With few days to the epic 2019 general elections, many prospective voting adults who sincerely desire to exercise their civic duty would not have the opportunity due to their inability to collect the permanent voter cards. ELEOJO IDACHABA examines why.
As the three days extension approved by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for voters to collect their permanent voter cards, ends today, investigation by Blueprint shows that many voting adults still stand disenfranchised because in almost all the centres visited within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), prospective voters wait in vain while a few collect theirs compared to the waiting crowd. The usual complaint is that their cards are simply not ready; in other words, they are yet to be printed. This ranges from fresh registration to transfer requests and replacement of lost cards.
In Dutse Centre located in Bwari Area Council, for instance, a mammoth crowd of adults seeking to collect their cards were seen in disorderly queue because many of them had made several attempts to get the cards but all efforts proved abortive.
A prospective voter, Mr Adamu Mathais who spoke in anger to Blueprint said he applied for transfer of card from Niger state to the FCT since May 2018 and was told that his card was ready for collection through a short message but each time he visited the collection centre in Dutse, he was simply told that his card was not ready. “Since the first week of May 2018, I applied for transfer but up till now the card is not available despite coming here times without number. The funny thing is that they kept asking me to come every week but today is supposed to be the last day if not now we heard it has been extended till Monday. But even then, what is the chance that the card will be ready between now and Monday? One of their officials here told me to forget voting in this election since my voting point has been moved from Niger state to the FCT and I cannot get my card. This looks to me like a deliberate ploy to disenfranchise me from exercising my right. Something has to be done before this election is conducted. What is worrisome is that the INEC chairman himself was the one that announced that all cards whether fresh registration, request for transfer or damaged cards requests are ready for collection. So, what is happening?” he asked.
A lady, Oyewole Olaoluwa told Blueprint Weekend that she applied for transfer of card from Kwara state to the FCT in April 2018 and up till now her card is not ready despite assurance by the commission that all cards are ready for collection. She said, “Now they are telling me that my card cannot be ready for this election; so what do they want me to do? I want to vote, so INEC should get my card for me.”
Oluchi Nwora also in the same ward is one voter that may be disenfranchised in this election. As she told Blueprint, “I have been coming all the way from Mpape to this place to see if I can get this card. Today makes the fifth times I have been here. All they kept telling me is that the card is still not ready since April 2017. It is as if they deliberately want people to be denied their right to vote.”
Mr Kevin Jacob, the supervisor in charge of the centre told Blueprint Weekend that even though their complaints are genuine, the bulk of the problems, he said, lie with the voters whom he said did double registration for which the system would naturally omit such entries. He, however, said the issue is beyond the centre to handle as they can only deliver the cards provided to them.
While going through one of the classrooms at the centre, it was discovered that there are several unclaimed cards in many sacks whose owners are not available and probably not in that cenree but those with the intent of collecting theirs cannot for inexplicable reasons.
“The problem is INEC. Imagine the number of cards littered everywhere without owners. While sorting them from where they were printed, they probably brought cards not meant for this centre here while the ones for the people here are elsewhere. They should devise other means of identifying the owners of these cards rather than disenfranchising people who are willing to cast their votes,” said Abdul Sani, a prospective voters.
INEC should be commended
While many say INEC is largely responsible for the problem of voters, others say the commission has tried within the resources available to it.
“Remember that the budget of the commission was not approved by the National Assembly until September 2018. By all standard, the commission was supposed to have concluded this exercise a long time now but it lacked fund until the budget was approved, so the fault is not entirely theirs but the system in the country,” says Egwu Moses an INEC support staff in a chat with Blueprint.
Continuing further, he said the attitude of voters also leaves much to be desired. According to him, “Voters have this belief that everyone should be attended to at the same time but that is not possible and when voters realise that some may leave without their cards, they become unruly. Here in Gwagwalada, that is the situation.”
INEC had assured of cards readiness
While swearing in the new secretary of the commission, Mrs Rose Oriaran Anthony in December, INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu had announced to Nigerians that all requests for cards have been met. He therefore asked Nigerians to visit the nearest registration point to collect their cards. “The commission has printed all PVCs for new registrants between April 27, 2017 and August 31, 2018.
”We have also printed all the requests for replacement of lost cards, all requests for transfer and relocations.
”The last batch that we printed were for those who applied for transfer and relocation and those who applied for replacement of damaged and defaced cards.
”This will be delivered immediately after the Christmas break. So we are happy to say that all 14.5 million or so new registered voters have their cards printed and delivered to the states. So we are good to go on that.”
Good as the announcement was, many prospective voters are yet to collect their cards for inexplicable reasons. While speaking about this development a fortnight ago, head of Voters Education in the FCT, Mrs Ndidi Okafor, apologised to Nigerians especially those resident in the territory about what they go through to get the cards, promising that as the days go by, all the lapses would be corrected, however as the deadline ends today Monday 11, not only are many disappointed because they couldn’t get their cards, they say the commission is performing below average.