…Charge N3,000 per card
Damian Duruiheoma, Owerri
The hope of the people of Imo State to elect their preferred candidates in the rescheduled 2015 general elections may have been dashed. This followed the reports around the state that officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC,are charging prospective voters between N2,000 and N3,000 issuance of their Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs).
Since the postponement of the election by the commission as a result of the insecurity and inadequate distribution of the PVCs, there has been an upsurge in the number of people seeking to collect their PVCs in various local government headquarters, wards and polling units across the state. This came as most employers in the state demanded the cards as a prerequisite for payment of January and February salaries to their employees.
While the exercise was successful in some local government areas and wards in the state, it did not see of the state and in many other areas, it is complaints of extortion or between the sum of N200 and N3000. Some of the affected areas visited byThe UNION included many polling booths in Owerri Municipal; Mbaitoli Local Government Headquarters, Nworieubi; Obazu Mbieri and Obakuru Mbieri as well as Emeabiam in Owerri West Local Government Area. While no prospective voter has received the cards in the three wards in Atta in Njaba LGA, in Owerri North LGA, only three wards—Amakohia, Akwakuma and Awaka/Ihitte Ogada— out of the 12 wards have got their PVCs.
As at the time of filing this report, while the people of Umunam Atta were only told by INEC officials in Njaba LGA to report on Monday February 16 at the community centre to get their cards, there seems to be no solution for those of Owerri North LGA. This has since generated public outcry. This is despite the concerns raised by the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Dr. Gabriel Ada, that the people were yet to collect the less than 60 percent PVCs available for the state. Ada had said at a press conference last month that “the statistics of the card distribution in the state is still below 60 per cent and this does not augur well for a full participatory democracy which we anticipate. This is totally unacceptable to the Commission”. He had stated further that, “given this, the Commission has recommended that we go back to the field for another ten days to distribute these PVCs to their rightful owners, but at the Registration Area (Ward) level. This is in bid to ensure that every Nigerian is given an opportunity to exercise his/her franchise.” When The UNION visited Holy Ghost College and Uzii Primary School, Owerri, it was observed that the INEC officials were charging people N200 before they were issued their PVCs.
One of the prospective voters who paid to collect her card, Mariana Ibeh, told The UNION that she “felt embarrassed when the guy there told us to pay N200 each before we could collect our PVCs. The reason is that I didn’t even come with any money apart from the one I was to use to jump keke. But a nice guy there just helped me out with the money.”
Investigations by The UNION reveal that it is the same story at Uzii Primary School, Ikenegbu Girls Secondary School among other polling units in the municipal council where they told the people to pay N200 or they should go to the INEC headquarters.
Similarly, at Nwaorieubi the Mbaitoli Local Government headqurters where hundreds of people trooped out from various communities to get their cards, there was an ugly skirmish between the INEC officials and some of the prospective voters over the high amount of money charged them to collect their PVCs by the officials. According to an eyewitness, who simply identified himself as Desmond, “we came here at Nwaorieubi, and noticed that the condition to collect the PVCs is that you will pay N500 and those with the money were told to queue on line. We were patiently standing on the line waiting for our time to collect the card”.
Trouble however started when a young man who claimed to have come from Port Harcourt told them to help him with his PVC, the officials were said to have told him to drop something higher. “Instantly, the guy gave them N3,000 and they abandoned those of us who were in the line to attend to the guy and gave him his own PVC instantly. This led to a friction and a boy switching off their generator causing them to abandon their work that day. This is too bad for our people here because many poor people don’t even want to come near to the area because they see any reason they should pay for a card they don’t derive benefit from”. Also, in Obazu Mbieri and Obakuru Mbieri wards in Mbaitoli LGA as well as Emeabiam in Owerri West LGA, prospective voters were made to part with the sum of N200 and N1000 respectively, though secretly.
According to investigations by The UNION, the style the INEC officials use is that when they look at somebody that can pay or somebody from a far distance, they tell the person that his turn to collect the PVC is in three days time, knowing that many people would not want to return back for it and are likely to pay for it. With this, those who have money are compelled to pay between N2000 and above. Also in a case where the prospective voter does not have his temporary voter card, he is made to pay even more. One of the aggrieved prospective voters from Alaeze Ogwa community in Mbaitoli LGA, Ubanze Chima expressed his feelings thus: “They are simply hoarding the cards but when you bring money, they will fish out your own. They should just make the thing open so that we become aware that we should pay before we collect”
He added “Since they extended the date for the election, I have not seen them in any voting booth or ward distributing the cards, rather they seem to have also postponed the distribution of the cards.
The REC should direct his men to go back to town and start distributing the cards once again before any complaints arise again”. Ubanze described the INEC’s actions as a threat to poor masses who would now go and hide forever without collecting.
Calling on the Hot FM phone-in programme weekend, Mr. Nokky Ebikam from Obazu Mbieri “In my own polling booth a woman was actually requesting for the N200 from people. When she saw me, she started doing as if she was joking. What I am saying is that INEC should treat us the way they treated those from the North whose traditional rulers and village heads were given the cards to share among their people. INEC should order their staff to go back to the polling units to start giving out the PVCs”, he state.
Another caller who called into the radio programme, Dr. Oben Obichere from Owerri North opined that the issue of the PVC was a critical issue in Owerri North. “It’s amazing that people are saying that they have paid to collect. In Owerri North, INEC seems to have no answer for the where about of Owerri North PVC. For those of us who registered in 2011, out of 12 wards in Owerri North, we have been able to get PVCs for three wards—Amakohia, Akwakuma andEgbu/Ihitte Ogada wards. “You can imagine INEC assuring Nigerians that they were ready to conduct elections within the next 24 hours. You can imagine the number of Nigerians that would have been disenfranchised if INEC had gone ahead to conduct this election on 14th February.
Even as I talk to you, there is no answer to the Owerri North PVC. Owerri North is not alone in this saga. INEC is completely confused and they look to me like a people that has different agenda altogether. You can imagine a war-torn Borno State has got up to 80 percent of the PVCs and more than a place like Lagos. To me Jega has a different agenda”, he fumed adding “since this postponement, you don’t see any INEC official in any polling booth”.For Mr. Michael Duru from Umunam Atta community whose community is yet to get the PVCs, INEC should allow those without the permanent Voters Cards to vote with their temporary voters cards since it was obvious that the commission was not ready to give out the PVCs to the people of the community.
Reacting to some of the complaints, the Public Relations Officer of the INEC in Imo State, Mrs. Ben Okpara, said the commission could only act if it gets the complaint from the members of the public concerned. “As I’m talking to you now, I am in the office now. I am not in the field to know what is happening there.
So, my brother, do us favour by getting us the names of the people collecting money before issuing the cards. Get us the name of the polling units and the person from whom they collected the money. Through this way, we will be able to track down these people you mentioned. “But I can tell you that INEC is not collecting money to issue any PVC. It is not the practice here because the issuance of the PVC is free of charge”, Okpara said. However, speaking with our reporter, the INEC official whose identity could not be ascertained at the Owerri Municipal Council explained that they were not charging people but to make up for the logistics
According to him, “It’s not as if we are charging them to collect their PVCs, but it’s only those who don’t have the TVCs that we charge a little amount for inconveniences such as the photocopying of the forms and the gums we use here. As you can see, it is not adequate for everybody that wants the PVC.”