BusinessDay

Surge in voter registration catches INEC off-guard

…Tale of woes persist …Commission’s personnel overwhelmed …Allegation of bribery widespread …Knocks for eleventh-hour Nigerians …Angry citizens want to take back their country

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not see it coming. Although it had planned for continuous voter registration (CVR) as part of its activities towards a successful 2023 general election, the Commission, perhaps, did not envisage the surge in the number of people willing to participate in the exercise.

Usually, the umpire organises such an exercise to accommodate those who are clocking the voting age of 18 years; makes provisions for those who have relocated and would want to transfer their voting centres and those who for one reason or the other have lost their voters’ cards and need to be issued with new ones.

The INEC draw up budgets for these exercises and allocate the funds based on materials, personnel needed and according to the duration of the exercises. Whenever such exercises go beyond the time allotted, the umpire runs the risk of seeking additional funding, which may not come handy.

The INEC began the CVR last year June, but many Nigerians did not show interest until a few months ago, which has not only mounted a serious pressure on the men and materials deployed by the Commission, but has also resulted in all manner of allegations against some officers of the agency as well as against some politicians and political parties.

In the last one month in particular, Nigeria seems to have witnessed increased citizens’ interest in the political process never equaled since the return of the country to civil rule 23 years ago, in relation to their willingness to take part in the next round of national election next year. Moreover, the upsurge in the number of citizens desiring to take part in the CVR exercise seems to be proving that.

Our correspondents across the country, who visited some registration centres, report that the citizens are going through intense stress, while the INEC officers seem to be overwhelmed by the crowd they confront with on a dailybasis.

Although it has been difficult to pin down to any particular reason for the upsurge in youths’ participation, some of those who spoke with our correspondents said it was a sign of political awakening and that the youth were determined to take back their country.

The citizens, who are showing interest in the voting process, many of them for the first time since 1999, said they would want to change the leadership narrative in the country.

They also strongly believe that, unlike before, their votes would count in 2023, as they had determined to cast their votes and defend such votes despite intimidation and any form of rigging.

Although the INEC appears overwhelmed, it has shown no sign of extending the date for the closing of the exercise which is June 30. It has explained that an extension would mean that the PVCs would not be printed and delivered to their owners before the commencement of the elections.

However, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, recently said: “With every registration, there has always been a 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 PVC.”

However, to respond to the cries of Nigerians in some parts of the country on the need to lessen the stress of registration occasioned by unavailability of machines and personnel, INEC has since deployed some machines to some critical places.

We hereby present the goings-on in some registration centres as captured by our correspondents in some parts of the country.

Port Harcourt

I must get my PVC this time no matter the antics of INEC – Benedict

Obinna Benedict studied in Benue State from his primary school to the University, and thus belongs to many social platforms to which most vibrant young persons from the Middle Belt belong. Also, as an easterner and one that works in Rivers State and as an evangelist, he also belongs to many platforms for young elite and people from the South-South and South-East.

Benedict had always shown total apathy to issues of elections and politics generally, coming from an angry generation and as someone that is totally disillusioned by perceived corruption, ineptitude, and dishonesty in government and the public sector.

Now, however, he seems totally galvanised by the prospect of one or two presidential candidates, just as he was in 2019 when Obiagali Ezekwesili and Kingsley Moghalu showed up for the presidency and seemed to dazzle most young people on television with their economic models for better governance.

Benedict has become active on social media, mobilising other young people to go register and get their voters’ cards so as to cast a vote to the man the youth seem to be having a frenzy for. Most of the youth in the many platforms he belongs to are said to be admonishing one another to go beyond social campaigns and go get a permanent Voter’s Card (PVC).

So, Monday last week, according to a source close to him, he went to a centre in Port Harcourt to register, only to meet a large crowd.

The source said over 90 percent of those who came to obtain a PVC were young people who said they were first-timers.

The source said the youth at the INEC centre, who endured the scorching sun till 2pm, grudgingly dispersed when they could not see any official to attend to them; they accused the officials of having some sinister motives.

What seemed surprising, according to the source, was that the youth seemed very angry with any young person who showed tiredness or eagerness to quit. They admonished each other to remain determined to get a PVC.

The source said the youth also agreed that during the elections, nothing must deter them. “Even if they like, let them shoot from morning till night, we must make sure we cast our vote and we must defend our votes. Our votes must count,” one of them was quoted as saying.

At every turn, it was gathered that the youth chanted the name of their new-found political idol to boost their morale.

