By Muyiwa Adeyemi, Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Godwin Ijediogor, Monday Osayande (Asaba), Obinna Nwaoku (Port Harcourt), Chido Okafor (Warri), Ernest Nzor, (Abuja), Samson Kukwa-Yanor (Makurdi), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Gordi Udeaja (Umuahia), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Uzoma Nzeagwu, Osibe Osibereoha, (Awka) and Moyosore Salami (Ibadan)
PVC is being distributed to people at INEC’s office. PHOTO: Sodiq Omolaoye
• INEC upbeat on exercise, voters demand improved modalities • Residents disagree over allegations of sharp practices
Across the country, anxious Nigerians have been heading to offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to pick up their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). The experience, however, has meant different strokes for different folks, with some decrying sheer frustration while others have commended the electoral umpire.
While some collection centres were crowded, with prospective voters spending about three to five hours to pick up their cards, local councils in some states, especially where governorship election will not hold next year, recorded low turnout. Some were informed that their PVCs had not arrived at the collection centres and were asked to come back in January.
In Lagos State, INEC’s non-recognition of the Local Council Development Authority (LCDA) forced thousands of registered voters to go long distances and queue for several hours at the 20 local councils where the PVCs were being distributed.
At Alimosho Local Council, about 2,000 registered voters were seen on the queue, waiting to collect their PVCs. Some, who spoke to The Guardian, said they came to the council secretariat in Ikotun from the Agbado, Oke Odo and Ayobo areas to collect their cards.
An INEC staff, who pleaded anonymity, said the Commission has been distributing about 1,200 PVCs everyday, since commencement of the exercise. INEC, in a statement by National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, had announced: “The Commission has fixed Monday, December 12, 2022 to Sunday, January 22, 2023 as the dates for the collection of PVCs in all the 774 local council offices of the Commission throughout the federation.
“The Commission also resolved to devolve PVC collection to the 8,809 Registration Areas/Wards from Friday 6 to Sunday 15, January 2023. Those that are unable to collect their PVCs at the local council offices of the Commission can do so at the Registration Areas/Electoral Wards. After January 15, 2023, the exercise will revert to the local council offices of the Commission until January 22, 2023.”
When The Guardian visited INEC’s office at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), it found that although the exercise had commenced, not many people showed up to collect their PVCs.
An INEC staff explained that unlike the registration exercise, the collection process has been smooth, with potential voters walking in leisurely to pick the cards.
He urged registered voters to abide by the Commission’s timeline for collecting PVCs, which is 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. daily, adding that collection was also going on at wards in the FCT.
In Benue State, the process was very slow, especially at the INEC office in Makurdi, the state capital. Stacks of uncollected PVCs were seen piled up on three desks designated, awaiting collection.
The Guardian counted only six people who had come for the cards, even as the Commission’s Public Relations Officer in the state, Mr. Terkaa Andyar, confirmed that Benue, like other states in the country, has a backlog of uncollected PVCs.
He said: “Since the 2019 elections, we have had a backlog of over 200,000 uncollected PVCs. During our preliminary display of voter register, we took along the uncollected PVCs to the registration area centres located at the headquarters of every council ward. The response was very impressive, perhaps because we had taken the cards almost to their doorsteps, they came out and collected them.”
Checks revealed lack of enthusiasm on the part of the electorate towards collecting the PVCs. A section of those who spoke with The Guardian attributed the apathy to lack of confidence in the political class.
Given high illiteracy level and lack of incentives, it was discovered that most uncollected PVCs belonged to people residing in rural areas, who probably considered going to collect them a waste of time.
The Guardian also found that some party chieftains reached an understanding with INEC to facilitate the movement of official to wards and polling units to distribute PVCs.
There was high turnout of people collecting their PVCs at Oshodi-Isolo Local Council, though some lamented the slow pace of the exercise.
Residents from Ejigbo, Isolo, Oke-Afa, Ilasa and Ajao Estate, who had to find their way to the council secretariat to pick up the cards, urged INEC to distribute PVCs at the ward level to ensure easy collection.
The Convener, Oshodi Mature League, Comrade Ayinde Olawale, said if INEC does not improve on the collection process, many people could become deeply frustrated before the January deadline.
He, however, admitted that when the exercise was first announced, PVCs were available at the ward level. But following lackadaisical attitude of people towards picking the cards, collection was moved to local council secretariats.
Olawale, nevertheless, appealed to INEC to return the collection centres to the wards, saying this will reduce the long distance and other challenges people undergo to get their PVCs.
He added that the period for collection should be extended to 5:00 p.m., as against 3:00 p.m., so that more people could pick their PVCs after their closing hours.
