The (In)dependent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently released the dates for the 2019 election into executive and legislative offices at the National and State levels. In order not to disenfranchise anyone, they have also begun the registration process for the Permanent Voters Card (PVC).
I decided to register for the PVC on Tuesday; I half expected it to take the whole day. I decided to check the INEC website for the registration areas. The PDF file for Lagos had 2 sections for Eti-Osa Local Government Area and it wasn’t specific, so I decided to stop over by Iru Local Government, Victoria Island where I was referred to the INEC office in Igbo-Efon. When I got there around 9:50am, the INEC office was locked. While others told me to wait, a Good Samaritan advised me to go and register at the Lagos State Model Nursery/Primary School, Marwa Estate, Lekki Phase 1. Even when I got there, some people, though resident in Lekki, were directed to register elsewhere. When I checked the PDF file again, Lagos State Model Nursery/Primary School was not listed as a registration centre, but as the INEC office for Eti-Osa LGA.
I got to the school around 10:20am, and I was told that the staff in charge of registering had stepped in 20 minutes earlier. On the list for those waiting to be registered I entered my name as the 59th person. Half an hour later, the INEC staff overseeing relocation of voters’ details, issuing/validating old PVCs walked in.
I found out that for some people this wasn’t their first attempt to register. Some were there for the second, third or fourth time and they complained that the INEC staff usually arrived late. This is contrary to INEC’s claim that its offices are open for registration from 9:00am to 3:00pm on weekdays.
As there are no seats or canopies we stood under the sun waiting for our turn to register. When I suggested to the INEC official to get chairs he responded in the matter-of-fact civil service way that it wasn’t his duty. I could, however, discuss it with the “oga at the top” at the Igbo-Efon office, who I informed him, wasn’t available. He also refused to give me the name and phone number of his “oga at the top”. Calling the INEC Citizens Contact Centre was a waste of time and money: after selecting my language, I was forced to listen to music while it kept me on hold. I called again but it didn’t go through.
Tired of waiting, I went inside the school to have a look. In a classroom with “Computer Room” written on the door, an INEC staff with a laptop was taking someone’s details. I was able to register for the PVC at 2:46pm not because more INEC staff with computers were added but because several people ahead of me had either returned to their workplaces or homes. Anyone after the 60th person on the list was asked to come back early the next day. I was lucky not to experience the plight of many others caught in the cycle of come, queue, repeat.
Insufficient staff and equipment for the PVC registration process is a major problem. Providing one staff and a laptop for Lekki Phase 1 residents is ridiculous to say the least. At this pace, I doubt if many residents are ready to wait it out to get registered. More staff, laptops and extending registration to Saturdays will make a huge difference. In fact, a friend of mine, who as of the last count was around 808 on the list, offered to help with more laptops and some staff but the INEC official kindly refused. Also, I was bothered that there were no security officers to maintain order, protect the staff of INEC, the computers and the data being gathered. This lackadaisical attitude of INEC was the reason why several didn’t register during the last election. Some who managed to register are yet to get their PVCs; INEC even lost some of the data from the last registration.
This is discouraging. It makes you wonder if INEC wants to enfranchise or disenfranchise Nigerians. Employees find that dashing out during their break time to register won’t work. Because there are no seats some had to wait in their cars; others made two or three trips back and forth. Rather than decrease, the queue was increasing; someone has jokingly referred to it as another fuel queue.
From what I experienced that day I concluded that INEC was not ready for the 2019 elections. If a year-long registration process is proving difficult, will the elections that take place within a day not be an impossibility? This lack of preparation makes me question whether INEC learned from its past mistakes. This lack of preparedness could indirectly disenfranchise many Nigerians. Do we need to go through all these hurdles to register? Can’t the multiple data the government has collected: drivers’ license, international passport, national ID card, Bank Verification Number, be combined to issue voters card? In the alternative a uniform registration service can be implemented? It will save lots of resources and time spent on Continuous Voter Registration.
And why should INEC use schools as registration venues? The school where I registered was in session which means the computer room was not available. INEC wouldn’t dare to try this in a private school as such it is unfair to exploit the students in the public school. During this registration period hundreds of strangers will walk in and out the school. I do not think it is safe and throng of people will distract the students, infringing on their right to study in a conducive learning environment. I call on INEC and the Lagos State government to find a solution to this.