The surge by millions of Nigerians to register for their permanent voter’s card with Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will remain unfulfilled following the insistence of the electoral body that it would not further extend the deadline for the continuous voter registration (CVR) exercise.
LEADERSHIP reports that the year-long CVR exercise was initially slated to end on June 30 this year but was extended by one month to July 31, 2022 following public outcry and a law suit brought against INEC by a civil society organisation, Socio-economic Rights Accountability Project (SERAP).
The National Assembly lawmakers had also called on INEC to extend the deadline to August 31 to give more Nigerians the opportunity to participate in the election as voters.
LEADERSHIP gathered within the one month of extension, the Commission registered a total of 2.8 million new voters, with about 1.3 million of them coming in the last one week of the exercise.
However, as the deadline approached more and more Nigerians, most of them youths, thronged the registration centres, with some of them saying they had been keeping vigil for days but could still not enroll on the voters’ list – meaning they will be disenfranchised as far as the 2023 elections are concerned.
Following the coming into effect of the new Electoral Law 2022, INEC has adjusted the 2023 general election timetable earlier released in 2021.
In the new timetable, the Presidential and National Assembly elections will now hold on February 25, 2023.
The Electoral Law 2022: Part III — National Register of Voters And Voters’ Registration stipulates that “(6) the registration of voters, updating and revision of the Register of Voters under this section shall stop not later than 90 days before any election covered by this Act.”
The law further stipulates that “(7) The registration of voters shall be at the registration centres designated for that purpose by the Commission and notified to the public.”
LEADERSHIP can authoritatively report that the Commission flouted this provision during the CVR as its staff were seen registering new voters at private residences and religious centres.
Our correspondent who visited the INEC registration portal – https://cvr.inecnigeria.org/home/index gathered that the site is no longer active for new applicants.
A notice on the website reads: “The CVR Exercise has been suspended. Access to log-in to check the status of your completed applications will soon be restored.”
However, the chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, said the act permits the Commission to stop the CVR exercise 90 days before the polls.
“The term ‘not later than’ gives the Commission the liberty to stop before 90 days. It would have been different if the Electoral Act had said ‘not earlier than’”, he said.
2023: 80% Of New CVR Registrants Are Youths – Institute
The Electoral Institute (EI) has said youths constitute 80 per cent of the new registrants in the just concluded continuous voter registration exercise.
Similarly, INEC CVR update for quarter four, week 16 also confirmed EI’s submission.
The update shows that there were 10,487,972 fresh registrants while 12,298,944 completed their registration.
The gender distribution shows male registrants were 6,074,078; females 6,224,866; people with disabilities 87,083 while youths were 8,784,677.
Speaking at a post-election training audit for the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun in Abuja yesterday, the national commissioner and chairman of the Board of the Electoral Institute, Prof. Abdullahi Zuru, noted that most of the new registrants are female.
He said, “80 percent of those who registered in the last three weeks are youths and they are all new registrants. Interestingly, these youths are dominantly females.”
Zuru also denied reports that there were glitches during the just concluded continuous voter registration.
Zuru said, “I was in Kano, alongside the chairman INEC who led that visit. subsequently I was in Jigawa then Katsina, there were many people at many of the centres, but the entire exercise was smooth.
“From reports, all those who stayed behind were attended to. There was a centr they closed at midnight yesterday just to ensure people who came for the exercise were registered.”
He assured Nigerians who participated in the exercise would get the permanent voter’s card, urging them to throng their voting centers the same way they did with the CVR.
Zuru said, “We would ensure that they get their PVCs so that they can vote in the 2023 elections. We, however, want to urge them to come out massively the same way they did during the CVR. We want to assure them that every valid vote will count. We are an independent body with no preferred candidate. ”
On the audit, he stated that it was imperative to review and interrogate the just concluded training exercises in the build-up to the Ekiti and Osun elections to track the progress recorded.
Lawyers weigh in
Lawyers in the country have said INEC should have given Nigerians more time to register for the next general election in the country.
According to them, with the decision of the electoral body to put an end to the voter registration exercise, many Nigerians will be disenfranchised.
A senior advocate, Mr Abdul Balogun, said INEC should expect litigation on the stoppage of the exercise.
He said, ”INEC still has more time for voter registration. While I agree that they need time to tidy up the register, they should have given more time for the exercise.”
A constitutional lawyer, Barrister Ifeanyi Okonkwo, agreed with the senior advocate.
According to him, the Electoral Act says not later than 90 days to the date of the general election, it means it cannot be 89 days to the elections but it can still be on or before 90 days.
“I’ve also listened to INEC on the matter. It says it needs time to tidy and arrange the voter register to be sure of who has registered and who has not registered, but the question is, what if 91 days to the elections, a person just turned 18 years old or somebody just arrived in the country and is qualified to vote, will it not mean that you are denying them their rights to vote because that’s what it means. Another question is, isn’t 90 days enough for INEC to tidy up the voter register? 90 days is a whole lot of time, that’s three months.
“With all the staff that they have and the technology in place, what will they be doing from now till November. There are persons that will be 18 years old by that November, so the proper thing they should have done is to end it 90 days to the elections, so that if you are eligible to register and you can’t register, INEC will have a defence. Let’s just hope that somebody does not go to court ask that 90 days hasn’t elapsed.”
On his part, a Lagos lawyer, Barrister Bello Amu, said some persons will surely approach the court to seek redress.
“Those who have been disenfranchised can seek redress in court. Many people still do not understand the provisions of the Electoral Act. The Electoral Act is not an administrative law, it is law. It is a national law. It is even higher than any state law. I only hope that one day, this law will be challenged in court.”, he said.
Reconsider Stand On CVR, CSOs Tell INEC
… Says millions yet to register
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Nigeria have joined in calling on INEC to reconsider its stand on the Continue Voter Registration.
Pointing out that millions of Nigerians are yet to register, they urged INEC to give Nigerians additional time to register in order to vote in the 2023 general elections.
The CSOs which spoke to LEADERSHIP are the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Transparency International (TI) and the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC).
Speaking through their leader, Awwal Musa Rafsanjani, the CSOs said Nigerians were initially reluctant but after they were persuaded, they are now willing and ready to participate in the electoral process.
“We want to reiterate our request to INEC to reconsider the closure of the registration exercise because Nigerians had lost confidence in the political leadership in the country; that is why they didn’t want to participate in the electoral process.
“But after intervention from the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) and other CSOs in the country, as well as other well meaning Nigerians, the only option they have to change bad leaders is to register and vote.
“After such persuasion, they have agreed to register and unfortunately, there is not much time left for INEC. It is only proper that INEC should allow an additional time for people to register because there are millions of people who are yet to register.
“It will be a waste of public funds if INEC did not allow more Nigerians to register, ” Rafsanjani said, adding that many Nigerians who have shown interest in the registration should be allowed to do so.”
Applicants Lament Inability To Register
Meanwhile, eligible voters in Delta State have described the process of securing the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) as cumbersome.
They recommended that INEC should make the CVR less stressful.
The aspiring voters made the observation during a visit to CVR centre in parts of Delta State by the INEC national commissioner supervising Cross River, Edo and Delta States, Prof Rhoda Gumus.
As the deadline for the month-long extension of the CVR elapsed on Sunday 31 July, there was a surge in the number of registrants at some of the locations visited.
Many respondents, including Peter Chukwuka, Jonathan Dora and Tega Umukoro, say they are motivated to exercise their franchise in the forthcoming election to contribute in deciding leaders that would emerge from the polls.
“We came out massively to make sure that our country turns into a better county. We really need changes so we want everyone to come out to vote.”
“However, many have complained of difficulties, including inadequate devices for registration and sharp practices by some INEC personnel, such as the collecting of inducements to allow candidates to bypass the queue.
“We just heard from the commissioner of INEC here that anybody who gives money to any staff in the course of getting the PVC would be driven from the premises. I came here yesterday around 5am, the number was around 85,” he said.
Supervising national commissioner for INEC, Prof Rhoda Gumus, noted her office had sent feedback to the headquarters on measures to improve the system and commended personnel of the commission for their dedication even under pressure.
“Here, it was a crowd but now they have reduced the crowd to a minimum. I am appealing to my Deltans, they should come when it is time to collect their PVCs.”
Gumus led the INEC Inspection Team comprising the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Pastor Monday Udoh-Tom. They visited CVR centres in Oshimilli South; Akwukwu-Igbo in Oshimilli North; Iselle-uku in Anoicha North and Owa-Oyibu in Ika North East.