Nigerians, who could not register in the continuous voter registration, which ended on Sunday, have expressed frustration over the refusal of the Independent National Electoral Commission to extend the exercise.
In preparation for the 2023 general elections, INEC began the nationwide registration in June 2021 to enable Nigerians who had just attained the voting age and others to register.
The electoral body planned to terminate the CVR on June 30,2022, but a civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project on June 5 filed a suit at the Federal High Court seeking an extension of the exercise beyond that date.
Consequently, Justice Mobolaji Olajuwon on June 20 granted an order of interim injunction stopping INEC from stopping the registration exercise.
In compliance with the order, the electoral body extended the exercise till July 31.
Despite the extension, however, hundreds of applicants have continued to besiege registration centres nationwide in a bid to register before the deadline.
But findings by The PUNCH indicated that thousands of Nigerians in Niger, Kano, Lagos, Katsina, Benue, Ogun and Enugu as well as the Federal Capital Territory could not participate in the exercise before it ended on Sunday.
In Niger State, hundreds of people were seen milling about at the INEC registration centre near the Eastern byepass, Minna, waiting to be attended to by officials. Some of them complained that they had been at the centre since 5am.
An applicant, Ibrahim Musa said, “Some of us have been here since 5am and they (officials) have been keeping us since then. They said they are working with numbers but we wrote our names on a list and no one is using the list. They said they will no longer go by the list but people with cars are coming and driving in and getting registered while we are left here outside the gate.”
At 5.07pm on Sunday, over a hundred persons were seen at the state INEC headquarters on David Mark road, waiting to be registered.
They told our correspondent in Niger that the INEC staff said they had ended the exercise.
Omotola Ayeni said, “They refused to register us; they said they had closed and we have been here since 6am.’’
A Minna resident, Sarah Samson said she had been visiting the registration centre for about two days and still was not registered.
She accused the electoral officials of unethical conduct, saying, ‘’There are so many irregularities; ‘man know man’ (nepotism) is being practiced here.“
In Kano, over 100 prospective applicants were seen struggling to register at the INEC sub-centre located behind Nomansland Police Station.
Narrating his ordeal on Sunday, Kevin Nnadi, said he and others had been at the centre for over 15 hours.
“What I observed here is that it depends on who you know and sorting (bribing) somebody. I’ve been here for 15 hours, while some others have been here for three days.”
When asked how the INEC officials have been treating them, he said, ‘’They intermittently come out outside the gate where we have been waiting all day long and call one or two names. Also, from nowhere, they will call names and somebody would just be admitted into the premises while ignoring others who have been waiting for hours.”.
Our correspondent who monitored the exercise in Enugu observed that over 200 individuals could not be registered at the Okpara Square centre on Sunday.
They appealed for extension of time to enable eligible Nigerians to register for the permanent voter cards.
An applicant, Emeka Okongwu stated, “I have been coming to register for four times but could not register because of the crowd. I don’t know why INEC did not provide machines for the exercise, especially here in the South East.
“In the North the machines were provided but here the commission provided few machines and manpower. If I don’t register by the end of today and the exercise is not extended, I may go to court to seek redress.”
An INEC worker who spoke on condition of anonymity said there was no way they could register all the people who turned out for the exercise.
He noted, ‘’We requested for more machines for registration but only four machines were provided. For more than two months, there is not a single day we finished registering people that turned out to register. We always have left-over. We register about 1,000 people every day with the four machines. It is not within our powers to extend the registration.’’
The situation was not different in Plateau State where scores of Nigerians complained about their frustration with the exercise.
A resident, Hannah Gyang, who was in the queue, said she would not return home unless she completed her registration.
When The PUNCH visited the Plateau state headquarters of INEC along Miango Road in Jos on Sunday around 6:10 pm, many of the prospective voters were seen struggling to register while officials of the commission were also attending to them.
But an official deflected the blame for the slow process, saying the applicants only turned up when the exercise was about winding down.
The Head of Communication Unit of INEC in the state, Cornelius John, assured the people that the officials would attend to everyone before the exercise eventually closed.
Speaking to our correspondent in Gombe, a resident, Rebecca Mohammed, said she had been at the centre thrice but was not registered.
The Head of Voter Education and Publicity, in Gombe State, Nuhu Ibrahim, said INEC had registered 202, 838 individuals so far ahead of the termination of the exercise.
Our correspondent reports that until recently, only four machines were deployed in the registration centres but the number was increased to eight to cater for the surge in registrants.
In Katsina State, The PUNCH observed that people were still being attended to at the centres located within the INEC headquarters at the GRA, and within Katsina town on Sunday.
A trader, Mallam Abdul Abashe said he had just collected his PVC, lauding the commission staff for their efforts.
Mishelia Turji said he was initially at the INEC collection centre at GRA on Saturday but was advised to come back on Sunday, adding that he collected his PVC around 2.30 p.m on Sunday.
The state government had declared last Friday as a public holiday to enable residents especially, civil servants, to register and collect their PVCs.
Our correspondent who monitored the situation in Abeokuta, Ogun State, reports that scores of people were at the various centres in a desperate bid to beat the deadline.
Some residents were seen trooping to the centres at Akomoje, Leme, Magbon and others.
They expressed fears that they might not be able to register due to alleged poor network and insufficient machines.
