#2015 My INEC Story
Being Nigerian tests your patriotism level in the face of ever growing challenges. When you sit with friends to chitchat, conversations are consumed with issues plaguing our nation and what is usually intended to be a relaxing outing becomes a psychological trauma field. It was in one of such times that it struck me, the ONLY constitutional way to effect change is through the ballot and sadly the bulk of us are indifferent. I fell within the category of people who saw election day as a time to catch up on sleep, watch a backlog of movies and monitor elections from my television set. At least I was this before the advent of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola. I think good leaders inspire change in many more ways than they can know.
As Nigerians we assume righteousness, and say politics is dirty and proudly announce “I am not interested in politics”, forgetting that every decision taken, every action or inaction has a direct impact on our lives and guess what? We leave it to those whom we consider “dirty” enough to engage in it and then expect them to perform magic. When magic doesn’t happen we complain over the bad leadership and its impact on our lives.
Another train of thought was how ignorant those who vote are and how unwisely they cast their ballot.
The unpleasantness of our situation inspired me to educate the minds of those disposed to voting especially in the rural areas and inspire attitudinal change in uninterested eligible voters. With this personal mandate I browsed the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC website for all they have on voter education and unsatisfied with what I saw. So I went to their headquarters here in Abuja, where I was referred to their Wuse II office for all enquires on voter education. On getting to the Wuse II, I was attended to by a woman who asked me a question I was somewhat unprepared for “where are you from?” My answer of being a Nigerian who is interested in what the Commission has on the subject matter was met with surprise, and some suspicion. She announced that I would have to meet with the director of voter education. She walked into a particular office, spent a little less than 10 minutes and returned to tell me the director was away in Owerri and was due back in a week.
One week later, I walked into the Commission’s office and met a different woman, busy watching African Magic on DSTV. She asked the same question, using almost the same words, and sent me over to the director’s secretary. The secretary, a more mature woman further grilled me on where I was from and what was my interest in the voter education. I answered. She went into thesame office and spent about 5 minutes only to return to tell me that the director was away in a meeting and she wasn’t sure when he would return. I asked if I could get her number to confirm his availability before coming? She refused vehemently; to even disclose her name was a no, no. She rather asked for mine, that she would call me. I gave her my name and number. That was sometime in July, I’m still waiting for the call.
I visited the commission again for the third time and was referred to a man who grilled me on the same line of questions. My understanding is that it seemed very unusual for anyone to come asking for information from INEC; it was unfathomable to them! After my response which at this point was becoming a chorus in my ears, he went to the same office, he returned to inform me that the person to see was away in Onitsha. My irritation made me question the difficulty in getting information from the Commission? He was visibly “done” with me as he returned to the African movie channel I had “disgustingly” distracted him from. I walked away feeling how terrible our situation is as a people and how much of it we are responsible for.
I made my fourth visit to the Commission this time in the company of two team members. Our agenda were twofold: one, to see if anything could come out on voter education, and to enquire about registration for the elections. I have a temporary voter card from the 2011 general elections which I cannot use in the 2015 elections according to INEC, unless I get my permanent voter card, PVC. I will have to apply for a transfer from Lagos to Abuja. The issue one among two who accompanied me, our secretary, was that she wasn’t registered at all. She didn’t know when the registration process was on, and lost out on the very short window. The other, our head of operations needed information about PVC collection having been away for about a month and missed out of the 3 days collection window. When we arrived at the Commission, the security man at the entrance told us it had closed, and was giving all sorts of discordant information that we felt uncomfortable with. So we asked to go in and speak with a staff for better clarity. It was worse, as it turned out the security man had better information! They simply tossed us from office to office and yes Oga Director was still unavailable to attend to us. We were eventually referred to the INEC office by AMAC in Area 10. After a bit of drama there, we were again referred to the INEC office in Karu, and given a template of an application letter to write for my transfer. We headed back to the office to get the letter done.
