By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features
It’s D-Day and many Nigerians are out to vote with the confidence that the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, will deliver on its promises.
There are others lamenting their inability to get their PVCs and therefore are ineligible to vote.
Nigerians record myriad of problems every election time and each time appeared worse than the previous one.
The head of the electoral commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has promised to make the 2023 general elections ‘the best’ Nigeria has ever had and all eyes are on him.
Will he deliver or not?
One of the disappointments of today’s election is the disenfranchisement of many Nigerians who registered to vote but could not because they could not access their PVCs.
Some did not get to register at all.
Some who did merely engaged in wasted efforts.
Reports abound of discovery of thousands of PVCs in the forests, inside gutters or toilets which the Independent National Electoral Commission could not explain.
Some PVCs have ended up in the palace of Baales and traditional rulers who know nothing about their owners and whose owners could not trace them.
With over 90 million registered voters and over 23,000 election duty staff, Nigeria’s election is a big endeavour.
”It’s like conducting elections for the whole of West Africa and beyond,” Prof Yakubu said on numerous occasions and this is because Nigeria has more registered voters than all its 14 West African neighbours combined.
The elections have always been problematic. Insecurity is rife in four of the six geo-political zones of the country.
Several attacks have been carried out on the facilities of the electoral commission, INEC, in the last four years.
Nigerians have raised issues against some INEC officials but INEC was not seen to have responded to these allegations of bias against its officials.
While they allegedly did not renew the tenures of Outstanding Commissioners, they retained some of those whom the public has identified to be allegedly corrupt and partisan and their actions appeared to have aided some controversial judgments.
For instance, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) called for the redeployment of the Lagos Resident Electoral Commission of the INEC, Olusegun Agbaje, in the buildup of Nigeria’s presidential election.
The letter to the INEC chairman had accused Agbaje of working against the Igbo in Lagos by depriving them of their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) and trying to incite violence.
Intersociety’s letter alleged that millions of citizens of voting age of full blood Nigerian citizenship have been denied voting right by not being captured as voters and issued with permanent voters’ cards.
The group alleged massive reports of personal data theft and destruction, diversion and impersonation of the registered citizens and citizens-under-registration’s PVCs or personal data supplied to INEC.
Intersociety alleged that tens of millions are denied registration and issuance of PVCs particularly the non Muslims of South-East and South-South residencies. “Denied registration and massively disenfranchised are large numbers of citizens of the two regions living outside their regions where they reside or work.
“Contrarily, citizens of voting age especially the non Christians in the North and other parts of the country are so maximally captured as registered voters and issued with PVCs that millions of children of underage and illegal Muslim migrants sharing same faith with them are sought after and registered as “voters” and issued with PVCs”
Following widespread outcries that greeted the brazen partisanship of the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Lagos State, Olusegun Agbaje, over his anti South-East or Igbo genocidal comments/PVC posture, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) called for the immediate removal of the REC.
Apart from allegations made by Intersociety, most citizens of the southeast and the south-south have stories of woe to tell about their PVCs.
There were video clips circulating on the social media showing the discovery of thousands of PVCs hidden in underground locations, or dumped in dustbins and in the streets and these residents suspect they belonged to the zones.
One of the political parties, Zenith Labour Party (ZLP once charged the Independent National Electoral Commission,INEC, Police and the Department of State Services,DSS, to fish out and arrest INEC officials and politicians responsible for hiding Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) under the ground.
Many also lamented the unearthing of PVCs buried in some states, adding that INEC staff may have connived with some politicians to cart away PVCs with the intention to perpetrate electoral fraud in 2023.
Recently, two hunters discovered a bag full of Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, in a forest in Nnewi, Anambra State.
This discovery was made just four days to the general election in Nigeria.
The hunters saw the bag containing the PVCs in a bush in Akamili, a community in Nnewi and took it to the premises of a popular radio station, Authority FM.
A video of the PVCs, which was made in the compound of the radio station in Nnewi, showed that most of the PVCs belonged to people of the area.
Besides the PVCs, Nigerians have also expressed fear with the deployment of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS.
A recent ruling by the Osun State election tribunal has cast doubts on the integrity of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS), a technology introduced to address over-voting and inflation of votes.
Despite the promise that it would eliminate over-voting and inflation of votes, the Osun state election tribunal sacked Ademola Adeleke earlier declared the winner of the election, stating that the BVAS, in fact, accommodated over-voting which spurred Mr Adeleke to victory. INEC and Mr Adeleke have, however, appealed the ruling.
The deployment of technologies, including the BVAS, INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED) and the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal, should increase confidence in today’s process but will it?
After deploying the BVAS and IReV in three off-cycle elections, INEC will today, deploy them on a large scale for the first time.
However, these technologies appear to not be without their own challenges. While INEC is optimistic that there would be no hitches, some of the challenges experienced with these technologies during the mock accreditation that was held on 4 February are worthy of note.
For instance, YIAGA Africa observed cases of result discrepancies in some polling units where the number of accredited voters as uploaded by BVAS is different from what is on the snapshot of the result sheet uploaded.
The report also stated that the BVAS finds it difficult to accredit some voters who registered in 2011.
Despite these issues raised, even many voters with PVCs will not be able to vote at the end of the day due to other unforeseen circumstances.
And there is still the scarcity of petroleum products and naira banknotes to reckon with.