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2023 Elections – The Unsetelling state of PVC Collection 

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The Independent National Electoral Commission recently revealed that 20 million Permanent Voter Cards—a necessary criterion for being able to exercise one’s right to vote during an election—had not yet been acquired by applicants. It is a sad indicator of the electorate’s waning faith in Nigeria’s ailing democracy. It serves as a warning flag for the populace’s strong and unhealthy mistrust of the political elite and related political activities in the nation. This is a disconcerting truth that needs to be changed if democracy is to be inclusive and effective in the nation.

There were 84 million PVCs registered with the electoral umpire in the run-up to the 2019 general election. At the launch of a campaign to encourage the collection of PVCs and boost participation in the ongoing continuous voter registration, Mohammed Haruna, INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of the Federal Capital Territory, Nasarawa, Kaduna, and Plateau states, claims that, of that total, close to 20 million PVCs have not yet been collected.

Even though the percentage may be little, Haruna emphasised that the absolute number was enormous. Twenty million is likely more voters than all of the West African nations combined. That worries me a lot. The appeal of democracy above all other types of governance is that the people have ultimate authority, which they can “exercise” either directly or indirectly through a system of representation that often involves regularly scheduled free elections, as defined by Merriam-Webster. When only a select few take part in that supreme act of sovereignty, it loses its power and ability to produce positive results.

A vast majority of Nigerians have gradually given up their ability to choose their leaders in favour of a shrinking minority. Many people choose not to sign up. Many people who register do not bother to obtain their PVCs. According to a breakdown of the numbers provided by INEC, the South-West had the most uncollected PVCs with over 3.4 million, followed by the North-West and the South-South with over 1.9 million and over 1.7 million, respectively. In comparison to the South-East, which recorded over 1.4 million, the North-East, which had over 800,000, and the FCT, which had approximately 318,000, the North-Central had about 1.5 million uncollected voter cards.

According to INEC, 1.09 million PVCs from 1999 have not yet been collected in Lagos State alone.

The youth’s disinterest is more concerning. The future of democracy alarms analysts since the generation that will likely generate the next set of leaders is uninterested in influencing their group’s course. Mary Nkem, the deputy director of voter education at INEC, lamented the low turnout of citizens, particularly young people, in the present CVR.

“We will no longer be recording 15 or 20 percent voter turnout in our elections, since we know that the population of the youngsters alone can make a difference,” she bemoaned. “If the kids could come out en masse to cast their votes.” In April, INEC announced that over 1.8 million new PVCs, including over 1.3 million cards for legitimate new registrants and 464,340 PVCs for verified applicants for card transfers or replacements, were ready for collection. However, this announcement did not inspire the owners to take the necessary action. An attitude adjustment must be pursued with all possible diligence.

INEC should collaborate with pertinent social and political organisations to encourage the gathering of PVCs and widespread election participation.

Overcoming the causes of apathy is also essential. The relocation of the claimants and the country’s growing instability are two factors, among others, that contribute to the PVCs not being claimed. Some registrants might have passed away or had incapacitating health issues, making getting their PVCs the least important current need. Additionally, many Nigerians, particularly those living in rural regions, are unaware of how or where to acquire their PVCs; as a result, INEC must expand and intensify its education initiatives.

Overcoming the causes of apathy is also essential. The relocation of the claimants and the country’s growing instability are two factors, among others, that contribute to the PVCs not being claimed. Some registrants might have passed away or had incapacitating health issues, making getting their PVCs the least important current need. Additionally, many Nigerians, particularly those living in rural regions, are unaware of how or where to acquire their PVCs; as a result, INEC must expand and intensify its education initiatives.

In order to provide a breakdown of the 20 million unclaimed cards beyond merely the claimants’ locations, INEC should conduct an analysis of the uncollected PVCs. This should show how long the cards have been carried over and how long they have been inactive.

The 20 million mark is substantial enough to tip the scales in favour of winning any election. Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retired) received 15.19 million votes in the 2019 presidential election, while Atiku Abubakar received 11.26 million votes, which was little over half of his total. If many more eligible voters had turned in their PVCs and cast their votes, the gap might have narrowed, been reversed, or even grown.

INEC needs to tidy up. It ought to make gathering the PVCs less laborious and stressful. There are allegations that in some places, registrants must pay a certain amount of money before they may pick up their PVCs. This is a deterrent that will instantly turn away prospective voters.

In order to educate voters on the importance of participating in the election process, starting with the collection of PVCs, the umpire should keep looking into the commendable engagement and partnership with civil society organisations.

Additionally, it needs to step up its efforts to educate the public in order to reassure voters, especially those who are new to voting and are primarily young. Political parties should also organise voter registration campaigns. To oppose poor government, one should never abstain from voting or refuse to collect PVCs. Instead, it allows unwelcome politicians carte blanche to sully politics and government.

Unquestionably, the number of people that vote in Nigerian elections has decreased since 2011: 39% in 2011, 30% in 2015, and 28% in 2019. Voter turnout in the Anambra governorship election last November was a pitiful 10%. Such complacency needs to change.

Voters who despise politics, throw away their PVCs, and fail to cast ballots on election day unwittingly aid dishonest politicians. This mindset needs to shift in order to promote inclusivity and strengthen democracy.

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