Barely six months to the conduct of the 2019 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is worried that over seven million Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) are yet to be collected nationwide by their owners and are gathering dust in their offices across the nation. These cards are, by law, the only document that eligible voters can use to exercise their franchise and be able to elect candidates of their choice in the elections.
Curiously, the prospective voters whose cards are lying uncollected at INEC offices seem not to appreciate the enormity of the responsibility that ownership of the card bestows on them. In addition to using it to decide who becomes who in the nation’s leadership circle, the card also serves as a medium of identification equal to international passports and driver’s licence. It is, to all intents, a legal document of immense importance.
Whatever may be the reason for the lethargy in collecting the card, it is also a reflection of the attitude of the people to elections generally, a situation that contributes to the emergence of those whose only reason for seeking public office is to loot and plunder the public treasury. It is possible that the unfortunate behaviour of politicians during elections, which renders participating in the voting process almost irrelevant, is also part of the reason for the apathy. It is known that in most cases politicians give the impression that votes cast, if at all, do not count.
Regardless, it is our considered opinion that INEC itself is not helping matters with the hassles Nigerians went through to register. In some cases, going to register can take days of standing in the rain or under intense heat of the sun, including the ill-manners of the INEC officials who give the impression that they are doing the public a favour.
We had in an earlier comment on this page expressed concern over the partisan proclivities of the electoral officers who commence the rigging of the election by not registering those who in their warped perception are not likely to vote for candidates from a particular catchment area. The slow pace of conducting that exercise can only be tolerated by stoically determined persons who insist that on defying the shenanigans of INEC and her staff who give themselves out as agents of politicians and are doing their biddings. In the meantime, the exercise has been concluded four days ago. We think this is not proper when considered that the card, made mainly for the electoral process, is also relevant in other aspects of public life.
Many also may be thinking that going to collect it will involve similar challenges. This attitude, in our view, can only be corrected with massive public enlightenment by the electoral body in collaboration with the National Orientation Agency (NOA), if it still exists because not much has been heard of it for a long time. This is not happening, or at least not to the extent that members of the public will be persuaded to dare the odds for democracy. Beyond what is going on in churches and mosques, or the sheer determination of the people to be part of the process for the sake of posterity, very few are encouraged to accept that the card, if collected and put to proper use, can make a positive difference in their lives.
Political parties across the country and the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) should also collaborate with INEC in this effort by designing strategies that can persuade the electorate to register during the CVR exercise and to also remind them to visit INEC offices for the collection of their PVCs. We urge all concerned to join hands to make democracy work because preventing rigging is proactive and cheaper. Challenging election results in courts is reactive, expensive and may also turn out to be a futile exercise.
By INEC’s timetable, Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on February 16, 2019 while elections for state governors, state assembly representatives will take place on March 2, 2019. Campaigns for all political parties and candidates seeking to contest for the presidential and National Assemblies will commence on November 18, 2018 and end on February 14, 2019. Political parties and candidates seeking to contest for governorship and State Assembly elections will commence campaigns on December 1, 2018 and end on February 28, 2019.
It is the opinion of this newspaper that INEC ought to treat this matter of abandoned PVCs with utmost urgency if the general elections are not to be an opportunity for politicians, in their nefarious propensities, to hijack the entire process altogether and turn democracy as we know it into a sham.