Three million youths in Nigerians university are at the risk of being disenfranchised in the forthcoming general election.
This is the election management body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), said it cannot make any special arrangements for students of tertiary institutions to vote in Constituencies where they are not registered.
According to INEC, all voters will exercise their franchise in the constituencies in which they are registered.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP in Abuja yesterday, the chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, said this provision of the law precludes the Commission from making any special arrangements for students in tertiary institutions to vote in any other Constituency than the one in which they are registered.
“Section 47 of the Electoral Act 2022 makes it mandatory for an intending voter to present himself/herself with his/her Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) to a Presiding Officer for accreditation at the Polling Unit in the Constituency in which his/her name is registered.
“It is a provision of the law. There is nothing INEC can do about it,” he said.
To that extent, he urged all students intending to vote at the 2023 general election to go to their respective constituencies to cast their ballots.
2023 Elections: Despite Occupying 40% Of Voters, Students Face Disenfranchisement
Against the backdrop of calls from several quarters that universities should declare holidays for students to vote in the forthcoming general elections, millions of students may still be disenfranchised.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had said over 3.8 million of newly registered voters are students, accounting for over 40.8 per cent of the total number of newly registered voters.
However, LEADERSHIP gathered that most of the students may not be able to participate in the election given the uncertainties about whether the federal government or their respective tertiary institutions will declare holiday for the students as requested by stakeholders.
When asked if there would be an arrangement with tertiary Institutions to give a break for students to go home and vote in the forthcoming general elections, the director, Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Education, Ben. Bem Goong, in a short response said “Not all the students registered at home.”
Goong, however, did not clarify whether the government would be giving holidays as requested by parents and other stakeholders.
Meanwhile, many students will be in school despite registering for their permanent voter cards (PVCs) at home due largely to the eight-month-long strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that kept the students off campus during the registration exercise, and their likelihood of being disenfranchised if not allowed to travel outside their campuses to vote in the election in February and March 2023 is high.
Comrade Attah Felix, the Senate president, National Association of Nigerian Children (NANS), who spoke in an interview with LEADERSHIP, said the student body is liaising with respective authorities to ensure all the students participate in the election.
“We are also aware that closing the schools is not fair because there are also students whose voter cards and polling units are within the cschool’s, so we must make sure we do a check and balance before we take a stand on it so that we don’t affect our teeming population strength,” he said.
However, some students have pleaded with the government to work out a plan that would allow students at least two weeks to participate in the election.
A student of Federal University of Technology, Minna, who identified himself simply as Abdullahi lamented that the school had released the examination table which will commence on 13th of February till 1st March.
He said, “I did my voter registration in Benue during the ASUU strike, so there is no chance of me voting anymore, unless the school decides to postpone the examination.”
While it is gathered that some federal universities may have finished their semesters before the elections, others will be in the middle of the semester and unless a break is given, students who registered in their hometowns faraway from their schools will find it difficult to participate.
A student of Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Cletus Tsegba, said his school will commence examinations on Monday, 6th February, 2023 and finish at about 21st of February before election commences.
Speaking on the topic, the chairman, Committee of Vice Chancellors (CVC), Prof. Samuel Edoumiekumo, had stated that neither the National Assembly, the National Universities Commission (NUC) nor the CVC were empowered to dictate to the tertiary institutions to go on break.
In Enugu, our Investigation revealed that most of the higher institutions and colleges are yet to decide whether they will give their students a break because the elections will take place on Saturdays.
The Provost of the African Thinkers College of Education, Enugu, Zulu Ofolue, told our correspondent in an exclusive interview that there might not be any need to give the students a break because the elections will take place on weekends when there are no school activities.
He, however, said they will not hesitate to give a break if they see any reason for it, adding that they may consider giving a break for people to travel to vote.
Although efforts to get an official reaction from the University of Nigerians (UNN) failed, sources in the school disclosed that the institution will take a decision on the issue before the election.
It was gathered that other institutions in the state are yet to take official decisions on the issue.
A student of UNN, Chika Ike, told our correspondent that she has her PVC and is ready to cast his vote for a new Nigeria.
A student of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), Nnamani Okafor said he has collected his PVC and is eagerly waiting to cast his vote.
Other students who spoke to our correspondent expressed their willingness to vote during the election, saying they all have their PVCs.
Eligible students with their PVCs across tertiary institutions in Akwa Ibom State have the freedom to exercise their franchise, checks by our correspondent in Uyo, the state capital revealed yesterday.