PVC collection in Ogun State witnessed low turnout. Some residents who visited INEC offices complained of difficulties in obtaining the cards.
At the Abeokuta South Local Council office of the Commission, the process was peaceful, with security personnel on guard to prevent violence.
Some of the electorate, who spoke with The Guardian, expressed frustration over slow distribution of the cards. Also, while some lamented that they were unable to collect their PVCs, others bemoaned the unfriendly weather. For some, however, the process was stress-free, as they picked the cards within minutes of arrival, prompting one Bolanle Adeoye to commend INEC for a good job.
Head of Department, Voter Education and Publicity of INEC in the state, Mrs. Celina Beckley, said the Commission put mechanism in place to ensure seamless distribution of PVCs.
In Delta State, prospective voters in Asaba and environs besieged the INEC office at Oshimili South Local Council secretariat to collect their PVCs.
When The Guardian visited the place, registered voters, mainly youths, were seen at the premises waiting to collect their cards. The queues, depending on respective wards, were orderly, as INEC officials attended to people without much difficulties.
Some would-be voters, however, emerged from the premises with long faces. These were unable to collect their cards and were asked to check back as the cards were arriving in batches.
As early as 7:00 a.m., Prieye Esama, who applied to transfer his polling unit to Asaba, following his relocation to the state capital, was at the INEC office, waiting for the staff to resume duties. By 11:00 a.m., he had received his PVC and was beaming with smiles.
For Inyang O. and Mrs. Chioma Egwu, it was a different story. Inyang, who is 50 years old and had never voted before, said: “I want to vote, hoping that it will count and make a difference. I came here as early as 9:00 a.m., but have not collected my PVC. They said I should check back another day.”
Mrs. Egwu, who registered last year, was told her PVC was not ready and needed to check back.
Another, 51-year-old Tony Osade, complained: “I registered about four months ago, precisely August, this year. I came here around 8:00 a.m. I am not satisfied with the arrangement.
“I came here very early, leaving everything I was supposed to attend to. I just got my card now, some minutes past 11:00 a.m. They are not well organised. There is shouting, and sometimes, people ‘go behind’ to collect their PVC, while others are waiting on the queue.
INEC’s Head of Voter Education and Publicity in Delta, Mr. Bukola Ojeme said: “People are responding very well.” He explained that since commencement of the exercise, the number of voters coming for the PVCs is very encouraging, adding: “We are happy for it.”
Expressing optimism that the exercise would end satisfactorily, since no major hiccups have been recorded, so far, Ojeme said for now, PVC collection is only restricted to councils, but as from January 6, next year, “we will move to all the 270 wards in the state, so that others, particularly those at the grassroots, can also collect theirs without difficulty.”
In Rivers State, some voters lamented the slow pace at which the cards were being issued, even as they trooped to INEC offices at local councils.
At the INEC office on East/West Road, Eliogbolo in Obio-Akpor Local Council, some people complained that they had been turning up for past three days, unable to get their cards. At a few minutes past 9:00 a.m., there was already a crowd surge at the gate into the premises. The crowd was, eventually coordinated, as people queued according to their wards.
Ikaniye Oriji said: “We decided to form a queue according to the wards, starting with Ward 1. From among us, we chose someone to coordinate the activity by writing down names of persons who were present.
“We felt some people could come late and disorganise things, hence we decided to coordinate ourselves, so that once an INEC staff resumes work, he can work with a list. Fortunately for us, the INEC staff adopted the approach.
“He was able to work with the list, attending to five people at once. We were asked to bring a copy of our temporary slips. Thus, we were able to collect our PVCs.”
But Adeyemi Adeyinka alleged extortion, saying: “This is my first time, but the painful aspect is that they are collecting money, between N1,000 and N1,500 before you can get your voter card, whereas in the northern part of the country, INEC brings the card to your doorpost without paying any money.
“But here in the south south, according to what I am seeing here, I cannot even wait for the crowd to reduce, because I just returned from work and I need to rest. But I rushed down and was told there is an agent on ground that collects N1,000 or N1,500 to fish out your PVC.
“Somebody gave me information that I should come here and give the agent N1,000 to look for my card. I cannot do that. If they refuse to give me, I will go back to my house.”
But one registered voter debunked Adeyinka’s allegation, saying: “The process is simple. I have never seen anybody collecting money. It is a lie!”
One registrant lamented: “I have been coming here, since last year. I came earlier this year, in June, to do replacement and they asked me to come by August. I came, and it’s still to no avail. They asked me to return in December. At the first week of December, they sent me back and asked me to return at the second week. Here I am. Still, I have not collected my card. I have been here since 10:00 a.m.”
