No fewer than 6.7 million Nigerians have yet to collect their permanent voter cards less than eigth weeks to the general elections.
Data obtained from the state offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission on Tuesday revealed that 6.7 m PVCs were locked up in INEC safes across 17 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
The INEC had announced that the collection window for PVCs will commence December 12,2022 and end on January 22.
The INEC National Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, disclosed in a statement that with effect from January 6 -15,2023 the collection of the PVCs will be devolved to the ward level after which collection would be moved to the local government areas.
The PUNCH reports that past elections were marred by voters’ apathy.
During the 2019 general elections, the INEC said it had about 82.3m registered voters, however only 28.6m voted in the polls which resulted in the re-election of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) who polled 15m to defeat his closest rival, Atiku Abubakar, who scored 11.2m votes.
During the Lagos governorship elections, less than 2m voted in the poll which was won by Babajide Sanwo-Olu of the APC. He garnered 739,445 votes to defeat Jimi Agbaje of the PDP who got 206,141 votes.
Data from the Lagos state INEC office revealed that as of December 29, a total of 1,693,963 PVCs remained uncollected. This was disclosed in a document tagged ‘INEC Lagos PVCs Reports.’
It stated, “Old PVCs received from headquarters – 6,570,291; old PVCs collected up till December 29, 2022 – 5,653,330. Total uncollected old PVCs – 916,961; New PVCs received from headquarters – 940,200; New PVCs collected as at December 29, 2022 – 163,198.
“Total uncollected New PVCs –777,022; Overall total PVCs received from headquarters- 7,510,491; Overall PVCs collected as at December 29, 2022 -5,816,528; Overall PVCs uncollected 1,693,963.’’
The INEC Director of Voter Education, Lagos State, Mrs Adenike Tadeshe, told The PUNCH that about 14,000 people collect their voter cards daily, noting that the commission would soon take the PVCs distribution to the wards.
She said, “I will not say we have a huge number of uncollected PVCs. Looking at the figures, as of December 29, 2022 we have given out 5,816,528 PVCs, so we are now left with 1,693,963 and we want to put in record that on a daily basis in Lagos State, we give out about 14,000 PVCs so the number will keep reducing.
‘’Now, by January 15 and 16, we will be taking the cards to all the 245 wards in Lagos State and from there to the local government areas, so this will bring the cards closer to the people for collection.”
Findings indicate that the FCT has 460,643 uncollected PVCs as of December 24.
A document obtained from INEC revealed that the Abuja Municipal Area Council had the highest number of uncollected PVCs in the FCT.
In Edo state, 661,783 voter cards have not been collected as of December 29 while
Ondo and Ekiti states had 300,000 and 205,127 cards, respectively, as of December 15.
In Osun State, 437,454 PVCs have not been collected by eligible voters as of November and in Plateau, 49,000 voter cards are still with the state INEC office.
No fewer than 231, 900 voters have yet to pick their cards in Gombe state as of December 20. Similarly, 132,623 PVCs remained uncollected in Anambra as of December 8.
Data released from Niger state as at November 27,2022 revealed that 150,988 PVCs have not been uncollected while the Adamawa state INEC office revealed that it had over 200,000 PVCs lying idle as at November 18,2022.
According to INEC’s Head of Voter Education in Cross River, Tonia Nwobi, 409,604 PVCs were still in the custody of the commission as December 16.
Giving the breakdown, she stated, ‘’They include 90, 511 PVCs uncollected from 2019; 8,752 uncollected PVCs from fresh registration of 2021/2022; 61,939 uncollected PVCs from 2021/2022 transfer and 248,402 unclaimed PVCs received on December 2, 2022.’’
Other states with a huge catalogue of voter cards include Oyo, 700,000; Kwara, 120,602; Borno, 80,117; Ogun, 400,000 and Edo, 661,783, Kogi, 160,966 and Imo, 300,000.
The Rivers State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Usolor Mark, declined to disclose the number of outstanding cards, but said the commission was engaging with women, youths, people living with disabilities and the aged people in the communities on PVCs collection.
Asked about the level of PVCs collection in the state, he said, ‘’We were expecting that people may have travelled home and they are not collecting, but lo and behold, they are collecting their PVCs from the various local government area offices of INEC in Rivers State.”
Speaking on the huge outstanding voter cards in the state, the Head, Voter Education and Publicity, Edo state, Timidi Wariowie, explained that the available 661,783 PVCs comprised the old and new cards which had yet to be picked up as of December 31.
According to him, 409,832 were old uncollected PVCs while 251,951 were new voter cards.
“The old uncollected PVCs were 425,239 but 15,407 had been collected remaining the balance of 409,832. Also, the new PVCs received were 289,931 but 37,980 had been collected remaining the balance of 251,95,” he said.
Wariowei further disclosed that 460 PVCs were collected on January 1 across the local government areas in the state.
He explained that the collection of PVC is going on daily including Saturdays and Sundays (excluding public holidays) from 9am to 3pm at INEC offices across the 18 local government areas of the state.
