INVESTIGATION… Tour of Lagos LGs reveals tricks by INEC officials at frustrating voter registration
A report released in March 2018 by the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), which showed that Lagos state had about 1,401,390 million PVC’s still in its possession and that just 5,095 had been collected since the commencement of distribution in April 2017, aroused curiosity.
Ripples Nigeria correspondent, Akin Obakeye, visited 10 local government areas out of the 20 across Lagos State where INEC established registration centres, in a bid to decipher what Lagosians pass through to register for the Permanent Voters’ Cards, and why so many PVCs remained uncollected.
PVC is your power
It was a Tuesday morning, and the weather in Lagos was mostly cloudy, an indication that it was going to be a day with heavy downpour. The time was about 7:15am as I made my way to selected registration centres for the day. My first stop was Ogba primary School, one of the listed schools in Ikeja LGA.
Just by the entrance of the school, I saw a crowd of people waiting for INEC officials to address complaints as regards their Permanent Voters’ Cards, (PVC). As I observed the mood of the people and did a head count of how many people were there as at the time of my arrival and possibly, who the last person was, a soft feminine voice from behind said, “I’ll advise you to write your name down and take a number because the list is almost on 50 people for today”, I turned and gave a thank you smile.
This was my first time of registering for a PVC. I wrote down my name and I was given the number 31, but the people I counted were not up to 25.
By 9am, after a moderate rain shower, the sun made its way out, beaming down its rays. I was given a piece of paper to write my details and join the queue, the process was relatively fast and hitch-free, an INEC volunteer had debriefed us on what and how we should go about it.
While on the queue, discussions with other people who came to register showed that the term “PVC is your Power” was relative because it became obvious different people had different reasons for wanting the PVC, unrelated to using it for elections and voting power.
By 10:30am, it was my turn to be registered, and by 10:35am, I was through with the entire process. But I had gathered earlier that the officials were not stationary, but moved form one centre to another. The INEC official I probed on why they were not stationary, so people can come at any time to register, simply responded, “We don’t have enough hands and we are trying to bring the registration and other issues relating to PVC closer to the people”.
I hurriedly made way to another Local Government, this time Agege. I arrived at Dairy Farm Secondary School, a couple of minutes past 12pm. Though I had no intention of registering a second time, the few people I met here gave me the impression that the process would not take long.
“This woman is taking forever to register people, I have been here since 10 o’clock and for two hours, she had just registered six people.
“I have been to this Local government five times and they keep directing me back and forth, someone told me that it is done here. I need the PVC for elections, and asides that, I need it to sort out my banking issues; I really need the PVC seriously”.
“I work close to this registration centre, so it is easier for me to go there and back and still attend to my business”, a frustrated man who simply gave his name as Ifeanyi lamented.
Amused by the response, I approached an official, and without giving me a look she responded, “I cannot attend to you today, look at the number of people outside”. As I attempted to probe further; she gave a stern look which implied that she was either frustrated at something or tired of my inquiries. I thanked her and went on to observe the process. Each registration process took between 8-15 minutes per person and there was no explanation by the officials as to why the process was taking so long.
In Alimosho, a plate of food will get you registered
Alimosho is regarded as the biggest local government area in Lagos State, with INEC having over 10 registration centres to serve the people in this area. But unlike other local governments visited, INEC officials and the people are either overzealous about the process, or have an ulterior motive towards the PVC.
A resident of the area who spoke to Ripples Nigeria on his frustration in getting registered, said “I wasn’t given PVC during the last elections so I went to Abati to collect the card and I was redirected to INEC office in Ikotun, I’ve been there and they couldn’t find my card and again, they made a mistake with the spelling of my name. Now I am here again and I have filled a form, written the correct name and I was told that the PVC will be out by September/October.
