From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
As the 2023 general elections draw closer, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) appears to be struggling with certain logistic challenges confronting the smooth conduct of the polls.
Many Nigerians have continued to express anxieties and strong doubts over certain observed challenges to the poll, especially as it concerns the rising spate of insecurity in the country.
And despite the assurances from relevant authorities for the peaceful conduct of a transparent election beginning with next month’s presidential and National Assembly election, the doubts have persisted due to certain logistics creeping in on a daily basis.
Beyond the security challenge, other teething electoral logistics of concern to many include the apprehensions over what becomes of the outcome of the technology to be deployed during the election and curiously the endless glitches associated with the distribution and collection of Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) in the face of the realities that may disenfranchise millions of Nigerian electorate.
Considering these twin logistics of technological innovation and the harrowing experiences encountered by prospective voters in collecting their PVCs, there is every reason to doubt the readiness of the commission for the crucial poll this year.
And the reasons are understandable. Painfully, barely 11 days to the January 22 deadline date for issuance of PVCs to the applicants, millions of Nigerian electorate are still stranded at various collection centres and unable to collect their cards.
The difficulties encountered in collecting the PVCs in several states of the federation are reflecting in the long hours several Nigerians are spending under the scourging sun patiently in long queues at various collection centres across the country.
From Southwest, to Southeast, South-south and some parts of North-central geopolitical zones, the harrowing experiences at the distribution centres have remained the same.
The turnout of the prospective electorate has been massive, impressive and encouraging, but many of them have, however, left the registration areas/ward centres in disappointment after torturous waiting without getting their cards.
The experiences by many of the applicants have continued to end in lamentation and frustration. And endless blames have been traded over the hitches, ranging from extortions of the applicants by the commission’s staff or their agents, to the unavailability and lukewarm attitude of the staff to attend to the surging crowd of prospective electorate desperate for their cards.
In fact, in some states, while some people waited under the scorching sun, those who could afford to part with certain amount of money to the available agents responsible for facilitating the process, others that could not were left to gnash their teeth waiting endlessly under a hostile weather condition before being attended to.
To circumvent these hostilities, some applicants allegedly pay as high as N3,000 or even more and regardless of whether some of them are with their spouses, the extortion is based on individual bargains.
According to reports from some states, another disturbing ugly side of the situation has been the allegations of favouring indigenes and discriminating against non-indigenes in some states ostensibly perpetrated to score cheap political points.
On the flip side, in some states, it was either a stroll into the park in collecting their cards or a total loss of interest by many of the electorate to visit the distribution centres despite all appeals and entreaties from relevant stakeholders.
And despite the persistence of the logistic situation, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi, in a chat with Sunday Sun, argued that the harrowing experiences the applicants are undergoing in collecting their cards do not pose any logistic challenge to the poll.
While assuring that every desirable applicant will get their cards, Oyekanmi said: “From the reports that we are getting, Nigerians are collecting their PVCs with little or no delays in many parts of the country. However, we are also aware that there are challenges in some areas and the commission is taking steps to ease the problems in those identified areas to reduce delays and fast-track the PVC collection process.”
Also dismissing the allegations of extortions at some centres, he challenged anybody with proof and relevant information to report to the commission for appropriate disciplinary sanction against any member of its staff found culpable.
“Collection of PVCs is absolutely free and our staff will not demand gratification in order to do their jobs. Our staff have been working round the clock, including Saturdays and Sundays, to make the cards available to their rightful owners. They deserve some commendation.
“However, citizens who encounter any INEC staff anywhere demanding money should come forward with the details of such staff and the location of the place. We will swiftly investigate it,” he assured.
In his own assurances, INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, said: “The commission appreciates the patience of Nigerians who have been queuing up at the designated centres to collect the PVCs. To make it easier, we devolved the collection to the 8,809 registration areas/wards nationwide.
“We have also uploaded the comprehensive list of the ward collection centres nationwide to our website. The locations can also be identified by sending a short text message to any of the two dedicated telephone lines. The details are also available on the commission’s website,” he disclosed.
