When Saheed, a resident of Lagos State, south-west Nigeria, visited a permanent voters card (PVC) collection centre at St Michael’s Nursery and Primary School in the state, he had high hopes of picking up his PVC and returning home. But, some hours later, he was downcast.
Mr Saheed had a PVC before. But because his details on the previous one had faded, he registered for a renewal card.
“I couldn’t vote in the last election. So this time, I came to collect another one. I came here with the printed form. I have spoken to an official, and he said he will get back to me,” he said, threatening to leave the centre if there was no headway.
Apart from Mr Saheed, over 40 eligible voters were at the collection centre to pick their PVCs, many of them spending several hours before being attended to.
Amidst the surging crowd, an official of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) locked the school gate, while he called names of those whose PVC had been found. That eased the process in a way.
Christian Olueze, a trader, was not happy with the slow process.
“I have been coming here since Saturday, I submitted it (printout) on Saturday, they said I should come back,” Mr Olueze said.
“I came on Monday, Tuesday and Friday but couldn’t wait. Now they said they can’t find the printout. So, I went home and up till now, I have been waiting for like four hours.”
At Igando Community High School, the situation was different.
“I came in less than five minutes and I got it,” Stephen Adeoye told this newspaper.
Christopher Obiechefu, another registered voter, said the process was fast and easy.
Why voters face hurdles
An INEC official at the Igando PVC Collection Centre in Lagos State, who asked not to be named, told PREMIUM TIMES that some voters battle to pick their PVCs because they do not know their centres.
“Some people don’t know their centres. That’s the reason why they were asked to go online to get printout (of their details),” he stated.
The printout, the official explained, usually bears the details of a voter, such as where to collect their PVC and the location of the polling unit.
He also said there are cases where the voter’s PVC will not be available because it has not been printed.
“It is called an incident. In such situations, we give them a form and they will fill it and we will escalate it to the higher authority,” he said.
But findings by PREMIUM TIMES across the country showed that even registered voters who visited their centres with relevant information still face hurdles to obtaining their PVCs.
Perhaps this is the reason thousands of PVCs are yet to be collected, a few weeks before the presidential and National Assembly election set to hold on 25 February.
For instance, 386,000 PVCs are yet to be collected in Ondo State as of 19 January, 307,394 in Cross River State as of 12 January, 250,000 in Ekiti as of 11 January and 947,462 in Oyo State as of 10 January.
INEC said 1.6 million PVCs had not been collected in Lagos at the end of December though the situation has improved significantly. During the same period, over 100,000 cards had not been collected in Enugu State.
However, the situation has improved in some states prompting the commission to commend the voters in such states.
At the Gwagwa LEA primary school ward in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, registered voters flocked in their hundreds, but inadequate INEC personnel at the ward caused hiccups.
Godwin Okechukwu, an engineer and resident of Dei Dei in Abuja’s Gwagwa neighbourhood, narrated his experience to PREMIUM TIMES.
“I arrived here around 4 a.m. and submitted my slip at 8 a.m. but I have yet to hear my name. I have been coming to this place for the past four days and it is the same thing I am experiencing,” Mr Okachukwu said.
His countenance indicated frustration.
Twenty-six-year-old Marvelous Nwaeueze, another registered voter and a student of the University of Abuja, was only able to pick up her PVC on her second visit to the centre.
When Ms Nwaeueze wanted to pick the PVCs of her two siblings, she was asked to pay N1,000 for each of the cards by an official, an illegal sum. She did, albeit reluctantly.
For the undergraduate, given the “unending crowd at PVCs centres and the short timing,” INEC ought to further extend the deadline for collection.
Christian Oyenka, a shop owner at a market in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Municipal Area Council, would not understand the reason for the delay in obtaining his PVC.
Mr Oyenka had visited Jiya Women Town Hall, a PVC collection centre, but picking up his card was seeming possible.
“I received a message a day back that my PVC is ready here at the Jiya Community Town Hall building. I have been here since 9 a.m. and this is 2 p.m. I have not collected my card. I don’t even understand the process,” he said with a gloomy face.
“My observation is that the INEC officials here are few and are not adequate to attend to the crowd we have here. Since I have been coming there has been one fight or the other.”
Volunteers step in, but late arrival of officials mar exercise
At LEA Primary School Lugbe in FCT, a PVC collection centre, some volunteers were seen assisting hundreds of registered voters to queue up and write their names on a paper.
But the late arrival of INEC officials aggravated the situation.
Prince Obinna, who was part of the volunteers coordinating the voters, said INEC officials always arrived at the venue later than 9 a.m., the time stipulated by INEC.
“The reason we decide to follow this method today even before the INEC officials arrive is because they used to come late,” he said.