The next day, on getting to the INEC office in Karu, two distinct groups were positioned at different windows of two buildings. One group was repeatedly told that registration had closed. That was the first place we went and got referred to the next building. For some reason we were allowed into the building as against getting the window treatment. The sight of PVCs scattered on the floor was depressing. You would typically expect in climes like ours where electoral malpractice is rampant, that INEC would have a vault with PVCs marked and kept in batches, not on the floor! As an aside, and for the record, people should not be attended to from a window by officials who think they are doing them a favour, as against doing their job. Let’s have some dignity for goodness sake!! Being treated with dignity is a right enriched in our laws.
Our secretary was told quite rudely that the new voter registration was closed for Abuja, and was queried on her whereabouts when it was on. I asked the woman who seemed in charge how long the registration lasted and she responded that it was 7 days, the first time and 3 days for the second time, which was the extension. How in God’s name does anyone truly expect to register the bulk of eligible Nigerians resident in Abuja in that short, ridiculously short window? She was then advised to wait till registration starts in Nasarawa state, to register there and come back to Karu to apply for a transfer. Our head of operations enquired why he would register in Mpape, and be told to go to Bwari on the other extreme end of Abuja to collect his PVC, as advised. But he had no choice, and his story to the said location isn’t something he is remotely happy about. Well, bottomline, he now has his PVC. I submitted the application for transfer of voter’s card from Lagos to Abuja on the 30th of October. I was told to expect a text message that will invite me to their Area 10 office to be data captured. As at today 19th December, I am yet to get that text message.
As the 2015 general elections draw near, the expectations of the Nigerian electorate have been greatly disappointed by the ineffecient and ineffective conduct of INEC which has occasioned protests from the people. The general feeling is that given the window of 4 years from the last general elections conducted in Nigeria, the Commission should have had a near perfect control of the process and ensured ease for the people to exercise their franchise. Sadly this is not the case. To say the least, INEC should have accomplished the following in the last 4 years:
•A major mass awareness on voter education
•A comprehensive database of registered voters (and continually updated)
•A seamless operation of continuous voter registration
•An effective PVC collection system
We do have a critical mass of the populace that has been disenfranchised by the registration process. One cannot overlook the reasons for this which include:
•Lack of awareness/information of the commencement, and duration of the registration process
•Operational inefficiency of the registration process
•The cumbersome and rigorous nature of the process
• Inopportune time particularly for the working populace. Employers are not disposed to dismissing staff during working hours to go for registration. The INEC booths are closed at about the same time as offices, thus inaccessible to the working class populace.
Election is a very crucial way to effect change in the life of any country and it should, in my opinion to be given top priority in our country. If we could shut down Abuja for the 3 days for the World Economic Forum, I consider this exercise of greater importance. The Commission should have worked around the time table such that workers who make up a critical mass are reasonably accommodated in the time table.
Looking on the trend towards 2015, I dare say we all should be worried, really worried. We should all demand more from the INEC by asking some of the following questions pertinent questions; it is the patriotic and responsible thing to do:
•How many Nigerians are eligible to vote?
•Of that number, how many are registered to vote in the 2015 general elections?
•Of that number, how many have collected their PVCs?
•For those whose names do not appear on the register but have sighted their PVCs, what will be become of them?
•What is this prevailing issue of “double registration”; as currently been advised by the Commission for citizens to go register again?
•What are the plans for the over 1.5 million internally displaced persons, IDPs?
As 2015 draws nearer and the inefficiency of the registration process becomes more apparent we need to start engaging INEC on these issues. Our lives are completely dependent on our individual and collective participation in the 2015 elections, and beyond. It is our right to excellent healthcare, education, security, roads etc.
OUR VOTE IS OUR RIGHT TO LIFE. We truly cannot be “uninterested” in our lives. We will neither give up our civic responsibility nor be frustrated by the process. Hence the reason a platform was launched to collate data of unregistered eligible voters. If you are unregistered for the 2015 elections, click on “Not Registered for the 2015 Election” on our website http://www.vrmnigeria.org.
Let’s start having some accountability here…..it starts with you and I. You should not be frustrated in your bid to exercise your constitutional franchise. INEC is answerable to us…
What’s your own INEC story? Share using the hashtag #2015MyINECStory
Convener/National Coordinator -Voting Right Movement wrote from Abuja.