The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) commenced the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) last week amidst high expectations, CHIBUZO UKAIBE writes
The Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise in all the 774 local government areas in the country has begun and, for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), expectations are high.
The commission will be faced with logistical challenges, perception crisis bothering on partisanship, security for its personnel and materials. Most important, however, may be the antics of the political class, which will be bent on hood-winking or blackmailing the commission. Ultimately, the commission will be held responsible for the outcome of the process.
Rising from a meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja, chairman of the commission, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, said: “Following consultations with political parties, civil society organisations and the media, the commission convened a special meeting today with the RECs and administrative secretaries (ASs) from all the 36 states of the federation and the FCT to finalise its preparation for the commencement of the nationwide Continuous Voter Registration exercise.
He said the meeting considered the methodology, modalities and effective date for the commencement of the exercise nationwide and agreed as follows; “that the nationwide CVR shall commence on Thursday April 27, 2017 in each of the 774 LGA of the federation.
“The exercise shall take place on weekdays from 9.00am to 3.00pm excluding public holidays. The exercise is intended to enable citizens who have turned 18 years of age since the last registration as well as those who did not register during the last exercise to register as voters.
“Allow those seeking transfer of their registration from one State to another to do so. Distribute uncollected Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) to those who could not collect them before or since the last General Elections. Enable citizens who have the Temporal Voters Cards (TVCs) but whose names are on the register to collect their PVCs,” he noted.
He, however, advised those who are already registered not to do so again, as it is an offense to register more than once.
On the eve of the day the exercise was to begin, a faction of the leading opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), raised some concerns.
The Sen Ahmed Makarfi-led PDP enjoined the electoral commission not to allow a repeat of the 2014 episode where majority of Nigerians were disenfranchised.
The opposition party, according to its national publicity secretary, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, charged the INEC to remain neutral, independent and unbiased by allowing all potential voters in the 774 local government areas in the country, irrespective of their political leaning, gender, tribe or religion to participate in the registration exercise.
However, Adeyeye, in a statement, said: “We enjoin INEC to remain neutral, independent and unbiased and allow all potential voters in the 774 local government areas in the Country irrespective of their political leaning, gender, tribe or religion to participate in the forthcoming continuous Voters Registration Exercise.
“We insist that the INEC must avoid a repeat of the 2014 episode where majority of Nigerians were disenfranchised. The commission should allow the distribution of Permanent Voters Card (PVC) evenly to all zones of the Federation.
“We are calling on all our members, teeming supporters, leaders and stakeholders at all levels to mobilise people in their locality to participate in this all-important exercise. The revolution for genuine ‘change’ begins now. Register, collect and protect your PVC for 2019.
“We want to inform Nigerians that this is an opportunity for those who are suffering and undergoing the suffocating hardship, poverty, hunger, comatose economy, insecurity, crass ineptitude, gagging of the press and opposition leaders and members, and more atrocities; to get registered in order to vote out this non-performing All Progressive Congress (APC) led Administration at all levels.”
He urged all citizens who did not register in the last exercise especially, those that have turned 18 years to come out enmass and register to vote and be voted for in the 2019 General Elections.
The CVR exercise in 2014 was froth with a lot of controversy, largely because the 2015 general election was poised to be the most keenly contested election since 1999.
The emergence of a new formidable opposition political party, All Progressives Congress (APC) back in 2013, had redefined the political landscape, altering the dominance of the PDP. As such, the CVR exercise as well as the collection of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) ahead of 2015, became a point of contest between the two major parties. While PDP, then ruling party, attacked INEC, under the former chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega of bias towards the APC in the course of the exercise, opposition APC, accused the ruling party of trying to intimidate the electoral commission into submitting to its will. By and large, the CVR and PVC collection process became an intense point of political battle for both parties.
Responding however to the concerns of PDP over the 2017 CVR exercise, INEC said it has made arrangements to ensure that all eligible Nigerians who have just turned 18 or those that have never registered will be able to register across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory during the exercise.
Chief press secretary to INEC chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, who gave the assurance of the commission said: “All eligible Nigerians who have just turned 18 or those that have never registered will be able to register across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory during the exercise. All arrangements have been put in place. We appeal to all qualified Nigerians to take advantage of the exercise and also conduct themselves in an orderly manner.”
On ‘D’-day, the INEC chairman however charged Nigerians to be alert to foreigners trying to get registered during the CVR which commenced nationwide.
The chief electoral officer while flagging off the exercise at INEC’s office in Karu, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), also disclosed that he received a number of letters containing fake Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) from the Nigeria Immigration Service.
Yakubu who underscored that it is illegal for foreigners to register in the process, added that: “Going forward, we are going to work with security agencies, including the Nigeria Immigration Service by keeping an eye on the process.”
He charged the media, civil societies and the political parties, to effectively police the process.
“If there is any person that doesn’t look like Nigerian trying to register, please draw the attention of the security agencies and we will move in swiftly, particularly when we devolve to the ward and Polling Unit (PU) levels because that is where the problem will arise.
