In spite of the rating of Nigeria today by neighbours and the International Community, Nigeria has remained the giant of Africa to be reckoned with, any day. Even when Ghanaians are seriously wishing they could twist the hand of the clock and coin “Nigeria must go,” as Nigerians once coined: “Ghana must go,” the situation has been quintessential and that has never come to pass. The reason for this is because Nigerians as a people are the most intelligent, creative, hardworking, industrious and entertaining people anywhere in the world. More so, Nigeria is blessed in many ways with varied resources unlike most African countries.
I have always considered it a thing of pride when one listens to intelligent individuals discussing a range of issues on the traditional and Social Media on topics bothering on the level of business acumen of ingenious Nigerians. You get to see the spirit of Nigerians ordained by God from creation – the focus, determination, zeal and enterprise of Nigerians have been pronounced wherever they find themselves.
It is that same spirit that people talk about Africa or Africans, where Nigerians are described in very elevated ways. Despite this standpoint, when counting the list of corrupt and fraudulent people in the world, Nigerians are left out. The reason for this annoying disparity lies in the pain of a nation’s leadership and its people that doesn’t seem to make any real headway in the quality of life that the citizens get. Something very precious, such as the innate kindness, generosity and love of people is set apart from the people by its leadership, making things go awry in most services rendered to its citizens, which translates to all kinds of bad antecedents.
Albeit, the “Nigerian factor” has been pronounced in every official dealing which Nigerian leaders engage their citizens with. What do I mean by the Nigerian factor? It can be clearly seen in George Orwell’s Novel – “Animal Farm” where ” all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. Such elements like: “sacred cows”, “whom you know,” “man pass man”, “man know man”, etc are realities that have firmly griped Nigerians as a tradition devoid of their natural customs and traditions. However, emulating the West in its democratic principles, Nigeria and its leadership is always trying its best to get it right all the time. Hence, it have never failed and cannot fail to be the Giant of Africa, any day, any time because Nigerians sometimes indulge in copying correctly.
For instance, in adopting the western democratic principles, voter registration, a process through which those qualified to vote in an election are identified and included in a list called the ‘Register of Voters’ becomes very important. It was birthed as the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and issued as the card empowering Nigerians to vote during electoral polls. Its significance can never be over – emphasised because a credible voters register is a prelude to free and fair elections.
Nigerians have been passionately sensitized to know that voter registration helps to facilitate the credibility of the electoral process by preventing multiple voting as each person is only allowed to register once. With this, no one is allowed to register at multiple centres. It helps in preventing cases of under-age voting because only adults of voting age (18 years and above) are registered.
The PVC is so designed that it contains the residential address of the registrant, passport photograph of the registrant, the names of the voter, beginning with the surname and followed by other names as well as other personal information such as sex, date of birth, occupation, registration centre details, among others. It is important for those who are 18 years and above to register because the electoral law specifies that only those whose names are in the voters list are qualified to vote during elections.
However, persons qualified to be registered as voters are citizen of Nigeria, who have attained the age of eighteen (18) years and above and are ordinarily resident, work in or originate from the Local Government Area Councils, wards covered by the registration centre. These persons are expected to present themselves to the Registration Officers of the Commission for registration as voters. So doing, they are not subject to any incapacity to vote in Nigeria. The registration of voters is by Direct Data Capture (DDC) system, whereby the eligible person physically presents himself to the officer in – charge of the registration centre where he intends to register.
As obtains in other climes where democracy is effectively functional, the law empowers INEC to engage continuous registration of voters at any suitable period, whereby the dates and timing of continuous voter registration are determined by the Commission. According to the law in practise, it is stipulated that the registration of voters and the update of voters’ lists must stop at least thirty (30) days before any election. The law also prescribes that during the registration of voters, eligible persons are advised to register at the centres nearest to their residence to make it easy for them to access polling units and vote on the election day.
Indignantly, a person who has relocated to another place, outside the Unit in which he is registered cannot vote in his new location, unless he transfers his registration to the new place. This requires the person who intends to transfer his registration to apply to INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioner through the Electoral Officer of the Local Government Area where he is currently residing. In doing this, the applicant has to fill a form called ECTF 001 which he attaches a photocopy of his Permanent Voter Card (PVC) to an application. On the submission of the application, the Electoral Officer (EO) of the applicant’s Local Government Area on receiving the application is demanded to assign the applicant to the nearest polling unit to his new residence. The EO is also to enter the applicant’s details in the transferred voters’ list and forward same to the Resident Electoral Commissioner for approval.
