Abuja (Sunfiata Post)The police have said they will launch a manhunt for politicians procuring Permanent Voter Cards for the purpose of rigging the 2023 general elections.
This came as the Independent National Electoral Commission vowed that anyone caught buying or selling PVCs would be arrested and prosecuted, warning politicians and political parties that it would not condone any illegal acts.
The development is coming on the heels of reports that some politicians were buying up PVCs and inducing voters to harvest their Voter Identification Numbers.
The INEC National Commissioner overseeing the Federal Capital Territory, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Plateau states, Mohammed Haruna, had on Monday in Abuja raised the alarm that some politicians were buying PVCs ahead of the 2023 polls.
He also disclosed that two persons have been recently convicted for illegal possession of PVCs in Sokoto and Kano states.
But speaking to The PUNCH on Tuesday, the Chief Press Secretary to the Chairman of INEC, Rotimi Oyekanmi, cautioned politicians that the 2023 elections would not be “business as usual.”
According to him, the introduction of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System will not allow for rigging and other electoral malpractices.
Instead of plotting to undermine the electoral process, Oyekanmi admonished the parties and their supporters to mobilise registered voters to vote for their preferred candidates on election day.
The commission stated, “Supporters of the competing presidential candidates for the 2023 general elections will help their respective candidates better if they spend the next two months before the polls to rigorously convince and mobilise registered voters across the length and breadth of Nigeria to vote for their preferred candidates than to continue smearing the reputation of the Independent National Electoral Commission with baseless conspiracy theories. It will not work.
“The commission is not a political party; INEC does not have a preferred candidate. We have been preparing for the 2023 polls since the conclusion of the 2019 general elections, perfecting existing tools and introducing other innovations. These innovations are designed to ensure the integrity of the process and make it impossible for any politician or INEC Staff to compromise an election in favour of any candidate.
“Therefore, the insinuation that some politicians are buying Permanent Voter Cards to rig the 2023 general election is baseless because INEC has moved very far away from the period when the Incident Form could be used for that purpose on election day.’’
Oyekanmi recalled how some unscrupulous politicians took advantage of the incident form used during the 2015 and 2019 elections to rig the polls using illegally procured PVCs.
He noted, “Recall that for the 2015 and 2019 general elections, the commission used the Smart Card Reader to authenticate the PVC and accredit the voter on election day via his or her fingerprint and allowed the use of the incident form. Unfortunately, some politicians took advantage of this waiver, bought PVCs, gave them out to their acquired voters and sent them to polling units to vote, using the incident form.
“This was one of the reasons why the commission introduced the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System for the 2023 general election. The BVAS has one significant advantage over the SCR: it accredits through fingerprint and facial recognition.
So, if your fingerprint fails, certainly your face will not fail. However, if the BVAS rejects your face, it means you are not an authentic voter and will not be allowed to vote. You will be asked to leave the polling station immediately. You could also be arrested for impersonation.’’
To engender transparency, Oyekanmi disclosed that the electoral body introduced the Result Viewing Portal in 2020 to enable the upload of polling unit results in real-time, adding that the technology had been used in various off-season governorship elections.
“Besides, to engender transparency, the Commission introduced the INEC Result Viewing Portal in 2020, where individual polling unit results are uploaded on election day. We used the portal for the Edo, Ondo, Ekiti Osun, and Anambra off-season governorship elections. At the end of voting on election day, after the ballots have been counted and results announced, the Presiding Officer will take a picture of the result sheet – Form EC8A – and upload the same to the IReV portal before departing to the collation centre. Party agents and voters will witness this activity that is backed by law.
“So, for this 2023 election, it is one genuine voter, one vote. No PVC, no voting. No accreditation by BVAS, not voting. If you try to cause trouble at the polling unit because the BVAS rejects your fingerprint and face, the security agents around will arrest and prosecute you, according to the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022.
“Therefore, this general election will not be business as usual. If there are politicians out there still going about purchasing PVCs to use pseudo-voters on election day, they will not only be disappointed but arrested and prosecuted,’’ INEC warned.
Police vow arrest
Echoing the commission’s Riot Act, the Nigeria Police Force said it would work in tandem with INEC to track down perpetrators buying and selling PVCs.
The Force Public Relations Officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said, “PCVs have never been displayed on any table in the market for sales…we will work with INEC to track down these perpetrators since INEC has more information about the development.”
In furtherance of the force’s plans to achieve free, fair, and credible elections in the country, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, on Tuesday, held a strategic meeting with all heads of operations of national security agencies in the country.
The parley which was held at the Force Headquarters, Abuja, aimed at further deepening inter-agency collaborative initiatives towards guaranteeing secure electioneering processes for the 2023 general election.
Slow PVC collection
Meanwhile, the INEC has begun the distribution of PVCs in Ondo State ahead of the general elections.
In Akure, the state capital, the exercise was held at the various distribution centres and the Akure South Local Government INEC Office on Tuesday.
However, the residents lamented the slow collection process with many complaining about the time spent in queues.
