Uncollected PVCs: The Youth and Women in Danger of Losing Voice in 2023 General Elections

By Matthew Ma

“It is not social media but voting that would determine the winners of the 2023 general elections. If young people could come out en masse to cast their votes, we would no longer be recording 15 or 20 percent voter turnout in our elections because the population of the youth alone can make the difference.”

In October 2022, I wrote an article on “one million marches in cities not enough.” In my analysis, I said that voting is one of the political exercises bestowed on every citizen in a democracy. As evident as this statement may be, people across Nigeria seem to have given up on voting as a catalyst for a positive change. Nigeria has an estimated population of over 200 million, yet these numbers do not represent a true reflection of the voting population. Since Nigeria became a democratic country in 1999, there has been an increase in voter apathy. In 2015, 15.3 % of the Nigerian population determined the result of the Presidential election. That is 42.4% of the registered voters. While in 2019, 18% of the population (about 35% of registered voters) voted in the Presidential election. That estimate means the 2019 elections recorded the lowest election turnout Nigeria has recorded since independence for a presidential election. The big question is, what number will determine the upcoming 2023 general elections?

A few days ago, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) decried the enormous number of PVCs not collected at INEC offices in the Imo and Oyo States. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Imo State said over 300,000 permanent voter cards (PVCs) are yet to be collected in the 27 local governments of the State. Public relations officer Dr. Chinenye Chijioke Osuji opened up about the issue in a statement she issued at Owerri. She urged people to pick their PVCs to enable them to vote in the coming general election. She also appealed to the citizens to take advantage of the ongoing display of the preliminary register of voters to cross-check their names and put in their claims and objections where necessary. The INEC spokesperson added that this idea would enable INEC to have a clean registry for the elections. A day after this pronouncement, INEC in Oyo state also decried that about 700,000 permanent voter cards (PVCs) are yet to be collected. An investigation by the Nation Newspaper at the state secretariat of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) showed that over 700,000 PVCs are waiting to be collected by owners at the offices of the commission across the 33 local governments. An INEC official said the commission was still compiling figures from local governments to provide an accurate list of voters in the State. Out of 2,934,107 registered voters in the 2019 election, only 905,007, representing 30.8 percent, participated in the last presidential election, while 940,211, representing 32 percent, voted in the governorship poll. With over seven million population, Oyo State is next to Lagos in voting strength in the Southwest. The INEC official who spoke about the issue attributed the problem to the indifferent attitude of Nigerians to vital documents. The official said INEC made it easier for voters to pick their PVC; however, Nigerians have shown little interest. The official said voters would only begin to rush when they see a deadline or the election draws near, recollecting that the state commission experienced a massive rush in PVC collection a few weeks before the 2019 general election.

By September 2023, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) grumbled over the enormous number of old and new PVCs still stocked at INEC offices in the 20 local government areas of Lagos State. Olusegun Agbaje, the Resident Electoral Commissioner in the State, said a staggering number of the uncollected PVCs belonged to women, who are essential participants in elections. According to Agbaje, the Permanent Voter Card (PVC) is the sole instrument required to participate in an election. It is a crucial eligibility instrument for voting, without which no citizen would be allowed to participate in an election. For him, the women folk, particularly in Lagos State, must rise to the challenge to ensure they collect their PVCs without further delay. Mr. Agbaje, who expressed dissatisfaction over the low number of women flag-bearers in the forthcoming general elections, said women need support, encouragement, and boldness to fight like men to take leadership and political positions. According to him, it is not good that we still have fewer women than men in elective offices in 2023. He emphasized that we need to improve through this type of engagement so that future elections will have more women coming out for elective positions.

Again, three months before the 2023 election, here we are still talking about PVC. We are calling on youth and women to collect their PVCs to enable us to throw out underperforming politicians to elect credible candidates to execute good governance. To vote for candidates who would meet the demands of the pressing needs of the people, the PVC remains the mechanism that would give the ambiance for people to do so. Hence, the possession of Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) makes up the criteria for voting in forthcoming elections piloted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). However, today, the uncollected PVCs stocked in the offices of INEC across the country remain the subject of concern. As the build-up toward the 2023 general elections gathers momentum, one area of concern has been voters’ apathy, which has clouded all elections in the country for many years. The factor responsible for this is the failure of the government to meet the needs of the masses. Hence, apathy to political processes becomes imminent because they lack confidence in the elections bringing in different administrations, which have largely failed to satisfy their demands. However, the question of whether such apathy is a logical choice to protest such deficiencies in governance is one of deep concern. Judging by the attitudes toward the 2023 election, some realities have begun to emerge. The essential issues for justifying the apathy include data from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which has revealed enormous deficits in the record of unclaimed PVCs. Months ago, the national office of the election body raised concerns about the 2023 election when it reiterated that thousands of PVCs were unclaimed by their owners. I call on the youth to pay attention to the forthcoming elections. It is not social media but voting that would determine the winners of the 2023 general elections. If young people could come out en masse to cast their votes, we would no longer be recording 15 or 20 percent voter turnout in our elections because the population of the youth alone can make the difference.

