In early April, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) decried low rate of Permanent Voters’ Cards’ (PVC) collection, especially in the South West. Lagos, which was among the affected states, was found to have the highest number of uncollected PVC, estimated at 1.4 million. The ICIR’s editor, AJIBOLA AMZAT, who monitored the registration and the collection process of PVC at various INEC centres in the state, reports that factors other than citizens’ apathy are responsible for the low rate of PVC collection in Lagos.
OFFICE of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at Alimosho local council secretariat, Lagos was busy as early 8 o’clock in the morning of June 19.
About 40 people were already seated in a disorganised manner at the outer section of the office littered with disused ballot boxes made of plastic. They were waiting to register or obtain their Permanent Voter’s Card, PVC.
A housewife, who declined to be identified in this report, approached an INEC officer, Mr, Timothy, for help. Her PVC bore a name that was irregular with her official record. So, she wanted a new card with an appropriate name. Mr. Timothy, who attends to such complaints at the INEC office in Alimosho local council secretariat, Lagos, drew her aside and asked her to bring N500, the housewife told The ICIR.
People with similar complaints were usually solicited by Mr. Timothy, to part with a sum ranging between N200 and N500 which he claimed were for printing of forms, or would be used in transporting the forms to the INEC office in Abuja.
His claim was found to be false later when The ICIR interviewed the INEC spokesperson in Lagos State, Femi Akinbiyi. According to Akinbiyi, ”The entire process of PVC collection is free. And the Commission makes effort to inform voters that the PVC collection is free,” he said.
Yet, some applicants for PVC still bought the lie told by Mr. Timothy and promptly paid up. Others who could not pay instead promised to come another time said a lady who witnessed the discreet transaction between the INEC staff and people having trouble with their PVC. The housewife, who spoke to The ICIR, said she too could not pay the first time she came to apply for a new card because she was then broke.
“I assured Mr.Timothy then that I was going to come back another time. Now, I am back and had paid, and waiting for him to complete the registration,” she said.
Though she knew something was wrong about the INEC official asking her to pay for PVC, Mr. Timothy made paying for the card a normal and voluntary thing to do.
“The man attends to people’s complaints as gently and as promptly as he can, but this comes with a price,” she told The ICIR.
The ICIR later called the INEC staff several times on a phone number he gave to one of the applicants to see if he would be willing to broker a deal on phone, but he did not pick the phone.
Mr. Timothy, however, is not the only man who solicits bribes to speed up PVC collection at the Ikotun INEC office. There is also one Mr. Ola who told The ICIR’s reporter to bring “something” to help him register his two cousins.
When The ICIR reporter asked Mr. Ola whether he could help release his PVC to a proxy, he agreed. “Just ask the person to call me on this number 08076729574,” he said.
But he would not disclose his charges on the phone until the proxy shows up. Yet INEC has repeatedly announced that no PVC would be released by proxy.
Money for hand, PVC for the hand at Amuwo Odofin Local Council Development Area
At the INEC centre located beside the Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area, bribe collection was done in the open. The ringleader was an INEC official, a young man identified as Chinedu.
Clad in a blue and black colour t-shirt, INEC identity card hung around his neck, the young INEC official was speaking impatiently to a couple of men who came to pick up their PVC when The ICIR reporter arrived at the INEC centre.
“My friend, leave me alone, please. If you want your card now, talk to me now or forget about it,” he snapped at one of the men drawing him closer. By ‘talking’ to him, Chinedu means that he should be gratified before he can help release the PVC in his custody. The young men later persuaded him to meet at a corner, away from the watching eyes of others on the queue where’d they handed him squeezed Naira notes. A few minutes later, their names were called and within 20 minutes or thereabouts, they left the centre armed with their PVCs, leaving others wondering how they did it.
One of the smart alecs is Chukwunwodo Augustus, a 44-year-old spare parts dealer in Apapa. He told The ICIR about the frustration he had encountered earlier while trying to obtain the voter’s card. He said the worth of the bribe he paid to procure his PVC was not as much as the length of time he would have spent at the centre if he did not pay.
“I registered in 2014, but I wasn’t able to get it, and I missed voting in 2015 election. I registered at Agboju and they told me then that I should come here to collect my original plastic card here. When I got here, they insisted it wasn’t here. But today, under 15 minutes, Chinedu was able to get it for me without collecting much from me,” he told The ICIR.