“At local government level, the security will be tighter. So the security agencies will continue to do their work and it is our responsibility to assist the process.
“We have configured the machines, we have tested them, and we have deployed them to the field, we have made adequate provision for consumables. We are taking this very seriously. But since we are dealing with technology, it is very difficult to give you very clear cut guarantee but we have made ample arrangement in case we have to rush for some kind of technical assistance such as replacement of accessories.
“Whenever there is any glitch, we have made arrangement to make sure that this is addressed.”
He added that the commission is aware of the concern to devolve the registration to ward and PU levels.
“We want to assure all Nigerians that the current exercise is just the beginning. We are considering devolving the registration to all the 8, 809 wards and our 120, 000 polling units. We are working on the logistics.
“The current exercise, confined to our 774 local government areas, we mobilised over 4, 000 of our own staff. If we are going to devolve this exercise to ward level, and we have 8, 809 wards, on the basis of five staff per ward, we are going to recruit over 44, 000 ad hoc for the exercise.
“If we are going to de-evolve it to our 120, 000 polling units, we are going to recruit over 600,000 ad hoc staff for the exercise. And since it is not going to be for a week or two, it is going to be all year round, we need to consider the logistics.”
IPAC chairman, Mohammed Nalado, who accompanied Yakubu to the Flagg off event, pledged the support of all political parties in the FCT to CVR process.
Nalado who is also National chairman of the Accord Party (AP), said though the exercise is starting at local government, there are villages not easily reachable.
“It will be difficult for people from rural communities to come to local government and want the exercise to trickle to the ward level. IPAC and AMAC is planning to have workshop.”
But there are concerns over how to reach areas in the North east that were ravaged by insurgents. The challenge stem from the fact that mines planted by the insurgents are yet to be completely removed.
As such, INEC asked the Nigerian Air Force for assistance to airlift personnel and materials to Bama, Chibok, Danbua, Gwoza and Kala Balge local government areas in Borno State.
Yakubu, who led a team of senior officials to the Defence Headquarters in Abuja, told the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar that the request was informed by the intelligence report in the commission’s possession which revealed that the roads leading to the five local government areas have been mined by the retreating insurgents.
He said: “We are embarking on a very significant exercise in the history of this country. For the first time in our democracy, citizens will be afforded the opportunity to register as voters all year round in all our 774 local government area offices nationwide.
“We have mobilised in all the states of the federation, including the northeast region, where our military is very active for obvious reasons. But since the return of peace to Bornu state, a lot of Nigerian citizens who are in the Internally Displaced Camps (IDPs) before and during the last general elections have returned to their towns and villages. Our intention is that no Nigerian should be left out of this registration exercise. Every Nigerian counts and every Nigerian should be given the opportunity to register.
“But we are equally interested in the security of our personnel and materials, especially in the northeast. We have a challenge in a set of five local government areas – Danbua, Chibok, Gwoza, Bama and Kala Balge. And the challenge is not in the local government offices, but in the roads leading to these local government offices. We have been reliably informed that the insurgents have, in some instances, mined these roads. We are all aware of the incident that happened last week involving some of our very senior officers.
“So we thought for that reason, in our effort to ensure that every Nigerian is given the opportunity to register, we should approach the Air Force to assist the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in respect of these five local government areas, to airlift and deploy our personnel and equipment for the purpose of this very important exercise, in the interest of our democracy and service of our fatherland.”
Responding, Air Marshal Abubakar assured the INEC helmsman that the NAF was prepared to give the Commission all the support it requires to make the exercise a success.
“This is the kind of partnership we are actually looking for since we have the assets given to us by the government of Nigeria and we can use these assets to support any agency of government. For us in the Air Force, we are very happy to get involved, to support you in whichever way we can. The local governments you talked about are the areas where we operate everyday, day and night. We will give you every support that you need to ensure that you conduct a successful registration exercise. And this is not only limited to Bornu state, but anywhere you need to move items. We have the C100 cargo aircraft to move items from Lagos or any part of Nigeria,” he said.
However, as INEC undertakes this exercise, a youth group has advocated observing the process.
Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA) has said it will deploy its Watching The Vote (WTV) election observation methodology during the exercise.
According to the Executive Director of YIAGA, Samson Itodo, YIAGA WTV will deploy 260 citizen observers to 260 randomly selected local government area registration centers spread across all the 36 states of the federation and the FCT.
Itodo, in a statement yesterday said “Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA) will deploy its Watching The Vote (WTV) election observation methodology during the Continuous Voter Registration exercise. The observation mission is geared towards enhancing the credibility and transparency of the voter registration process. It will also generate data and knowledge for influencing electoral policy formulation and implementation in the buildup to the 2019 general elections.
“YIAGA’s #WatchingTheVote is an advanced observation methodology that uses well-established statistical principles and sophisticated information technology for reporting and assessment of electoral activities. Using this methodology, YIAGA will provide the most timely and accurate information on the conduct of the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), Permanent Voter Card (PVC) distribution and Transfer of Registered Voters.”
As it stands, all eyes will be on INEC to see how they will manage the process in the face of the high expectation ahead of 2019.