But the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Olaniyi Ijalaye, urged the prospective electorate to be calm, promising that they would be registered before the exercise wound down.
He stated, “INEC is under pressure, each machine cannot register more than 100 plus and in a centre where we have five machines, they cannot register more than 500. I have told them that every eligible voter that is on the queue would be attended to today before the exercise closes.’’
However, the residents of Praise Hill Estate in Arepo area of Ogun state alleged that the commission supplied insufficient registration forms to the registration centres in the area.
A resident, Joshua Kolawole, told our correspondent that he had been at a centre since 10am and had yet to be called to complete the registration process.
Another resident identified only as Kayode, said he came to the centre on Sunday morning and registered as number 91 on the list.
A factory worker who identified himself only as Gbolahan, told our correspondent that he was able to complete his registration by answering another roll call.
A community volunteer, Chima Udezuka, confirmed that there was a suggestion to contribute money to make photocopies of the forms.
He said, “Initially, they wanted to contribute money but I told them that whoever contributes but is unable to register will be angry. So they stopped it. But someone eventually sponsored it.”
The Welfare Officer of the Arepo Community Development Committee, Taofeek Hassan, confirmed that the INEC officials came late to the centre.
Hassan denied that photocopies were made due to insufficient forms. He, however, advocated for an extension.
Many Makurdi residents expressed apprehension that they may not participate in the 2023 polls as they were unable to register.
The story was not different in the FCT, Abuja, as applicants bemoaned their inability to register.
A Kubwa resident, Sunday Asina noted that he visited the centre at the L.E.A Primary school, Byazhin but no official was available to attend to the people.
At the Government Secondary School, Gwarimpa, Life Camp, The PUNCH observed that about 200 people had not yet registered as of 6pm on Sunday.
One of the prospective registrants, Sunday Okoh, told one of our correspondents that he had been at the centre since 8am.
A youth, Nicholas Okonkwo, said the INEC officials on duty were no longer giving out forms as of 6.30pm, adding that without forms, one would not be eligible to register.
The National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Debo Ologunagba, pleaded with INEC to ensure that as many Nigerians register ahead of the crucial 2023 polls.
Ologunagba said although there was a need to allow INEC to prepare fully for the elections, this could still be done in such a way that a large number of Nigerians would not be denied the right to vote.
He stated, “We believe that people should be able to register but we don’t want a situation where people will register and cannot vote. Obviously, there must be a timeline. So, inasmuch as we want everyone to be able to register, we support INEC to do what will make it more effective. We are not in INEC but we encourage INEC to open the doors for as many people as possible. That is our demand. Every Nigerian that is qualified to vote should be afforded the opportunity.’’
Similarly, the Zonal Publicity Secretary (North West) of the All Progressives Congress, Musa Mada, called for the extension of the registration exercise by one month after the deadline.
A livid Mada told The PUNCh, “INEC has shortchanged Nigerians through this unfair process. I released a statement in Kaduna two days ago, where I asked INEC to extend the deadline. The reason INEC gave that they need time to produce the PVCs is not tenable enough. They still have time for that process. After all, the campaign has not even started yet.
“As I said earlier, INEC shortchanged Nigerians through this voters’ registration deadline. Why did I say that? There are very few registration centres across the country. If you want to give this type of deadline, you need to open up more centres for people to access easily.’’
The North West zonal spokesman’s call was in contrast with the position of the Director of Media and Communications, Tinubu Campaign Organisation, Bayo Onanuga, who applauded the commission for sticking to the deadline.
Onanuga disclosed that INEC had a calendar that it is working with and had given adequate time after series of extension deadlines.
The New Nigeria Peoples Party spokesman, Agbo Major, called for an extension of the CVR.
The presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress, Dumebi Kachikwu and the Social Democratic Party National Publicity Secretary, Rufus Aiyenigba, also echoed the same sentiments.
Kachikwu said, “It is extremely irresponsible of INEC to continue to toy with the democratic franchise of millions of Nigerians. There is no reason under the sun why INEC can’t register Nigerians till January, 2023. The excuse of needing time to clean up their data and print PVC’s is balderdash. I hereby call on INEC to extend the voter registration in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.”
Commenting on the development, Chairman, Transition Monitoring Group, Auwal Rafsanjani, called for a week extension, noting that the CVR had been hampered by logistics and manpower issues.
The Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, told The PUNCH that the commission would not be able to extend the deadline because there is a lot that it still needs to do ahead of the election.
“The commission is pleased to see the renewed citizens’ interest in the Continuous Voter Registration exercise. Unfortunately, the CVR would have to be suspended today July 31, because there is a lot that the commission is required to do under the electoral legal framework, in relation to voter registration and the process of compiling the register requires ample time to accomplish,” Oyekanmi said.
He added that INEC would need to clean-up the voter register in order to remove multiple registrants using the Automated Biometric Identification System.
Oyekanmi added that the electoral body would also need to consolidate the national register of existing voters and new registrants and display the same on polling unit basis for each of the 8,809 wards across the 774 Local Government Areas nationwide for public scrutiny.
“The commission needs to print millions of permanent voter cards for all fresh registrants and applicants for transfer and replacement of lost or damaged PVCs; and ensure that there is ample time for voters to collect their PVCs ahead of the 2023 general elections,” he stated.