There is palpable relief in the country following the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to extend the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise.
According to the INEC timetable, the continuous voter exercise was to have come to an end by June 30, 2022. However, a late surge of eligible Nigerians soon thronged registration centres seeking to be registered, overwhelming the INEC facilities and officials on hand. A combination of factors may have led to this late spike in enthusiasm by Nigerians, especially the youth segment, to rush to register and obtain their permanent voter cards (PVCs). First is the traditional Nigerian public behaviour of waiting till the last day to carry out a public enlistment exercise. It was so for Bank Verification Number exercise and National Identity Number (NIN) registration exercise.
Traditionally, INEC’s public voter education department had been taking a lot of media space and through other channels to sensitise and encourage eligible citizens to take advantage of the ongoing exercise to register and partake in the poll. On their part, political parties have been sensitizing members of the public to obtain their voter cards so that they can vote for their candidates in the coming general elections.
However, the outcome of the presidential primaries of the two leading parties in which Asiwaju Bola Tinubu emerged for the ruling All Progressives Parties (APC), Atiku Abubakar for main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as well as the emergence of Mr Peter Obi for the Labour Party (LP) and Rabiu Kwankwaso for the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP) seem to have piqued the interest of potentially millions of especially the youth segment of the Nigerian voting public to want to take part in deciding who governs them from 2023.
Expectedly, this caused several Nigerians and groups to demand an extension of the registration exercise. News reports and video skits of hundreds of youths expressing their angst at their inability to register and even strongly demanding their rights to be respected were rife. There were private videos and messages calling the public to action. Even religious figures took to the pulpit to urge their congregation to get their PVCs.
While the House of Representatives, hearkening to the outcry, called on INEC to extend the exercise by two months, a rights group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), went a step further by taking INEC to court to stop it from ending the voter registration exercise on June 30.
As a newspaper, we commend INEC for acceding to the calls by Nigerians to extend the registration time. This has reduced the tension and agitation that built up at registration centres and in the polity. However, every stakeholder in the electoral process needs to maximise this additional time granted for potential voters to fulfill their civic duty.
First, no matter how INEC feels uncomfortable at the situation, it must not treat this issue as a distraction but see it as an opportunity to midwife this political consciousness and awakening into a historic outcome. It is apparent that the voter apathy that usually attended elections in the country would not be the case in 2023. So, it must roll out more facilities, and hire more adhoc staff to make sure it fulfils its promise to register every willing Nigerian but also to make available their PVCs for collection.
It is true that INEC has opened up more registration centres but they are not enough. They are still few and far between. Also, not enough publicity has been carried out to sensitise people where they can go.
INEC should take advantage of the local traditional institutions for the purpose of registration and collection of PVCs. People can more easily access the traditional leaders closest to them.
The police can also help to safeguard the intending voters and the INEC officials. Towards the rush to beat the initial deadline for the stoppage of registration and collection of PHCs, videos trended showing local touts harassing and trying to stop intending voters and INEC officials from performing their civil duties.
A lot of persons who have moved locations say their application for transfer of PVCs has not been done after a year of application. If somebody can withdraw money with ATM card anywhere in Nigeria, there is no reason why they cannot vote in any part of the country. INEC must work on this.
We commend INEC for registering over 10.4 million new voters since the CVR began last year. However, the Commission must find faster and more efficient ways of getting more people to have their PVCs before the election.