A resident, Mr Adeboboye Kehinde, lamented that the people who came for their PVCs spent too much time in the queue due to inadequate number of INEC officials to attend to them.
He suggested that the distribution of the PVCs should be taken to distribution centres at the ward level to make it easier for the people, saying this would save time and energy.
Kehinde said, “I have spent over three hours here waiting to collect my PVC due to the crowd and few officials attending to us. I reside at Adofure (area of Akure) and travelling from there to here cost me N300 and I will pay another N300 to return home
“Those staying at Ala Elofosan will spend nothing less than N1,000 to get here and return home. So, I will suggest that INEC should take the PVCs distribution to the wards after all, there are collation centres at the ward level.”
Also, Omobolanle Aliu lamented that the process was too slow, saying she had spent over five hours waiting to be attended to by officials, noting that this could discourage people from coming for their voter cards.
In Cross River State, the commission said it had released 46,143 PVCs for collection.
Disclosing this in a statement on Tuesday, the Head of Voter Education and Publicity, INEC, Cross River, Mrs Anthonia Nwobi, explained that the cards for new registrants, replacements and transfers were received from INEC’s National Headquarters recently and had been dispatched to the 18 local government areas of the state.
The collection, which kicked off in all INEC LGA offices from December 12 will run to January 22, 2023 from 9am to 3pm daily, including weekends,” she said.
Earlier, the News Agency of Nigeria correspondent who visited the INEC collection Centre for Calabar Municipal Area Council, observed a good turnout of residents.
The Electoral Officer for Calabar Municipal, Mr Sony Ezuma, said the experience had been wonderful as the turnout was impressive.
“Nigerians are eager to collect their cards to be able to vote and this eagerness has been translated in their coming out in good numbers to pick their cards.
“In the past, there used to be some level of apathy from Nigerians but today, many of them are showing interest and coming to pick their cards,” he said.
He added that it would be in the interest of the commission if all the cards were collected.
However, Mrs Eugenia Obi, a resident, complained that the collection centre was difficult to locate.
“I have driven past this venue before while looking for this centre; there is no notice at the gate, no banner or instructions to let people know the exact venue and what is going on; I think INEC should do better,” she said
Poor PVCs collection
The INEC National Commissioner, Mrs. May Mbu, has expressed concern over the rate of PVCs collection in Akwa Ibom State, saying that the pace was poor.
Speaking in Uyo Tuesday during the INEC-Akwa Ibom Stakeholders Forum, she appealed to the stakeholders, especially political parties, to assist in spreading the information about the PVCs collection exercise far and wide.
She said, “I am indeed very delighted today to meet for the first time with our stakeholders in Akwa Ibom State. This is a very auspicious time considering the proximity of the 2023 general election.
‘The statutory notice of the election has been duly given and activities have begun in full force. The commission is not happy with the burning of some of our local government offices in some states. Since the commission published the notice of election on 28 February 2022, the activities have commenced in full force.
“Already, we are at the most critical stage in the implementation of the activities in the timeline, timetable and schedule of activities for the general elections.
One major reason for this occasion is to use this opportunity to tell stakeholders, traditional rulers, security personnel, politicians, intended voters and indeed, everyone in Akwa Ibom State that the pace of collection of PVCs in Akwa Ibom is abysmally slow.’’
According to her, INEC is working round the clock to ensure that the PVCs get to every registrant so that no one would be disenfranchised.
“I was made to understand that steps have been taken to ensure that there is reasonable security across our offices in this state and I thank the various security agencies in the state. However, please do not relent in re-enforcing the security around our personnel, state and local government offices,” Mbu said.
She noted that the commission on its part was making steady progress in other critical areas in preparation for the election in terms of provision of sensitive and non-sensitive materials, recruitment of ad hoc staff and the movement of personnel and materials for the election.
Earlier in his remarks, the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Cyril Omorogbe, assured that nobody would be disenfranchised as far as the collection of PVCs is concerned.
Congested polling units
To make the voting process seamless in Ekiti State, the electoral umpire has said it will migrate some voters from congested polling units.
The state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Prof. Ayobami Salami, said the move was “to make voting process in 2023 general elections devoid of rigours and stress for voters and as well enhance security.”
Salami, who spoke in Ado Ekiti, the state capital, during a stakeholders’ meeting, called on political parties and other stakeholders in the state to educate the electorate on the new development, which he said would enhance an effective electoral system.
He said, “The commission is planning to migrate some voters who fall within the densely populated polling units with the aim of decongesting such polling units and give room for the sparsely populated ones that are within the same cluster or location to be populated.”
Under the arrangement, some registration area centres, super registration areas and collation centres would be moved to different places for security reasons and provided adequate space.
The REC, who said the decision was necessary to reduce the long queues and save time as well as allow more voters to exercise their rights during elections, stated, “All the communities and registration areas where these relocations were done have been properly communicated to the stakeholders.”
On the ongoing distribution of the voter cards across the 16 local government areas in the state, the REC disclosed that as of December 9, a total of 783,796 PVCs had been collected, with 205,127 remaining uncollected by the 988,923 registered voters in the state.(Punch)