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With just 25 days to the commencement of
the all-important February general elections, dark clouds are gathering on the nation’s electoral landscape, especially with regard to the preparedness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct smooth and acceptable polls. The failure of the electoral agency to get the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) that will be used for the elections into the hands of a huge segment of the voting population is an ominous signal that may derail the polls and have dire consequences for the nation. Let INEC come clean on its readiness, or lack of it, for the February polls and that should be now!

By the admission of INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, at least, 42 per cent of registered voters are yet to collect the PVCs
that will be used for the elections, starting on February 14. That percentage translates to a whopping 28,059,085 million Nigerians, who may be unable to cast their votes for no fault of theirs. Spirited attempts by many
registered voters to collect the PVCs, which INEC says must be produced before anyone can vote, are ending up in frustration at the
designated collection centres in many parts of the country. During the period earlier allocated for the collection of the cards at the
different polling units where potential voters registered for the elections, INEC officials were nowhere to be found at many of the
points.

In spite of the assurances by INEC that all registered voters will get their cards before January 31, which is just 11 days away,
hopes of this happening remain brittle and appear unrestrainedly headed for the rocks. The INEC promise, indeed, rings hollow and unconvincing. The implication of this untidy scenario is alarming. The possible disenfranchisement of well over a third of the registered voters casts a huge question mark on the likelihood of having a fair election that will reflect the true wishes of the Nigeria people, and be accepted by them.  This is more so considering the PVC collection rate across the regions, which indicates much higher collection rates for the northern states. The North-West, North-Central and North-East geo-political zones have collection rates of 85.07, 69.67 and 64.09 percent respectively, compared with the 61.37 and 65.75 for the South-West and South East zones, respectively. South-South has 70.79 per cent. Yobe State, which is under emergency rule and has a large number of displaced persons, strangely has 81.33 percent collection rate, while Abuja has 48.44, Lagos has 53.98 and Anambra, 51.81.

Again, with just about less than four weeks to the presidential election, INEC has not been
categorical on whether elections will hold in states that are under emergency rule in the North-East, namely Borno, Yobe and
Adamawa states. This suggests that no proper arrangement has been made for that purpose, in the eventuality that elections hold
there. Such tardiness does not inspire confidence in the electorate that INEC will deliver an acceptable exercise. Even the Continuous Registration Exercise (CVR) for the bringing on board of persons that were not up to the voting age of 18 during the 2011 registration exercise has not been smooth, as many potential voters remain unregistered.

This lacklustre handling of the CVR and PVC distribution exercises by INEC is already eliciting fears of a repeat of the bungling of the first day of the 2011 elections, with the
result that the poll was halted midway and had to be rescheduled for another day. Certainly, we cannot afford to have a repeat
of such fumbling in the February polls. The poor handling of the CVR and PVC distribution exercises call for raised eyebrows. This is because INEC had all of the four years between 2011 and the present 2015 to update and clean up the voters register, as well as distribute the PVCs to registrants. That the electoral agency is still
battling with these activities is very
discouraging.

Now that it has become highly unlikely that the majority of those who have been unable to collect their PVCs will eventually do so, we
urge INEC to get its acts together and be realistic in its projections and determine exactly how the general polls will not end in
disaster.

The disenfranchisement of large numbers of eligible voters for any reason is a very serious matter that could lead to the disruption and loss of credibility of the exercise. The INEC may, therefore, have to rethink its decision that only voters with PVCs will vote. The agency should buckle up and demonstrate the lessons that it learnt after the unfortunate incident of 2011, and the more recent gubernatorial elections in Osun, Ekiti, Anambra and Edo states. Nigerians expect progressive improvement in the
management of electoral activities, and not this seeming retrogression. Nigeria is in precarious times. The INEC should not dash the people’s hopes for seamless, fair and
credible polls. The consequences will simply be too dreadful to contemplate.

Editorial The Daily Sun

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