Other sources said the young people, unlike before, seem to know every bit of what is going on in politics in recent times. They seem to read a lot from social media these days and this seems to have created wildfires of political awareness.

When our correspondent went round the Rivers State capital, it was found that young people have massed at venues advertised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). This seems to be a national phenomenon.

Most churches and socio-cultural organisations have also caught the fire. They now urge their members to strive to obtain their PVCs. This too has created more frenzy.

Reacting to the upsurge, Geraldine Ekelemu, INEC Rivers State Public Affairs officer, told BusinessDay Friday evening that the Commission has reacted to the situation.

She said eight more machines had come in and that the mobile centre system has been adopted to take the service to all parts of the state. She however said the Commission was not working on Sundays as requested by some churches.

Speaking on behalf of the State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Obo Effanga, the PRO said the INEC was sure to attend to almost all those coming to their centres.

The next day, Saturday, June 18, 2022, the PRO issued an alert saying; “INEC Rivers State has received the PVCs for transfers, updates, lost and defaced requests made between June 2021 and December 2021. Those who fall under the above categories should kindly visit the INEC LGA offices where they want to vote in to collect their PVCs from Monday June 20th.”

Most persons interviewed by our correspondent in Port Harcourt said they would go on Monday, to endeavour to either collect their PVCs or to register.

Benin

‘We want to vote’ – Benin residents cry out

It was as if vigil was scheduled for the month of June. Middle-aged men, women as well as young adults come in droves, 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 of life for its citizens, but it appears that they may be hitting a brick wall.

Anguish, 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 Voter’s 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 election 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 frowned.

“I am here to do 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,” she said.

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,” Adeyemi told our correspondent in Benin.

Felix Ogochukwu, a 28-year-old prospective registrant, 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, emerge.”

Anthony Ikogwe, a Benin-based engineer, who has spent more than three days trying to transfer his Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) to his new location so he can perform his civic duty without being inhibited by distance, said: “This is discouraging, and it may prevent people from registering; if such happens, this may disenfranchise them from the next elections.”

The depressed 54-year-old man further said: “I am here this morning to do a transfer of my voter’s card to my current place of residence. We have been here since 7am, and you can see everywhere is crowded.

“We understand that they only have one machine used for capturing. 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.

“This is my third time coming for this exercise. Some persons have been coming for the past four days and they are yet to achieve the process. I have been to different centres and same thing is happening in those places. 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 with 60 days,” Ikogwe said.

He further said that the crowd across the different registration centres was triggered by Nigeria’s existential challenges which have further pushed the citizens to the wall, adding that Nigerians are now left with no option but to stand up and speak with their voters’ cards.

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

“There is awareness now. The youth, in the past, have discovered that in one way or the other, they have compromised in 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 carry the country forward,” he said.

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.

“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,” he said.

Although there has been several clamour for INEC to extend the registration exercise following the marked increase in the number of persons who want to register, the electoral body is yet to bow to the pressure of extending the exercise. Instead more INEC Voter Enrollment Devices (IVEDs) were deployed to areas of largest potential registrants.

Peeved by the vigorous exercise of PVC registration, John Otabor, an eligible voter, advocated for extension of time to allow more people register so that they can vote, adding that If the electoral body can extend the date for presidential primaries, then nothing should stop the Commission from applying same rules to give more windows of opportunity to the citizenry.

Mahmood Yakubu, chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), while recently speaking at an event, hinted of possible extension of the June 30 Continuous Voters Registration (CVR) deadline.

“With every registration, there has always been that clamor 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 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.

Speaking at a rally in Benin City, Osawe Uwagboe, Speaker, Edo State Youth Parliament and convener of the “Massive March For 10,000 PVC registration, said “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.”

Ilorin

Allegations of bribery, corruption fill the air

BusinessDay’s Correspondent visited the INEC head office in Ilorin, Kwara State and discovered that many people; especially youth are yet to get their PVCs.

People in their hundreds were on queue at the main gate and inside a hall within the premises, and it was observed the officials of the agency were busy attending to the people on different purposes.

A female officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, managed to disclose that they were confronted with the challenge of many people on ground and unable to satisfy them at once.

“We are only registering people today. As you can see, they are many and we are trying our best to ensure that they all get done what they are here for. Nigerians don’t do things early but they will be rushing when a programme is about to close,” the officer said.