At the University of Uyo (UNIUYO), the acting Registrar of the institution, Mr. Linus Okoko, explained that “it is only the prerogative of the federal government to give such a directive for the institution to be shut for any purpose.”
Similarly, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Federal Polytechnic, Ukana (FDU) in Essien Udim Local Government Area, Comrade Manasseh Umoette, said “it is the responsibility of the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and the Federal Ministry of Education to issue such order”, adding: “For now, we are yet to receive that kind of directive.”
At the Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU), Ikot Akpaden in Mkpat Enin LGA, the dean in -charge of Student Affairs, Dominic Ekpo, and the rector, Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic (AKPOLY), Ikot Osurua, in Ikot Ekpene LGA, Moses Umobong, did not answer calls to their phones.
But some senior management officials, who do not want their names in print, explained that “candidates have been coming for campaigns to woo the students with a view to convincing them to change their voting pattern in their favour.”
According to a principal officer at AKSU, eligible voters amongst the student population have always been voting in every election because the polls are usually held on weekends (Saturdays) when there’s no school activity.
“So, I don’t think there’s any need for the school to declare any special day for the students by stopping lectures. In any case, it’s the visitor to the school, Governor Udom Emmanuel, that has such power, but since elections are always on Saturdays, there won’t be any need for that.” he explained.
However, a couple of students, who spoke to LEADERSHIP, expressed readiness to vote for their choice candidates.
“I am very willing to exercise my right as a citizen of this country because the way things are going, everybody must rise to make their contributions to effect the necessary change for a more credible and patriotic set of leaders to emerge. I am a registered voter with my PVC, when the time comes, I will return to my village unit at Mkpat Enin LGA, Ward 11, to vote for my candidates.” Iboro Etim, a 300-level student of Agricultural Economics, UNIUYO, said.
On his part, Awasikan Archibong, a 100-level Mass Communication student at AKPOLY, said, “I will be at my unit at Udianga Enem village, Etim Ekpo LGA, Ward 8, to vote. I’m a registered voter and I don’t belong to any political party, but I have candidates across party lines to vote for.
“My prayer is that as INEC preached to us that with the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BIVAS), the process would be seamless and fraud-free, it should be as they said, so that a new crop of political leaders should emerge to fix the country for a new lease of life,” she said.
According to the director of Public Relations, University of Maiduguri, Professor Danjuma Gambo, the institution has no plan to close the school for the purpose of election unless otherwise directed by the federal government.
He said the university has released its calendar for the 2020/ 2023 academic session, and will go ahead with classes as scheduled by the university Senate.
Meanwhile, since the resumption of the school based on the calendar, many students are yet to resume, especially those coming from outside the state, while those who have returned are still hanging around as lectures are yet to commence.
We’re Waiting For Education Minister’s Directive – Varsities
In Ebonyi State, the management of the different tertiary institution in the state have assured that the student would be availed the opportunity to participate in the forthcoming general election but said they are yet to get correspondence from the Federal Ministry of Education and other regulatory bodies of the institution on the actions to take to ensure that the Nigeria Students are not disenfranchised.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP in Abakaliki, the public relations officer, Alex-Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu Alike Ikwo, Ebonyi State, Ikechukwu Elom, said that the decision to allow the students vacate the school to be part of the election process is the decision of the Senate of the institution.
Mr. Elom stated that the Senate of the school sits once in a month to take decisions concerning the school, but had yet to seat.
“As it is, I cannot authoritatively tell you that the school would vacate before the election since it’s the decision of the Senate of the school. The Senate sat in January and no decision of such was taken, and by the time they sit this month, they may decide. But I think the best is for the Education Ministry to write to different schools on when to allow the students to vacate the school to enable the students vote.
Also, the public relations officer, Ebonyi State University, Mr. Patrick Itumo expressed the optimism that the necessary steps would be taken by the institution to ensure that students of the institution are not disenfranchised.
“This is not supposed to be an individual school’s decision to take but should be that of the Federal Ministry of Education. In EBSU, it is expected that our students will be allowed to participate in the election process, but as it is today, the management is still waiting for the Ministry to communicate with us,” he said.
Efforts to get the reaction of the provost, Ikwo College of Education, Prof Benedict Mbam were abortive, but the PRO, Betrand Ngwuda, disclosed that the management will soon come up with such a decision, adding that he was not competent to speak further on the matter.
