Olakunle Olafioye, Tony John, Linus Oota, Bamgbola Gbolagunte and Judex Okoro
The atmosphere was very tense on Tuesday, March 6, at Tomia Secondary School, Alagbado, Lagos, one of the venues of the ongoing voters’ registration exercise in Alimosho Local Government Area of the state.
The majority of the people who came for the exercise wore hard looks just as INEC officials attending to them barked instructions angrily at desperate registrants who were bent on disorganising the exercise. The exercise had begun with many of the intending registrants having to come early in the day to pick numbers but at the end of the day only a handful of them successfully completed the process. The rest would have to repeat the process the next day.
“I got here as early as 7:30a.m but surprisingly I missed out from picking any of the early numbers. Now, I will have to come back tomorrow,” a middle-aged woman lamented.
The hue and cry over the snail pace of the exercise is a common refrain among Nigerians who have either registered and those who turn out for the exercise on daily basis. Only a few would argue otherwise. Mr. Ihesiaba Matthew is one such few. Ihesiaba completed the process without having to go through the harrowing experience of having to queue endlessly.
Ihesiaba, who did his registration at Oke-Odo area of Agbado Oke-Odo LCDA said a young man approached him at the venue and promised to help him undergo the process with ease with just N1,000.
According to him, “he collected my phone number and promised to call me the following morning. He called me at about 8:30a.m the following day and told me to get to the venue before 10.30a.m. When I got there he gave me number 9. They were registering the 7th person when I got there so I only had one person ahead of me. In less than 30 minutes I completed the process and I settled him.”
The story is similar in many other parts of the country including Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State where Faith Chisa, a classroom teacher, left her pupils in class at 8:30a.m and headed for the South-South zonal office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), at Aba Road to get registered.
She had hoped that the exercise was going to take a few minutes, at most, an hour, so she could reunite with her pupils. But that was not as she only managed to complete the exercise some few minutes before 1.00p.m.
“We wasted a lot of time there. I left the school around 8:30a.m. We were more than 50 that morning. They asked us to sit down, and then about 30 minutes later, they divided us into three sets and gave us forms to fill. They threatened to tear the forms if we made any mistakes.
“A set of about 15 people was then called and asked to sit at a different place. After about an hour plus, that set was taken to the main office where our data was captured. In all, it took close to four hours to get registered. It took a lot of time”, she said.
For Sarah Emmanuel, by the time she was done with her registration, it was almost one O’clock and she was already exhausted.
Instead, Kaiser Emmanuel, her husband, who accompanied her to the venue of the exercise, was the one on whose chest their one year old baby clung tightly.
Mr. Emmanuel said he and his family arrived at the INEC office a few minutes to 9:00a.m. By the time they were done, it was 12:54p.m and while he was relieved that his wife finally got registered, he complained that the exercise was time-consuming.
Our correspondent, who visited the zonal office of the commission, said over 70 people were seen at different locations. One location was for new comers who had not completed the required forms. A canopy formed another sitting location under which those who had filled the forms were seated.
At the main office where the final registration took place, four INEC staff were seen attending to the people.
For 23-year-old Asuquo Idoreyen, the exercise was a mixture of stress and excitement. “At the very first time, it seemed that it was very stressful, but along the line, everything went fine,” he said as he displayed his temporary voter’s card.
Chisa, Emmanuel and Idoreyen heaved a sigh of relief as they would not have to return the next day unlike the over 40 unlucky intending registrants who could not be captured.
Eligible voters in Ondo State are not left out in the complaint galore trailing the ongoing registration. A good number of people who spoke to Sunday Sun expressed disappointments over the inability of the commission to conduct a hitch-free exercise.
This development, according to them, may constitute a major threat to the conduct of the 2019 general elections in the state, as many of them claimed they were yet to either register or update their data.
Although no case of underage registration has been recorded in the state, according to INEC, a good number of registered voters are yet to receive their Permanent Voters Card (PVC).
An indigene of Akure, the Ondo State capital, Mr Idowu Adeoluwa said he had made several attempts to register but to no avail, saying that INEC was yet to have adequate provision for the exercise in many parts of the state.
According to him “I relocated from Osun State to Ondo State and since last year I have been making efforts to register but to no avail. They complained of problems associated with the machines and many other challenges that the commission was facing in a bid to register prospective voters, hence my inability to register.”
He said the inability to get registered has made him lose confidence in the commission, adding that “I am not sure INEC can do anything meaningful in the forthcoming election because a good number of us are yet to register and by this we are being deprived of our constitutional rights.”
Also, an 18-year-old lady, Sola Adewuyi said she was unable to register months after attaining the voting age, noting that “I tried to register on different occasions but I have not been able to do so, because of different complaints given by the commission.
