2015 ELECTIONS: ASSESSING INEC’S OUTING IN THE LAST PVC DISTRIBUTION AND REGISTRATION EXERCISE
By Esther Onyinyechi Mark
Rhoda had woken up that morning, optimistic that her planned activities for the day would go on as smooth as she had envisaged. She made a rough to-do-list of her schedule-from a visit to her polling unit to collect her Permanent Voters Card [PVC], to the market, and then her stall for the day’s business. But, little did she know that her plans were to be interrupted. She had proceeded to the unit at Tina Junction at exactly 9.30 am, and what she met, left her bewilded! After spending more than an hour scanning through the list to locate her name to no avail, she had proceeded to three other units in the area, and still could not find her picture nor her name, on the register.
This is one, amongst hundreds of similar experiences of registrants, who had joyfully gone out to collect their PVCs. Others, who went for fresh registration, had to exercise real patience in queuing up, while the INEC Adhoc staff registered them afresh. Many complained bitterly about the exercise.
I went round town to observe for myself, what did I find?
Going Round Jos Town
At the Yan Trailer polling unit with code 31/05/10/089, I met over 50 persons waiting to be registered. The time was 8:00pm and it looked like the polling unit was just starting its business for the day. Having observed the activities for some minutes, I made way to sit on an available plastic chair. But, that was a big mistake as the barrage of angry chants from frustrated registrants filled the air. They had thought I was jumping the queue to be registered, having arrived late. It took some minutes of clarification from me, before the angry air was calmed.
The Assistant Registration Officer, Joel Nuhu, listed the challenges encountered in unit to include the use of bad laptops and bad batteries for the laptops, and no chargers for the laptops. This according to him, made the exercise drag late into the night thus, they had to work overtime, even without the assurance of an overtime payment. Nuhu further explained that on the first day of the exercise, November 12, they started around past 3;00pm
Virtually all polling units visited had same complaints. At the Naraguta B, 31/05/01/023, the Assistant Registration Officer, Maryam Gyok, complained about the laptops, batteries, ink for printing of the TVC’s, lack of power supply and working overtime, just to meet up. The unit close around 8’00pm daily, against the stipulated time of 5;00pm.
At unit 31/05/10/086, Angwaan Rukuba, the ARO, Manu, A.A, had to resort to his pocket to hire batteries for N600 daily, just to meet up with the demands of the registrants. He also had to print the TVC’s elsewhere, as the printers were bad. And the laminating films were exhausted within the frst two days of registration, thus, making others collect their TVC’s without a laminating film to protect it.
There were no security agents in all the units visited, and the crowds were so many one wondered how two persons could attend to them all, without encountering mistakes on the data entered into the computers.
We also want to be registered
Two notable features in some units were the presence of underage voters, and those who had done multiple registrations. In a polling unit, I noticed about 8 underage minors, who were on queue to register. When I asked what they were doing there, one minor said “my father said I should come and register, because others are doing it, so I can vote too and help our person to win”. The Assistant Registration Officer in one of the units who pleaded anonymity, opined, “we have no choice but to register them, because they sometimes threaten us. INEC will fish them out, before distributing the PVC”
Some had gone from one unit to the other, seeking to locate their names and cards on the registrars, all to no avail. They could neither explain what had happened to the data they had inputted in 2011, nor why no one was willing to give a logical explanation on reasons behind the cancellation of some units. They had to refer to words, albeit suggestions from all and sundry, and start afresh to register. Others even registered twice, as the case of Peter Samson, who had registered at night and on sighting his very dark picture on the TVC the next day, went to another unit to register, so as to get a clearer frame.
But INEC had provided an online checking system to help registrants’ access the validity of their previous registration, before going to the units to collect the cards. The website www. inecnigeria.org/?page_id=2160 , and an SMS service, required the registrant to input his name, city of registration and the last 5 digits of the VIN number, before access to the information can be guaranteed. I tried it, and was told my name was not on their list, thus, the need for fresh registration. But many people were ignorant of this, which can also be attributed to the lack of proper communication on the part of INEC. Over 10 persons I asked were all surprised there was a forum for such. One even asked in local parlance “ you sure say that thing na true? E fit be 419 ooo”.
Succor came to many units through the various communities they were in. From Angwan Rukuba, to Nassarawa, all the way to Angwan Rogo and Tudun wada amongst others, the communities had volunteered help in various forms, to make the exercise a smooth one.
