From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Resentment, complaints and bitterness have continued to trail the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to temporarily suspend the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise across the country.
From Lagos to the remotest villages in the South East, South-south, South West, North Central and other geopolitical zones in the North, the anger and disappointment over the suspension of the exercise remain palpable.
In many of these places, the disposition of the new registrants was justified, considering the fact that they genuinely wanted to register but were denied by the teething challenges at various registration centres like malfunctioning machines, equipment, logistics, inefficient and insufficient personnel, and other shortcomings from the electoral commission.
In some places, the antics of the commission’s personnel, deliberate sabotage from resentful elements, and insecurity had combined in equal proportion to deny the registrants the opportunity to effectively perform their civic duty of registering to vote for candidates of their choices in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.
The blame game for failure of many Nigerians to perform the civic responsibility is between the commission and the registrants. While the masses blame the commission for failure to fix the challenging glitches that would have smoothened the registration process, the commission had complained about lack of seriousness on the part of the new registrants.
But regardless of the side of the divide you find yourself, what is incontrovertible however is that many of the registrants spent hours on end, including sleeping at the registration centres, arriving there as early as 4 am, to get the attention of the registration authorities without success.
What is also undisputable is that various challenges that confronted the commission’s personnel, especially attacks from disgruntled elements and clear enemies of the state, hampered the progress that would have been recorded in many places.
In fact, in some places, deaths and senseless attacks were regrettably recorded. At other places, machines and other registration materials were violently and mindlessly carted aware or out-rightly destroyed.
It became that bad and replete with many cases of alleged sponsored hoodlums attacking churches to disrupt the process and even cart away registration machines and printed Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) in many parts of the country.
Litigations were deployed; coercion and threats were issued in the desperate attempts to ensure that the commission did not continue with the exercise in many volatile areas of the country.
In some places like Imo and Enugu States, sundry attacks were unleashed on INEC personnel that necessitated the relocation of the registration centres to safer places like close to the Government House and churches to enable the commission’s staff continue with the exercise.
In some areas, the measure worked, while in many others, they did not, resulting in the glitches recorded in several places which disenfranchised many potential registrants from meeting up with their civic responsibility.
However, regardless of the challenges, the commission suspended the exercise after the second deadline date of July 31 with millions of potential registrants denied the democratic opportunity to be eligible to vote in the next general election.
Despite the endless blames the seven million intending registrants have heaped on the commission for disenfranchising them, many believe that the lackadaisical attitude and procrastination of many of them accounted for the fate that befell them.
Expectedly, many Nigerians have continued to make special appeal to the electoral commission to extend the deadline by just a few weeks to enable many Nigerians especially the seven million that applied online seeking registration to do so.
Since the suspension of the exercise, appeals had come from various quarters particularly the desperate Nigerian youths, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), working class men and women, young and old, yet the commission had remained adamant.
Among those begging the commission for extension include the Coalition of South East Youth Leaders, (COSEYL), an apex socio-political youth group in the geopolitical zone.
The group, in a statement signed by its President General, Goodluck Ibem, claimed that many Nigerians could not register for their PVCs since the commencement of the exercise due to insufficient equipment and computers for the exercise.
Ibem had specifically claimed that the situation was worst in the South East where the commission deployed only two computers per local government against the northern part of the country where registration centres were ubiquitous with verse machines for the exercise.
“It was disappointing that the commission did not grant our request to provide more equipment and multiple registration centres in the Southeast till the exercise ended. The commission, to our dismay, did not provide adequate materials, resulting in the people of the South East and other Southern states being subjected to serious stress and difficulty before registering for their PVCs.
“Many people paid exorbitant transport fares to INEC offices at the various local government offices in the South East but could not register after several months of trial because of large turnout of people for the exercise.
“The 2022 voters’ registration exercise looks like a calculated attempt by INEC to deny the people of South East the opportunity of registering by deliberately depriving them adequate equipment for the exercise. In the North, we are very much aware that INEC provided sufficient and adequate registration materials for the exercise.
“It is heart-breaking that when the voters’ registration exercise started in the South East, some local governments had only two computers each until towards the end of June when they brought in additional two computers to some local governments in the zone which did not make any impact,” Ibem alleged.
In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the appeal by residents to the INEC to extend the CVR to enable eligible voters to get registered before the 2023 general elections fell on deaf ears.
“Yes the exercise has been generally peaceful, orderly, and hitch-free in many places, but many registration centres experienced crowd of registrants, days to the deadline. Those willing to register had been coming out in large numbers in vain. The commission should know that the success of the 2023 general elections will depend a lot on public perception of INEC as neutral and fair umpire to all,” an aggrieved registrant quipped.
Joining the increasing number of complainants against the suspension, an umbrella body for all registered political parties in Nigeria, the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), also lamented that many Nigerians were not captured in the INEC’s CVR before the July 31 deadline nationwide.
Lagos State chapter Chairman of the council, Olusegun Mobolaji, recently claimed that many Nigerians of voting age months before the election have been disenfranchised.
“Irrespective of the fact that INEC had started the voter enrolment exercise in 2021, if the time is not enough for everyone that wants to participate in the election to get registered and obtain a voter card, INEC should not stop registration,” he argued.
Contending that voter enrolment won’t affect other electoral activities and process put in place by the commission to conduct fair elections, he said: “I think voter registration can go simultaneously with every other plan INEC has. There should be a way around this, such that every one that is of voting age is allowed to be able to vote. We still have months until the election.”
