Although the Independent Electoral Commission is trying desperately to apply damage control to correct a very bad situation, Nigerians across the country have expressed disgust over the just-conducted distribution of the Permanent Voters Register, PVC, by the Commission.
It was the third phase of distribution of PVC and thirteen states were involved in the exercise which began on Friday, 7th November and ended on Sunday, 9th November 2014.
The states were Adamawa, Borno, Edo, Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Plateau and Rivers.
This exercise had earlier been conducted in twenty one states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Phases I and II.
The exercise involved voters cross-checking their names in the displayed Votersâ€™ Register and collecting permanent voters cards in exchange for the old ones.
When the exercise failed in Lagos, residents took to the streets to protest, storming the Lagos office of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to vent their spleen. The Lagos exercise was scheduled to hold in Agege, Ajeromi-Ifelodun, Ibeju-Lekki, Ifako- Ijaiye, Ikeja, Ikorodu, Kosofe, Lagos Island, Lagos Mainland, Mushin and Ojo while it was postponed in Alimosho, Amuwo Odofin, Apapa, Badagry, Epe, Oshodi- Isolo, Somolu, Surulere and Eti-Osa from Nov. 28 to Nov. 30.
Tales of woe
Despite declaring a public holiday in Lagos to enable workers obtain the permanent voterâ€™s cards in the areas INEC approved, tales of woe were everywhere as voters lamented their predicament.
â€œ I checked everywhere,â€ said Lamidi Idowu, a sixty year-old civil servant, â€œI didnâ€™t see INEC officials at any centre. I was not the only one. I live at Ejigbo and I went to the centre where I registered but nothing like that was in place. I trekked to polling centres I knew existed around Ejigbo and beyond, even up to Idimu but nobody was giving PVC. The PVC can be required for other things, even in the hospital or any place that would require your biometrics. It is terrible. It is true that INEC has extended the date but there is no guarantee that other problems would not crop up.â€
From Ikeja to Lagos Island, Ibeju Lekki, Ikorodu and other parts of Lagos, residents during the exercise in many centres waited in vain from as early as 8.00am to 5.30pm at various centres.
Chief Thomas Ike who lives at Amuwon Odofin Lagos said he didnâ€™t see anywhere the PVC was being distributed. What made his case even more peculiar was the fact that he had relocated from where he registered to his own permanent abode.
â€œ I used to live at Ikeja until I built my own house here. But even then, when I inquired from my former area, I was told the distribution process had not commenced and up till late evening, I didnâ€™t get any positive answer. INEC officials were not at the distribution centres.â€
In many centres in Lagos, after waiting in frustration for hours, residents left for their homes.
Eventually, the unavailability of the PVC and INEC officials culminated into a protest in Lagos. During the protests, the road to INECâ€™s office was blocked but it didnâ€™t degenerate to violence. The fear expressed by Comrade Declan Ihekaire was that Nigerians felt that INEC was planning to rig next yearâ€™s election, especially in states controlled by the All Progressives Congress, APC, which informed the hoarding of the PVCs from getting to the people.â€
Although the INECâ€™s REC in Lagos State, admitted that the agency had been encountering problems in the distribution of the PVCs in Lagos, he assured the protesters who besieged his office that by the time the exercise is completed, every Lagosian duly registered would get his or her PVC.
The story is the same across many states in the federation involved in the third phase of PVC distribution.
Story, story, everywhere
In Edo state, the resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) Baritor Kpagih, disclosed that no fewer than 4,658 voterâ€™s cards were stolen in nine local government areas of the state during the distribution of the Permanent Voter Card (PVC). The Edo state Electoral Commissioner disclosed the names of the affected local government areas as Orhionmwon, Etsako West, Ovia North East and six others but did not disclose how and when the voterâ€™s cards were stolen although the theft was reported to the police in the areas concerned.
In Ogun state, voters who turned up to collect their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), left for their homes in frustration as officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not show up in the polling units.
When they eventually did, no cards were distributed.
In a bid to pacify the voters, the Independent National Electoral Commission had the deadline extended by one day in Ogun State to Monday, November 10.
