INEC, the voters' list and cards – Guardian

By The Citizen

As activities hit feverish pitch at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in preparation for the general elections of February 14 and 28, there are still many issues deserving urgent national attention, the most significant being those Nigerians whose likelihood of exercising their right to vote now seems more than a bit uncertain. This, therefore, is the time for INEC to do all it can to ensure all Nigerians of voting age, and who are duly registered, have their permanent voter's cards before election day. A comprehensive voters' register and permanent voter's cards for all is the first step towards a credible, free and fair election and INEC owes Nigerians just that.

Ever since the release of the permanent voter's cards (PVCs), many eligible Nigerians have been unable to get their PVCs with complaints being the order of the day. Some would find their names on the displayed list of those whose PVCs are available and not find the actual PVCS. The Sultan of Sokoto is among the teeming population of Nigerians yet to get their PVCs while many others are completely disoriented as to where to collect their PVCs. And the Sultan captured the feelings of the potentially disenfranchised succinctly: 'Millions are heading towards being disenfranchised. Let's respect people's wishes, let's not disenfranchise anybody…Government must look into how to ensure all the cards get to the voters before voting day.'

While the leadership of INEC has appealed to Nigerians to be patient and that it is taking steps to rectify whatever irregularities exist in the process of making available to voters their PVCs and has even gone ahead to provide electronic guide on where registered voters can collect their PVCs, there is no doubt that worries persist.  Although its moves are somewhat reassuring, this has not removed the phobia that many voters may be disenfranchised; moreso that INEC is insisting that voters without PVCs will not be allowed to vote. All must therefore, be done to allay this fear.

It is to be noted that INEC has unveiled 68.8 million registered voters for next month's elections, a figure below the previous election then put at 74.6 million voters. This reduced figure may be a product of some meticulousness and a result of sifting through multiple registrations in which about four million double registrants may have been expunged. It is official, still, that 68.8 million voters have been registered but of that number, about 38 million PVCs have been collected so far. As the commission has already made public, 'more than 38 million PVCs have been collected by duly registered voters across the country. But that leaves many PVCs yet to be collected.' To arrest this, INEC has instructed Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs), to decentralise the distribution of PVCs having taken delivery of more copies from contractors. While this sounds good, it also illustrates the scale of the problem at hand.

It is against this backdrop that the National Assembly is perturbed and feels strongly that voters will be disenfranchised if something urgent is not done. Hence it has requested INEC to allow the use of temporary voter's cards (TVCs) in the forthcoming election. INEC is, however, opposed to this suggestion and has insisted that it can only honour the PVCs and not TVCs. According to the commission, 'contrary to doubts being peddled by some persons, INEC will use card readers in the 2015 general elections. The commission has already taken delivery of over 132,000 units of these cards and we are scheduled to receive the remaining quantity before the end of January.' As things stand, it looks real that many Nigerians may not be able to vote and the development will ultimately cast a slur on the credibility of the process.   Therefore, it is only reasonable to support the position that those who have not been able to collect their PVCs should be allowed to use their TVCs. This appears the only reasonable way to avoid mass disenfranchisement that could take place by virtue of this obvious shortcoming on the part of the commission.

It is indeed amazing that despite a period of four years within which the commission has had to do its job and prepare for this election, it is being weighed down by problems of logistics and seeming ill-preparation for the elections. In an environment where all manner of malfeasance is possible, the hope is that some people somewhere are warehousing the PVCs for sinister purposes with the potential for sullying the electoral outcome.

The integrity of INEC's leadership is now at stake, no doubt. Nigerians, however, expect the leadership to rise to this occasion and acquit itself creditably in the 2015 elections.