From the foregoing, it was obvious that many Nigerians are yelling for more time. However, in the calculations of the commission, there is no going back in the temporal suspension of the registration exercise.
Already, INEC has shut its registration portal, thus bringing the exercise to a halt for now. And the notice on its website read: “The CVR exercise has been suspended. Access to log-in to check the status of your completed applications will soon be restored.”
National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, told Daily Sun that the decision to suspend the exercise is irreversible.
His words: “We have concluded the CVR and the issue of extension is not on the table. The commission conducted the exercise for one year and granted 31 days extension. We must focus on other activities and challenges. The commission is not asking anybody to bear the brunt of our challenges.”
“We followed our timelines and carried out our responsibilities diligently. We are encouraged that Nigerians came out in their numbers to register. The large number of Nigerians that came out to register is an affirmation of their confidence in our processes and procedures.
“Unfortunately, some of them left it too late and could not get their names on the register. The commission will release the actual figure of new registrants; successful transfers and replacements of lost or damaged PVCs after the clean-up of the register and after claims and objections,” he promised.
Okoye also argued that new registrants should be blamed for the failure to be captured, explaining: “don’t forget that the commission commenced the CVR exercise on June 28, last year and scheduled to terminate it on June 30, 2022. A combination of Court Order and the commitment of the Commission to accommodate more registrants led to the extension of the CVR by 31 days to terminate on July 31, 2022.
“We extended the period for registration from 9am to 5pm including Saturdays and Sundays. This involved additional cost and additional personnel. The commission allocated sufficient time and deployed an adequate number of personnel and resources for the exercise.
“We mobilized sufficiently and did all that is necessary to rekindle the hope and faith of the Nigerian people in the electoral process. Nigerians responded positively to the commission’s processes and procedures and turned out in large numbers to register.
“Unfortunately, some Nigerians succumbed to misinformation and disinformation and carried out multiple and double registrations. During the clean-up for the first and second quarter of CVR registration, 46 per cent of the registrants were double or multiple registrants.
“Persons previously registered and seeking transfer of their registration insisted on registering again. Some persons that lost their PVCs or whose PVCs are damaged, lost, or defaced insisted on registering afresh rather than applying for new PVC,” he claimed.
Adducing reasons the deadline cannot be extended again, Okoye said: “However, on account of the enormity of work ahead of the commission, the CVR has been suspended to resume after the general election. The commission must clean up the register for the third and fourth quarter CVR to remove multiple and double registrants.
“The commission must comply with section 19(1) of the Electoral Act by displaying the register in the 774 Local Governments and the 8809 registration areas for claims and objections. Thereafter, the commission must print and make available the PVCs for collection.
“These activities must be undertaken simultaneously with preparations for the conduct of the 2023 general election. We are a public trust and we have deployed energy, resources and personnel to serve the people of Nigeria. We have a responsibility to manage the timetable and schedule of activities for the conduct of the 2023 general election.
“The overriding consideration is to have a robust register that meets the expectation of the Nigerian people. The complaints relating to malfunctioning IVED registration machines are belated and not supported by evidence. There is no doubt that technology and technological devices can malfunction.
“We trained sufficient technicians to deal with such challenges. We attended to all complaints received and resolved all issues that needed our attention. The biggest challenge with the CVR was on the insistence of persons already registered to register afresh. Some of them were not ready to follow instructions and directives of our officers to do the right thing and follow the right procedures and protocols.
“The commission must integrate the current voters register with the supplementary register and make it available to the political parties. We urge the Nigerian people to remain engaged with the commission and the electoral process,” Okoye appealed for understanding by Nigerians during a chat with Daily Sun.
Regardless of your perception of the reasons enumerated by the commission for suspending the exercise, the over 12 million new registrants, means that the exercise cannot be regarded as a failure.
According to INEC’s statistics, over 96,303 million voters will be participating in the 2023 general elections, with North West, and South West leading the park.
Among the eligible voters, according to INEC, the Northwest zone, comprising seven states, Sokoto, Kano, Kebbi, Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna and Jigawa, currently tops the table with 22.67 million. The region is trailed by the Southwest zone with six states, Lagos, Oyo, Ondo, Osun, Ogun, and Ekiti, with a total voting strength of 18.332 million.
Prospective voters from the two geopolitical zones account for 41.7 per cent of the total number of registered voters. North Central trailed a distant third position with 15.68 million, South-south with 15.299 million; Northeast with 12,820 million and expectedly the Southeast with 11,498 million.
The electoral body also revealed that it had initially registered 84,004 million voters for the 2019 polls, which if added to the new 12,298,932 registered voters, amounted to the total number of 96,303 million registrants for next year’s poll.
The state-by-state breakdown of the new registration figure of the 12,013 million voters shows that Lagos expectedly topped the table with 585,629 prospective voters. Kano State came close second with 569,103, Delta State, 523,517, Kaduna, 479,231, Rivers, 473,924, Bayelsa, 444,652 among others.
On the flip side, States like Yobe, Ekiti, Gombe, Borno, Adamawa, Imo, Enugu, and FCT among others, recorded the least number of registrants. From the statistics, 8,854,566 of the 12,013,068 new voters registered physically while 3,444,378 did theirs online.
The data also show that 6,074,078 of the new registrants are males while 6,224,866 are females. Youths form the major component of the new would-be voters. There are 8,784,677 of them.