By Sunday Ani and Chukwudi Nweje
To many critical observers, there are many indications that the 2023 general election will be different. One of the signs of what to expect is the increasing number of prospective voters ahead of the election. The enthusiasm of Nigerians to participate in the election is unprecedented. As a result, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been battling with the deluge of Nigerians, particularly the youth population, that besiege their offices across the country on a daily basis to take part in the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise and procure the Permanent Voters Cards (PVC).
The CRV exercise has been ongoing for a while but in the last one month, particularly after the emergence of the presidential candidates of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, that of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi and that of the New Nigeria Peoples Party(NNPP). There seems to have been an uncontrollable surge in the number of Nigerians who want to get the PVCs. This new development has, invariably, overwhelmed the electoral body, leading to a lot of unpleasant stories about the exercise.
In Lagos, there are insinuations in some quarters that people of Igbo ethnic stock are being prevented from registering to get their PVCs because certain people feel that they would not vote for the ruling party but for the Labour Party, which has an Igbo man as its candidate. There are also allegations that INEC officials are demanding for money and putting all kinds of bottlenecks to ensure that the Igbo in Lagos do not get their PVCs.
The social media was awash with such stories to a point that INEC had to come clean by debunking the claim, saying there was nothing like that. The electoral body insisted that nobody was being discriminated against on the basis of ethnicity or religion as INEC was prepared to register all eligible Nigerians and give them their PVCs, so that they can exercise their civic responsibility of voting during elections.
Despite INEC’s explanation, the story has continued to trend, causing disaffection and mistrust among the Igbo and other ethnic nationalities in Lagos and creating unnecessary tension among them.
However, when Daily Sun visited some of the INEC registration centres in Lagos, the reality of the situation was clearly manifested. People in their hundreds were seen lamenting and groaning. It was, indeed, a tale of sorrow, pain, frustration, disillusionment and extortion, as people opened the can of worms that has characterized the exercise. But Lagosians seem to have resolved that they are willing to stay in the rain and under the sun just to make sure they get their PVCs.
The patriotic song composed for the members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC): “Under the sun or in the rain, with dedication and selflessness, Nigeria is ours, Nigeria we serve,” is clearly at play. The song appears to have unconsciously been etched in the minds of Nigerians, even the uneducated, particularly Lagosians, as they troop out on a daily basis to besiege INEC offices to get registered and have their PVCs, irrespective of what the day’s weather throws up.
However, contrary to the widely circulated stories that the Igbo were being prevented from registering to get their PVCs, no such development was noticed in the registration centres visited by our correspondents. The Igbo faced the same problem as other ethnic nationalities. Such problems as extortion, deliberate delays as well as slow pace of work, when hundreds of people were waiting to be attended to.
The issue of extortion of money is a common trend in almost all the centres visited and it applies to all people irrespective of tribe, religion or party leaning. At the INEC office in Amuwo Odofin, beside Mother and Child Care Hospital on First Avenue, Festac, many people were locked outside the gate, while many of those that were inside the compound equally waited endlessly to be ushered in for registration.
The money collection is discretely done in such a way that it is not a public knowledge and many people are willing to pay. For instance, a man identified as Robert James told our reporter that his problem was not about paying the N1,000 but that even after paying the money; he would just go into the compound and start another round of endless wait. There is another cartel outside the gate milking money from those who want to change their voting location and those that have one mistake or the other in their initial registration. They would offer to solve such problems once the voter is able to pay N1,000; only those who want to register for the first time would be advised to go inside.
Solomon Eze just got registered and was coming out of the office grinning from chin to chin when our correspondent accosted him. He said: “My brother, I have been coming here for the past three days but I am happy that today, I was finally registered. I am happy because I can now vote my choice candidate next year. But, you won’t believe that I got to this place around 6:00 am. Look at the time now; it is 3:57 pm and there are people who came before me, although those ones have also left. The process is too slow and it is only those who are patient that will get the PVC.”
On the allegation of discrimination against the Igbo, he said: “No, I didn’t notice such a thing here. I am an Igbo man. The thing is that you just have to be patient. However, the officials don’t care how people feel. It is too bad.”
At the INEC office in Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Government Area, beside Police Station on Temidire Street, Tolu, Ajegunle, the story is the same. Hundreds of Lagosians besieged the centre, with many venting their anger and frustration on nobody in particular but on the system that has visited such frustration and pain on the citizenry.
Here, it is not just that people are willing to pay to get expedited access to the process, it is also the fact that if you don’t watch very well; you will pay to the wrong persons who will disappear with your money without giving you what you want.
Again, Daily Sun investigation at this centre equally revealed that many of the people there were not just there to get the PVC because they wanted to vote during the 2023 election but for other purposes. For instance, Titus Obaze told our correspondent that he was a freight forwarder and that they were finding it difficult to operate inside the Tin Can Port, Apapa, without the PVC. He said: “It is my boss who insisted that I must get it because they don’t allow us inside the Port without the PVC. I have been coming here for the past two weeks without success. Yesterday, I stayed here till around 7 pm; I begged them to have mercy on me but they didn’t care. I didn’t want to give anybody money before but now I am ready to give the N1,000 so that I can do it and get back to work. The problem now is that we don’t know the right person to give money to. Most people are here because they need the PVC for hospital, church and other things; not necessarily because they want to vote.”
