Saturday, January 10, 2015

Disenfranchising us by Permanent Voters Card

By Olu Akanmu

Only INEC believes itself that 38 million Nigerians have collected their Permanent Voters card. The reality is different on the ground. A visit to many local government offices of INEC where there are piles of uncollected voters card in their little white boxes, yet with hoards of Nigerians trooping to the INEC offices to find their cards without success, suggest that INEC, if we are not careful may be about to mess up this critical election. And even if the INEC numbers are true, the fact that 16 million registered voters according to INEC, are yet to have the permanent voters card on their hands, just nearly a month to the elections makes it imperative to cry out, that this rule to use the Permanent Voters card for this election will mar the integrity of the electoral process.

The coming Presidential election is largely between two candidates, largely a vote to choose between continuation of the status quo and change. The expression of the true democratic aspiration of the people is critical to the path the nation takes at this momentous cross-road in our history.  16 million disenfranchised voters can change massively the total vote count, decide who gets the absolute majority and determine who will be our next President. Even a million votes of Nigerians counted can swing the Presidential vote in a potentially close-call election. It is therefore worrisome that INEC can be subtly thumping its chest by giving the impression that it has scored a pass mark of 70% because seventy percent of voters have collected their permanent voters card (PVC). INEC needs to be told very clearly that in a potentially close call election, every vote will be critical as even a few hundred votes may end up determining who will be our next President. 70% cannot be a pass mark for PVC collection for INEC.  The pass mark should not be less than 98%.  Anything short of this can potentially make INEC to bungle the credibility of the Presidential elections, its acceptance by the people and the peace and tranquility that should follow what should be a credible presidential elections.

I have been to my local INEC office in Lagos three times without success in collecting my PVC despite having voted in the last two Presidential elections. My name is definitely on the Voters register. I have confirmed by sending my details to the official INEC short code 20120. How come then my permanent voter’s card could not be located? There are many like me who keep coming back to same INEC office. Feedback around the country suggests that this experience is typical of millions of Nigerians. Even the official INEC figure confirms that there are 16 million of us who could be potentially disenfranchised because of the PVC.

We should doubt the claim of the INEC Chairman that 38 million Nigerians have collected their cards. What is the basis? A cursory observation of the card issuance and stock keeping process in my local INEC office does not suggest that there is a professional inventory management and stock-keeping system in place in the INEC local offices. With the ways in which rolls and rolls of boxes are piled on each other, opened, closed without any form of entry for card issued, there is no way the officials of INEC in my local government in Lagos can thump their chest and assert that they know accurately how many cards are collected and how many cards are left in their stores. Essentially, INEC seem to have a basic management problem where there is no organized inventory and stock keeping system in its local offices. So how did the INEC Chairman get his figures? Is it based on disbursement to INEC offices or actual card collections?

Integrity is not enough as a success factor in INEC. Management competence is also very critical. We need to worry about a critical public service organization that seems not to be capable of simple and basic inventory management system. Those in business know that the moment your store-keeper cannot account for his inventory, he either has integrity issues or he is managerially incompetent. Whichever way, he is not the kind of store-keeper that you need in your business. We need to be worried about the management competence of INEC. It clearly does not understand how to design a distribution channel that is attuned to the needs and behavior of its customers. Otherwise, how come anyone will expect that in this busy Nigeria, where millions are struggling to survive and running around in pursuit of their daily bread, that three days will be enough to distribute the PVCs in their polling wards? It must have assumed that only a marginal percentage will need to go to the now centralized local government INEC offices to collect their cards. This has not been so. INEC clearly does not understand its market and its customers and have designed a very inefficient PVC distribution system.

In the elections of 2011, INEC betrayed management incompetence in project and logistics management where elections materials could not arrive at most parts of the country on election day. Elections had to be postponed by a week. We need to worry loudly now about the way the PVC collection exercise is going before the credibility of the elections are bungled. It is cheering news that the citizens of Plateau state led by General Domkat Bali, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, the Attorney General of Plateau State and the Gbong Gwom of Jos have gone to court to challenge INEC on the use of the PVC for the coming elections. That the PVC will disenfranchise the people of Plateau state from fully exercising their democratic right to vote. We need more people and communities to sue INEC in our courts before it disenfranchises millions of our citizens and bungles the Presidential elections.

If 98% of Nigerians cannot collect their Permanent Voters card by two weeks to the Presidential elections, INEC must allow the use of the temporary voter’s card for voting.  The credibility of the last Presidential elections was not in doubt despite the use of temporary voter’s card. Why then this insistence on the PVC if rather than add value, it will affect the credibility and acceptance of the Presidential elections. INEC must not be allowed to disenfranchise 16 million Nigerians by its troublesome permanent voter’s card. INEC needs to reverse itself now on the PVC before it is too late. Jega must not be allowed to use the plea of good intentions to explain away the serious managerial incompetence of INEC. The credibility and acceptance of this critical election must not be put at risk. Every vote must count and every citizen must be allowed to make her vote count at this momentous period in our history.

Olu Akanmu publishes a blog on Strategy and Public Policy on