This report follows the stories of residents of Ogijo Town, Shagamu Local Government Area of Ogun state, who accused persons said to be working for ‘Ijaya,’ a federal lawmaker, of holding onto their PVCs slips. Olugbenga Adanikin, who visited the border town, reports.
*LASISI Omole was in his home in Ogijo, Shagamu Local Government Area (LGA) of Ogun State, when he got a notice on the early morning of July 5, 2021.
It was an offer to support the town’s residents who might be interested in registering their Permanent Voters Card (PVC). But the registration would have to take place at a location over 70 Kilometres (km) away from his residence in Ogun.
Despite the distance, he was excited.
That was because previous efforts to partake in his ward’s PVC registration process failed.
Still, he vowed to exercise his voting right in the forthcoming general election, not because it was a must. But, he realised it was an obligation and the opportunity to elect a new leader who would pilot the affairs of the state and the country.
The Presidential election is scheduled for February 25, while the Governorship and State Assembly is fixed for March 11.
The popular contenders at the presidential level are Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos state and presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC); Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP); the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, who is contesting under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and candidates of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Rabiu Kwakwaso.
Omole realised his determination might just be a wild goose chase, except he got registered and obtained his PVC.
Without a second thought, he jumped up and off to the meeting point where other interested persons in a similar situation had gathered – for the same purpose.
Meanwhile, the participants were offered N1,000 each upon their return from the registration centres, but their PVC slips were taken by the people who facilitated the free trip for the registration exercise.
Multiple sources confirmed to The ICIR that their voters’ registration slips were collected with the promise to get the PVCs and make them available in two weeks.
Since then, they were yet to get their PVCs, and the alleged persons have refused to respond to the aggrieved persons’ calls, nor have they provided them with any explanation on whether or not the victims would eventually get their PVCs.
“We asked for the slip, but the organiser promised to give us in two weeks. We expected it, I called him, but he did not return the slip,” Omole said.
“Up until now, he is still holding on to my right, my civil responsibility. People asked me about my PVC, but I don’t know what to tell them.”
“I am so ashamed.” He told The ICIR during a visit to the community.
Who is behind the Greek gift?
Earlier, a man, identified as ‘Alfa,’ was said to have been contacted by a notable individual in the town.
Alfa’s job was simple – to scout for persons in the category of Omole. That is, those who had tried registering for their PVCs but could not due to several reasons.
Based on field findings, Alfa was to persuade the victims while the people would reach out to more persons so they could all get registered for the PVCs. The people believed it was of good intentions.
Alfa’s number was subjected to a search on True caller, a mobile application used to identify unknown numbers; it displayed “Wale Vote Card.” This implied several persons must have saved the accused person’s name in that manner, or he did it himself.
Multiple sources who spoke to The ICIR said that the notable individual who they said contacted ‘Alfa’ was also engaged by Politically Exposed Persons (PEP) in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) state. He was described as Kunle Oloko. And the name ‘Ijaya’ repeatedly came up during interviews with other sources. She was said to have allegedly sponsored the trip alongside others for the registration exercise.
This reporter would later find out Ijaya is the nickname of Adewunmi Onanuga, the APC House of Representative candidate contesting for Ikenne/Sagamu, Remo North Federal Constituency, in the next election.
What is the Motive?
The ICIR cannot independently establish the reason for the seemingly generous gesture, but multiple sources believed the politicians had a special interest in the town. The lawmaker allegedly wanted to utilise the information sourced from the people being assisted through the registration process for personal gain, they said.
She did not respond to calls and a text message that was sent to her phone number sourced via her profile on the NASS website.
On February 15, an official email was sent to her seeking her reaction to the allegation, but she also did not respond. This was a day after The ICIR attempted to reach out to her via phone number and text message.
Residents said 18-seater Mazda buses were freely provided for interested individuals; The ICIR gathered.
Each bus had about 18 passengers, and about six (6) of the vehicles conveyed the people from Ogijo to at least two different INEC offices – Ikene LGA and Ijebu North East LGA, where the registrations were done.
The ICIR validated a few of the aggrieved persons’ details on the INEC’s portal – cvr.inecnigeria.org/voter_verification/index. It confirmed they actually registered. This was through the information collected from the them.
Meanwhile, Omole, who now appeared confused, disclosed that at the point of entering one of the buses to Atan Ijebu at Ijebu North-East, he realised that even if he decided to participate in the PVC registration, it would be difficult to vote on the day of the election.
The reason for the second thought was simple.
He resides in Ogijo, but his registration point is in Atan Ijebu, North-East LGA. The distance apart is between 77.5 km to 93.3 km, depending on the route taken according to google map. And usually, movements are restricted during election day, except a voter is walking a reasonably short distance to the polling unit within his ward. Thus, Omole queried ‘Alfa’ on the rationality of his support or that of his bosses.
He was more surprised when Alfa and his team collected his registration slip with a guarantee to retrieve his PVC through the PEPs he worked for.
“They assured us they will retrieve the cards on our behalf and give us,” he told The ICIR. But, as of the time of The ICIR visit to the community in February, none of them had gotten their PVCs.
He was not the only one. Nearly 100 others are affected. This is going on the estimate of 18 passengers in six Mazda buses.
“I have the prerogative as a citizen of Nigeria to vote for any candidate I like. Why should you be deploying clandestine methods to hold my PVC?” Omole fumed. “It is a big slap on my face,” he said during an interview.