Further transfer processes indicate that if the Resident Electoral Commissioner is satisfied that the applicant is currently residing in the new area, he should approve the application and direct that the applicant’s details be transferred to his new location. In order to appropriately execute this, the Commissioner may require evidence such as tendering of a utility or water bill for confirmation of the supposed residence, after which the Head of ICT Department on receiving the approved application will effect the transfer on the server and issue a Temporary Voters Card (TVC) and later the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC).
Subsequently, the applicant’s registration and particulars will be deleted from the register of voters in the previous location and the Electoral Officer will issue the applicant with a new Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC), while retrieving the previous one. The applicant will then be informed to visit the INEC Local Government Area Office in-charge of the area where he applied for a transfer to check if the transfer has been effected and to pick up the Permanent Voter Card in person because collection by proxy is not allowed.
It will be germane to stress here that the law stipulates that multiple registration is not allowed as it attracts a fine of ₦100,000 (One Hundred Thousand Naira) and imprisonment not exceeding one year or both. Though many Nigerians are not yet aware of this provision, ignorance is not an excuse in law. Therefore, it has become more safer to be educated about this to safeguard innocent Nigerians. The law continues that any person who provides false information about himself or registers a fictitious that does not exist or is dead is liable to conviction to a fine not exceeding ₦500,000 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira) or five (5) years imprisonment or both.
Other punishable offences associated with illegal registration such as intentional tampering, destruction and forgery of a registration card attracts the fine of ₦1,000,000 (One Million Naira) or twelve months imprisonment or both. This is similar to the registration of voters at centres or places not designated or not approved by INEC that attracts the fine of ₦1,000,000 (One Million Naira) or twelve months imprisonment or both.
Notwithstanding these provisions, the Nigerian factor has been hampering the process of conducting credible, free and fair elections in Nigeria, even with the idea of PVC coming to place. This has been the case since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Nigeria approved the final specimen of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) to enable it begin the printing of 40 million cards for the conduct of elections in Nigeria. On the contrary, the adoption of this strategy ought to have once more put Nigeria on an enviable height that should makes the nation thick, but for the so called “Nigerian Factor” ruled by corruption and ineptitude.
The project estimated to cost the nation N2.6 billion has brought so much hardship on the Nigerian citizens who go out daily to crowd at registration centres and never get the desired attention. Many politicians have been seen in possession of many PVCs, like the recent discoveries during a search operation on the house of the ousted- DSS Director, Maman Daura. Yet, nobody has been charged with electoral crime concerning PVC laundering as mentioned above. But when INEC’s ICT Director, Mr Chidi Nwafor threw the success of the venture open in 2012, he disclosed that the samples were checked by their Technical Committee before being moved to the ICT Committee at the Commission for approval.
“So, now we have a sample of what the Permanent Voter’s Card in the country looks like,” he proudly declared, adding that the next stage would be its distribution to Nigerians. According to Nwafor, the contract was awarded to an indigenous printing company, an Art Technology limited liability company with ‘Obature’ in France as the technical partner. It was awarded at the cost of N65.00k per card and all these happened when INEC was working towards achieving the 40 million voter cards production, preceding the end of 2012 in the first phase of the distribution of the cards. Since then, the Commission has worked out different modalities for improved quality and widespread distribution, but all has been hampered by the Nigerian factor.
Since its inception, INEC’s target has always been to ensure that every eligible registered voter in the country has a Permanent Voter’s Card that would contain all the necessary information and details. The chip – based card has been designed to guarantee eligible voters the right to vote during elections and to solve the rigours of identification and authentication. Having gone through the ordeals of getting it right, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared through its then Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega that it would spare no effort to ensure that every validly registered voter gets his PVC to enable them exercise their franchise in the 2015 General Elections.
At the beehive of these promises, many eligible Nigerians have continued to be disenfranchised because they can not yet get their PVCs, whilst children in some parts of Nigeria brandish them for election malpractices as seen on traditional and Social Media. That was how the 2015 Elections came and went and the benefits of that election cast with the PVC innovations are still enjoyed till today and will be enjoyed till a few months to the 2019 General Elections.
As the count-down to the 2019 General Elections gets thinner, the Nigerian factor looms large, struggling to swallow the huge sacrifice made by INEC to ensure a credible election come 2019. Nigerians being what they are have taken it upon themselves to sensitize others to ensure functionality for the electoral principles in the country. However, for anyone to have a voice that matters as a Nigerian in 2019, it is becoming more imperative for one to get a PVC.