Meanwhile, a senior management staff of the Ebonyi State University, EBSU, Dr. Cletus Ajah has called on the Federal Ministry of Education to direct the tertiary institutions across the country to direct the management on when to commence a break for the election as it had directed principals of Unity Schools in the state.
Meanwhile, the University of Port Harcourt will embark on a long break before the commencement of the general elections on February 25, 2023.
A copy of the approved revised academic calendar for 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 sessions full-time programme, which was obtained by LEADERSHIP, showed that the second semester examination, which began on Monday, January 30, 2023, will end on February 17, 2023.
Speaking with our correspondent, the PRO of the University of Port Harcourt, Dr. Sammy Kpenu, however said outside the academic calendar, it is only the Federal Ministry of Education that can direct the institution to embark on a break for the election.
Kpenu said: “UNIPORT may not unilaterally declare a public holiday for its students to go vote except as shall be directed by the Federal Ministry of Education.”
However, same could not he said about the Rivers State-owned tertiary institutions, including the Rivers State University, Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, the Kenule Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic and the Captain Elechi Amadi Polytechnic.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP in Port Harcourt, the public relations officer of the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Dr. Ngozi Okiridu, said the school’s management is yet to take any decision on whether there will be a break during the election.
Okiridu said: “The registrar of the university has not come up with any notice on such development and once the notice is out, I will send it to you.”
The vice chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Prof Wahab Egbewole (SAN), yesterday, said the university will not disenfranchise its students in the 2023 general election.
Egbewole said the university will not suspend its academic programmes for students to vote because , according to him, it had already designed a programme “where students can attend virtual classes and vote wherever they are” .
“We won’t suspend our lectures for voting, UNILORIN is digitised,” he said.
Egbewole stated this during his maiden media parley with newsmen in Ilorin, Kwara State.
He said in the last 100 days of his assumption as vice chancellor, the university under his regime had attracted N500 TetFund grants for hostel accommodation for its students, another N400m for broad band from the Ministry of Communications and N200m grant for ICT.
He added that some staff of the institution had attracted N100 million grants through their research works for the university, adding that the university “has patented 18- 20 products of its research works”.
UNIJOS Has Provision For Election Break – Abdullahi
Speaking to our correspondent on whether or not University of Jos will give students a break to go and exercise their civic responsibility, the deputy registrar, information and publication, Abdullahi Abdullahi, said there is provision for a break for students to go and vote.
“The university Senate has already approved that in the university academic calendar . There is provision for that, Abdullahi said.
For Plateau State University (PLASU,) Bokkos, the university public relations officer, Mr. John Adams, told our correspondent that he is not in the position to say whether there will be a break for students to go and vote or note.
However, LEADERSHIP gathered that the students are currently writing their exams and will finish before the presidential and governorship elections.
‘We’re Determined To vote, Holiday Or No Holiday’
But speaking with LEADERSHIP on the matter, the Ogun State chairman of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Comrade Kehinde Damilola Simeon, said the student populace in Nigeria are ready to exercise their civic responsibility irrespective federal government granting a holiday or not.
“Whether the federal government, or school authorities declare holidays or not, we as leaders of the Nigerian student population have taken it upon ourselves to make a statement with the forthcoming general elections. Consequent upon this,, we are of the strong determination that it is going to be a revolution this time around.
“It may interest you to know that prior to now, we as student leaders had instructed the leadership of Student Union Governments (SUGs) and other representatives to mobilise members in their respective institutions to go out and get their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) to enable them exercise their civic responsibility at areas nearest to their halls of residences while on campus. So, this we did with all seriousness and that was why I said the coming general elections will be a revolution.
“An attestation to this is contained in the statement of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) when it said that student population formed the bulk of newly registered voters in its database.
“So, whether the federal government, or authorities at our various institutions declare holidays or not, we are determined to vote and we have already conveniently positioned ourselves for that exercise”.
Don’t Disenfranchise Them, CSOs Warn
Speaking on the matter, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Nigeria have called on tertiary institutions in the country to give a short break to enable over three million student voters to vote.
According to the CSOs, the lack of synergy among government establishments in Nigeria is causing serious problem, adding that students must be allowed to travel to where they registered and vote in the upcoming 2023 general elections
But speaking to LEADERSHIP, the CSOs said there is no time for INEC to relocate the voting centres of the students, insisting that institutions that have failed to prepare their calendar in consideration of the electoral umpire’s guidelines and timetable must shift their activities to allow the students to vote.
