Peter Obi. Photo/Facebook/
Barely seven months to the 2023 General elections, a massive people momentum is gathering for active electoral participation. Attention is gradually shifting towards the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
However, in their renewed enthusiasm to be part of the epoch making general elections, Nigerians are apprehensive. Those who remember what transpired in the 1993 Presidential election that would have thrown up the Abiola Presidency are worried that INEC may constitute itself into another source for the possible annulment of hope.
Amid the buying and selling that trailed the primaries of some political parties, stakeholders insist that INEC should rise to the occasion and inspire confidence in the people about the credibility, fidelity and feasibility of the forthcoming general election.
Indications that the 2023 poll would be a very tough nut for INEC to crack emerged recently with the emergence of what some commentators have called WAZOBIA presidential candidates on the platforms of All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party (LP).
Given the contentious issue of zoning that preceded the straw polls, as well as the individual electoral strategies of the parties, stakeholders believe that the emergence of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Mr. Peter Obi as standard bearers of APC, PDP and LP respectively presents a huge stress on INEC’s integrity as an impartial electoral umpire.
The commission came under heavy public criticism after it extended the June 3, deadline for the conclusion of party primaries following APC’s decision to postpone its special convention from May 29/30 to June 6-8.
Stakeholders, especially rights groups, accused INEC of being beholden of the ruling party, even as they urged the commission to equally extend the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise to accommodate the army of new voters.
Although INEC’s performance in some off cycle elections, particularly those of Edo, Ondo and Anambra State earned it some plaudits, the fear that the commission was working hand in gloves with the ruling party remains.
That fact became apparent during the Electoral Act amendment, when the issue was whether to include direct primary as a mandatory legislation on political parties as method of nominating their candidates for election.
INEC was said to have officially indicated that it was indifferent to whatever mode parties chose to select their candidates. But, the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari indicated the inherent huge cost of monitoring party primaries as part of his reasons for withholding assent threw a halo of doubts on the commission’s sincerity.
It was against that background that, no sooner than INEC shifted the deadline for the conclusion of party primaries for the 2023 poll, some notable civil society groups attacked the commission.
The commission had, through its chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, declared that it planned to suspend the nationwide CVR online pre-registration on May 30 2022, even as he explained that the online pre-registration and physical registration would continue until the CVR is suspended on June 30, 2022.
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu PHOTO: TWITTER/ BOLA AHMED TINUBU
It would be recalled that the commission had opened the registration portal in January 2022, while online pre-registration was to be accessed on its portal. Prof. Yakubu explained that the suspension was to afford those who registered online time to complete their registration physically, as well as enable the commission to clean up the registration data.
But, dismissing the INEC chairman’s rationale for suspending the exercise, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), threatened legal actions against the commission if it fails to extend the deadline for voter registration.
Reacting to INEC’s decision to extend the deadline for political parties to conduct their primary elections by one week, SERAP pounced on the commission. In a statement on its verified Twitter handle, the group directed INEC to equally accommodate a shift in voters’ registration exercise so as to allow eligible citizens to register for their PVCs (Permanent Voter Cards).
“We call on the body to immediately extend voters’ registration exercise to also give more time for Nigerians to exercise their rights. We’ll sue INEC if voters’ registration is not immediately extended,” the tweet added.
New Voters Challenge
INEC had explained that those qualified to participate in the CVR are young people that attained voting age after 2018 and those that have never voted in any election before.
National commissioner for party monitoring and communications, Mr. Festus Okoye, who noted that the commission started the CVR exercise more than 11months ago, stated: “This particular registration is for those who have attained the age of 18years between the last time we did continuous voters’ registration exercise which was 2018 and now.
“Secondly, it is for those who have not registered in any election whatsoever. Now, if you have registered before and you have lost your PVC, we require you to provide an affidavit to the effect that you have lost your PVC and then we will process a new PVC and give to you.
“If your PVC is defaced and it is no longer readable, we can process a new one for you and we give you a new PVC and then you surrender the previous one that has been defaced.
“Not only that, if you are living in Lagos and you have been transferred to Kano or to Kaduna or to Osun or to Uyo or to Imo State, what you need to do is not to register afresh, but to transfer your registration to a new state, to a new local government, to a new registration area and to a new polling unit.”
Okoye, who spoke while appearing on a television programme, explained that those who wanted to correct information relating to their data already in INEC database, should correct that particular information and not to register afresh.
While lamenting that most of those seeking to register are those who lost their PVC, thereby compounding the commission’s challenges, Okoye declared: “What people have been doing is that rather than going to correct this information, rather than going to report that they have lost their PVC; they go ahead to carry out a new registration and then when we run the process on our office, we found out that the person have done double registration.
“So, what the commission has done, is to cancel the fresh registration and leave the previous registration as valid, giving the individual the window to correct such an anomaly despite that it is a clear violation of the law. So, that is the extent we have gone in relation to this.”
On the issue of expired PVCs, the INEC commissioner said the PVC issued by INEC do not expire, noting that previously, “the chip relating to the data of registered voters was domiciled in the permanent voter card, but since we introduced the BVAS, the data relating to every individual registered in a particular polling unit is now domiciled in the PVC.”
Further, he explained that on election day, for purpose of accreditation, “what we do is to look at the VIN number, the last 6 digits of the VIN number of the registrant and we use it to call up the person’s data.
If that is not available, we use the QR code or we use the bar code to call up the person’s data, if that is not available, we now use the person’s surname to call up the person’s data from the BVAS.”
Okoye reiterated that PVCs do not expire, stressing: “They are valid for a long time. The only thing is that if you have lost your own or if it is defaced, you need to go and get a new one. PVCs issued by INEC do not expire because the data relating to each registered voter is domiciled in the BVAS.”
However, checks by The Guardian revealed that ever since major political parties began their primaries, especially given the huge cost of nomination fees and highly monetised indirect methodology, more citizens have been trooping to registration centres to get registered.
But, the recent emergence of WAZOBIA Presidential candidates seems to have introduced a new dimension to the entire voter registration exercise. Young Nigerians, who have been competing in their support for BBN (Big Brother Naija) and European Premier Soccer League are currently investing their #EndSARS energy into political participation with a view to taking back their country from the old order.
The development is gaining wide acceptance, because recently, traders in Alaba Market, had to close the market to ensure that their members register for their PVC, just as other social and religious organisations are also encouraging members to “go get your PVC.”
As voters get ready to support teams Atiku, Obi and Tinubu, INEC has to prove to Nigerians that they are equal to the task without excuses.