Some of the citizens who spoke to BusinessDay lamented slow pace of service, discrimination and lack of care for people to register.

One of those who spoke with our correspondent, who gave his name as Michael Adeniran, said: “I have been here since morning and till now I don’t know my fate. Security agencies at the gate are collecting money before they allow people in. We are inside now but the service is very poor. Some people have gone because of how the situation is. They just have to improve on it.”

Another respondent who pleaded anonymity equally complained that, “We have been delayed. Some people who just came have done their registration and gone; may be, they know officers here. The situation is not impressive at all. Nigeria itself is not working well; so, it applies to all aspects of our lives- bribery and corruption everywhere.”

Binta James, a female, who wanted to register for the first time said: “The network is okay. Within five minutes you are done but the workers are for eye service. I am 18 years old and I want to get the card for me to be able to vote in the coming election.”

Another female explained that she needed a replacement (PVC) because she lost the first one issued to her. She also complained and advised that the agency should step up strategies in serving people so as not to get them frustrated.

Delta

‘We go through hell to register for PVC’

The process of registering and collecting of the Permanent Voters Card (PVCs) by citizens in Delta State is seen to be hellish as people now leave their homes at 1:00 am in order to be recorded among those to be attended for the day.

This is just as some of them lodge in nearby hotels to enable them stroll to INEC office early in the morning so they could be captured among those to be attended to.

BusinessDay learned that the Regis Anukwojivoterregistration exercise starts by 9:00 daily and sometimes later than that, yet even before 7am, there is huge crowd at INEC offices most of whom are spill over registration centres from the previous day as well as the current day.

When our Correspondent visited INEC office located around South Local Government council headquarters, on Friday, citizens mainly youths, crowded the front gate as they were eagerly waiting for their turns to enter and get registered or apply for transfer of their PVCs to their present polling units.

“I am from Ebonyi. I have my PVC but all I want is to have my centre/unit transferred to Asaba so I can vote here since I’m now on transfer to Asaba,” said one respondent who simply identified himself as Moses.

He however, lamented that it hasn’t been easy as he was yet to be attended to despite coming to INEC office for days while his job suffered.

He accused INEC officials of receiving bribe from the buoyant and influential persons and attending to them fast while those who couldn’t buy their way out, are left unattended to. “People pay as much as N5,000 because they see the exercise as game of highest bidder,” he alleged.

Anpther citizen, who said he had spent three days and had to change tactics by lodging in a hotel near to INEC office in Oshimili South headquarters, said: “That was how I was able to fall into the number of those that registered on Friday, June 17,” he said.

The bigger challenge is that there are only two machines being used for the registration at the centre.

The INEC official, who addressed the people, disclosed that “there are four registration centres within this cluster, including Okpanam, Ibuzo, Oshimili South headquarters and another centre, all having two machines each. It’s unlike places like Lagos State where you have more number of machines at every centre.”

A citizen, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, said: “I’ve been used to voting during general election but I’m here to transfer my PVCs to my current unit, and effect correction on my date of birth. I believe that the crowd is overwhelming INEC on daily basis. Some people have gone home because they can’t continue to wait.”

“I’m here because PVCs is one of the requirements for me to be given job in Anambra State,” another said.

Patience, a business in woman, lamented that the process has been slow as only one machine was working out of the two that were deployed to the centre.

“Yesterday, I was here as at 5am and was number 8 on the list. Under the rain, we were still queued up, yet we’re tear-gassed by a security agent. Thank God nobody died,” she said.

Peculiar, a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), said she has been at the INEC office for five days and yet was unsure if she would be successful with her registration as at Friday due to obvious challenges.

“I need my PVC so I can vote for a candidate of my choice for a better Nigeria devoid of bad leadership.

“They (operating officers) are very slow and incompetent. There should be more machines at INEC registration centres. The electoral umpire should engage more youths as personnel rather than using all these old men,” she said.

Ugonna Benjamin who said he had registered twice since year 2009 without receiving voter’s card, disclosed that this is the third time he was attempting to register yet couldn’t make it as a result of the crowd.

“My anger is on how they are frustrating us here (in the South-South and South-East). In the north, you will be in your house they bring voter’s card for you but here, they left only two machines at each centre of which only one is working.

“I want to choose my leader, so I need my PVC. Enough of this frustration!” he cried out.

Mercy Ehikhametalo, assistant engineer at the INEC Delta State headquarters, located in Okpanam, admitted that they have been overwhelmed but explained that it was as a result of the late registration population turn out, who are mostly youths.