*Nnamdi Chukwu prefers being addressed as a trader. He is a middle-aged man who wants his age hidden from the public.
A group of those affected strongly believed Chukwu would have more precise information as to the true identity of Alfa and the date they visited the registration centres, but they were wrong.
He was busy attending to a client who had brought a car tyre for repair when the others summoned him.
“This man here could help regarding our PVCs,” Ifeanyi Duru, another person affected, said, pointing at The ICIR reporter. Suddenly, his face lit up, smiling.
Really? he asked.
The ICIR eventually engaged him, but his narration was no different from others. The same group held his registration slip; he had made several efforts to contact ‘Alfa’, but his efforts failed him.
The calls became more intense when he received a text message from the electoral umpire announcing February 5 as the deadline for PVC collection.
The INEC had maintained without PVC, no voting could take place. This was the same message Obanilearo received as a text message.
On June 28, 2021, the Commission resumed the process for the continuous voters’ registration. As of September 20, 2021, INEC had captured 3,165,189 fresh registrations in its database. It has, however, shifted the deadline a few times until February 5.
Currently, there are 93,469,008 registered voters captured for the general election with 176, 846 polling units.
“How do I vote since I don’t have my PVC,” was the response from *Mariam Ayinla, another victim, who felt strongly disappointed.
She responded when The ICIR asked her what her next line of action would be.
Just like others, she confirmed her PVC registration slip was withheld from her after the registration, not by the INEC officials but by the persons who facilitated the trip.
Ogijo is a town of over 170, 000 people with a land size of about 923,768 Km square. It shares relative proximity with other settlements within Ikorodu LGA of Lagos. That is, about 10 km away from Ikorodu and 22.8 km to Sagamu in Ogun state.
More so, it is considered politically significant. Thus, politicians would often troop to it to canvass for votes even as the country draws closer to the poll.
Some Lagosians working in the city are also residents in Ogijo for reasons such as cheaper rent, even though it was challenged with over six months of power blackouts as of the time of the visit.
In the course of these findings, The ICIR reached out to ‘Alfa’. That was on Tuesday, February 14.
He told The ICIR he assisted a group of persons with registration but at Ijebu-Ode. Alfa did not disclose who his sponsor was; however, he confirmed the aggrieved persons had been pressuring him with calls.
The accused also affirmed he collected the PVC registration slips belonging to the concerned persons with a promise to return the hard copy as soon as possible. Indications, however, showed Alfa was working with other accomplices at the local governments where the registration was held.
“I have sent it (the slips), but I have not been given the PVCs,” he disclosed during a phone interview with The ICIR, “I led them to do the registration.”
Though PVC collection has already closed, The ICIR asked when exactly the affected persons should come for their PVCs; he said, “I was expecting they will call me, so I can come and pick it up at the INEC office, but I have not seen their call.”
“Last week, I still called them, but they said don’t worry, they will return everything to me so I can give them, or they will come there to vote. After voting, they will return their card,” he added.
The ICIR attempted to verify who he referred to as ‘they,’ and if he was referring to the Commission, he simply said, ‘yeah’. This reporter then demanded the contact of the supposed INEC officer, even though multiple persons The ICIR earlier spoke to exonerated officials of the Commission, he promised to make it available, but as of the time of filing this report, he was yet to send the contact for further verification.
No collection of PVCs by proxy – INEC
At about 2pm on February 6, The ICIR, visited the INEC office in Ikenne LGA. The mission was to verify if voters could retrieve their PVCs in proxy since it was already established the affected persons completed their registration exercise as provided by the commission.
One affected person volunteered to visit the INEC office with this reporter. This reporter sighted about three security operatives from the entrance – two police officers and one official in mufti. In unison, they queried this reporter about his visit.
Shortly after, they announced the pickup of PVCs had closed.
The ICIR proceeded with the complainant to meet the electoral officers. A female official who later spoke re-emphasised the deadline for PVC pickup. She refused to disclose her identity. “It ended yesterday, and there is nothing we can do to help you,” she said.
Meanwhile, the likely alternative would be for the accused politician to retrieve the PVCs on behalf of the aggrieved persons.
In the course of the findings, The ICIR gathered part of the plans was to convey the registered voters to a hotel 24 hours before the election day, lodge them in a hotel, and present the PVCs to the respective individuals.
That implies, for the above argument to take effect, the accused politicians must have retrieved the PVCs from the respective INEC offices before the deadline.
But, multiple sources in the commission maintained that the INEC does not issue PVC through a third party.
State INEC HQ – No collection of PVC via proxy
The Administrative Secretary, Stephen Oyewande, a venerable at the INEC State Headquarters in Abeokuta, directed the reporter back to the LGAs where the aggrieved persons had their registrations.
He spoke on behalf of the Head, Department of Voter Education, Publicity, Gender and Civil Society Liaison (VEPGCL).
He stressed that collecting PVCs cannot be done via proxy.
Meanwhile, sources in the state INEC’s office exonerated the commission from the incident.
Regardless, a highly placed source disclosed that in the case of a father-to-son relationship, where the son was probably in a higher institution, and both had their registration at the same point, the restriction could be unofficially waived. Still, not in all cases, the source added.
*Names with asterisks were changed to prevent victimisation.
Produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) with support from Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO).