By Sunday Ani

Convener of the Big Tent Coalition for Obi-Datti presidential ticket and Leader of NCFront, Professor Pat Utomi has decried the hardship and pains that Nigerians currently pass through as they struggle to beat the February 5 extended deadline for the collections of their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), advising the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to contract the job to the private sector if it cannot do it effectively.

Utomi made the call on Thursday in Lagos when he led the Big Tent team on a protest to the Oshodi/Isolo Local Government Secretariat where hundreds of Nigerians were gathered to collect their PVCs.

Speaking right inside the INEC office at the local government secretariat, he noted that a situation where Nigerians would leave their houses as early as 8am and by 1pm, only about five persons had collected their PVC only confirmed the belief that it is either the INEC is shirking its responsibility or there is a deliberate ploy to disenfranchise the Nigerian people. “I am here at the distribution centres where PVCs are supposed to be collected by Nigerian citizens, who have taken the pains to register so they can exercise their citizens’ duty of casting the ballot. This process has so far been frustrated by either the INEC officials or whatever circumstances they claim are responsible,”

He noted that the extended deadline for the PVCs collection was just a whitewash because people were still not able to collect their PVCs. He, therefore, called for another extension, which must be followed with different strategies for positive results. “I have had a team from the Big Tent here since 8am and this is past 1pm and only five people from the thousands massed outside there have been able to collect their PVCs since 8am. They took a lot of trouble to register; they were frustrated and prevented from getting the cards. This cannot be a democracy. The imperative of this is that the extension is certainly not of any value. It needs to be extended further but more importantly, we need better approaches, otherwise, we will accept the fact that INEC is complicit in trying to prevent the Nigeria people from casting their votes,” he stated.

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He even questioned the capacity of INEC to conduct credible elections following the emerging scenarios. He said: “If INEC does not have the competence to do a simple thing like capture people’s biometrics and give them a card that holds it, then something is fundamentally wrong. How can we trust such an organisation to conduct free and fair elections?”

He posited that INEC should contract the job of PVCs distribution to the private sector if it does not have any skeleton in the cupboard since it appears the job is overwhelming it. He said: “I want to suggest that since they are not competent, they can hand it over to the private sector. I am sure that if you charge the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry and such other bodies to take these cards, determine their polling station locations and send out people to distribute the cards in those stations, we will get efficient outcomes in two days. Let it not be that there is a deliberate effort as it is now beginning to look, to frustrate the Nigerian people from casting their ballot. The legitimacy of a regime that comes out of this process is on the balance and we must not allow people to use this process to prevent Nigeria from making progress.”

He lamented that Nigerian elections have been consistently fraudulent but insisted that the upcoming elections must not be fraudulent. “The young people of Nigeria, the median age of 18.2, have said that enough is enough. Their future cannot be continually held back by politicians obsessed with self and willing to go as far as is possible to prevent the will of the Nigerian people,” he added.

He called on the international community to take note of what is happening in Nigeria, saying, “If the place breaks down because the people of Nigeria refuse to accept the shenanigans, let it not be said that warning did not go out. We are also calling on the INEC to ensure that students are given at least one week break to be able to go and vote. They must not be disenfranchised; there must be a clear way to ensure that everybody votes. This is an age of technology. You don’t even need this voters’ card; your biometrics have been captured. It is either the INEC does not want the will of the Nigerian people to reflect in this election or somebody is deceiving somebody, and I think this must stop; enough is enough,” he protested.

Addressing the frustrated mammoth crowd, many of whom have been asked to go and never return again since their cards were not there, Utomi said: “They have decided to collect money from you to prevent you from picking up your cards. The authority must ensure that everybody cast their ballot; you have a right and a duty to it, otherwise Nigeria will continue to be a laughing stock of the world. Claim your right; stand up for your right. If they don’t make you get your cards, we will do something.”