Even as we come closer to the 2023 presidential elections, Nigerian women and youth are still marching for political leaders instead of collecting their PVCs and getting ready to vote. They are busy touting and positioning presidential candidates as messiahs that would take the country to the promised land after the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari without a PVC. An unclaimed PVC is a potential vote loss for nation-building. I salute some Nigerian women and youth for the tremendous success recorded at the national and international levels in sports, education, entertainment, and technology. The giant strides and world records broken by them show that the country is in the right direction. At the beginning of the electoral process, young people started showing massive interest in the forthcoming election. However, three months before the election, Nigerians, particularly women and youth, have not collected their PVCs. Today, I again encourage all people to visit the INEC offices where they registered to collect their PVCs. This call is necessary because the youth account for 71.4% of registered voters. The invitation is crucial because their PVCs are ready for collection but unclaimed. All youth and women leaders from the six geopolitical zones should work with the party leadership, youth and women associations, governments, public and organized private sectors, civil society groups, and other stakeholders to ensure registered members obtain their PVCs. I appreciate the role of the electoral umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the media, civil society groups, youth associations, and church leaders in mobilizing Nigerians to participate in voter registration exercises across the country. It is now time to do the same by encouraging all to collect their PVCs.

The use of social media platforms during an election has become democratized, and participatory politics through social media has helped to create a political climate in which the agenda-setting voices of young people are at the forefront. Today, we are increasingly using social media platforms, alongside traditional offline advocacy strategies, to effect the change we seek. I have been using social media networks to provide online articles and debates for Nigerians to engage with politicians. This kind of low-cost, citizen-oriented means gives us new dimensions of civic participation while creating opportunities for mass mobilization. However, the role of social media in election campaigns has both advantages and disadvantages. The reality of the present day is that it may foster misconceptions and can effectively manipulate the masses to spread one’s propaganda in the mind of people. The idea that someone might use social media to spread disinformation designed to influence an election is deeply worrying. Political polls are essential to every election campaign but can often be confusing as people often find several polls releasing conflicting results on the same day. Today, the youth no longer visit social media but live on social media. If you want to reach out to them, you must go to where you will meet them (via social media). However, I would like to say that INEC does not conduct elections on social media; nor do the election body count ballots on Twitter or Instagram. They count the votes in the ballot box. It is only the ballot paper from the ballot box which the commission considers eligible. So, what does that mean? It means that on election day, people must go out to cast their votes. For anyone to do so, he must be a registered voter that possesses a PVC. Hence, our focus on social media at this time should be to encourage Nigerians to collect their PVCs and vote for reputable, qualified, dedicated, and dependable candidates to serve the public interest that its citizens and young people envision.

When President Muhammadu Buhari was presented to Nigerians in 2015 as the messiah, many of us spoke up and voted for him. Six years after he took office, many Nigerians were dissatisfied with his performance and no longer followed him as the messiah we untimely thought. With the tenure of the Buhari administration winding down, another set of politicians has positioned themselves as the country’s saviors come 2023. They include old and new faces who have openly become the presidential aspirants of their respective parties. The importance of this election is that it remains the obligation of every citizen to vote for his conscience. Beyond voting, consistent and productive participation in the electoral process is an essential requirement that citizens should meet if true democracy is to take root in the country. Lamentations about poor governance do not, understandably, change the narrative. Nor is staying away from the polls enough to protest poor leadership and incompetence. If citizens do not take the bold step to not only choose credible candidates but do so intelligently, conscientiously, and diligently, the narratives may only worsen. Where citizens steer clear from participating meaningfully during electoral processes, it becomes unbalanced and unjustifiable to firmly call to check those they have not voted for to perform as they (the masses) would wish. It is pertinent that the power of collective action during the #EndSARS movement against police brutality has made the Soro Soke (meaning speak up) generation viable. Today, the Nigerian youth league continues to rise. Our democracy needs you. Without you, the entire electoral process is incomplete and unrepresentative of what the demands are in a democratic system. Therefore, only strong voting and participation can make concerted efforts to win over candidates who can fulfill their wishes and lead the country pragmatically. When you sit in apathy, a few opportunists will pull their strength behind the process, not only hijacking the process but establishing their threshold to form a government of themselves and their cronies, ruling in their self-interest.

Hence, apathy is not a reasonable way to protest a bad government. An intelligent choice of choosing formidable candidates of excellence for the various positions is a better choice one could make during an election. Reaching such a choice demands nothing but intelligent participation in the electoral process. The record from the registration into the voters’ database without the further step of obtaining the voter cards, in large numbers, does not reflect the intelligent choice to participate firmly in the process. Such dispositions do not only reflect submission to the democratic process; they echo a waste of resources, which the taxpayers themselves are the cause of it.

As we draw closer and closer to the 2023 elections, the need for Nigerians to collect their PVC has become apparent. The process demands in the democratic structure for election would be incomplete without meaningful participation by the public who form the electorates. The election remains the central instrument for change of government in a democracy. Where the citizens are dissatisfied with the performance of successive governments, it is essential for them to reflect on their choice of candidates and how to intelligently choose candidates who satisfy the test of faith to meet the demands of public offices. Shunning the polls may not be a rational resort, as an election would remain the instrument for a change in government, as much as democracy stands as the system of government running in the country. Nigerians must wake up to ensure the forthcoming general election is one they would take pride in as an election that would go into history as an exceptional process where their will and choice set the path for a turning point that began the move to their yearnings.

Rev. Ma, S.J, is a Jesuit Catholic priest and doctoral student in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.

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