A man, who gave his name simply as Jonah, alleged there was a mix-up in the polling unit number, claiming he searched for his number in futility.
Many registered voters who came for their PVCs at the INEC collection centre in Ughelli North Council, Delta State, were told that their cards were not ready. A similar problem was also observed at the collection centre in Warri South Local Council.
An INEC official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Guardian: “Many of them who registered in May and June came for their PVCs. We told them they are not ready yet, and they should come back in January. But those that registered earlier will collect theirs.”
SOME registered voters in Ondo State expressed concern over slow pace in distribution. At the INEC office in Akure South Local Council, The Guardian observed that registered voters in their numbers arrived the venue around 7:00 a.m. to collect their PVCs before going to work. This was, however, impossible, as they eventually had to wait for five hours.
Seun Okunfolarin, who stormed out of the INEC office in anger, described the distribution process as frustrating.
He said: “I got here by 7:00 am. Later, they told us to write our names. After we were through with that, they started calling two names at a time. They ought to have assigned at least two officials to handle each unit in the wards.
“I have been in the sun and the time now is around 12:00 p.m. At some point, the officials told us they wanted to eat, and that we should hold on. This is the second time I am coming here. With the nature of my job, I don’t think I can be wasting my time here. I will leave the PVC for them. I’m tired of the entire process.”
Head of Department, Voter Education and Publicity in the state, Mrs. Olufunmike Segun-Osifeso, however, explained that by January, the process would be decentralised, with distribution no longer concentrated at council offices in the state.
There was low turnout of registered voters at INEC offices across local councils in Osun State.
An INEC official told The Guardian the only challenge facing collection was double registration.
He said: “The low turnout in Osun is as a result of the governorship election we just had. Before the election, many people had collected their cards. Those who are coming now are relatively few but we are giving it out to them as soon as they come.“There has been seamless collection without any hitch. At our local council headquarters across the state, our men are attending to them as they come. The exercise continues till January 22.” Despite continuous voter education by INEC on Ekiti radio and television stations, there was low turnout.
When The Guardian visited the INEC office located at Banks Road in the state capital, the premises looked deserted, except for some staff and a handful of people coming to collect their cards.
One INEC personnel disclosed that most people coming in had invalid registrations, having registered and collected their PVCs before. He estimated the number of people visiting the office daily as less than 50, especially on working days.
There were large crowds at the INEC offices in Enugu, Abia, Imo and Anambra states, as registered voters began collecting their PVCs.
At Enugu East council, Eke Otu in Enugu South and Old Park in Enugu North council, many registered voters were seen struggling to collect their cards. Although the process was slow, due to the number of wards involved, the residents were prepared to stay until they were attended.
Mr. Kennedy Ugwu, who collected his card at exactly 2:54 p.m. at Eke Otu, said he arrived at the centre by10:20 a.m. “When I presented my counterfoil, they started looking for the card. It took them some time because of the crowd. There are many people here, hence the number of INEC officials could not attend to all at the same time,” he said. Some registered voters at various INEC offices in Awka South and Oyi expressed joy that they were able to pick their PVCs.
Mrs. Nneka Okonkwo, a civil servant, said she was very happy and expressed readiness to vote in the general elections. Jonny Ikenna, a trader, exclaimed: “I am happy that I will participate in the election.”
However, some who came for their PVCs were not so lucky. A registered voter, who was visibly angry and refused to mention his name, said: “I gave my name correctly. The last time, they said my picture was blurred. Now, they couldn’t find my name in the register. I don’t understand INEC.”
Also, Mr. Thomson Chikezie said he couldn’t find his PVC, having transferred to Anambra, from Enugu State. “After much explanation, the officer I met said I have to wait till after the 2023 elections,” he said.
A staff at INEC office, Amawbia, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said INEC workers were busy attending to those that had registered.
“It’s going on fine. We don’t have any problem. You go straight to the desk officers in charge of polling units/wards for the PVC. For those on transfer, once you give your name and your data corresponds, we check and give your card to you. For those who couldn’t see theirs, they should wait for another batch at the end of this month.”
The state INEC Head of Voter Education and Publicity, Mrs. Rebecca Jim, said the state INEC office, two weeks ago, took delivery of thousands of PVCs from the headquarters for distribution in the state, starting at local government headquarters.
In Imo state, there were over 308,000 uncollected PVCs, the electoral body disclosed.
Public Relations Officer of the Commission, Dr. Chinenye Chijioke-Osuji, said about 300,000 PVCs had been with the Commission before arrival of recent 8,553, which collection commenced few days ago. She hinted that due to insecurity in some councils, the collection points at Ihitteuboma and Orsu councils were relocated to Obowo and Owerri (media centre), capital city, respectively.