, but they are not following the number we took. The guys would just come and call some people inside; it resulted into a fight yesterday here. They are not following the number,” Njoetene said.

She, however, added that she was ready to wait and register to vote in next year’s election, because the country needed a new direction.

“I would wait and I must register to get my PVC to vote because this country needs to be rescued, the suffering is too much; look at the exchange rate today,” she added.

Similarly, Lola Oluketuye, 37, another prospective voter in another Local government, said she was given a form to fill her data by an INEC official the previous day, but had been unable to submit the form to be captured.

“I came here yesterday and after some much effort, I was given the form to fill my information for registration. I came today to submit and register, I was told to wait since morning.

“There is so much rush and push at the entrance of INEC, I can’t stand it, the suffering is too much,” Oluketuye said.

An INEC Electoral Officer in charge of one of the Local Government Areas in Lagos State, who spoke to BusinessDay Sunday, on condition of anonymity said the major challenges hindering the smooth running of the registration in her LGA was shortage of capturing machine and manpower.

The INEC official revealed that due to the rush and large number of people turning out to register, she had to have engaged some members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) to help in the registering process.

She further revealed that she has only seven capturing machines in the LGA, out of which only six are functional.

“The major challenge we have in this LGA is the machines, it is not enough, I was given seven machines and one is bad.

“Also, there are not enough hands; I had to engage some NYSC members because of the large number of people coming in the closing days,” she said.

However, another INEC Electoral Officer in another Local government blamed the rush witnessed in the closing days of the registration in most registration centres on Nigerians who refused to come for the registration on time.

The INEC official said they were working round the clock to register everyone who comes to the centre.

“We are doing our best to register everyone here, as you can see, we have few hands, but we have extended the time. We have told them to wait, we would attend to them.

“The problem is that people wait till the last minutes before rushing out, the CVR exercise started last year in June, we are doing our best here to cope,” the official said. Oriowo

When contacted on the scarcity of capturing machines in centres across Lagos, INEC’s Head of Publicity and Voter Education in the state, Nike Oriowo said the commission had 470 machines and had distributed 160 across the state for the registration exercise.

Oriowo said Lagos State had most machines compared to other states, stressing that most of the people coming to INEC registration centres, can do their registration online.

According to him, “Most people coming to our offices can do the registration online; we don’t expect them to be coming to our offices. The online registration lasted for a year.

“Lagos State has the most machines in the country and we have 470, out of these numbers, we have distributed about 160 and it is scattered across the state in various registration centres.

She, however, denied reports of diversion of machines in the state.

Speaking to BusinessDay on the challenges which had marred the CVR exercise, Wale Ogunade, national coordinator of Voter Awareness Initiative, noted that INEC did not envisage the large number of people coming out to register.

Ogunade called for the extension of the deadline, so that more Nigerians can register to vote in next year’s general election.

“It is obvious that INEC did not envisage the high number of people coming out to register now; it appears they are not prepared for the upsurge.

“There are lots of people that want to register and that has incapacitated INEC. But they have to extend the deadline, so that Nigerians would not suffer for their inefficiency,” he said.

Rotimi Oyekanmi, Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, said that the commission in Lagos State had registered more new voters than other states in the country, stressing that the overwhelming number of people seeking to register has put pressure on centres and facilities.

According to him, “As at 25th July 2022, our Lagos State office had registered 508,936 new voters. No other state in Nigeria has registered this number of voters. Our Kano state office is the only other place that has crossed the 500,000 mark. It had registered 500,207 new voters as of 25th July.

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“So, I think Nigerians should appreciate the efforts of the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Segun Agbaje and his team for working so hard to register as many voters as possible.

“The Continuous Voter Registration exercise started in June 2021, so, it has been going on for the past one year. There were days along the line when no voter turned up at any of our Lagos registration Centres.

“What is going on right now is that an overwhelming number of registrants are rushing to register because of the deadline of 31st July 2022. Thus, there is tremendous pressure on our Centres and facilities.

“In order to give more Nigerians the opportunity to register, the Commission recently extended our opening hours from 9am to 5pm, instead of the previous 9am-3pm. Our staff were also directed to work on Saturdays and Sundays as against Monday to Friday.”

Meanwhile, thugs last Friday disrupted the exercise at St. Bridget Catholic Church in Ijesha, Surulere area of Lagos State.

The thugs carted away the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Continuous Voter Registration machines.

The incident happened less than 72 hours before the CVR’s closure by INEC.

Following the incident, the Parish Priest locked up the church while people scampered for safety.

An eyewitness who identified herself as, Princess Okojie Idemudia alleged that the thugs stormed the church and disrupted the exercise because those registering will vote for a particular candidate.

It was learnt that the police had been deployed to the area to ensure peace and order.