It is amazing that very little is being said about Jega’s INEC’ and its continuous voter registration (CVR) and permanent voter card (PVC) collection process. Maybe it is the dual trauma of Ebola and the menacing, steady march of Boko Haram through Borno and Adamawa that has us distracted.
Whatever the case, we are ignoring the fact that our election management system has a lot to do with what we have suffered from current and previous governments. It is in our collective best interest to ensure that our electoral process is accessible to everyone who is eligible.
Starting with the Ekiti and Osun elections, the new rule is ‘no PVC, no vote’. So far, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Enugu, Abia, Benue, Kogi, Zamfara, Kebbi, Taraba, Gombe, FCT, Yobe, Bauchi, Jigawa, Sokoto, Kwara, Anambra, Ebonyi, Ondo, Oyo, Delta and Cross River have undergone the process of registering new voters and handing out PVCs but if the complaints are any indication, large numbers of Nigerians have been unable to participate.
Apart from the usual issues with un-cooperative machines, M.I.A INEC staff, missing cards and missing names from registers, not enough effort has been made by INEC to let people know what is going on and what they need to know about the process.
As such, 5 months to the general elections, it is unclear if even half of the 40million PVC that INEC reportedly planned to print first has been collected. For the Osun elections, INEC reported that about 68.06% of the PVCs had been collected a week to the elections. While this number is encouraging, the immediacy of the gubernatorial elections might have been a factor in the high collection rate. In the FCT, the collection rate for PVCs is allegedly only 17%.
The terrible lack of public awareness around the processes is compounded by logistic issues and INEC’s unpreparedness to tell people where to collect their PVCs once they miss the opportunity to get it from their polling units.
INEC complains that budget considerations mean the time frame within which they can have officers at polling units handing out PVCs is limited to a few days. In the alternative, eligible and registered voters have until end of December 2014 to pick up PVCs (not clear if this applies to those who also want to register) from INEC local government offices. Sadly, as of last week INEC could not provide addresses for these offices.
If our votes do count, it is not clear why the political parties are not screaming blue murder about what has been a disappointing process so far. While many do and should praise INEC for the improvements in the electoral process and for the more open engagement style of senior management – where the CVR and PVC process is concerned – INEC must be made to do more.
The first is to announce (and publish online) what the collection rate is for all 24 states where the exercise has been completed. This should provide details of how much work needs to be done. Then INEC needs to provide a list of all the INEC local government locations in each state where people can register and collect their PVCs. Third, INEC needs to review its communication budget then plan to do a lot more communicating about Phase 3 which will cover Adamawa, Borno, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Plateau, Nasarawa, Niger, Imo, Lagos, Ogun, Edo and Rivers. INEC must ensure that PVC collection is simplified with the cards arranged and grouped alphabetically and finally INEC needs to modify the controls around the collection of the PVCs to make it impossible for anyone, even it’s own commissioners, to collect people’s cards on their behalf.
We have become comfortable with an INEC that is reforming especially with the improved logistics management for Osun and Ekiti. However there is too much riding on the general elections to ignore the warning signs which indicate that if INEC is struggling in phased distribution of PVCs and registering new voters, then effectively conducting elections in 36 states and the FCT simultaneously might be impossible.
Nothing justifies the terrible violence we witness in Nigeria after every election, however can we imagine the rage of thousands of dis-enfranchised voters feeling cheated and thwarted by INEC’s inefficiency when the results do not reflect how they would have voted if they could? No one is even talking of IDPs.
Voting is a right. INEC and stakeholders in election management and sustaining democracy have five months to ensure that we do not have elections where it seems citizens are being done a favour.