Like the ugly experiences many applicants are going through in collecting their voters’ cards, the proposed deployment of technology for the conduct of the forthcoming election has also been another issue posing logistic concerns on the commission to the point of apprehension for many Nigerians, stakeholders and political watchers.
From the strong reservations expressed by the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Abdullahi Adamu, many other Nigerians and curiously the headships of security agencies, over the capacity of the commission to effectively conduct a transparent, credible election with the use of the technology, it has remained a logistic concern to many political watchers.
For some, the epileptic electricity supply system to power the machines and the discouraging unreliable data supply system from the telecommunications outfits have remained major debilitating logistics militating against the effective deployment of election technologies like the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Results View (IReV).
Even as assurances have come from relevant quarters that the issues will not constitute any problem due to the rugged configuration of the technologies, doubts and apprehensions have persisted.
Although he previously admitted concerns, but in his latest assurances to Nigerians, INEC Chairman, Yakubu, has claimed that no logistic challenge is currently threatening the poll.
In fact, he has recently declared that never in the history of conducting elections in the country has the commission been prepared like this year’s general election.
For him, the implementation of 11 out of the 14 activities lined up in its timetable and schedule of activities, the arrival of the last consignment of BVAS and conclusion of their configuration, the printing of over 13 million new Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs), the airlifting and delivery of many sensitive and non-sensitive materials to various states, are all indicators of the readiness of the commission ahead of the poll.
Summarising the readiness of the commission, he said: “With the presentation of the register of voters to political parties, the commission has now successfully implemented 11 out of the 14 activities on schedule. Furthermore, the implementation of other activities has proceeded in earnest.
“Already, substantial quantities of sensitive and non-sensitive materials have been deployed to various locations across the country. The last batch of BVAS has been received while the ongoing configuration of the critical technology in readiness for elections will soon be completed.
“In the last few days, we have commenced the airlifting of other sensitive materials to states across the country. Already, some of the materials for 17 states in three geopolitical zones have been delivered,” he cleared.
Updating further, Yakubu said: “13,868,441 PVCs have been printed, delivered to states and are being collected by citizens as new voters or by existing voters who applied for transfer or replacement of cards as provided by law.
“Similarly, following the display of the voters’ register nationwide and the conclusion of claims and objections by citizens, a new national register of voters has been compiled.
“In short, at no time in the recent history of the commission has so much of the forward planning and implementation been accomplished 44 days ahead of a general election. Therefore, the commission is not contemplating any adjustment to the election timetable, let alone the postponement of the general election.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on Saturday, February 25, 2023, while the governorship and State Assembly elections will hold two weeks later on Saturday, March 11, 2023.
“The repeated assurance by the security agencies for the adequate protection of our personnel, materials and processes also reinforces our determination to proceed. The 2023 general election will hold as scheduled. Any report to the contrary is not the official position of the commission.
“I would like to reiterate our commitment to a transparent, credible and inclusive 2023 general election. We will continue to take every step to protect the sanctity of the votes cast by citizens and to deal with infractions, including the arrest and prosecution of persons that attempt to perpetuate illegality at polling units on election day, be they underaged voters or vote buyers.”
Yakubu was not alone in the assurance that the logistics won’t pose serious threats to next month’s election, as further guarantees equally came from the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC).
Speaking recently, IPAC Secretary, Yusuf Dantale, while thanking INEC Chairman for the successes so far recorded in the build-up to the elections, disclosed that the council has been working secretly to thwart the efforts geared towards frustrating the commission.
“The next election is going to be an election that has not been witnessed in the country. It is going to be the first time that technology would be deployed during the general election to accredit voters and transmit results. We are aware that some politicians have been working secretly to undermine the efforts of INEC, but we must ensure that power truly returns to the people.
“We will ensure that the anti-democratic forces don’t have their way. The use of the special device, BVAS and IReV, must be encouraged because it will discourage vote-buying and the issue of writing results,” he said.
Head of tail, the die is cast, with less than two months, for the commission to deliver on the lofty mandate given to it. And it cannot afford to fail or disappoint Nigerians and the international community in conducting a transparent, credible, peaceful, free and fair general election.