AS the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) schedule for the collection of Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) ends today, it is distressing that Nigerians have a lot of sad tales to tell. Although the commission had shifted the collection of the PVCs by members of the public from its local government offices to the 8,809 registration areas and wards across the country till January 21, after which it said collection of PVCs would revert to its local government offices and other designated centres to be determined by the states, it is a fact that it has been unable to achieve the objective of giving out the cards to all the prospective voters.
From Lagos to Port Harcourt and from Ilorin to Abuja, intending voters have complained bitterly about the harrowing experiences they underwent while trying to collect their cards. Not only did the INEC offices fail to open early enough, the officials allegedly conducted themselves in less than salutary ways, talking down on their customers, complaining of fatigue and failing to attend to thousands of registered voters. It will be recalled that as the deadline for the conclusion of the continuous voter registration exercise ended in August last year, there were widespread complaints about the high-handedness and inefficiency of INEC officials at the registration centres. Distraught Nigerians decried the late arrival of the officials at the registration centres and the insufficiency of the direct data capturing (DDC) which slowed down the pace of the exercise.
Sadly, similar, or in fact worse, experiences have been recorded during the PVC collection exercise scheduled to end today. In many cases, voters besieged the collection points at dawn and stayed for long hours on queues, only to be told that their cards were not ready or, even more strangely, that they would be ready after the elections.
As a matter of fact, the head, Voter Education, Publicity, Gender and Civil Society at the INEC office in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Mrs Ndidi Okafor, was recently quoted as saying that the commission was overwhelmed by the rush by eligible voters to collect their PVCs. She appealed to those yet to collect their PVCs in the FCT to be patient with the commission, as it would do everything possible to distribute them before today. But that target has apparently not been met.
Reacting to the situation, various professional and sociocultural groups across the country have called on the leadership of the commission to extend the collection of PVCs beyond today. This call is, in our view, completely justified. As things stand, the commission has inadvertently disenfranchsed many Nigerians and helped to fuel the allegation that there is a deliberate effort to deny people of their democratic rights. Truth be told, it has failed in a core duty, although apparently well funded for the general election. While it was in order to limit PVC collection to February 8, the commission owed Nigerians a bounden duty to make them available within that time framework.
At the risk of being repettitive, we find it curious that registered voters could be asked to come for their PVCs after the February and March elections when the purpose for registration in the first place would have been defeated. That must not be allowed to happen.