“That is the major concern and problem we are having. Yesterday they came around 11 a.m. and they ended up closing by 3 p.m. They couldn’t even do up to 200 cards.”
Like Mr Obinna, a pastor at Dunamis International Conference Centre, Prince Oche, expressed displeasure with the lateness of the officials.
“They didn’t come on time. They came around 11 o’clock yesterday instead of 9 o’clock that was stated in our text message,” he said.
“I was here since 7 o’clock and there were a lot of people. I was here yesterday throughout but the queue didn’t get to me. My number was 314 and it didn’t get to me before they closed at 3 o’clock. We waited until they closed and then we were asked to come back today,” Mr Oche narrated.
The cleric said he left a programme in the church to pick his PVC in order to vote for a candidate who will change the country for the better.
He cited rising insecurity, corruption and endemic poverty among others, as his motivation to vote in 2023.
Like the cleric, Esther Joseph, a banker, also took permission at her office to pick up her PVC. But the long queues dimmed her hope.
“There’s a need for a shift (of the deadline) really,” she said.
Unlike LEA Lugbe Centre, there was no crowd. However, residents still face hurdles in collecting their PVCs at the centre.
“It was stressful getting it,” a middle-aged woman who asked not to be named, said of the processes.
Another woman, Sarah Abel, said although the process was stressful, she was able to get her PVC after about four hours.
“We came here at 9 a.m. but we have gotten there now. My husband was here yesterday but couldn’t get his own,” Mrs Abel said.
Crowds remain at centres
At Uyo Urban Ward 2, a collection centre in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, south-south Nigeria, there was a large crowd, but inadequate INEC staff hampered the exercise.
For two days, there were commotions and rowdy scenes at the centre due to the crowd.
Three INEC officials, including two corps members, were assigned to the centre which has 56 polling units.
A young woman told a PREMIUM TIMES reporter who visited the area that the scene was even more chaotic the previous day.
Like others, Christiana Akpan, an elderly woman, was not pleased with the delay in obtaining her PVC.
“I have been at this centre since 6 a.m. today and this is my third day without collecting my PVC,” she said.
Utibe Ebong, another voter, lamented that “the suffering was just too much to bear” as they were standing under the sun with some sitting on the bare floor to get their cards.
One of the INEC officials, a youth corps member, told PREMIUM TIMES that the three of them could not handle the 56 polling units at a time.
In some centres visited by PREMIUM TIMES, INEC officials were overwhelmed by the surging crowd and appeared helpless to solve the situation.
Ekom Ufot, the spokesperson of INEC in Akwa Ibom State, when contacted, promised to inform the management so that necessary actions can be taken.
No hiccups, but poor turnout
The exercise has been hitch-free in Enugu State.
But there was a low turnout across the various wards visited by PREMIUM TIMES.
After picking her PVC at Michael Okpara Square, Enugu, Kobi Ikpo was full of joy.
Mrs Ikpo, a staffer of the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, had been reluctant to pick the card, despite entreaties by her friends and colleagues to do so. She had dreaded meeting long queues at the centre.
But when she finally arrived at the centre in mid-January, she was “happily shocked” that there were no queues at the centre believed to be one of the largest in Enugu North Local Government Area of the state.
“I hate crowds and I don’t like stress. I collected it (PVC) within five minutes,” she said excitedly.
It was on a Saturday. Registered voters who arrived to pick their cards were few in number, although they come in and exit quickly after picking their cards.
“Many people don’t know that we work on Saturdays and Sundays. More people come out during the weekdays,” an INEC official, who asked not to be named, told PREMIUM TIMES.
When a PREMIUM TIMES reporter returned to the centre on a Tuesday, the centre was still scanty despite the presence of INEC officials. However, the number improved significantly.
Several PVCs yet to be collected at that time were seen on a table used for the exercise.
Some of the INEC officials told PREMIUM TIMES that they distribute between 300 and 400 PVCs to registered voters daily at the centre.
Some registered voters at the centre said it took between 20 minutes and one hour to get their cards, depending on an individual’s ability to quickly present details of his or her registration.
Register voters are required to have their codes or their temporary cards to be issued their PVC, the voters said.
“If you do not have these things, they (INEC officials) will find it very difficult to (find your card),” Charles Okoro said after collecting his PVC.
At WTC Primary School, another collection centre in the state, the turnout was also low when a PREMIUM TIMES reporter visited the centre. There were only five people waiting to be issued their PVCs.
“We move from polling unit to polling unit to issue the cards to compensate for people unable to come to a particular place to pick their cards,” Juliet Akpata, one of the INEC officials at the centre, told this newspaper.
“This is to make sure that every polling unit is covered because if we stay in one place, they will say they are far away and that they can’t come here,” she added.
Although the officials were mandated to close at 3:00 p.m. daily, Mrs Akpata, the leader at the centre, would stay up till about 4 p.m., especially when registered voters remain in the queues, another INEC official said.