But the Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state, Dr Rufus Akeju said the commission has set necessary machineries in motion to ensure successful registration of all eligible voters in all the 18 local government areas of the state. He called on those who are yet to register, to visit INEC state headquarters.
However, he noted that 371,444 Permanent Voter Cards are yet to be collected by eligible voters across the 18 local government areas in the state.
Akeju said that 44,410 voters were captured during the April 2017 continuous voters registration exercise held in the state.
He said 199 people reported that their cards were stolen during the first phase of the 2018 exercise, while 561 people had cases of de-faced PVCs.
He reiterated the commission’s readiness to work with relevant stakeholders to ensure free, fair and credible elections in the state in 2019, even as he urged the residents to collect their PVCs at INEC offices in the 18 local government areas in the state.
Akeju said the Continuous Voters Registration exercise was ongoing and advised residents who just attained the age of 18 to register to enable them to vote in the coming elections.
In Nasarawa state, lack of adequate awareness about the exercise appears to be giving eligible voters serious headache. Those who spoke with Sunday Sun said they went from one place to the other in search of designated registration points in Lafia, the state capital.
Sunday Sun gathered that the only available registration point in Lafia is located at Taal Model primary school where hundreds of eligible voters are compelled to queue for hours before they are registered.
They accused the commission of deliberately planning to deny some residents in the state of their civic duty to register for the exercise.
Mr Samuel Tongu, a resident of Lafia town told our correspondent that for four consecutive days, he and other people numbering over 2000 were compelled by staff of the commission posted to the school to queue up in the sun without getting attended to.
“The only thing they told us at the end of the day, after distributing about 2000 forms to us to fill and summit, was that they would not be able to continue with the exercise because of the unusual large number of people that turned out for the exercise.”
Also speaking, a village head, Solomon Kaki lamented the poor arrangements put in place and called on officials of the commission to be more coordinated and ensure every eligible voter gets registered.
Our correspondent gathered that for about four days, INEC staff posted to Taal Model Primary School, Lafia, the only registration point in Lafia did not show up despite the large number of people that turned out for the exercise.
But the administrative secretary of the commission in the state, Opaleke Shola Otolorin said a total of 29 data capturing machines have been deployed to the state with seven allocated to Karu and Lafia based on the population density of the areas.
He said that over 1.15 million voters have been registered since the commencement of the exercise in the state.
While admitting the challenges faced by prospective voters, Otolorin said two machines have been deployed to each of the local government areas and are being used on rotational basis to fast track the exercise in the state.
But despite initial setbacks encountered, eligible voters in Calabar, capital of Cross Rivers state said the commission appeared to have got it right with the exercise.
It was discovered that eligible voters in the state initially showed apathy towards the registration due to the cumbersome nature of the exercise.
Checks by Sunday Sun revealed that some voters had to spend hours and sometimes days at the registration points due to the problematic nature of the printers used by the commission to print the temporary voters’ cards.
Sunday Sun learnt that most registration points had no generating sets to power the machines, making it difficult for smooth take off of the exercise across the 18 local government areas.
Speaking at the INEC Office in Calabar, a voter, Natan Ekpo Nsa, 31, said he spent less than an hour to register and this, according to him, was far better than what he experienced before now.
According to him, “When I came last month, the queues were very long and it was so discouraging to have had to spend so much time here just to register. This put me off and I aborted the idea.
“But now, when I came here, most of the challenges have been overcome.”
Also speaking, another voter, Asuquo Eyo, 27, who registered at Target Street, said the commission ought to have used the official voting booths to conduct the exercise because, according to him, the current arrangements would cause confusion during voting.
“For me, everything about the continuous voters exercise is fine but we had to travel a long distance to register as there are no registration points where we reside. I can tell you that some voters come from Mbukpa, Anantigha and Ekpo Abasi to register at Target, a long distance from their respective residences,” he said.
Speaking during an interactive session with political parties on the newly released time table and schedule of activities for the 2019 general elections in Calabar, the state Resident Electoral Officer, REC, Dr. Frankland O. Briyai said the state has over one million registered voters.
Dr. Briyai said out of this number 156, 969 were registered last year during the three phases of the continuous voters registration exercise, adding that all noticeable lapses would be resolved to ensure a hitch free and very comprehensive exercise this year.
He said over 28 functional centres across the 18 local government areas of the state and the 10 new registration centres would be rotated across the state.
Briyai explained that the essence of rotating the centres is to complement the work that is going on across the state and disclosed that the commission had completed preparations to go into the hinterlands of the state including Bakassi to ensure that potential voters are not disenfranchised.