“In Abati, if you come by 8am, they will tell you that the list for the day is complete, people start to come there from 5-6am and write names and go; if it is up to 50, they won’t allow another person to write name. Is that fair on people? Only 50 people in a day, for a location that has thousands of people? They should try and be stationary for people to come any day of the week to register. My plan now is to wake up very early and write my wife’s name because she wants to register, when she is ready, she will take over from me, while I go to work”.
My next stop was Millennium Senior Secondary School, which had a larger crowd than the places earlier visited. Here, people wake up as early as 5am to write down their names, go back home and return by 8am. Some go as far as selling slots to other people, while some connive with the security personnel on ground to reserve numbers with a promise to give a token upon registration.
I got to the school by 9:30am, with the expectation that I will get a good number. As I approached the INEC official to get a number, she said, “You are late and there is no way we can attend to you, come tomorrow”. Just as I left her, I noticed some other people approached her and had a chat with her, then they passed on something that looked like money and she immediately gave them sheets of paper to fill in their details.
I waited a little longer and a guy approached me saying that some of his friends told him about settling the officials, and that we should make an attempt.
“My own case, my PVC got misplaced, I’m here to see how I can go about the process, but now I have to buy food for the officials, just for them to attend to me”, he quipped.
We both approached the INEC official and pleaded with her to fix us in and she gave us a condition of buying 4 plates of food for the 4 officials, I asked if we should go and buy the food, but she insisted that we give them the money, since we don’t know what they will enjoy as meal, and that a plate goes for N500.
In clear context, anyone who needed to be registered hurriedly, should be ready to part with N2000, and based on findings; it had become a well known practice an act in Alimosho.
Other Local Government areas visited by Ripples Nigeria included; Oshodi-Isolo, Eti-Osa, Ifako-Ijaiye, Kosofe, Ikorodu, Somolu and Mushin.
Ripples Nigeria’s correspondent observed that the other Local Government areas had similar scenarios, but the peculiar cases were very slow registration processes in most of the centres visited.
Other respondents offered their opinions about the process, with some suggesting that the Federal Government declare a public holiday to enable people take part fully in the process.
“This whole process, I think the government should just declare a public holiday because they are not even encouraging us to even go and vote, we can collect it and use it for private purpose, we are stressing ourselves with this election thing, they are not encouraging us at all”.
“I live in Ajao estate before, now I’m new here and to request for a transfer has not been clearly explained to me”, another respondent said.
No valid ID card, no registration
A visit to Adeniran Ajao crescent in Anthony, which is under Kosofe LGA, threw up an interesting encounter. As I approached the canopy which had more of the elderly, an INEC official I made enquiries from, said, “If you don’t have a valid ID card, we cannot register you”.
Speaking on this, Mr Femi Akinbiyi, Head of Publicity and Protocol of INEC in Lagos, explained that a valid identity card is really not a prerequisite to get registered. But added, that the lady may have asked for it in view of recent experiences to guard against registration of underaged people, and foreigners.
Inducement is punishable under the law – INEC
Ripples Nigeria had a chat with a senior INEC official, Mr Oluwole Osaze Uzzi, Director, Voter Education and Publicity for INEC. In clear terms, he stated that, “Inducing an official is an offence. For them to demand gratification is an offence and we are very serious with that. We also counsel staff, don’t offer and, don’t take, because if they are caught, they could be prosecuted”.
“They can go to jail; it is an offence, a criminal offence sanctioned by law, which includes jail, fine or both, for the giver and the taker. As a citizen, you are no longer innocent when you offer money to get registered or to discharge any of those functions, which is an offence. Ignorance is no defence at all, so we try to inform everybody that, you can be prosecuted. As of now, we have had allegations; nobody has come out with evidence of officials, demanding money to perform his job function”.
The process should not exceed 3 minutes per person
During the course of the tour, Ripples Nigeria correspondent had a chat with one of the senior IT officials who train Electoral Officers on how to use the biometrics machine, usually referred to as “4-4-2”, and how to address minor issues relating to the machine. He strongly opined that the registration process is very easy and should not take beyond 3 minutes per person, but considering some unclarified details provided, it should not exceed 5 minutes.
