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Problems with Permanent Voters Cards in the Niger Delta

Radar reporters from around the Delta are assessing how the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been performing so far. Though allegations and associated rumours suggest that the postponement of the Governatorial and General Elections may be politically motivated, many people on the ground believe INEC lacking readiness is a major factor in the postponement.

INEC working but not to an “impressive extent”

Bokolo Nimiteinbofa, reporting from the Nembe LGA (Local Government Authority) in Bayelsa State, interviewed Mr. Moses Edcar, a local resident, about the INECs inefficiency in distributing voting cards.

Mr. Edcar claimed that the local section of the INEC may be working, but not to to an impressive extent, and that the office should employ more work force, such as cleaners and labourers, from the LGA.

Recently, in a Town Hall meeting in Nembe City, the presiding Electoral Officer of Nembe LGAs INEC, Mr. Okaji Akobiri, said that if the cards were not ready by February 14th, the commission would come up with policies that would permit the use of the temporal cards. In practice, this was not implemented, and INEC have been pressured into delaying the elections for 6 weeks.

Across Nigeria, the issue of providing citizens with adequate access to electoral material remains challenging and citizens have regularly complained as far back as October 2014. Anderson Ebuwhe, who reports from Effurun, the capital town of Uvwie Local Government Area of Delta State, stated that election materials were not provided on polling units in his area on the 25th of October, when local government council elections were held, suggesting a historic trend of challenges.

Voter Cards Missing

Absent voting cards and inefficient voting card distribution has also dominated ground level citizen reports.

On the 5th of January Bokolo Nimiteinbofa reported that there were many voters cards missing in Nembe LGA. This absence of cards was confirmed by Jaja Ebikienmo, a Youth Exco in the LGA and by James Barena, who found out his card was missing from both the INEC offices, in the States Headquarters, and the LGA. Mr Barena was informed that somebody had collected it in his name.

Awotongha Gbaligha, also reporting from Nembe, documented the loss of voter cards throughout December & January. On the 16th of January, Awotonga said, “cards are still given out by INEC and the registration is still ongoing because some people that have registered, but could not find their cards.” Eze Ahuju, from Rivers State, has also reported that as late as four weeks before the then scheduled elections the INEC disclosed that “not less than 15.5 million Nigerians are yet to collect their permanent voters card”and the printing of voters cards was not finished.

Negotiating their democratic right – voting cards sold on & photocopied

Reports have now surfaced that local residents have desperately taken matters in their own hands in an attempt to secure their democratic right. “It is common that some people who are not interested in voting sell their cards to those that need it most”, said Glaad Amadi – Rivers State. She continued, “after the election the cards will be returned back to the rightful owner”.

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Collins Newuwumi, based in Warri, an LGA of the Delta State, said that people in his community who hadn’t received polling cards by the end of January were attempting to photocopy PVCs.

The fact that PVCs are not distributed to all citizens also affects the selling of votes in the Delta State. “Political party vote canvassers, reach out to potential voters with the appeal to commit to vote for their political principal,”–explains Okonta Emeka–“to prove their commitment, the political canvassers demand a photocopy of their permanent voters card as a proof that they are dealing and spending their every penny with the right potential voters.

“In my area people are asking to other people to make photocopies of their PVCs, so that they use it to negotiate with aspirants.”, says Damasus Henry about votes selling in the Delta State. “What they said is: bring 100 people with PVC, than you get 10 thousand Naira.”

Election malpractices are historically underreported 

Digieneni Roland, reporting from Southern Ijaw, emphasises that election malpractices  in  rural areas are mostly ignored or under reported especially where there are no prominent candidates. This is because media attention is focused more on the Cities & polling units of prominent politicians & candidates. This is most prevalent in the riverine areas of the Niger Delta region due to its ”difficult terrain.” In previous elections an entire Local Government Area (LGA) was disenfranchised (election materials ended up in the Government House) & results were announced, yet this gross deprivation of the civic rights of the  citizens is not reported by the local media.

INEC was appointed to ensure that all properly registered voters have their Permanent Voter Card (PVC) in time for the 2015 general election. Despite the commencement of a Continuous Voter Registration exercise nationwide since the end of 2014, as announced by the INEC’s Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega, the capacity and control of INEC, and local implementation of its initiatives, remains limited.

This is a collaborative piece featuring SMS & Whatsapp reports from across the Niger Delta

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