By Ben Aroh, The Whistler
Some eligible voters who lost their permanent voter cards and applied for re-issuance claim they are yet to obtain them from their chosen local government areas because of the failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to reprint them. Ben Aroh digs into the options left for those in Enugu State as the Feb 25 election closes in.
Mr. Fidelis Ezeugwu, from Enugu North Local Government Area of Enugu State, is among the supposed eligible voters who might become ineligible in what can be referred to as systemic error. Ezeugwu was duly registered in 2011 and has been participating in national elections to elect leaders of his choice over the years.
Ezeugwu lost his PVC eventually. He reported to the officials of INEC at the Okpara Avenue collection center, Enugu, ahead of the revalidation exercise for the 2023 elections. He demanded to know if he could do a fresh registration. He said he was told that he only needed to update his data to enable the reprint of his lost PVC.
According to him, “I lost my PVC some years ago. I have been using it to vote ever since 2011. I then went to the INEC registration center and informed them. I asked them if I should do another one. They checked their database and found my name. They told me that there was no need for me to do another one. They said it would be reprinted.”
Ezeugwu’s slip was seen by THE WHISTLER, and it clearly stated that: ‘Voter information found’. The details show that his registration area is Independence Layout, Enugu, while his polling unit is Okpara Square VI.
Having been told that it would be reprinted, he returned to collect it ahead of the forthcoming general elections. However, his PVC was not among those available for collection.
According to him, “I returned in the first week of February 2023 to collect the reprinted one. They couldn’t find it. An official of INEC, a woman, told me that there was nothing she could do. They told me to return again. The man I met said he couldn’t trace it. I became angry.
“He referred me to an official there. I met the lady. She checked my name and found my name. She said she had laid the complaint, and told me who to meet. The person I met told me to return the next day.
“I went there according to the directive. The same man told me that no new voter cards had been delivered to them. This is what many people are passing through, and they will claim it is double registration. It is rather INEC that did not print it. Many registered voters do not have PVCs, while their data is with INEC.
“If I check my name online, it states that I am duly registered. I never relocated or transferred my PVC. We are many. Will they give us the cards after the elections? For what reason then?”
His case resembles that of Emeka Eze. Eze lost his PVC. According to him, “I was a victim of one-chance criminals. They stole my wallet containing my PVC at Garki, Agbani road. I ran to the INEC office in Enugu. They promised to reissue another card to me. I even applied that my polling booth to be moved to my village at Saint John, Obunofia Ndi-Uno in Ezeagu LGA of Enugu State, which they agreed to.
“I went to my village for the collection, but they said that my PVC can’t be found there. I am really surprised. I have done my best, but it seems there is no hope again for me. My problem is that they keep promising that it will be rectified until this morning.”
Ezeugwu’s case is different from that of Emeka Onah who has found himself in jeopardy ahead of the general elections. Onah, who registered since 2011, said his PVC got lost. He then registered a fresh one without telling the INEC officials that he registered before.
According to him, “It never occurred to me that there will be a need for the old one because I even registered it in Nasarawa State. It was only last Friday that it occurred to me that there was danger. A friend of mine keyed in my number online, and it read that my name was not found. I went to the INEC office seeking my PVC. I couldn’t find it. Later I was told I had registered before, and that I should use my previous one to vote. The implication is that I won’t vote again because I couldn’t trace the old one.”
Mrs. Monica Odo is another victim. She said she registered alongside her husband. “He has collected his own since, and my own hasn’t been reprinted,” she said. “I am still at a loss how my case can be different. I will continue to check the Udenu office of INEC until the last day. I want to vote to satisfy my conscience.”
All Hope Not Lost
Our correspondent went to Udenu office of INEC on Monday. A worker there, who refused to be mentioned, said, “There are some PVCs that came late last week from INEC headquarters, Abuja. So if you have not collected, come and collect yours from Tuesday to Thursday.”
Victor Okafor, the head of the public relations department of INEC, Enugu State, advised the affected persons on what to do. According to him, “Did they fill complaint forms? We have complaint forms where those whose names are in the database and couldn’t find their PVCs lodge such complaints. We then request Abuja for a reprint. Those that requested already have their cards reprinted. Some are yet to collect them. The case you are mentioning might be one of such yet to check again. These cards came in last week.
“I advise those you are talking about and other similar ones to approach their respective local governments quietly. They will be attended to because the cards came newly. For those that did not see theirs at all, there is no remedy because the law says if there is no PVC, there is no voting.”
Expedited Action Demanded
Mr. Osita Egbo, the founder of an NGO seeking transparent elections, called for swift action in informing concerned voters to check if their PVCs are among those that were returned.
According to him, “I’m just hearing about the arrival of new cards from you. INEC should make use of all channels to inform the general public. Many people who registered are yet to find their PVCs. There could be protests by those that registered but couldn’t exercise their franchise.
“National Orientation Agency, churches, traditional institutions, and political parties should champion this campaign. It is necessary. I commend INEC so far, but getting credible polls lies in having eligible voters cast their votes in a transparent atmosphere.”
How Double Registrants Can Vote – Festus Okoye
Mr. Festus Okoye, INEC’s national commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, earlier stated that double registrants are not entitled to new PVCs.
According to him, “Only registrants that met the constitutional requirements will collect their PVCs. Those that engaged in double and multiple registrations are not entitled to new PVCs, and the commission did not print their cards.
“The commission decided to retain their previous valid registration in order not to completely disenfranchise them and such individuals can vote with their previous cards. Individuals that engage in double and multiple registrations and who go to the collection centers to cause confusion, insult, and assault some of our staff risk arrest and prosecution. The commission printed PVCs of those that applied for a transfer. We have also printed and delivered the cards of those who applied for replacement because of loss, damage, or defacement.”
This investigation was supported by Civic Media Lab.