Commenting on the apathy to the PVCs collection, the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Ibrahim Abdullahi, described it as a dangerous precedent, which he said smacked of mischief by the All Progressives Congress regime.
He said, “It is a confirmation that we are tilting towards a dangerous precedent. The fact that less than six weeks to the election; over 7m PVCs have not been collected leaves much to be desired.
‘’It is the responsibility of the government to enlighten the people and I think they haven’t done enough to encourage people to collect their PVCs, but in some ways, I smell mischief. They (government) can as well make use of these voter cards or use them to cover their tracks.’’
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, said the party had been encouraging Nigerians to go for their voter cards.
The APC National Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, noted that the party expected registered voters to go back to the collection centres to pick up their PVCs.
He expressed concern over the huge unclaimed voter cards.
Morka said, “I understand that people are very busy; we hope as a party that those Nigerians who have taken time to register will realise that of all the things they have to do, this is one of the most important duties: to go out to vote and select those who govern them. The country belongs to every Nigerian and that duty is the one that we hope that they exercise and take seriously.”
The APC spokesman said the ruling party has been mobilizing people to collect their PVCs irrespective of the party they would vote for.
“They need to go out there because without it they can’t even vote; that will mean that they are disenfranchising themselves,’’ he added.
Morka, however, asserted that the credibility of the elections cannot be undermined by the number of voters who didn’t pick their PVCs as the number is lower than those who had collected theirs.
He said, ‘’The point isn’t that the credibility of the election will be brought to question because of those who haven’t collected their PVCs.
“The point is that we all need to turn out to pick up our PVCs and vote. Participating in the election is more important to us than whatever argument people might want to come up with.“
The Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Tex Okechukwu, stated, “A good number of them would have collected (the cards) before the election. Awareness is being created across the board. Our party and other parties are doing serious sensitization on the collection of PVCs.”
The Director-General of the Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council, Akin Osuntokun called for an investigation to unravel the reason behind the unclaimed PVCs.
He added that some parties could be discouraging the collections in areas outside their strongholds, noting that only a probe would unearth the real reason.
Osuntokun said, “Why should we be worried? There will always be uncollected PVCs. But it is not good for democracy. It is important we investigate what is the reason for this. It could be that some parties are deliberately creating barriers to the collection in locations where they know they are weak. We need to investigate this.’’
The Spokesperson for the New Nigerian Peoples Party Presidential Campaign Council, Ladipo Johnson pointed out that the council would only be worried if the unclaimed PVCs were the result of ‘systemic blockage’.
He noted, “We would be worried if people that are seeking to collect are not able to; if it seems that there is a systemic blockage but if it is that Nigerians are leaving things to the last minute, we will only encourage them to collect their PVCs.@
But the Spokesperson to the INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi insisted that the Commission was doing its best in sensitizing registered voters to collect their PVCs.
Oyekanmi said “We have consistently embarked on voter education awareness activities to encourage voters to collect their cards.
“Apart from advertorials and regular sharing of customized messages via our social media handles, each state office of the Commission also takes several slots in radio and television stations prominent in their respective domains to amplify voter education.
“We collaborate with religious leaders who pass voter education messages to their audiences in churches and mosques. We leverage on the authority of traditional rulers to reach out to their subjects in a way that nothing else can.
‘’We also take advantage of cultural events, like the Calabar Carnival, to reach out to voters. We go to major markets in many states on foot, using loud speakers to talk to the market women and leaders due to the influence that they also wield.
“We are grateful to our various development partners- the European Union, IFES, UNDP and others as well as the civil society organisations that are helping us to encourage voters to pick up their PVCs.”
Oyekanmi could not provide the total number of unclaimed PVCs nationwide, saying the figure PVCs kept reducing as eligible voters were collecting their cards daily.
‘’For instance, the figure of uncollected PVCs for Lagos as of 29th December 2022 will not be the same as of 31st December because more people would have collected their cards. The only time we can have the final figure of uncollected PVCs is when we stop the collection of the cards nationwide. The Commission will announce the total number of uncollected cards at that time,’’ he further explained.
Commenting, the Director, Centre for Democracy and Development, Idayat Hassan, blamed what she called ‘last-minute syndrome’ for the poor of the PVCs, describing the situation as recurring decimal.
Hassan said, “It is a recurring decimal. With every election, people do not often go forward to collect their PVCs or they leave it till the last minute. You will notice that maybe when it is one week to the end of the collection process, then Nigerians will troop to go collect their PVCs.
“Secondly, some owners of these PVCs, especially the old ones might be dead, relocated or anti-democracy Nigerians. We are advising the media and the civil society organizations to encourage registered voters to pick up their PVCs.”
The Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, attributed distance to collection centres and poor awareness for the high number of unclaimed voter cards.
Itodo observed, “The reason why people are not collecting their PVCs is because the PVC collection location is distant from the people. However, INEC will be decentralising the PVC collections at ward level from the 6-15 of January, 2023. We hope that people will make use of this opportunity because the ward level is closer to people.’’