At the Angwan Ujah polling unit, a generator set was provided to help charge the laptops, while others contributed money to fuel the machine throughout the exercise. They also provided tables, chairs and refreshment for the INEC Ad-hoc staff. At Yan Trialer unit, two young men volunteered to help in distributing the TVC, while a generator set was also provided to aid more registered voters, even at night. For polling unit in Angwan Rogo, some community members had to ensure orderliness on the registrants, by coordinating the queue, while others helped in entering the details of already registered prospective voters in the manual register.
But it wasn’t a tale of woes, all through. Abigail Ogwuche, alongside her 4 sisters, went to their unit in Jos Jarawa and were given their PVCs in minutes. They wasted no time and the details therein were correct. So also it was for Mr Nwafor Obianeri, he had gotten his PVC within minutes he arrived his polling unit. Many others also had one fair experience to the other. But it seemed those with bitter taste in their mouths in regards to the exercise, outnumbered those whom it favoured.
Assessing the exercise
A Senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Jos, Yilkur Dashe, while assessing the whole exercise, expressed disappointment with its general conduct. According to him, “this could be the beginning of rigging; when people that ought to vote cannot either find their Permanent Voters Card, or are made to undergo rigorous processes before getting theirs, it could weaken their morale in coming out to vote”.
Dashe said, it’s “baffling that there is a serious gap between the INEC as an organization, and the electorates. INEC has failed to communicate fully to the electorates, by using all possible means of communication. That is why people were confused when they could not find their names or cards at the units they had registered, previously. For those in the interior villages, the commission should have partnered with other foreign bodies like the, USAID, etc to reach these rural dwellers on their modus operandi.”
Another lecturer in the department, Mr Kwopnan Kwop, opined that “the Nigerian Constitution gives room for continuous registration of the electorates, until 60 days to an election. Why should INEC wait till the last minute to begin fresh registration/ how do you expect to satisfy the needs of thousands of people, just in three days? You just can’t give people 3 days and not expect chaos. Certain things should not be toyed with”
Different Strokes for Different Folks
But, it is surprising to note that not all were going through such pains just to get the enablement to vote. There was quite a handful who wanted the card just for unforeseen emergencies. According to Ifeanyi John, “ I am not ready to vote anybody because they all are the same. I just went through the rigors to get the card, because I might need it tomorrow to ensure some transactions are in place. I may need it in the bank, or elsewhere. That’s the only reason why I went to queue up, just to get this” Another middle aged woman who pleaded to remain anonymous, also had the same view. She said she had lost hope in the electoral system and only wants to get the card so she won’t be deprived anything due to her, in the future. Different strokes, one may say!
Countering the Claims
At the commission’s office in Jos, I noticed various groups of people standing at the gate, trying to gain access to the commission. They all had one complaint or the other, all in regards to the exercise and were denied entrance. However, I was granted access and off I went, to seek clarification on what I had noticed, so far.
The Registration Officer, Jos North local government, Hussaini Yahaya Tanko, while refuting the complaints, opined that, “there is a need for the total overhaul of our attitudes towards issues of such nature, as Nigerians”. He said, “we had conducted enough publicity in regards to both exercises and everyone was aware of what was to be expected in regards to new polling units and the likes. While I had expected the commission to provide new laptops for the exercise, for one reason or the other, we were made to use the old machines used in 2011 and they were fair enough. In general we recorded over 70 percent success and in any examination, that is an A. Nigerians should be fair to INEC and not just expect its failure”
The INEC boss also refuted claims by some Assistant Registration Officers on the non-availability of batteries to power the laptops. He showed this reporter round the storehouse, where over 40 new batteries were. According to him, “we got no complaint whatsoever about batteries because we have them in excess here. Maybe it was a breakdown in communication between the supervisors and the office. But we made sure we provided enough logistics for the exercise”
With all the challenges encountered, and INEC giving itself an above the average pass mark, one wonders what lies in stock, in regards to the forth coming general election. Is INEC fully prepared to give the country its best outing ever? Are Nigerians satisfied with its performance so far? Do they have much confidence on the commission to deliver?
Christiana Alawa, another prospective voter, has come to accept such anomalies as part of what makes one a Nigerian. According to her, “we are in Nigeria and you just have to be patient in getting what you want. We will surely get it but patience seems to be the watchword. We are Nigerians, and we are used to such life styles. So, it’s no big deal”
Could this be part of the attitudinal overhaul the INEC boss was referring to? Maybe, he’s gotten a faithful disciple. But a Hausa proverb “Juma a mai kyau, tin da Laraba a kan gane ta readily comes to mind. Wondering what it means? A successful event is as a result of careful and steadfast planning and execution.