By Victor Ahiuma-Young
Ahead of July 31, 2022 deadline given by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for the conclusion of the Continuous Voters Registration, the Coalition of Nigerian Voters, CNV, has called for an extension, claiming millions of Nigerians are still surging the sparsely located registration centres across the country struggling to get registered.
The group, however, urged Nigerian voters not to relent in their push and quest to exercise their franchise in the 2023 general elections.
In a statement, Convener, CNV, Asuzu Echezona, contended that many Nigerian voters were taken aback by the INEC deadline directive given the earlier promise by INEC that every Nigerian is willing to vote in the 2023 general elections would be given the opportunity to register and to collect their Permanent Voters Card.
The statement said “As it stands today, there are still millions of Nigerians who are surging the sparsely located registration centres across the country struggling to get registered. With the current rate of registration, it is public knowledge that there is no magic that would make INEC accommodate every voter who wants to register for the 2023 general elections before the current deadline of31stJuly 2022. This would result in the disenfranchisement of millions of Nigerians willing and eager to perform their civic responsibilities in the 2023 polls. This would be a defeatist of INEC objectives.
“We are also concerned about the insufferable difficulties faced by Nigerian voters trying to register especially those in many parts of Northern Nigeria, South West, South-South and South East. There are cases of registration centres located in private homes. There are instances of voters being extorted different amounts of money to be registered. We are also worried about the suspension of registration as a result of violence in the South East particularly in Enugu State. We believe that if INEC could allow voter registration to go on in parts of Nigeria where terrorist operations and banditry have become entrenched, it is suspicious and an exercise in bad faith to disenfranchise numerous communities in the South East on the guise of isolated security breaches. This suggests a hidden agenda wrapped in mischief.
“Recently, thousands of PVCs were discovered buried by some unscrupulous elements. This is another clue to an organized effort to rig the 2023 elections by disenfranchising voters from a particular section of Nigeria. We demand that INEC must urgently address these concerns regarding public perception of its fairness to all voters.
“Given the foregoing, we call on INEC to extend the Continuous Voters Registration till at least the end of August 2022. The House of Representatives had earlier called on INEC to extend the CVR to the end of August 2022. This will help compensate for the identified difficulties faced by voters and assure Nigerians that INEC is not only fair but seen to be fair to all. This is very important in building public trust toward peaceful electoral outcomes in the 2023 general election.
“It is important to note that INEC posited that the decision to halt voter registration was consequent on the judicial pronouncement by the Federal High Court which recognized the powers of INEC to schedule voter registration as long as it is not later than 90 days before the general election in compliance with Section 9(6) of the Electoral Act 2022. Since INEC had already extended the CVR indefinitely, the Federal High Court judgment can only be interpreted as strengthening the hands of INEC to abide by its promise to extend the voter registration for as long as possible in order to capture willing voters. The proposed one-month extension is within what the electoral Act provides. Definitely, six months from August 2022 to the election in February 2023 is enough time for INEC to print and distribute PVCs to voters.
“Nigerian voters are, therefore, worried at the sudden change in the position of INEC. Is the volte-face by INEC informed by the umpire’s anger against SERAP for challenging its powers in court? When INEC said it would extend the CVR indefinitely was the Commission simply waiting for the pronouncement of the Federal High Court? Since the pronouncement of the Federal High strengthened the position of INEC to extend the CVR, why did it call off the CVR almost abruptly? Whose interest is the short deadline on CVR serving? Is INEC truly independent?
“The foregoing questions are pertinent given the fact that the same INEC shifted the time for presidential primaries when it was obvious that the ruling party – the All Progressive Congress – was not able to meet its initial deadline. If INEC could extend the deadline for an interested party who clearly breached its regulation, why is it difficult for INEC to genuinely extend the same gesture to hapless Nigerians whose inability to register to vote is not entirely their fault especially given widely reported cases of faulty registration machines, obstruction and molestation of eligible voters, sparse deployment of registration machines, centralization of registration points, and the commercialization of the registration process.
“In order to make the proposed extension of Continuous Voter Registration count for all eligible and willing Nigerians ready to vote, we demand that INEC should henceforth deploy voter registration and collection of Permanent Voters Card to all the polling units in Nigeria for the remaining duration of the CVR including the sought extension. This will make voter registration centres more accessible and reduce the number of Nigerians queuing in centralized locations for CVR.
“Our experience as voters during the registration for the 2011 general election shows that decentralization of registration and collection of PVC is the best way to onboard as many Nigerians as possible within the shortest possible time. If it worked in 2010, it should work better now given acquired experience and improved technology.
“We also demand that INEC should investigate thoroughly allegations of extortion for registration, private acquisition cum hijacking of INEC registration materials, the siting of voter registration centre in private premises and the burying of Permanent Voters Cards by unscrupulous elements. Our worry is “who is desperate to deny Nigerians their franchise to vote in the 2023 elections. The success of the 2023 general elections depends a lot on public perception of the Independent National Electoral Commission as neutral and fair to all. A stitch in time will save nine.”