BusinessDay

Voter cards elude Nigerians eager to vote

It was as if a vigil was scheduled for the month of June. Middle-aged men, women and young adults come in droves, and surround the “beautiful gates”, hoping to gain entrance to the small but enticing electoral buildings and access the key card that may unlock a rebirth for a seemingly ailing nation and eventually give a new lease on life for its citizens, but it appears that they may be hitting a brick wall.

Anguish and despair were written all over their faces as they patiently stood, lost valuable man-hours in the process and devoted their precious time to the cause of registering for a voting permit, the Permanent Voters Card (PVC), so as to perform their civic duties in 2023.

The undaunted prospective voters defied the week-long torrential rain, trooped out and besieged the different Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) centres across Edo State at the dawn of each day to register for the PVC.

In the past few weeks, the interests of the citizenry, particularly the youths, have started to gather momentum and it has shown that they are a force to be reckoned with owing to the recent activities that have cropped up in the political space ahead of the general elections scheduled to hold next year.

The recent sudden turnout of Nigerians at the different INEC centres, according to political observers, has been linked to perceived failure by successive governments and it is now occasioned by a wave of sensitisation drive.

However, some pundits said the rush by eligible voters to registration centres may be prompted by the looming June 30 deadline and the surging popularity of their respective candidates.

For a 63-year-old grandmother, who preferred anonymity, the PVC registration process has been stressful. “I was here yesterday and I met only one INEC official who said he can’t do the job alone. He asked me to come today, and I am here but they said I should come back again the following day. It is tiring,” she lamented.

She said: “I am here to do the transfer of my PVC. I have filled the form online and I have been coming to present the form but they keep on telling me to come again.

“This crowd showed that the youths have woken up from their slumber. I am a mother and grandmother, and I have to buy the future of my children. So, I will stay put till I successfully do it.”

Tolu Adeyemi, a middle-aged mother, who strapped her six-month-old baby to her back, while waiting at the electoral office in Oredo Local Government Area of Edo State, said: “It’s like a routine; people come here, they send them back and repeat it the following day.

“I spoke to my friend in Lagos and she told me the process wasn’t so difficult. So, I came to do my own this morning and they are making it difficult. The INEC officials said they do not have forms; that they distributed over 100 forms the previous day and they need to process those ones first before they can attend to those of us that came today. I am confused.”

Felix Ogochukwu, a 28-year-old prospective registrant, also voiced his frustration.

He said: “I was here yesterday and the officials told me they are done. Today, I have been here since 7am and it seems the crowd has overwhelmed them. We were told they are using the names of persons that came the previous day and until they are done, they will not look into today’s list.

“We want to vote. So, we, the youths, have resolved that this is our time to make sure our votes count. We are here to withstand any pressure to ensure our candidate, the person we want to restore Nigeria and revive the country’s dwindling economy, emerges.”

Anthony Ikogwe, a Benin-based engineer, has spent more than three days trying to transfer his PVC to his new location so he can perform his civic duties without being inhibited by distance.

“This is discouraging, and it may prevent people from registering; if such happens, this may disenfranchise them from the next elections,” the 54-year-old man said. “It is quite disheartening that, with this level of the number of persons outside the premises that want to do registration, transfer or collect their PVCs, INEC has not provided manpower to attend to this huge number.”

He said he had been to different centres and it was the same experience, adding: “They have just one machine to attend to more than 500 persons.”

“I just hope that INEC should improve on this whole process. There is no way many people can successfully do this exercise before the end of June 30. I hope INEC will hearken to the yearnings of the masses and appeal by the House of Representatives to extend it by 60 days,” Ikogwe said.

He said the country’s challenges had further pushed the citizens to the wall, adding that Nigerians were left with no option but to stand up and speak with their voters’ card.

Read also: Explainer: Why youths find voter registration process frustrating

He said: “I think the crowd is more this time because people now see the importance of voting. A lot of people in the past thought votes didn’t count but with the current happenings in the country, they believe it will count this time and need to cast their votes en masse.

“There is awareness now. The youths, in the past, have discovered that in one way or the other, they have compromised on the part of supporting people into elective positions. This time around, most of the youths, who have not been voting, feel they need to cast their votes for the person they know will move the country forward.”

Corroborating, Osagie Orobator, a Benin resident, said the recent upsurge of people showing interest in obtaining the PVC simply means there is a renewed confidence among Nigerians that their votes will count this time around.

He said: “What you are seeing is a reawakening. Nigerians just realised that they can effect the change that is needed in this country and that is why you are seeing the crowd. With this, INEC might be forced to extend the deadline because there are still some states that have eligible voters and were not thinking of registering.

“Before now, many people think their votes will not count, but presently, with what INEC is doing and the interest people are showing, I think, this time around, they will realise their votes will count.”

Although there have been calls for INEC to extend the registration deadline following the marked increase in the number of persons who want to register but the electoral body is yet to bow to pressure. Instead, more INEC Voter Enrollment Devices were deployed to areas of largest potential registrants.

According to John Otabor, an eligible voter, if the electoral body can extend the deadline for presidential primaries, then nothing should stop it from providing more days for voter registration.

However, Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of INEC, while recently speaking at an event, hinted of a possible extension of the June 30 Continuous Voters Registration deadline.

“With every registration, there has always been that clamour for extension towards the end. The commission will always listen to what Nigerians want and facilitate it to make sure that as many Nigerians as possible register and collect their PVCs to be able to vote. So, we are watching the trend. Be rest assured, we will be positive when the time comes,” Yakubu said.

Determined to increase the number of registered voters and improve the participation of citizens in the forthcoming election, a coalition of youths and student bodies in Edo State said it would mobilise 10,000 residents in the state to register for their PVCs and collect them.

“We have understood that over time, youths are making all sorts of statements that the PVCs and their votes are not needed and do not count and we are here today to tell the youths that their votes count and that Nigerians should come out en mass come 2023 elections,” Osawe Uwagboe, speaker of Edo State Youth Parliament, said at a rally in Benin City.

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