By Martins Ayotunde, Wondrous Nnaemeka and Munyal Manunyi
Reports that people of the South East region (Igbos) are being denied their Permanent Voters Cards by officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is untrue, an investigation by THE WHISTLER has shown.
This website had received numerous reports that voters of Igbo extraction were deliberately denied their PVCs at the various collection centres in the Federal Capital Territory.
Particularly, one of the complainants alleged that a group of 10 persons (9 Igbos and one Yoruba) had visited the PVC collection centre in Kubwa LEA II Primary School and the voter cards of 9 of the Igbos were said to be unavailable. The only person whose PVC was issued was from the Yoruba ethnic group, while the remaining 9 whose PVCs were unavailable are of Igbo extraction.
To investigate the claims, our correspondents visited PVC collection centres in LEA II Primary School, Kubwa; P/W Estate, Kubwa; LEA Primary School, Ushafa; JIGO Primary School, Ushafa; Government Day Secondary School, Kuduru; and INEC Office Gwagwalada.
While it was true that the PVCs of certain persons were not ready yet, our investigations show that the issuance of the cards had nothing to do with tribe.
At the PVC collection centre in Kubwa LEA school, our correspondent observed that the exercise was rowdy and uncoordinated as there was no INEC staff on ground to organize the lines and coordinate the process, subsequently, some volunteers in the community assumed the role of organizers and continue to circumvent the process in favour of their friends and anyone willing to pay them.
Of the seven persons interviewed (all of Igbo extraction), none confirmed that they were denied their PVC on the basis of tribe.
One of the interviewees, Chijioke Ukpai, told our correspondent that he got his PVC after waiting in line for several hours and that he had not noticed anyone denied their PVC because they are from the South East region.
“Getting this PVC is a matter of sweat and blood, as you can see, people plenty, so I had to come very early and wait till it was my turn, yes, the process is very rowdy and uncoordinated but I’ve not seen anyone denied PVC because they are Igbo,” Chijioke said.
At P/W Housing Estate, Kubwa the story was the same – the process is not properly organized but there is no evidence that Igbo people were being denied PVCs.
On her part, the INEC official in charge of Kubwa LEA centre, Mrs Peace Safina, told our correspondent that the allegations of selective issuance of PVCs were untrue.
“It is not true, we don’t even check for the PVC with your name, we use delimitation number, so when it’s your turn nobody even knows your tribe, your PVC is searched and handed down to you, if it is not available yet, we let you know and tell you to come back,” she said.
“We have a problem with managing the crowd so some people have put themselves in charge of the process, they are not INEC staff and we don’t know them. We have heard that they are collecting money from people to put their names on the list but there isn’t much we can do about it, because we don’t have any other security to help manage the crowd. We even have to lock ourselves in because we are afraid they might rush in,” the INEC Staff added.
At LEA Primary School Ushafa, our correspondent (Igbo) was told his card was not ready yet.
“You will check back. The cards are not out yet. We will still be here till 22nd January. We are hoping the cards will come any moment from now. We expected the cards before we came here.”
It was observed that while some people were getting their PVCs, others were told to return because their cards were not ready.
“Since 2018, I’ve been tryng to get it I went to school and I did not come back to collect it from them. So, when I was ready to vote last year, they said I will have to go to Bwari. I went to Bwari like three times, they will say, it is not ready.
“They will take the number and say I should come back; I went there like three times but they asked me to come here and pick it up.
“This is my second time of coming here and nothing is coming out of it,” Esther from Benue state complained to our correspondent.
“They are advising that I should apply for a new PVC, which I am not even sure of,” she said.
An Igbo woman from Imo state who declined to reveal her name to our correspondent was seen collecting her PVC at the Ushafa ward.
“Yes. I called my husband now. I’ve collected it, ” she said, displaying the back side of her PVC to our correspondent.
The INEC official on ground at the collection centre, Abdul Kamadi, said the ICT department in the INEC headquarters in Maitama, Abuja, is responsible for printing PVCs in batches and they dispatch it to LGAs and wards.
He added that only one in twenty applicants have their PVCs unavailable for collection.
“The conditions are rare, even on the forum, you will see where they put omission. That’s why we are using our phones to send it (omissions) to them.
He disclosed that uncollected PVCs from 2011, 2018 and 2022, are close to 3,000 and that turnout is low.
“As you can see, they (Nigerians) are just waiting for the deadline so that they can come and bombard us,” the INEC official said.
At Government Day Secondary School, Kuduru, the INEC official on duty told our correspondent that an average of 90 to 100 persons collect their PVCs everyday.
“No issues. I just collected my PVC,” a nursing mother of Igbo extraction told our correspondent (she refused to reveal her name but spoke to our correspondent in Igbo language.)
The INEC official on ground, who simply identified himself as Mr Bayo, told our correspondent that delays in the printing of PVCs may be due to discrepancies during the voters’ registration exercise.
He noted that many voters register in different states as against electoral guidelines, only to later claim that they are disenfranchised.
According to him, INEC will only work on and with the first registration done by Nigerians, meaning they may come to their new place and not find their names or cards.
At the INEC office Gwagwalada, our correspondent observed that the process was well coordinated and there was no queue.
It was also observed that the average wait time for PVC collection was around 5 minutes, provided there are no attendant issues.
All voters who had a form of complaint or the other were attended to by the office of Electoral Officer of the branch, Mr Hassan Shamsudeen Musa.
Musa, who spoke to our correspondent on the PVC collection exercise also addressed the allegation of voter suppression by INEC officials. He specifically denied allegations that people were being denied their PVCs on the basis of tribe.
“The cards are ready and printed out. We had voter registration in large quantities and we have others who registered twice. About five people left here and just collected their cards. They registered since 2011 and haven’t collected them since then.
“People will sit down and be making unnecessary allegations and claims saying INEC is not doing this and that, look at some for 12 years their voter cards have been here with us, and they just collected them today,” he said.
Pointing to his assistant he said, “he is a Christian, I’m a Muslim, he is Basa by tribe and I’m a Hausa guy. He is my Assistant Electoral Officer (AEO) operations. His name is Augustine Kure.
“In this office, PVCs and other cards are in his care. My storekeeper is a Christian and Yoruba by tribe, and I don’t have the key to the store.
“So, it’s good that you guys come to see these things yourselves the way you just did. Even the guys distributing the cards are all Christians.
“There’s a need to educate people on these things. You are the first journalist I opened up to, showing my store including my records.
“For instance, a guy that just came here registered in Enugu and said he came here but his PVC is still not here. But I showed him that his printout is still reading Enugu. That was why I explained those codes on his printout to him in detail.
“INEC has done its best to ensure that we have a clean voter register. And we are able to clean up over 2.7 million registered voters which fall under duplications and other matters as explained by the INEC chairman. This is why some people come here and cannot find their cards. If you scrutinise them, you will know they have registered somewhere else,” he added.