About 87.2 million Nigerians will tomorrow throng polling booths across the country and cast their votes to elect their next president in the 7th presidential election since the return of democracy in 1999.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced yesterday that a total of 87,209,007 permanent voter cards (PVCs) were collected by eligible registrants ahead of the 2023 general election in which the 5th president of Nigeria in the current democratic dispensation will emerge.
In the past few weeks up to today, being the eve of the presidential and National Assembly elections, the country had been enveloped in apprehension and anxiety, even as tension has pervaded the land, as the citizens prepare for what has been describes as the most intriguing polls analysts believe would either improve or wield back the country’s burgeoning democracy.
A total of 18 candidates will participate in tomorrow’s presidential poll, but the electorate would likely be out to determine the fate of four major contenders: Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party.
Since 1999 when it morphed from years of very tough and dictatorial military rule, Nigeria has sustained periodic elections, but the 2023 polls which begins tomorrow are the first in which Nigerians born in 1999 will participate in as eligible voters.
Although INEC had said it registered 9,518,188 new voters, bringing the total number to 93,522,272, indicating a massive interest in voting by Nigerians, only about 82 million Nigerians who collected their PVCs will vote in tomorrow’s polls.
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But there is tension in the country, with most citizens saying they are disturbed about the likelihood of the elections being marred by insecurity, including banditry, terrorist attacks and abductions that have continued unabated.
The declaration of a five-day sit-at-home order by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had proved to be a hurdle for INEC in the South East until yesterday when the IPOB leader, Simeon Ekpa, was arrested by Finland security operatives.
Before his arrest, Ekpa had declared that there will be no polls in the zone, meaning that the South East was to boycott the polls.
But the Chief of Defence Staff, Lt-Gen Lucky Irabor, had assured voters that the military will take control and ensure peace for the conduct of the elections.
Also creating tension in the country ahead of the polls is the federal government’s Naira swap policy, which many believe was to stop politicians from buying votes, ensure a level playing field for all candidates, curb corruption, and make kidnapping-for-ransom unattractive.
Many Nigerians wonder how the election would fare in a cashless Nigeria for the first time in the country’s checkered history.
INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioner for the Federal Capital Territory Yahaya Bello had said that the cash crunch caused by the policies have also affected INEC operations, as most of the expenses are settled in cash.
Meanwhile, INEC said yesterday that a total of 87,209,007 permanent voter cards (PVCs) were collected by eligible registrants ahead of the 2023 general election in which the 5th president of Nigeria in the current democratic dispensation will emerge.
A document released by the commission’s chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, at the daily briefing held at the National Collation Centre in Abuja showed that uncollected PVCs as of February 5, 2023 stood at 6,259,229.
Leading the pack for the number of PVCs collected is Lagos State with 6,214,970.
Kano is second with 5,594,193; Kaduna came third with 4,164,473; followed by Katsina having 3,459,945; and Rivers came fifth on 3,285,785 PVCs collected as at 5th February 2023.
While 1,476,451 registrants collected their PVCs in FCT, Ekiti State recorded the least PVCs collected with 958,052.
The INEC chairman said the idea is to provide stakeholders with up-to-date information about the process and preparedness of the Commission.
Unfortunately, he said due to last-minute consultations conducted by the Commission in the last two days, we were not able to commence the daily briefings on Monday 20th February 2023 as we intended.
Noting that the general election commences in the next 41 hours, he said the commission has meticulously prepared and implemented its Election Project Plan, learning from recent elections.
“It is important to keep the sheer magnitude of Nigeria’s general elections in mind. The voter population of 93,469,008 is more than the total number of registered voters in all the other countries of West Africa put together. In addition, we shall be deploying to 176,606 polling units (excluding the 240 polling units without registered voters) simultaneously,” he said.
He said the election is a huge logistical deployment, adding that the Commission has painstakingly procured, organised, and delivered all the materials to the States for deployment.
“We commenced the delivery of non-sensitive materials over two months ago and they have been batched down to Registration Area/Ward and Pulling Unit levels. Sensitive materials have been delivered to the states and are presently being delivered to our Local Government Area offices.
“As such, these materials are only between one and two levels away from the Polling Units. We have achieved this by learning from our recent difficult experience with logistics. We have completed arrangements with the transport unions for the final leg of the movement of personnel and materials to the Polling Units. They have assured us of their readiness to provide all the vehicular needs of the Commission for the election,” Yakubu noted.
He said a major part of the preparation for the general election was the establishment of additional 56,872 polling units across the country, the first time of doing so since 1996.
With this, he said the commission expanded voter access to polling units in Nigeria by over 32 per cent, making it possible for voters to have improved opportunities for casting their votes.
Unfortunately, he said voters have not taken full advantage of this opportunity, resulting in 240 polling units without voters, and prompting the Commission to further move some voters out of congested Polling Units to less populated ones.
He continued: “I implore all voters to cross-check their polling units before the election. However, only seven per cent of voters are affected by this movement.
“This means that the vast majority of voters will still vote in their usual polling units. We sent bulk phone text messages (sms) to the affected voters, tasked our state offices for publicity in local languages, and offered two unique ways by which voters can locate and confirm their polling units before election day by sending a normal text message to dedicated telephone numbers or by visiting our website. The detailed procedure is uploaded to our social media platforms.
