The deafening calls from various quarters on Nigerians to seize the opportunity of the ongoing continuous voter registration exercise by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to obtain their permanent voter cards (PVCs) ahead of the 2019 general elections may be clear signs of the seriousness with which the Nigerian electorate see the forthcoming poll.
Pundits say the zeal and enthusiasm with which Nigerians have responded to the calls means that there would likely be a large turnout at the polls next year.
The calls have been unequivocal, on traditional and social media: get your PVC and exercise your franchise.
And suddenly, Nigerians seem to have woken up to their civic responsibility, to the fact that the hopelessness they feel is caused by them and that if they want to make a change concerning who governs them, they should act by getting their PVCs.
BDSUNDAY visits to a number of registration points in Lagos last week saw many Nigerians desperately struggling to get hold of their PVCs, with many saying they had left their homes as early as 4.30 am.
It began like a trickle, and then became a deluge. Even in places of worship, religious leaders have impressed it upon members of their congregation that obtaining a PVC was mandatory, with insinuations that it could get to the point where members would be disallowed from entering the place of worship until they present their voter cards.
To buttress the seriousness of the matter, a video has gone viral on the Internet, of a cleric who displayed her PVC to members of her congregation urging them to vote out a particular politician and his political party at the next election.
There is also a particular Nigerian who revealed on social media that his place of worship had made arrangements for a bus shuttle to convey members to their various registration points every Wednesday to obtain their PVCs.
Jombo Nnamdi, a political commentator who spoke with BDSUNDAY, confirmed that the issue of PVC has been a topic in his church for the past three weeks in the nation’s capital.
“We have been inundated with participating at the ongoing voter registration exercise and collecting PVC to the extent that many people in my church who viewed politics as a dirty game are beginning to have a change of mind,” Nnamdi said.
Across social media platforms, there is a trending hashtag, #GetYourPVC, which aims to raise awareness on collection of PVC.
But many believe that Oby Ezekwesili, erstwhile minister of education, may have been instrumental to raising the awareness level by popularising the Office of the Citizen through the #RedCard movement.
“We @RedCardMng shall mobilise citizens nationwide to use our tools and become deciders of the quality of leaders that will govern them well. By the time we wave the red card, we will raise our PVC. What we are saying is, ‘My PVC, my red-card’,” Ezekwesili once said.
Signs of growing awareness, disillusionment
The scramble for PVC by Nigerians, according to Tokunbo Korodo, former chairman, Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Lagos State Council, is a reflection of the level of political awareness and desire by the people to effect true change in 2019.
Speaking to BDSUNDAY in an interview, Korodo said never in the political history of Nigeria have the citizens shown the level of eagerness to be part of the nation’s political process as they are currently showing.
According to him, millions of Nigerians across social and political divides have come to the realisation that they are the possessors of power to effect positive change within the political space, hence the growing call for the citizens to register and secure their PVCs ahead of 2019.
“I can tell you that Nigerians have widely opened their eyes now. Gone are the days when most of the citizens of this country were seemingly apolitical. Events of the last two to four years have opened the eyes of Nigerians to the fact that the power to effect a change resides with them, and they can only exercise that with their PVCs. Anybody who thinks that our votes will not count is deceiving himself because of awareness now is very high,” Korodo said.
“When the current government came on board, there were a lot promises and high hopes. But most of those promises have not been fulfilled. The clamour for PVCs is to pay this government back in its own coin,” he said.
Chris Onyeka, deputy general secretary, United Labour Congress (ULC), said Nigerians have never been so disenchanted, frustrated and disappointed by a government which promised hope but delivered hopelessness and despair.
“Therefore, the clamour for PVC is by Nigerians who believe that they have had enough of this frustration,” Onyeka said.
He said the power conferred on the Nigerian citizens by the constitution could only be exercised through the ballot box, and to qualify to exercise that power, the PVC is a necessary condition each must fulfill.
Beyond this, however, Onyeka said Nigerians must commit to defending their votes by monitoring to ensure that election results are reflective of the votes cast by them.
Japheth Omojuwa, editor, AfricanLiberty.org, said the rush by Nigerians to get their PVCs means that there would be a large turnout at the polls next year.
“From what I have seen, this is not PVC for having PVC sake; this is about making their voices count next year,” he said.
Asked why he thinks there is such serious emphasis on the PVC at this time, Omojuwa said, “The fault lines are getting clearer and while there is a pushback from those who don’t want the incumbent to return, there’s been a counter-push from those who want him to.”
He said as crucial as the PVC is, voters would still be at the mercy of the choices of party delegates.
“That is where the power is. In the end, your PVC will not give you the power to choose ‘the good’ if the party primaries end up turning out only ‘the worst’ and the ‘the worse’ in terms of the main candidates,” he said.
Omojuwa, who was very prominent and vocal during the 2015 elections that brought in the present administration, is also definite that come 2019, people would still sell their votes. This, according to him, is because the fundamentals that need to change for people not to sell their votes have not changed as poverty remains the norm.
“With this new frenzy to get their PVCs, are citizens finally aware of the office of the citizen and its responsibilities? They are and they have always been really. What they must now know and push for is representation at the party level,” Omojuwa said.
“The delegate primary system shortchanges the Nigerian masses in ways that we have not started paying attention to. Citizens are aware but awareness and power are not the same thing. Power still resides in the hands of those who determine the candidates,” he said.
Onus is on INEC
Onyeka of United Labour Congress expressed concern about the readiness of the authorities to conduct free and fair polls in 2019. He called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to prove to Nigerians and the international community that it is independent of the powers that be, by ensuring that the votes of the citizenry truly count.
Meanwhile, analysts have called on INEC to scale up efforts at ensuring the distribution of the uncollected PVCs, especially at this period of Continuous Voter Registration where over 4 million voters have been registered, in addition to over 7 million uncollected PVCs, bringing the total number to 11 million PVCs.
But INEC said it is not relenting in its efforts to ensure that all eligible Nigerians get their PVCs.
With the decentralisation of the collection of PVCs, the electoral body has instructed that PVCs be collected at the ward (registration area) level. It has also opened a portal on its website, christened ‘PVC Locator Platform’, which provides a means by which registered voters can locate and pick up their cards.
The commission says it is targeting between 80 million and 85 million registered voters ahead of next year’s elections. The voter register currently contains 74 million voters, findings by BDSUNDAY show.
Solomon Soyebi, national commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee (IVEC), said the continuous voter registration will be suspended in December 2018, two months to the February 2019 polls.
This, he said, is in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act which stipulates that voter registration should be temporarily suspended 60 days to the commencement of the next general election.
The main activities for the CVR include fresh registration, transfer of voters, and distribution of PVCs.
“It will be recalled that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on 27th April 2017 rolled out the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise across the country. It was intended to afford all eligible Nigerians, 18 years and above who did not register in previous exercises the opportunity to do so at their convenience,” a statement signed by Soyebi read.
“So far, over 4 million Nigerians have registered across the country. The Commission wishes to assure all eligible Nigerians that the CVR exercise is designed to continue indefinitely as envisaged by the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
“However, as provided for in Section 9 (5) of the Electoral Act (as amended), the CVR will be temporarily suspended 60 days to the commencement of the next General Elections scheduled for February 2019. The exercise will resume after the conclusion of the elections.
“The Commission hereby encourages all eligible Nigerians to register at our offices in all local government headquarters and other officially designated areas across the country between 9am and 3pm, Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays. Full information about the designated areas can be obtained from our state offices,” the statement said.