When asked further if there is an amount of data the machine can take, he responded that “the device has a very large storage and it is usually downloaded on a daily basis, the only issue they can have is, when the device is full, it tends to be slow, and that can extend the real-time registration per person”.
Meanwhile, at all the INEC offices used as a registration centre across the 10 Local Government areas visited, registration is pretty fast and they operate between the hours of 9am to 3pm.
INEC is aware of the Inducements and other sharp practices
Ripples Nigeria reached out to Femi Akinbiyi, Head of Publicity and Protocol, INEC in Lagos to authenticate the findings from the on-field observations.
Akinbiyi’s response and body language showed that the electoral body is aware of the sharp practices by some of its officials, clarifying further that, there is no limit to the number of people to be registered on a daily basis.
“Let me say that in Lagos state, there is no limit to the number of people to be registered per day. But then, the machine can limit them to the number they register in a particular day. We also have a way of getting to know the working of these staff, the 20 LGA is being shared to the HODs for them to monitor, and the issue of these sharp practices, INEC does not ask anybody to collect a dime for registration. But what we noticed from our findings is that, there are some people who are very gullible, they are the ones inducing our staff, they may come late and want to have an advantage over others on the queue, and then they introduce the issue of inducement to the staff. But hitherto, we say, it is not allowed”.
He further apportioned blames to some people who have hijacked the process for financial gains, stressing that, they come to write down their names and sell to other people who come later in the day to register.
Akinbiyi also revealed that INEC is collaborating with security agencies to nip the situation in the bud and apprehend the perpetrators, who he strongly believed, are not INEC staff.
INEC should make a scapegoat out of erring officials –Civil Societies
Ripples Nigeria reached out to civil society groups who have been actively involved in election matters in time past, to validate claims of sharp practices and the effects it will have on the country’s democracy.
Oluwaseun Okegbemiro, Acting President of League of Progressive Ambassadors of Nigeria, LEPAN believes Nigerians are ready for the PVC and that INEC needs to do more on enlightening the masses.
“LEPAN as a group has reached out to INEC in the form of a physical visit and also through the media space through two specific media releases touching on PVC. We commended INEC on the work done so far but were highly critical of their “little effort” in sensitizing the public on PVC ownership updates. INEC would argue that their website has a lot of all these information but how many of the electorate have access to the internet. We feel a lot can be done at the grassroots level. You would see cases where INEC gives a date for when registration/pickup would happen at a certain unit or ward in a local government and this information won’t be known to the masses until the day or sometimes even after such a date has passed”.
Okegbemiro further stated that, until a scapegoat is made out of erring officials, the issue of sharp practices and number of reported cases will continue.
“Why would officials victimize the citizenry for exercising their civic duty and obeying INEC’s directives that PVC registration and collection is free? Now understanding the polity that Nigeria is, I know that there will be a few unruly and incompetent officials who would still attempt to victimize- it is up to INEC to educate their staff and possibly set up traps to make scape goats of disobeying officers. The citizenry become more confident and willing to report if it feels that complains won’t fall on deaf hear and action is being taken from the top down”.
According to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), Section 9 (5) states that, the CVR will be temporarily suspended 60 days to the commencement of the next General Elections scheduled for February 2019.
This implies that, the Continuous Voter’s Registration (CVR) exercise which commenced throughout the 20 INEC local government offices in the state from April 27 will end 60 days to the commencement of the 2019 general elections.
Femi Akinbiyi, Head of Publicity and Protocol, INEC in Lagos also explained that a new quarterly timetable for the rotation adopted by the electoral body will be released shortly which will cover Q3, until the 60 days in December2018
Meanwhile, the electoral body had earlier announced that, the 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on Saturday, 16th February 2019, while the Governorship/State Assembly/Federal Capital Territory Area Council Elections will hold on Saturday 2nd March 2019.