The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) still has a lot to do to restore the trust of Nigerians, especially with regard to its capacity to deliver on credible elections early next year. That is because the third phase of the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) in 13 states has further exposed the unpreparedness of the electoral body for the challenge ahead. In virtually all the states where the exercise took place – from Lagos, Ogun, Edo through to Imo and Nasarawa–it was a replay, in worse form, of the shoddy manner INEC conducted the collection of the PVCs in the earlier 21 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
In recent weeks, what has been witnessed across the states are lamentations, as there are complaints by those who could not find their names even when they were registered and therefore could not secure their PVCs while a great many others who wanted to register afresh were left disappointed. In Lagos where the exercise was conducted in 11 of the 20 local councils, the confusion that characterised the collection of the cards was such that residents took to the streets and indeed stormed the Lagos office of INEC to register their protest. “We have to be careful so as not to reduce people’s confidence in the exercise” said Chief Henry Ajomale, Lagos State chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC). “INEC has no excuse for what has just happened for an exercise that is crucial to the success of the elections,” he added.
In many of the advertised collection centres in the states where the exercise took place across the country, its either that INEC officials were not available or that they were incompetent in handling what should ordinarily be a simple task. And there are no coherent explanations for those who could not find their names where they registered or any proper guidance as to the next line of action to take. The Deputy Governor of Kano State, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, who threatened last week that the state government would go to court if the inconsistencies associated with the voters’ registration exercise are not properly addressed, said “it is an indication of the fact that INEC doesn’t have the capacity to perform the national assignment creditably.” In Edo State, the resident electoral commissioner said 4,658 cards were stolen in nine local councils in the course of the distribution of the cards.
To the extent that this is one exercise which, if unsuccessful, could mess up the 2015 general election and undermine the whole essence of our representative democracy, we are worried that INEC still cannot get it right. The pertinent question therefore is: if such a simple yet important exercise could be bungled, what is the guarantee that the general election would not end up the same way? Surely there are plenty of crucial lessons that our electoral umpires must have learned from past experience.
Like most Nigerians, we have had cause to praise INEC for the manner in which it handled recent elections, especially the gubernatorial polls in Ekiti and Osun states. However, we are worried that the commission might be back to its old ways. For, as we have repeatedly pointed out, even while appraising those polls for which we gave INEC kudos, it is easier to conduct single-state elections than a nationwide poll in a populous and complex country like ours. For that reason, we have also warned that the commission cannot afford to drop the ball. It is even all the more important that an exercise like the registration of new voters or collection of PVCs be successfully conducted. We therefore urge INEC to quickly put its house in order.