To Augustus, only those who have not experienced frustration at INEC centres would think of coming to collect PVC without preparing to grease palms of INEC officials in order to shorten one’s stay at the centre.
When reminded that it was wrong for the INEC official to demand money in order to issue PVC, Augustus said he cared less about the sharp practices of INEC officials as long as they get the job done.
“My brother, what is the point in playing by the rules when the end result won’t be desirable and serving any positive purpose,” he asked rhetorically.
“See what ordinary N500 has done,” he brandished his plastic PVC, saying the card doesn’t only allow him to vote in the next election, it also serves as a valid means of identification for him, especially for validating his banking transactions.
Unlike Augustus, another PVC applicant who gave her name as Uchendu confirmed she saw people offering a bribe to the INEC officials so that they could leave on time, but she refused to do the same. “I came as early as 6:00 am because I did not want to bribe anybody,” she said. And she paid the price for her decision because by the time she finally collected her TVC (Temporary Voter’s card), It was 1:49 pm. That was nearly eight hours of waiting.
Yet the waiting time lengthens as the deadline comes closer. In fact, residents of the densely populated area such as Ejigbo, Ikorodu, Badagary and Eti-Osa reportedly came as early as 4 am to the INEC centres in order to pick up a tally.
A young man, Zibah Luxury tweeted that he had gotten his own PVC but he had to be at the registration centre by 3:30 am, and I still met people there too.”
But Tobi from Eti-Osa LCDA was still unlucky as at the time he spoke to The ICIR. He recently lost his wallet which contained his PVC and national ID card and therefore needed another means of identification. So he went to Eti-Osa Primary because that was the place used as a centre four years ago.”But we were instead asked to go to Eti-Osa local government secretariat, and getting there, we were told again that the centre was not there that we should instead go to Igbo -Efon. ”
Tobi was uncertain he would be able to get another PVC before the deadline which already ended on the 31st August.
Rowdy session at Ejigbo LCDA
The INEC centre at Ejigbo LCDA is located inside a compound accommodating four government elementary schools –Ifoshi Primary School, Ayo Adegboyegba Primary School, Oba Moruf Primary School, and Ejigbo Model Primary School.
At the time of the visit, the centre was filled with a crowd of applicants. An INEC official was livid with anger because of the unruly behaviour of the applicants who were scrambling to write their names on the supplementary list for the day.
He left his seat and shouted on top of his voice: “I have counted eight people. If you should write more than eight people on that list, you can as well forget about the whole list.”
Continuing, he said: “If you are really interested in getting your card, you would have been here much earlier,” he added.
The statement did not go down well with some of the people on the queue — some of them came as early as 8 o’clock that morning — but none of them talked back at the INEC official. Rather, they grumbled in low tone about how the man and his colleagues had registered those who came much later than others because they had taken bribe.
“An INEC official had told me that if I can buy my way, I will leave quickly, but the man wanted more than N500, and I could not paty more than that,” a youth who identified himself as Pally told The ICIR.
PVC for widow’s mite
St Agnes Primary School in Birrel Street is one of the centres designated by INEC for voters’ card registration in Sabo-Yaba area, Lagos. A middle-aged lady, Mrs. Funke Akanni, was among the early arrivals. A day earlier, she had come to register for her PVC but was advised to come another day because she came later than 2 pm. In most INEC registration centres visited by The ICIR in Lagos, the closing time was 3 pm, but anyone who showed up for registration later than 2:00 pm was usually advised to come back another day.
To avoid being sent back home the second time on account of lateness, Mrs. Akanni came earlier the following morning. But after spending hours on the queue, she got a bad news: The Direct Data Capture machine would not register her because she had been registered before. An INEC official identified simply as Tosin told her she did not need a new PVC but a replacement of the old one. To do that, she has to provide her full name and her date of birth or Voter Identification Number (VIN). The old lady could only provide her name, for she has forgotten the date of birth she filled in the previous form. And she has no idea what VIN is.
“I just gave a date closer to the year I was born because I do not have a birth certificate. My birth was not recorded. And I never had to use a birth certificate,” she said when asked to go check her birth certificate.
When the INEC officer told her she couldn’t register without providing any of the two numbers, Mrs. Akanni started to cry. Other applicants found it curious that she wept just because she was unable to collect PVC.
“Madam, if dem no wan give you their card, make you go home and sleep, is it by force to vote. On the election day, you just sleep for your house jeje,” a lady who recently had an altercation with an INEC official advised the aggrieved woman.
