Over 241, 715 Permanent Voter Cards have yet to be collected by the voters in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states two weeks to the October 9, 2023 deadline issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission for the collection of the cards ahead of the November 11 off-cycle governorship polls in the three states.
While 107,715 voter cards were awaiting collection in Kogi, no fewer than 134,000 had yet to be claimed by prospective voters in Imo State. However, the figure of unclaimed PVCs cards in Bayelsa State was unavailable.
The electoral commission has, however, said it will not extend the PVCs collection in the states and admonished registered voters not to delay in picking up their cards.
The Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi and the Kogi State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr Gabriel Longpet, both affirmed in separate interviews with The PUNCH, that there was no going back on the October 9 d eadline.
They cautioned the concerned electorates against waiting till the last minute to collect their PVCs.
The INEC had fixed the governorship elections in the three states to November 11 in which 18 parties are fielding candidates.
At its regular meeting held on June 6, the commission approved the final list of candidates for the three off-cycle governorship elections and also uploaded it to its website and social media platforms.
The list of candidates was also published in INEC’s state and local government offices in the affected states on June 8 ahead of the statutory deadline of June 9.
The list indicated that all the 18 political parties are fielding candidates in Kogi State, 17 in Imo State and 16 in Bayelsa State.
The list also showed that two political parties are fielding female candidates in Kogi and Bayelsa State, but none in Imo State.
Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State is seeking re-election, likewise his counterpart in Bayelsa State, Douye Diri, while Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State is rounding off his second term and is supporting the All Progressives Congress candidate, Usman Ododo.
Responding to inquiries from one of our correspondents, Oyekanmi noted that the ongoing PVC collection exercise was only for registered voters in the three states who could not collect their PVCs before the suspension of the exercise on February 5, 2023.
He advised the registered voters to collect their PVCs on time, stressing that ”The commission is not considering an extension of the PVC collection exercise at this point.”
He added, ”Registered voters who are yet to collect their PVCs still have two weeks to do so. From our experience, more people tend to take action close to the deadline, which is not a good habit. It will exert much undue pressure on our state offices, which is also unfair. The earlier voters collect their PVCs, the better.”
The Kogi State REC, Longpet, also echoed Oyekanmi, stating that there would not be an extension of the time earlier scheduled for the collection of the voter cards.
“There will not be any extension of time as we had said that the collection is for four weeks since it is not a nationwide exercise and these are remnants of the cards previously provided for collection,” he explained.
On the number of the PVCs collected so far collected, the REC said, “From the daily reports sent to me, so far, 11,307 PVCs have been collected up to the 21st September, out of a total number of 119,022.We have two weeks to go.
“We have been broadcasting and urging people in the various local languages to go out and collect their PVCs. We have translated the jingles in Ebira, Igala, Okun, Nupe, and Hausa, in addition to English.”
Speaking on the situation in Imo State, the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Prof Sylvia Agu, disclosed that INEC resumed the issuance of PVCs for the election on September 11 and that the exercise would continue till October 9.
“INEC still has about 134,000 uncollected PVCs in Imo piled in the 27 local government council secretariats of the state.
“I urge Imo residents to collect their PVCs at the INEC offices in their council areas, while those in Orlu Local Government Area should collect theirs at the state office in Owerri.
“Apart from the 27 local government area offices, INEC has also created some centres for PVC collection for Registration Areas that have more than 1,000 uncollected PVCs. Remember that PVCs cannot be collected by proxy and they must be exchanged with the Temporary Voter Cards,” she stated.
“INEC has gone a step further to gather the phone numbers of owners of uncollected PVCs in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi to send bulk SMS to them,” Agu added, assuring that the commission was fully prepared for the election.
She revealed that all non-sensitive materials had been received and would be distributed to the various local government areas appropriately.
“The Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security of which the police is the lead agency is on top of the security situation and shall draw up security architecture for the exercise,” she further explained.
The INEC’s Public Relations officer in the state, Chinenye Osuji, who spoke to our correspondent in Owerri on Sunday said that the commission was encouraging people to collate their PVCs.
“As of Wednesday last week, a little over 134,000 persons have yet to collect their Permanent Voter Cards. We don’t know what the issue is but we are encouraging people to collect their PVCs,” she elaborated.
The INEC office in Bayelsa State declined to give precise the number of unclaimed PVCs when contacted on Sunday.
The commission’s Head of Department, Voter Education, Publicity, Gender and Inclusivity in Bayelsa, Mr Wilfred Ifogah, said the uncollected PVCs in its Yenagoa office were from the previous exercise.
He said people currently collecting their PVCs included those who registered newly, those who could not pick up their PVCs after they transferred their PVCs, and those who lost their voter cards.
Ifogah said, “When you talk about collected and uncollected PVCs in the state, why I don’t want to give those figures is that it won’t add up to anything because what we have are uncollected PVCs from the previous exercise. It’s not like they brought anything new.