According to the official timetable released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Presidential and National Assembly Elections would take place on February 16, 2019; whilst the elections for State Governors, State Houses of Assembly Representatives and Council Representatives will take place on March 2, 2019. They have informed that if anyone doesn’t have a PVC at the moment, the simple steps to acquiring a PVC before the registration period ends are as follows:
1. As long as one is a Nigerian who has attained the required voting age of 18, all he has to do is to show up at the nearest INEC LGA office with a valid means of identification like a birth certificate, driver’s licence, national passport or any other document that can prove one’s identity, age and nationality. The exercise has been scheduled to run between 9am and 3pm from Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays.
2. When the registration process is duly completed, INEC is expected to issue the applicant with a temporary voter’s card (TVC) as placeholder untill the permanent card is ready.
3. Finally, with the PVC ready, the applicant is required to present the TVC, in order to claim the PVC at the INEC LGA office after his name has been verified on the distribution list.
The processes mentioned above make up the criteria for the issuance of genuine PVCs. On the other, an applicant can verify his PVC status by checking if his name has been added to the voters register through looking at the voter register verification platform on the INEC website.
Looking back at the previous releases by INEC, one finds that on Thursday, February 1, 2018 which was 379 days to the 2019 General Elections, it was announced that the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise would be suspended when it gets to 60 days before the commencement of the election. On the contrary, in July 2018 INEC informed that it would suspend the CVR on August 17, until after the 2019 General Elections and later pronounced that the Nigerian public can register for PVCs on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays until the deadline approaches.
Further to this note, in a declaration made on August 14, INEC extended the CVR exercise until August 31st from Monday to Sunday, but excluding public holidays. Worst of all, with less than 172 days to go, chaos, disorder, frustration and intrigues boiling down to the “Nigerian factor” has bedevilled the process to the extent that some young ladies now fake pregnancy to enable them get their PVCs done.
Apart from Atahiru Jega giving assurance to Nigerians and the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for West and Central Africa, Mohammed Ibn Chambas (Dr) that the Commission has reached a comfort level where he can boldly say that the 2015 General Elections would be free, fair, credible and transparent, and would be of far higher standard than what was achieved in 2011. Reflecting on the above comment, the current Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu is charged with the responsibility of giving Nigerians a better assurance concerning the 2019 Elections.
Drawing from the turbulent challenges experienced by Nigerians during the PVC distribution and continuous voter registration exercises in some states, the project cannot be said to be transient, but threatening the Commission’s readiness to deliver superlative elections in 2019. Although the Commission has devoted a lot of time and energy to keep on improving the processes as well as set up policies and mechanisms that ought to help achieve remarkably better elections in 2019, the so- called Nigerian factor seems to be seriously deciding the fate of the 2019 General Elections in a negative way.
One may recall that when INEC commenced the PVC exercise, it registered only 24 States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and the last phase of the distribution of PVCs and updating of the register was meant to cover the remaining 12 States. In respite, some excuses were tendered, identifying some challenges in the production of those cards within the defined time schedules as responsible for failures. The stampede necessitated some adjustments in the timeline for the distribution of those cards.
Notwithstanding, these adjustments have continued so much so that the statistics obtained from the Independent National Electoral Commission indicates that the effect of these acclaimed challenges have resulted in the North-West Geopolitical Zone having the highest number of registered voters in the country with a total of 18,505,984 voters; the South – West Zone which comprises Ekiti, Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Osun and Oyo States comes second with a total number of 14,626,800 registered voters; while the South – East which has the lowest number of states has 8,293,093 registered voters.
According to the statistics, Lagos now has 6,048,156 registered voters, while Kano is in the second position with 5,149,070 voters. With a total of 754,394, Bayelsa has the lowest number of registered voters, which is lower than the Federal Capital Territory with a total of 952, 815. In January 2018, INEC said that the total number of registered voters across the country was 73,944,312, but it is now projecting that the number of registered voters might reach 80 million before the December 2018 deadline for voter registration. With a place like Lagos having over 1.4 million uncollected voter cards, the 2019 General Elections seem to be toeing the line of the Nigerian factor such that even if every eligible Nigerian obtains their PVCs, the result would be decided before the election.
At this instance, no matter how every well – meaning Nigerian wishes that the 2019 Election goes as planned by the clamour and sensitisations on PVC illumination, the Nigerian factor seems to be the only determining precedence. Consequently, in disregard to the wishes of Nigerians for fair distribution of the nation’s resources to ensure equity and social justice, the interest of the masses seems to cave – in as the motives of politicians, rather than the popular demand has been the outcome.
On these sidelines, Nigerians are called upon to effectively participate in the on-going voter registration and collection of voter cards, in order to stand the chance of choosing better leaders at the 2019 General Elections. This is since the PVC has remained the power of the citizens to chose the candidates to be their right leaders.
Ahaneku Joy Okom is Head of Federal Information Centre – Owerri, Nigeria – (Edited: Nchu Ogar)