Mrs. Akanni later explained the reasons for her outburst to The ICIR. According to her, a Lagos-based pentecostal church, Christ Embassy has pledged to support all the widows in the church. Being a widow, one of her neighbours took her to the church in Ikeja so that she could benefit from the charity. But the church would only assist those who have PVC. Without the voter’s card, Mrs Akanni said she would not be able to access the financial aid. And that was the reason she broke down in tears.
“I lost my husband 15 years ago. Since then I have been saddled with the responsibility of raising three children.” She said her first daughter who is now married barely earns enough to support her own family, let alone her mother. And her two sons are still dependants. To make the matter worse, Mrs. Akanni lost her goods in the fire outbreak that happened in Oko baba recently. Now she is stranded, except she receives the widow mite from the church, and the only obstacle on her way is the PVC. But the INEC officer insisted there was nothing he could do to help.
Frustrated students at Surulere LCDA
The story was different at Shomade Street, Small London in Surulere Local Government Area. The crowd was orderly and the officials were attending to everyone accordingly. There was a long queue but the applicants were patient and cooperating. Yet, there were still dissenting views regarding the alleged slow pace of the process.
Speaking with this reporter, a university student expressed his disappointment in the process because he was unable to get his voting card as planned.
“I came all the way from school, University of Nigeria, Nsukka to get my PVC. I came back yesterday (Thursday) and hoped to return by Monday or latest Tuesday. But now, they said I should come back on Tuesday to have my PVC. How am I going to do that?” he asked rhetorically.
The undergraduate said he had series of tests to write in school which would start from Tuesday. Asked where he has been since the process began, the 200-level student of the Department of Chemical Engineering said, he had been in school.
PVC as a means of identification
Quite a number of people who came to register told The ICIR that they needed the PVC more as means of identification than as a voting card. Omolara Osansanya, works in an auditing firm on the Lagos Island said her bank account has been blocked because of some unapproved transaction on the account and before she could re-open it her bank had told her she would need a government-approved means of identification. Okogie Victoria, an accounting student at Edo State University also declared she was compelled to obtain her PVC because of “bank issue.”
For Adesanya Sule, his children schools had requested for it, “and my wife has been blaming me for hindering the education of our children because they could not present their parents’ PVC when requested for,” he said. He was so happy that he finally got it, but many other applicants are not as lucky as Mr Adesanya.
Interview with Femi Akinbiyi, the INEC spokesperson in Lagos State
ICIR: Too many people coming for PVC registration or collection, but INEC has few hands to assist them. Is INEC doing anything about this challenge?
INEC: We don’t have a few hands. This people you see are performing different functions. There are some that are capturing people’s data, there are some that are issuing cards. So whichever one you come for there are specific people to attend to you. Many of the people who come for registration are not supposed to be there. Many of them have got PVC before, thinking that the previous one has expired. And that is why you have so many crowds at the centres. But INEC is trying so hard to make sure that those that have not registered get registered before the election next year.
ICIR: How do you then ensure that people are properly informed so that they do not have to come for re-registration?
INEC: The Commission has been trying a lot to get the electorate informed about this election, especially in the are of PVC collection. We are dealing with various interest groups to get across information across to the voters, namely the political parties, the Iyalojas, churches and mosques and the respective local government areas. And we have mobile lines that people who need information call from time to time. So, we try as much as possible to get people informed.
ICIR: So why do people still come for registration when they already have a PVC, despite your awareness programme?
INEC: The cards are there for them to collect free of charge. And to make it easier for people we commenced the rotational system. We rotate the registration areas within wards. That makes it closer to people instead of everyone coming to the INEC office. In Lagos State, we have 55 registration centres where people can register, collect, or lodge complaints.
ICIR: Lagos still has the highest number of uncollected PVC, what is responsible for that?
INEC: Lagos has the highest number of registered voters. You should remember that the population of Lagos is higher than any other states in the country. And that time, people registered at the place that was convenient for them, and now many of them have left the area for other places. So they do not come for the card where they registered. We hope that before the election they will come and collect their cards. The beauty of it is that any time they are ready for PVC, the cards are available to be collected only that they will not be able to collect it by proxy. Only those who register can collect.
ICIR: Do you have a figure of the uncollected PVC?
INEC: I don’t have the figure with me because I am not in Lagos at the moment.
ICIR: What happens to those who say they cannot remember their VIN number and date of birth?
INEC: The Commission has made it easier for them if they can remember the centre where they registered.
- This investigation was supported by Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.