On the permanent voter cards
WITH Nigeria set to go to the polls next month, the recent call by President Goodluck Jonathan, governors, leaders and all Nigerians on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to make permanent voter cards (PVCs) available to all eligible citizens is one that must be answered. Voter cards are a vital part of any democratic process, a powerful tool with which the citizens elect those who should lead them. INEC, therefore, owes its good place in history to a comprehensive and hitch-free distribution of this all-important card.
It is gratifying that the electoral body has assured the nation that no Nigerian of voting age would be left out of the process of obtaining the PVCs for this year’s elections. Making good its promise, INEC last year began the process of distributing the PVCs to those who registered for them and by last weekend, INEC put the number of Nigerians who had voter cards at 38.7 million. This represents 71.35 per cent of the 54,341,610 registered voters across the country. The zonal analysis of the PVCs collected showed: South-West (6,270,736), South-East (3,915,241), North-Central (5,520,001), North-East (4,886,499), North-West (12,013,961), South-South (5,756,018) and the Federal Capital Territory (411,935). Before the elections, INEC is expected to distribute more PVCs to other voters.
However, the collection of the PVCs has thrown into sharp relief the challenges associated with the nation’s electoral process. Some voters, including governors, have not been able to collect their voter cards due to INEC’s failure to supply them. There have been complaints of non-availability of PVCs, omission of names and snatching of the cards by hoodlums. In Lagos for instance, there are complaints that in entire centres, residents who registered have not been provided their voter cards. If this could happen in Lagos with many enlightened residents, it means it is worse in some other states. The problems of collection have not been resolved even though some states declared some days work-free just to enable their workers get their cards. But while some people have not been able to collect their voter cards, others have not only collected their own, they have hundreds and thousands of others warehoused.
There is, therefore, the fear, which may not be unfounded, that such unauthorised voter cards would be used to perpetrate electoral malpractices. It is reasonable to conclude that the electoral body is faced with the challenges of the distribution of the voter cards because it did not adequately prepare even when it has had four years to envisage hitches and map out strategies to check such. INEC certainly has good examples to follow on registration and voter card distribution with a view to avoiding anything that could impinge on the integrity of the electoral process. For instance, in Canada and Norway, citizens do not face the problems of collecting their voter cards as they easily get them in the mail box before each election. In Canada, citizens only need to contact their local elections office if there are problems on the cards. In Mexico, the voting card serves as a national identity document, while Denmark uses its computerised national civil registry to produce a computerised voter list.
Although, INEC has promised to provide the voter cards to all eligible voters before the elections next month, it also ought to reckon with the possibility of not being able to achieve this. If it is unable to make all the voter cards available, and to avoid disenfranchising some citizens, it can use the Australian model . In Australia, if a voter’s name does not appear on the official ‘certified’ list, he/she can still cast a ballot in the form of a ‘declaration’ vote, and its eligibility is determined later, once relevant checks have been carried out. The inherent danger in this system in the context of Nigeria’s environment is that it may be subject to abuse. Better still, therefore, the temporary voter cards can be allowed once the holder is certified duly registered. It must be acknowledged that difficulties involved in collecting the PVCs are already draining voters of enthusiasm in the electoral process. And this is bad for democracy.
It is necessary for INEC to ensure that eligible Nigerians have their voter cards and are not disenfranchised and it is commendable in this regard that INEC has decentralised the collection of the voter cards. Unlike before when the collection was only done at the local government level, it is now being done at the ward level. This would continue until January 31.
This expression of a desire to clear every obstacle in the path of people’s total participation in the electoral process is a good sign that Nigeria’s journey to free and fair election has begun. It only needs sustenance in tempo.