Among the frustrated crowd, there were those who were threatening to give up, even as others maintained that they would never give up under any circumstance. They vowed to continue coming to the centre until they are registered, no matter how long it will take and the condition they are subjected to.
Checks revealed that many of them had gone to the centre as early as 5:00 am and as at 1:00 pm, they were still waiting to be captured but they were determined to wait till the end of the day and even repeat the journey again and again until they are registered.
For the older ones among them, the motivation for such unprecedented patience, according to them, is to ensure that they contribute to enthroning a new Nigeria, which will guarantee good life for their children and grand children. And for the teeming youths who also want a Nigeria where life will be meaningful, it is only by getting their PVC to participate actively in the electoral process that such Eldorado of a Nigerian society can be possible.
At Eti-Osa, the allegation is that the officials are deliberately frustrating the process so that the people will get angry and give up. Some people alleged that they have been going to the centre for the past one week. “They are deliberately trying to frustrate us. We are ready to exercise our voting right next year but INEC is doing everything possible to frustrate us. We will come here every day and they will ask us to write down our names. We will do that but before you know what is happening, they will come up with a different list and this has been happening here for the past one week that I have been coming. What kind of a country is this? This is not fair. Apart from that, extortion is also going on here. Those who paid money are attended to quickly while those who refuse to pay are allowed to suffer in the rain and under the sun,” lamented one of the frustrated Lagosians.
At Shomolu, nothing can be truer than the NYSC song. Not even the heavy rain on this particular day could discourage the teeming crowd that had besieged the INEC office as they all waited patiently for the rain to subside. And as soon as that happened, they emerged from all the places they had gone to hide to avoid being drenched and joined those that were seated under the leaking canopy.
At Ojodu Local Council Development Authority (LCDA) secretariat along Power Line, Oke-Ira, Ogba, hundreds of people were already gathered outside the secretariat gate around 10am when Daily Sun correspondent visited the place, even as INEC officials were yet to arrive.
The officials arrived around 11:00 am and the exercise commenced a few minutes after. The registration was slow but orderly and as people were complaining bitterly about the slow pace of the exercise, one of the officials appealed to the crowd to be patient as they had only one machine to service the huge crowd. To make the process faster, the official advised and guided those who wanted to transfer their registration from one unit to another or outside the state as well as those whose PVCs were defaced on how to correct such errors online, using their mobile phones.
Daily Sun did not witness the alleged discrimination against people of South East extraction as many of the people whose names were called out first for registration from the list at the secretariat gate were names that suggested they were of South East origin.
One of such South Easterners, Chinedu, said he arrived at the venue around 5:30 am and was determined to get registered whatever it would take. He noted that he had earlier registered in 2014 but was never issued with any PVC and all his efforts to get it through several visits to the LCDA was unsuccessful as they could not find the PVC. He said he was making the last effort to get registered as he had lost the temporary slip he was given in 2014.
Also at Igbede in Ojo Local Government Area, the INEC officials were overwhelmed by the large number of people that turned out to get registered. The crowd blamed the slow nature of the exercise on the electoral commission, which they said deployed only one machine for the exercise.
For instance, at Alaba International market, where it was earlier alleged that people of the South East extraction were denied registration, Paulinus Ugochukwu, head of the market association noted that as at June 13 when the management closed the market to enable traders register, less than 500 out of the over 5,000 traders at the market had their PVCs. He also debunked the allegation of ethnic profiling, saying it was false.
He said: “At Igbede centre, more than 6,000 people were on ground waiting to be registered, with no INEC official in sight. They were told to be patient with the assurance that everybody would be attended to, but you know at times, our people can be difficult. I don’t believe that anybody is trying to prevent the Igbo from registering.”
At the registration centre on Obafemi Awolowo way, Ikeja Local Government Area, the process was orderly but very slow. The situation at Agege Local Government Area as well as Yaba LCDA was not any different as scores of people waited patiently to be attended to.
Some of the people who spoke to Daily Sun condemned the clumsy nature of the registration, charging INEC to rise up to the occasion. “A situation where only one registration centre was earmarked for each local government area as opposed to 2014 when almost every polling station had a registration point is what is fuelling all the confusions you see here,” volunteered a man who preferred anonymity.
From Ojo to Alimosho, Mushin, Surulere, Ikorodu, and Agege among other Local Government Areas in the state, the story is the same; extortion, deliberate delay by the INEC officials, insufficient registration centres and machines, among others. Each local government is given only two machines to attend to hundreds of people that turn up on a daily basis. Sometimes, one of the machines would break down, leaving the officials in a helpless and precarious situation as Lagosians continue to troop into these centres all through the day.
Lagosians are calling on the INEC to create more registration centres as it was done in 2014, employ more adhoc staff, and deploy more machines to tackle the problem.
“If INEC does not create more registration centres so that many people will not be clustering in one place like this, even the two months extension will not be enough. The process is too slow because there are many people coming to one centre with two machines and sometimes one. Why would INEC not create more centres if not that they want to disenfranchise the youths who have shown their willingness and readiness to participate in the 2023 democratic process? To me, if INEC wants to clear the doubts in the minds of Nigerians about their plans to disenfranchise the youth population, let INEC create more registration centres to fasten the process so that the extension will have impact,” they submitted.
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