”Moreso, the PVCs are not just for people who registered newly but it has to do with both those who registered newly and unable to pick them and those who requested for a reprint of their PVCs, and those who did transfer whose cards have come in.
“So, from the overall statistics, if we really want to know those who have collected, we have to wait for the end of the exercise to know those that have collected, who registered newly.
“‘But right now, everyone picking involves those who registered newly, those who were unable to pick up their own when they did transfer and those who lost their PVCs. Right now, I don’t have an idea of the total uncollected PVCs.”
He, however, added that the commission would not extend the October 9 deadline for registration and collection of PVCs.
“Nobody will extend the deadline. By October 9th, it will be a few weeks to the election because already we are having our own training. By that October we will start training the ad hoc staff for the exercise, so every hand will be on deck.
“Right now, I won’t single out any greatest challenge because apart from us carrying out sensitisation activities, and hoping that voters and stakeholders will abide by the rules, we can’t really talk about any challenge. If you talk about funding, I know that the commission is already prepared for it so that’s not a challenge for now”, Ifogah added.
Commenting on the high number of unclaimed voter cards in Imo, the Peoples Democratic Party in the state said it was worried that thousands of people were yet to pick up the facility.
The Director-General of PDP New Media, Lancelot Obiaku said, “The low number is not unconnected with the performance of the electoral umpire and the security agencies in the last general election. It is a protest against injustice and electoral malpractice backed by institutions that ordinarily should promote justice and fairness.
“‘The people are angry over a situation where the PDP was getting landslide victories in various constituencies of the state only for INEC and security agencies to collude with the APC to rig the elections.
“However, as a party, we are not worried as even if an average of 10 persons come out to vote at all the polling units, seven will vote for PDP. We are only demanding that the security agencies and INEC be fair. We will win the governorship election. Imo people will not condone any form of injustice again.”
The Legal Adviser of the Labour Party in Imo State, Emeka Ihejirika, equally expressed concern over the huge number of unclaimed PVCs.
He noted, “It is worrying to everyone that people are not collecting their PVCs at the same rate they collected it before the elections. It might be a sign of complete discontentment with INEC for their shoddy conduct of the last elections, but the Labour Party while encouraging our people to go out and collect their PVCs still believes that our people will at their time collect those outstanding PVCs.
“Clearly, our people have rejected the ruling party and it is expected that this rejection will be manifest in the impending heavy loss by the APC come November.”
The spokesperson for the All Progressives Congress in Imo State, Cajetan Duke, disclosed that his party had engaged in an extensive voter sensitization programme to encourage the residents to collect their voter cards.
According to him, the APC has deployed various approaches, including meetings, door-to-door outreach, radio and television broadcasts, and social media campaigns to reach as many citizens as possible, emphasizing the significance of participating in the electoral process.
He said, “As a party, the All Progressives Congress, we have been actively engaged in extensive voter education and awareness campaigns in Imo State, encouraging individuals to collect their Permanent Voter Cards. Our commitment to a fair and inclusive election remains unwavering, and we believe that our message will resonate with the electorate.
“We recognise the importance of a robust and engaged electorate in any democratic process. While there may be quite a number of registered voters who are yet to collect their PVCs ahead of the November 11 governorship election, we remain confident that as the election date approaches, more citizens will realize the importance of participating in the democratic process by collecting their PVCs. However, it’s essential to understand that this is not an uncommon challenge in the lead-up to elections.
“Our party has been diligently working on voter education and awareness campaigns across Imo State. We’ve deployed a multifaceted approach to reach as many citizens as possible, emphasizing the significance of participating in the electoral process. This includes town hall meetings, door-to-door outreach, radio and tv broadcasts, and social media campaigns.
“Additionally, we are working closely with relevant government agencies and civil society organisations to stimulate electorate participation in our democratic processes, making our people more aware of their civic responsibilities.
“Meanwhile, we are convinced that the percentage of PVC is sufficient enough to reflect the aspirations of our people. Our confidence in the democratic process and the support of the people of Imo State remains steadfast.
“As a party, we are committed to fostering an environment where every eligible citizen can exercise their right to vote, and we will continue to work tirelessly to achieve this goal.”
Michael Anyanwu, the Deputy Director of Media and Communications to Kemdi Opara’s Campaign Council, the Young Progressives Party governorship candidate said the situation should be a concern considering the fact that many eligible Imo voters may be disenfranchised in the coming election.
He admonished those who have yet to claim their voter cards to do so as soon as possible, noting that only the PVCs qualified eligible voters to exercise their voting right.
Anyanwu stated, “This underscores the importance of the PVC to the forthcoming November 11 governorship election in Imo State. Therefore, the low number of people who have collected their PVCs ahead of the governorship election should be a thing of serious concern considering the fact that many eligible Imo voters will be disenfranchised in the coming election.
“We are doing our best to sensitize and encourage members of our party and loyal supporters across the various 27 LGAs to visit the designated collection centres to collect their PVCs. INEC needs to do more work in this area to ensure a credible, free and fair election wherein no eligible voters will be disenfranchised.”