Nigeria’s electoral process is witnessing a revolution with massive turnout of people at various registration points in the ongoing continuous voters registration (CVR) exercise. ONYEKACHI EZE examines the likely factors influencing the surge
As at last Monday, June 27, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said it has enrolled over 10 million voters in the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise. These were people who registered as at the fourth quarter of this year. In March this year, the commission said it has printed over N1.5 million permanent voter cards (PVCs) of people who completed their registration procedures during the first and second quarter of the CVR exercise. INEC Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said at a press conference in Abuja that “After completing the data clean up, the commission has printed 1,390,519 PVCs for genuine new registrants. “In addition, 464,340 PVCs for verified applicants for transfer or replacement of cards have also been printed. Consequently, a total of 1,854,859 PVCs are now ready. “They will be delivered to our state offices across the country over the Easter holiday. They will be available for collection by the actual owners in person immediately after the holiday.
“I must reiterate that the available cards only cover those who registered in the first and second quarters of the exercise. The Commission wishes to assure those who registered between January and March 2022 as well as those who are doing so right now that their PVCs will be ready for collection long before the 2023 general election.”
When he received the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) Mahamat Saleh Annadif, the INEC Chairman disclosed that Nigeria has a total number of over 84 million registered voters, which, he said is about 11 million higher than 14 West African countries put together.
Though INEC announced resumption of the CVR exercise in 2021, after over two years suspension, it was not until a month ago that the registration centres across the country started to witness a surge.
The exercise, which was earlier billed to end on June 30, recorded huge turnout of prospective registrants, on daily basis. The commission promptly responded to the this challenge by deploying more registration machines to Abuja, Lagos, Kano and the five states in the South- East region. Prof. Yakubu, while addressing the youths at a special voter registration campaign programme, “Vote Count 2 Programme” in Abuja two weeks ago, assured that no one would be denied registration.
According to him, the commission would “not stop registration until we are satisfied that those who wish to register are given the opportunity to do so.
“Here in this place we have 50 voter registration machines. Two weeks ago, we deployed more machines to the states. More machines left yesterday and more machines are leaving today all over the country. By Monday there will be more machines to register more Nigerians.”
The programme was organised by INEC in conjunction with the European Union (EU), during which notable Nigerian celebrities and music icons were invited to perform, as part of the sensitisation programmes, to mobilise young men and women to participate in Nigeria’s elector process.
The programme was earlier held in Lagos where about eleven thousand youths were registered. The INEC Chairman disclosed that 14, 000 youths were registered at the Abuja event. REC Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Alhaji Yahaya Bello, said more than 50 registration machines and 150 staff were deployed for the exercise for the territory. He also added that the commission has created 14 additional CVR centres in territory to address upsurge of registrants.
“Due to the upsurge of voter turnout in the ongoing CVR in FCT, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu has graciously approved deployment to ease of registration,” Bello stated.
An Abuja Federal High Court had granted a civil society group, the Socio- Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) prayers stopping INEC from suspending voter registration on June 30. In the suit FHC/L/CS/1034/2022 filed at the Federal High Court, Lagos, and transferred to Abuja, SERAP had asked the court for “an order restraining INEC, its agents, privies, assigns, or any other person(s) claiming through it from discontinuing the continuous voters’ registration exercise from the 30th June 2022 or any other date pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.”
The presiding judge, Mobolaji Olajuwon, granted an order of interim injunction following the hearing of an argument on an ex parte motion and adjourned the suit to June 29, for the hearing of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction. At the expiration of June 30 deadline, and in obedience to the court order, the commission ordered its Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) and Electoral Officers (EOs) to continue to register intending voters until further directive is given. Although INEC said the exercise is free, there were still reported cases of underhand dealings by some registration officers.
In some states, INEC officials demand for and receive N25,000 daily from community leaders before deploying machines and personnel to some polling units. This is in addition to data, lunch and transportation provided by the communities. Two of such officers caught in Oju Local Government Area of Benue State were queried and promptly withdrawn from the field.
State Administrative Secretary, Shehu Abdulwahab, said the commission was deeply concerned over the development. Niyi Ijalaye, REC, Ogun State, also warned staff of the commission against engaging in untoward activities. Ijalaye told Sunday Telegraph in an interview that the staff have been educated “that it is totally unacceptable to collect bribe, or to demand to collaborate in that regard. This service is a national call and we expect them to appreciate the fact that in no way must the commission be embarrassed. If we get to know, such staff will be shown the way out of the commission.
And if you have any information as to any of our staff engaging in such activity, please let us know.”Electoral Commissioners (RECs) and Electoral Officers (EOs) to continue to register intending voters until further directive is given.
Although INEC said the exercise is free, there were still reported cases of underhand dealings by some registration officers. In some states, INEC officials demand for and receive N25,000 daily from community leaders before deploying machines and personnel to some polling units. This is in addition to data, lunch and transportation provided by the communities.
Two of such officers caught in Oju Local Government Area of Benue State were queried and promptly withdrawn from the field. State Administrative Secretary, Shehu Abdulwahab, said the commission was deeply concerned over the development. Niyi Ijalaye, REC, Ogun State, also warned staff of the commission against engaging in untoward activities.