The CSOs that spoke to LEADERSHIP are Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Transparency International (TI), the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Yiaga Africa.
The leader of TMG, TI, and CISLAC, Awwal Musa Rafsanjani, said the students are facing uncertainty as a result of the failure of government institutions to collaborate.
“Because of lack of coordination among government establishments, we should have fixed the election at a time when the students are on vacation.Unfortunately, some of the government institutions don’t have synergy and the election is coming at a time when they are in school.
“Institutions must give a short break for the three million students to exercise their rights,” Rafsanjani said. “Excluding about three million students will not augur well because there is no time for INEC to transfer the voting area for them.
“The easiest way is for the school authorities to give a break. Those who have fixed exams should postpone them.”.
Speaking further, Rafsanjani disclosed that those who registered in different states should be allowed to go back to where they registered and perform their civil right.
Also, the executive director of Yiaga Africa, Mr Samson Itodo, has called on INEC to extend the collection of the PVC for students to collect their cards and vote in the election.
Reports from voters in different collection centres across the country revealed that some validly registered voters were informed by INEC officials that their PVCs were not available; while some others were asked to return on a later day beyond the deadline or after the election to collect their PVCs.
This, Yiaga Africa says, is a breach of the Electoral Act 2022 which mandates INEC in Section 16(1) to design, print and issue voter cards to voters whose names appear in the register of voters.
“This is not only a problem in Lagos. Citizens have provided reports from Abuja, Rivers, Delta, Anambra, Imo, Ondo, Nasarawa, Akwa Ibom, Kaduna, Borno, Sokoto, Ogun, Kano, and Kwara.
“We also note the concern of the students who registered at home while tertiary institutions were shut down for over eight months. According to INEC, 40 percent of the 9, 518,188 newly registered voters are students. If they registered at home and are now at school, INEC must ensure they can pick up their cards in the least expensive way possible,” Yiaga Africa said.
He called on INEC to extend PVC collection to ensure a reprinting of voter cards of everyone whose cards were not found, and that there is a clear process for them to pick up the cards.
“INEC should work with the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) to ensure that there are no classes or exams the week before elections so students can go home to vote,” Yiaga Africa added.
PVCs Collection Ends
Meanwhile, as the deadline set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the collection of Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) elapses, there was a low turnout of valid registered voters in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja to collect their PVCs.
Prior to now, there was a massive turnout at PVC collection centres, a major reason the Commission extended the deadline for the collection of PVCs by one week from January 29 to February 5, 2023..
However, unlike in the days gone by when residents came out en masse to collect their PVCs, the narrative changed this time, as many Nigerians were not at the INEC collection centers.
Also, many who registered in Koroduma, One Man Village in Karu lamented that the Commission was yet to print their PVCs.
They also lamented that they will be disenfranchised as all efforts to get their PVCs proved abortive.
They particularly noted that the head of INEC, Karu Office, Idris Maikasuwa, said he was yet to receive the PVCs from the Commission headquarters.
Our correspondent who visited some of the wards: Karu, Orozo, Jikwoyi, and Nyanya, all within Abuja Municipal Area Council, however, observed the scanty number of people coming in and out of the ward.
One of the INEC staffers, in Nyanya Ward, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, said the number of people that came wasn’t encouraging.
“They were very few. They were just coming in one by one. There was no crowd. I can’t tell why it happened that way but it is surprising because the number of PVCs we still have in our possession is still many. They are too many. It tells that not a good number of Nigerians have gotten their PVCs and that is a problem ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Just a few persons were seen in the queue as against the long queue experienced earlier.
An INEC official noted that the process was seamless.
On the number of uncollected PVCs, the INEC staffer said they were yet to take stock of the remaining PVCs.
Our correspondent observed that for INEC Municipal Area Office in Karu site, the staffers shut down activities at about 4pm, saying they couldn’t wait any longer as Nigerians are not interested in getting their PVCs.
Another INEC staff, in Karu Ward, Precious Adamu, whom our correspondent met packing up, said they have been at work but valid registered voters were not turning up to get their PVCs.
“Information getting to us is that for other wards around, Abuja people are not really coming out.
“I almost believe that the extension of the date is almost useless because we have not achieved a lot. The statistics increased, but a little.
“But for those that did relocation, change of name, new registrants, they have not come to get it. We still have so many of them here.”
However, some persons interviewed by our correspondent lamented that despite the extension of the collection date, they were yet to get their PVCs from INEC.