In Imo state, PVC distribution flopped even though the governor and his deputy alongside other government officials reportedly obtained their permanent voters cards.
Public out-cry and frustration according to reports, trailed the exercise in many council areas, wards and polling units in the state. On its own, the Imo state office of the Commission extended the exercise by two days and ended it on Tuesday November 11, instead of Sunday, November 9.
Although the exercise was successful in many local government areas and wards in Imo state, it reportedly failed in others like Owerri Municipal, Owerri North, Orsu, Isiala Mbano, Ehime Mbano and Oguta Local Government Areas. It also failed in Atta wards 1 and 2 in Njaba lga; Amurie Uburu in Oru West LGA, llile in Ohaji Egbema, Mgbee ward in Orlu lga and some polling units in Okigwe Urban Ward 2.
INEC officials were reportedly not seen in these areas. Also, problems of missing names and booths were reported while in most of the rural areas in the state, more than 75 percent of the cards were left uncollected.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner in Nasarawa state; Ahmed Makamma said that the state received only 30% of the Permanent Voters Card (PVCs) out of the over 1.2 million registered voters, a situation he said was likely to cause dispute within the state .
Governor Tanko Al-Makura and other political stakeholders from the state accepted the postponement, saying it was a right step in the right direction.
The new date for the exercise is now 28th-30th of November 2014.
In Kano state, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had to extend the exercise by 24 hours.
Allegations and counter allegations
After cataloging the problems that trailed the exercise across the states, the national Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu expressed suspicion over the development, saying that INEC was deliberately colluding with the Presidency to rig the elections in favour of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) through delay in delivery of Permanent Voters Card (PVC).
He equally queried the eligibility of INEC to conduct a free and fair election going by the shoddy manner it conducted the distribution of Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) to eligible voters.
Tinubu lamented that â€œINEC had four good years to prepare for the coming 2015 elections and there are laws, particularly constitutional and electoral act requiring certain actions to be taken.
They gave us temporary voter cards to vote in 2011 and now decided that there will be permanent voter cards consistent with biometric verification devices to improve on 2011 and make 2015 verifiable and show an improvement over the past record consistent to the standards across the world.
â€œINEC told us that they are ready. They said they have put everything in place. They gave us the date only to discover 48 hours ago that they are not even ready for the 20 local governments recognised by INEC in Lagos State.
They gave us the date only to tell us that only 11 local governments will be ready. Rather than outright boycott, the party endures the frustration and appeal to the public to continue with the 11 local governments. Our field reports, personal experiences and from what we observed so far, the exercise even in the so-called 11 local governments, the exercise failed and it is unacceptable.
â€œIn some instances, we donâ€™t find INEC officials in some of the accredited booths, we donâ€™t find them arriving on time, the cards were not sorted, were inadequate, where are they? To me, this exercise has failed. It is not acceptable. We will consider it as a rigging exercise.
INEC has colluded with the Presidency to rig this election from the dataâ€, he said. Although INEC admitted that Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) distribution was shoddy in Lagos, it explained that the loss of the data of no fewer than one million people who registered to vote in Lagos State was partly responsible for the poor distribution of the cards.
But Prof. Attahiru Jegaâ€™s spokesman, Kayode Idowu dismissed the allegation that it had delisted some voters in Lagos State. â€œIt is completely false that INEC has removed the records of 1.4 million persons from the Register of Voters compiled in 2011 in Lagos State.
It is true that at the end of the 2011 general registration exercise, the Commission announced a figure of 6.1 million registrants in the state but nobody has been delisted as alleged.â€
Letting a sleeping dog lie
In the heat of the allegations and counter-allegations over the poor distribution of permanent votersâ€™ cards,coupled with the earlier controversy over the creation of 30,000 new polling units in the North, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) made a u-turn and suspended plans to create additional polling units before the 2015 general elections.
Mrs Augusta Ogakwu, INECâ€™s spokesperson said the decision was reached after the commission reviewed reports sent in from States by Resident Electoral Commissioners on â€˜reconfiguration of the polling unit structure and creation of additional polling unitsâ€™.