Ijalaye told Sunday Telegraph in an interview that the staff have been educated “that it is totally unacceptable to collect bribe, or to demand to collaborate in that regard. This service is a national call and we expect them to appreciate the fact that in no way must the commission be embarrassed. If we get to know, such staff will be shown the way out of the commission. And if you have any information as to any of our staff engaging in such activity, please let us know.”
At INEC office in Karu Abuja two weeks ago, this reporter encountered such nefarious active, though by non-INEC staff. They were collecting between N500 and N1,000, to assist registrants to either update their lost or damaged permanent voter’s card (PVC) or transfer to voting centres nearer to them. But for the intervention of some registrants, they were to be handed over to the police, on the directives of the REC, Alhaji Bello.
The large turnout of people to register and participate in the electoral process especially the youths is seen as a positive development. It was an indication that Nigerians are ready to take their destinies in their own hands. Social commentators however attributed the interest to the outcome of the presidential primaries of the registered political parties.
The primaries, which ended on June 8, saw the emergence of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ahmed Bola Tinubu as flag bearer of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Peter Obi as the candidate of Labour Party (LP) and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso as New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) candidate, among others. National Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC) Chief Ralphs Nwosu, said Nigerians were angry over what the two major political parties offered to them as candidates for the next presidential election.
According to Nwosu, “When PDP voted Atiku, Nigerians waited to see what APC would offer, and having presented Tinubu, it aroused their anger and hence their determination to vote the two parties out of power next year.”
An activist, Achike Chude of Reclaim Niger Under Situation Room, attributed the surge to the 2020 #EndSARS protest against police brutality. Chude also noted that the use of electronic devices like Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and other social media platforms are also encouraging the upsurge. He however observed that “some organisations now use it as a yardstick to determine certain things.
So, I will say it is the level of awareness. Nigerians now realise that they are in a very dangerous and precarious situation and their destinies must be taken in their hands.” The most credible reason why there have been surge in various registration centres however, is the belief that votes would count in the 2023 general elections unlike in the past elections.
This belief is anchored in INEC’s adoption of Biometric Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), for voter accreditation, as well as the provision in the Electoral Act, 2022 that allows the commission to transmit election results electronically. INEC explained that BVAS, which replaced Smart Card Reader (SCR) used in previous elections, has the dual capacity for fingerprint and facial authentication of voters. It also eliminated the use of incident form in the accreditation process. Before the amendment of the Electoral Act that allows electronic transmission of election results, BVAS was used to snap and upload polling unit result on the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal on election day, for viewing public.
Prof. Yakubu said that the technology was adopted “to guard against voting by identity theft where one person uses another person’s permanent voter’s card (PVC) to vote using the incident form. With this development, the use of the incident form is abolished. No voter without a genuine PVC will vote. No voter who has not been successfully accredited electronically using the BVAS will vote.”
The provision of electronic transmission of election results in the Electoral Act, 2022 restored Nigerians hope in the electoral system. INEC had promised to transmit the results of the 2019 general elections electronically but for the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the amended 2018 Electoral Act.
Notwithstanding the improvement in the conduct and transmission of election results as testified by both foreign and local observers that monitored the June 18 Ekiti governorship, voter apathy and vote buying still remain drawbacks to the nation’s electoral process.
The two reared their ugly heads in the last month’s Ekiti election. The governorship election recorded only 36.5 per cent voter turnout. Out of 988,923 registered voters, only 360,753 persons came out to elect their governor. This figure is abysmally low when compared to previous elections in the state. In 2018 for instance, the voter turnout was 44.4 percent, while in 2003, it was 43.5 percent.
The highest voter turnout so far recorded was in 2014 when 49.1 percent electorate voted to elect the state’s chief executive. The situation is the same in the general elections. In 2019, out of 82 million registered voters, only 34.75 percent elected Buhari as Nigerian president. Voter turnout in last month’s governorship was disappointing considering the fact that Ekiti was the first where electronic transmission of results was implemented.
Social crusader, Senator Shehu Sani, also expressed this disappointment, adding that “With all the hoopla about the surge in PVC demand, the voter turnout in Ekiti is far below expectations. If this reflects the country, nothing much has changed.” Indeed, nothing has changed. The beginning of voter apathy is in the collection of PVCs.
Most of the people who thronged to INEC registration centres during CVR exercise do not bother to collect their PVCs after they have been printed. The commission said millions of the PVCs are still lying in the various state offices unclaimed. INEC Director, Voter Education and Publicity (VEP) Ayodele Aluko, regretted that youths made up of 51 percent out of over 84 million registered voters in the 2019 general election but less than than that number eventual voted in the election.
The Executive Director YIGA Africa, Samsom Itodo said only 28 per cent of Nigerian youths voted in the 2019 presidential election while 29 per cent voted in the governorship. The question is, why the rush to register when you cannot collect your PVC thereafter, or vote in elections? Is registration mere status symbol?
Or is it be used as negotiation tool during elections? If the number of people witnessed at various registration points could come out and vote to elect their leaders in the February and March 2023 general elections, then the nation’s electoral system would experience a revolution.
And if they could resist the temptation to sell their votes for paltry sums of money but elect leaders of their choice who they believe would turn things aright, then Nigeria will definitely witness socioeconomic development, and rank among the best in the comity of nations.
The choice is before us: to vote and define our future and generations unborn, or abstain or sell our votes and mortgage our future and generations unborn.