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2015: Voter cards, registration and fear of disenfranchisement

Eligible Nigerians, who reached the voting age and met other requirements, have the undisputed constitutional rights to vote during elections. But despite the constitutional backing,…

Eligible Nigerians, who reached the voting age and met other requirements, have the undisputed constitutional rights to vote during elections. But despite the constitutional backing, some may be denied the chance to cast their votes on Election Day, largely because they do not have voter’s card, which is necessary to possess to enable a voter cast his vote.
This is just as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said this week that registration of fresh voters would no longer be carried out to pave the way for the processing of voters’ cards of those that registered during the recent registration exercises across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The second reason for the closure of the registration of fresh voters given by INEC was the legal requirement to display the list of all registered voters 30 days before any election.
Expectedly, there are growing complaints over the inability of some Nigerians to get their voters’ cards with less than 50 days to the 2015 general elections, and INEC’s deadline of January 31 for all the collections of the cards by registered voters remains just four weeks away.
The commission said Nigerians who could not obtain their cards during the distribution period can go to their local government’s INEC offices where uncollected cards have been kept to get their own.
However, at the end of January when INEC will eventually shut its doors, those who are not able to get their voters’ cards will automatically be denied the constitutional rights to vote in February.
In the build-up to the 2011 elections, INEC hurriedly conducted fresh voters’ registration exercise, nationwide, where many eligible Nigerians were issued with temporary voters’ cards, which were used for that year’s polls. But as it is now, the temporary cards, INEC said, will no longer be useful in the 2015 elections.
Back in 2011, INEC was able to register about 70, 383, 427 Nigerians during the exercise and assured that it would produce the Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) for use in this year’s general elections as part of the process to have an electronic voters’ register. This, INEC said, would make it impossible to use the known addendum voters’ register cum temporary voter’s cards in 2015.
In fulfilment of its promise, the commission began the distribution of PVCs in some selected states of the country in May, 2014 which it said was the first phase of the distribution plan. The states that constituted the first batch include Taraba, Gombe, Zamfara, Kebbi, Benue, Kogi, Abia, Enugu, Akwa-Ibom and Bayelsa.
The second phase had states such as Yobe and Bauchi, (North-east); Jigawa and Sokoto (North- west); FCT and Kwara (North- central); Anambra and Ebonyi (South-east); Ondo and Oyo (South-west); and Delta and Cross River (South-south).
The third and final phase of the distribution, consisting states such as Lagos, Rivers, Nasarawa, Kano, Edo, Plateau, Ogun, Imo, Katsina, Kaduna, Niger and Borno recorded the worst problems that saw the distribution exercise staggered.
In Lagos, the commission started the distribution excluding nine local governments just as in Niger and Nasarawa, where some areas were also excluded.
“The decision to stagger the CVR exercise and the distribution of PVCs is informed by lessons learnt by the commission from the recent CVR exercise and distribution of PVCs in Ekiti and Osun states,” said INEC’s bulletin.
Again, soon after the commencement of the distributions, challenges of missing names, machines failures and time constraint characterised the exercise that later overshadowed the subsequent batches of states, including the hitherto protracted distribution in Katsina, Kaduna, Niger and Lagos.
INEC had in all the three phases and the delayed states given only three days for the distribution exercise to be held, to give way for the commencement of Continuous Voters Registration (CVR), which was carried out within five days in all the states.
But pressures from politicians and the National Assembly forced INEC to extend the two exercises by periods ranging from 24 to 48 hours in some states.
Looking at the whole two exercises of PVCs distributions and the CVR, analysts say that some state had enjoyed certain advantages over others.
For instance, the 10 states in the first phase have had about seven months within which their voters could go to INEC’s local government offices to pick their cards, while those whose cards disappeared got captured in the new register within same period
But for the states that fell under the second phase, their voters had barely a month to queue up or walk to INEC offices in various local governments to collect their PVCs, after the initial three days for the distribution.
Presumably, it is against these myriads of challenges that the commission placed on its official website a process where one could confirm their PVCs status as well as the process of how to collect it.
“If PVCs distribution has ended in your state and you have not yet picked your card, you can pick up your PVC from the INEC Local Government Office of the area you registered,” the information on INEC website said and gave a link for addresses of its offices in the 774 local governments nationwide.
“You can check your voter status by entering your details in the form on this page. You can also check your voter status by sending an SMS with your State, Last name, Voter Identification Number (VIN) to 081-7164-6879.”
It explained that a response to such inquiry would be sent back within the maximum of 15 minutes, without any charge other than that of the user’s mobile network.
Consequently, voters who are yet to get their cards will have until the end of this month to go to INEC local government offices in their local councils to pick their cards or stand the risk of not voting in the 2015 elections.
This, many say, has become more important as the fresh registration exercise has been stopped nationwide to enable the release of the INEC’s recognised registered voters by the middle of January, when it would be 30 days to elections as the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) stipulates.
The challenges encountered by the commission, which the electoral umpire Professor Attahiru Jega admitted in many occasions and apologised to Nigerians over the constraints, led to public outcry on the need for the electoral body to suspend its planned usage of the PVCs and the card readers in the 2015 elections.
In one of the stakeholders meeting for the 2015 elections earlier in December, Professor Jega admitted some of the challenges that “have to do with the challenge of producing the Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs).”
Continuing, he said: “I regret to say that there have been delays in the production of the PVCs for many reasons. But we are doing our best. We should have finished the distribution and the CVR by the end of October, but now our hope is that by the middle of December, we should be able to do that.”
December has come and gone and some states, like Borno, and some local governments in Niger State are yet to get their cards.
Niger State governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu had, during a budget presentation to the state House of Assembly, last week, said the exercise was marred by irregularities that led to his inability, alongside two former heads of state, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and General Abdulsami Abubakar, to get their cards.
He called on the commission to shelve the usage of the PVCs in the general elections and allow people with the temporary voters’ cards issued in 2011 to vote during the February polls.
But Jega’s spokesman Kayode Idowu told Daily Trust in reaction to Governor Aliyu’s complaints that the commission was on course to see that every Nigeria eligible voter uses the PVC to vote next month.
“Yes, of course, there are complaints. I can give you guarantee that it would be used. What are the challenges? It is the distribution and we are working, we are doing everything possible to distribute.
“New names have been captured, and the commission has given a commitment that every validly registered voter will have their cards produced. Although everyone of them has the responsibility also to pick up that card.
“We are absolutely confident PVCs would be used in 2015. We would use the card readers along with the permanent voter’s cards in 2015.”
Thus, many Nigerians wait to see if the commission will fulfils its promises of providing all registered voters their cards before the middle of this month.

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