“We distribute between 120 to 150 PVCs each day here,” Mrs Akpata said.
Like the WTC Primary School, there was no crowd at Umunevo Collection Centre in Enugu when a PREMIUM TIMES visited. But some INEC officials claimed the turnout had been “massive.”
“There has been no difficulty in this area. The distribution is going on smoothly. Some leaders of this ward have been calling on people to come and pick their cards,” Joy Ejike, an INEC official, said.
“Sometimes we distribute over 100 PVCs in a day,” Chinedu Edeh, another INEC official, chipped in.
INEC officials, security agencies accused of sharp practices
Although there were no long queues in most of the centres in Katsina State visited by a PREMIUM TIMES reporter, allegations of favouritism and bribery against some INEC officials and security agencies were rife.
At Wakilin Kudu III Collection Centre, PREMIUM TIMES observed that unorganised queues of residents trying to collect their PVCs delayed the exercise.
“I’ve been here since 9 o’clock in the morning but look at the queue, just look at it. The officials, especially the police and civil defence (officers) are using their uniforms to collect PVCs for their friends and those who give them money,” one resident, Abubakar Shehu, alleged.
Mahamood Yakub, the INEC national chairman, had repeatedly warned the commissions’ officials against engaging in corrupt practices.
When Aisha Waziri, a physically-challenged woman, visited Wakilin Arewa 1 Collection Centre at Ambuttai Primary School, she thought her disability would push the officials to attend to her quickly. She was wrong!
She visited the centre three times but still did not get her PVC, despite being successfully registered.
“When I came here today, I was helped by some of the people to even enter the classroom where they are supposed to be giving out the PVC. You can see my condition, I’ve been a cripple all my life but I still had to beg them to even listen to me,” Ms Waziri said.
“They keep saying that my PVC is still not there, that it will be brought later.”
Insecurity hinders exercise in Osun
The spokesperson of INEC, Festus Okoye, had announced that registered voters can visit their wards between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily – including Saturdays and Sundays – to pick their PVCs.
But a PREMIUM TIMES reporter observed that INEC officials resume late and also close early in Ilesa East, Ilesa West, Ife Central and Ife North Areas of Osun State, south-west Nigeria.
At the Itisin and Ijamo Wards in Ilesa East, for instance, the electoral officials had closed for the day at 2:15 p.m. in Mid-January. That was about an hour before the official closing time.
Bukola Adetunji, one of the registered voters in the area, said closing at that hour has been a daily practice for the INEC officials at the wards.
The situation has caused a high rate of uncollected PVCs in the state, findings by this newspaper showed.
The situation is the same across the wards visited by PREMIUM TIMES in the state. Some residents said the officials were closing early for fear of attack by bandits and other criminals.
“I used to close from school around 3:30 p.m. because of extra lessons and some other things that I will need to do before leaving school. By the time I get there, they would have closed. That is why I have not been able to collect my PVC,” a teacher, who identified herself as Mrs Folabi, told PREMIUM TIMES at Omofe Ward.
At Isida Market in Ilesa West, bloody clashes by political thugs in the area scare residents away from the collection centres.
“They (thugs) used to fight every time and I do not want problems for myself. That is why I prefer to leave my PVC there,” a commercial motorcyclist, Tunde Bodunrin, said.
Like Mr Bodunrin, registered voters in Ife Central and Ife North Local Government Areas of Osun State told PREMIUM TIMES that the fear of being victims of the clashes at the centres forced them to abandon their PVCs.
The distribution of the PVCs commenced nationwide on 12 December. The exercise, slated to continue at the local government offices from 15 January, was initially billed to end on 22 January.
However, following a surging crowd at collection centres across the country, INEC extended the deadline by one week – from 22 to 29 January. On Saturday, INEC further extended the collection to February 5.
The commission is believed to be deliberate about this because it does not want Nigerians disenfranchised in the process which many Nigerians believed is an opportunity to get it right.
Section 47 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022 states that “A person intending to vote in an election shall present himself with his voter’s card to a Presiding officer for accreditation at the polling unit in the constituency in which his name is registered.”
“Section 16(1) of the Act empowers INEC to register, print and issue PVC to everyone whose name appears on the register of voters.
INEC said it appreciates the pains Nigerians were going through to obtain their PVCs. Its spokesperson, Festus Okoye, said the recent extension is to provide Nigerians more time to get their PVCs ahead of the general elections.
The Director of Voter Education and Publicity of the commission, Victor Aluko, told this newspaper that it would soon meet to evaluate the situation and come out with a decision.
“INEC will take a decision today,” Mr Aluko told this newspaper in a text message on Saturday, a few hours before the latest extension was announced.
(This story was supported by the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD).
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