She also said that there would not be extension of registration as being clamoured, adding that even if the registration is extended, the card would be of no use because the card owner cannot collect it since elections are done with time table.

She also admitted that the machines being deployed for the registration exercise were inadequate, adding that the crowd recorded as a result of late registration has been huge compared to the number they have been used to since January.

“You can see it yourself. We suppose to officially close office 3pm daily but because these youths would persist, the office is open even till 5pm. Only the entrance gate is closed after 3pm while we continue to attend to those who are already inside the registration hall,” Ehikhametalo said.

Lagos

‘I am determined to wait and get the card’

In Alimosho Local Government Area (LGA) of Lagos State, the Electoral Officer of the council who spoke to BusinessDay said they were trying their best to cope with the large number of Nigerians who are besieging the various centres in the council to register and get their Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs).

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), official, however, said they discovered that some of the intending voters were doing double registration, while often failing to disclose to them that they had registered elsewhere but had lost their cards.

He revealed that only 10 machines were available in the council and had been shared to the various registration points in the council.

According to him, we are doing our best here to register people; we register them with the time they come here. We are trying to register everybody, if they can wait. We don’t leave here till 8-pm.

“A lot of them have done it before; we discovered some of them are doing double registration; we often detect that in the Abuja office, when they want to produce the card.

“In this council we have 10 machines, we shared them across the registration points in the communities, but we have been promised two more machines next week.

“But I think, the more machines we have, the more possibility of double registration in the process.

Speaking on his experience at the centre, an intending voter, Chima Ike, lamented the bottleneck involved in the registering process, advising INEC to make available more machines and create more polling units in the council.

“There are some things the government is supposed to correct, this registration should be something you just walk in and get it done. How can somebody register twice, they should check.

“I am here to transfer to my new address, but I have been here since 8 am, no hope. I was given number 92, but they are not following the number,” Chima said.

Similarly, another intending voter, Nfon Okon, said she was determined to wait and finished the process despite the rigorous process and large crowd in the centre.

According to her, “I came here last week and could not do it, because of the crowd, I left with my husband. But we came back this morning; some people have left out of frustration.

“We are tired. If this thing is going on like this, we may not register. I came here this morning, they said we should wait, that they want to get another machine”.

Similarly, at another registration centre around Iyana Ipaja within the council, a crowd of people were seen arguing with security officials about some people who were given preferential treatment after they arrived at the registration centre.

Several of the people advised INEC to create more registration centres in the community to end the suffering of people.

“I am determined to wait and get the card,” Bunmi Ola, a student, said.

Read also: INEC’s shifting goalposts and political disenfranchisement in Nigeria

Enugu

Enugu REC moves additional 20 machines

About 46 percent of registered voters during this continuous voter registration exercise in the last three quarters in Enugu state are double registration which will not count.

The Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Enugu, Emeka Ononamadu, stated this when the Nigeria Union of Journalists Enugu state council led by its Chairman Sam Udekwe paid him a courtesy visit.

Ononamadu said it was because a lot of people who registered before came back and registered again hoping that the old one is no longer in use without cross-checking with the INEC voter machine.

He said that the surge at the Okpala square was as a result of misinformation where many residents believe that it was the only place for registration within the area.

REC used the opportunity to advise people to take advantage of other registration centers including the INEC office, he also asked people to first check the status of their voter card by visiting their website before going to register a new card,

“it is regrettable that about 46 percent of registered voters during this continuous voter registration exercise in the last three quarters in Enugu state are double registration which will not count.

He said that once you have registered before from 2010 and 2011, you can’t register again unless where one has issues with his card that the machine cannot read it or you moved from one location to the other and wants a transfer, replacement or data change.

Fresh registration is mainly for young ones that are just 18 years or those that have never registered before. He said that those who are doubting the status of their cards to go to their website www.cvrinecnigeria.com to verify.

Responding to the call by the NUJ chairman to extend the date of the CVR looking at the number of people that came out to register and the challenge they are facing, the REC said that the commission had been getting pressures to extend the CVR, but quickly added that such decision would be determined by the headquarters of INEC.

He, however, said that extension of the exercise would have huge financial implications.

“The commission has been getting pressure to extend but that date might be sacrosanct due to the time to produce and distribute the PVCs,” he said.

According to Ononamadu, INEC office in Enugu has moved 20 additional machines to the field with a view to capturing all the people including those at Okpala square,

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