“Staff to be deployed for the elections have been trained, the last being Collation and Returning Officers, who will complete their training shortly.
“An essential part of this training has been the emphasis on the neutrality of staff and the need for them to be committed and dedicated throughout the duration of their assignments. The Commission shall carefully monitor the performance of all staff involved in the election and ensure that both recognition and sanctions are applied wherever applicable”.
Yakubu further said the commission has completed all the testing of our technologies to be deployed for the election, particularly the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV).
“On 4th February 2023, we tested the BVAS in a mock accreditation exercise and uploaded the results to IReV. We are satisfied with the performance of the BVAS, which has been confirmed by several groups that observed the exercise.
“Lessons learnt from the exercise have helped us in the training of 10,600 Registration Area Technical Support Staff (RATECHS). They will provide the necessary support to ensure that the deployment of the BVAS is without hitches.
“Let me reiterate that the procedure for voting as provided in the Electoral Act 2022, clearly makes the use of the BVAS mandatory. So also, the use of the permanent voter cards (PVCs).
“The NO PVC, NO VOTING rule subsists. In the last few months, we made 13,676,907 PVCs available for collection for new voters and applicants for transfer and replacement of lost/damaged cards.
“While we are pleased that the rate of collection is higher than in previous years, there are still, unfortunately, many cards that were not collected. Before the end of this briefing, we shall make public a summary of the numbers of collected and uncollected PVCs in each State of the Federation. The detailed breakdown by Polling Units will be uploaded to the Commission’s website latest tomorrow Friday 24th February,” he said
He noted that it will not be inappropriate to comment on the national register voters.
“With 93.4 million records with names, addresses, passport photographs, and biometrics (fingerprint and facial), it is the largest database of citizens in Africa and one of the largest in the world.
“However, like all databases, it may not be perfect but the core of the register is solid. Going forward, the Commission will continue to clean it using technology and citizens’ involvement as provided by law.
*Through the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS), millions of ineligible registrants have been removed from the register. In addition, citizens have helped to clean up the register further during the display of the hardcopy for claims and objections in the 8,809 registration areas/wards and 774 local government areas nationwide for a period of two weeks (12th-25th November 2022) as provided by law.
“Nigerians should therefore continue to have confidence in the register as a national treasure and work with the Commission to continuously improve on it as provided by law.”
He lamented that vote buying remains a major threat to our democracy.
He continued: “We have worked closely with enforcement agencies to ensure that this is eliminated from our electoral process. We are convinced that our joint operations before and on election day will vastly reduce the prospect of voter inducement, which is not only illegal but immoral.
“The ban on the use of mobile phones and photographic devices at the voting cubicles, is still in place. Some voters have used these devices in previous elections to snap their marked ballot papers for vote transactions. However, citizens are permitted to come to the Polling Units with these devices, as long as they do not take them to the voting cubicles.
“Our arrangement of placing the ballot box near the voting cubicle and away from party agents remains. Our staff has been trained in the administration of the Polling Units and their attention should be drawn to any deviation from that training.
“In the last few weeks, we have been in consultation with other critical agencies and institutions in the administration of the general election. We met with the judiciary about arrangements for post-election adjudication. Last year, we worked with development partners and the Court of Appeal to conduct workshops for prospective Election Petitions Tribunal judges.
“We have been assured of arrangements for timely post-election adjudication. We have also met severally with security agencies, mainly under the auspices of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES). They have assured us of their preparedness to adequately secure the elections. This is very important as it will assure voters of their safety during the elections, which is cardinal to voter turnout.
“In the build-up to the general election, several of our facilities were attacked by unknown assailants in various parts of the country. I am pleased that we have fully recovered from those attacks, and we have been further assured that our facilities, staff, voters, observers, and citizens will be safe during the election.
“As a result of recent developments in the economy, we have also had to consult with the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) on the fuel situation. As you all know, we require Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) and Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) to power vehicles and boats for land and marine transportation as well as our generators during the election.
“We are pleased that the NNPC Limited assured us that it will ensure the availability of the products for the polls. Likewise, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has assured us that it will provide us with the small amount of cash we require from our budget to cash payments to some critical service providers for the election. I must reiterate that the bulk of payment for works goods and services are still paid for by electronic transfer.
“On election observation, the commission has accredited 229 groups deploying 146,913 observers. As I said at the briefing for election observers on Tuesday this week, this is the largest deployment of observers in the history of elections in Nigeria. Similarly, the Commission has so far accredited 457 national and international media organisations deploying 8,882 journalists. We encourage them to freely observe and report the election within the remits of our laws and international good practice.
“There are 18 political parties fielding candidates for 1,491 constituencies in this election. As provided by law, parties are required to submit the list of their agents for polling units and collation centres nationwide who are individually accredited by the Commission. To make the process easier, we have created a dedicated portal for parties to upload their lists along with names and passport-size photographs of their agents.”
In all, he said the commission has printed and delivered 1,642,385 identification cards to our state offices for collection by state chairmen of political parties. The softcopy of the summary of the list has already been uploaded to our website and social media platforms.
He, however, assured Nigerians that we are adequately prepared for this election. We remain fully committed to a free, fair, and credible process.
“I want to once again declare that our allegiance is only to Nigerians. Our commitment is to ensure that in this election we put everything in place for free choice, fair contest, and credible outcome,” he stated.