Ongoing investigation into alleged proliferation of Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) in the country is apparently paying off as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has traced the election materials to homes of some persons, including politicians.
This is the result of sting operations by security operatives following reports alleging discovery of stacks of printed PVCs buried in the ground and drainages, with some even dumped in bushes across the country.
The development has sparked fresh concerns among Nigerians about alleged plot to rig the 2023 general election.
In the last couple of months, there had been trending videos on social media showing the discovery of thousands of PVCs hidden in underground locations or dumped in dustbins and the streets.
In a bid to calm frayed nerves, INEC which recently confirmed the development said it had reported the incidents of PVCs proliferation to the Nigeria Police and other security agencies for investigation and further action.
The commission also assured that the outcome of the investigation would also be made public once concluded.
Making real the vow by the electoral body to track the culprits and bring them to book, a magistrate court sitting in Sokoto has sentenced one Nasiru Idris who was found to be in possession of 101 PVCs to a year of imprisonment.
Similarly, the Police in Kano State has arrested a man who was found to be in possession of 367 PVCs.
The suspect has been charged to court and the commission is pursuing his prosecution.
Confirming the development, INEC’s national commissioner and chairman of the Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, said yesterday that the offence is in contravention of Sections 117 and 145 of the Electoral Act 2022.
In the last couple of weeks, he said the Nigeria Police have arrested some individuals found to be in illegal possession of voters’ cards in some states of the federation.
In a statement made available to LEADERSHIP, Okoye said, “In one case, the Police concluded the investigation and handed over the case file to the commission resulting in the successful prosecution of one Nasiru Idris at a Magistrate Court in Sokoto who was found to be in possession of 101 PVCs in contravention of Sections 117 and 145 of the Electoral Act 2002. He has been sentenced to a year in prison.
“The man who was found to be in possession of 367 PVCs had been charged to court and the commission is pursuing his prosecution, assured of the commission’s commitment to continue to pursue all violators of the Electoral Act and ensure their diligent prosecution.”
In July this year, thousands of PVCs loaded in sacks were said to be discovered inside a drainage system in Rumuodara axis of Obio-Akpor local government area of the Rivets State.
Residents of Apa-Ogwu Estate in Rumuodara community were shocked at the discovery of about 10,000 of Permanent Voters Cards, (PVCs) abandoned in a drainage.
The abandoned PVCs which were discovered while the residents were clearing the debris from the drainage were stuffed in sacks and abandoned under culvert inside the drainage.
Barely three weeks after the over 10,000 PVCs were found in a drainage in Rivers State, another 300 stashed in a bag were discovered by hunters inside an uncompleted building along the AIT/Elebele road in Yenogoa, Bayelsa State.
Also in Imo State, PVCs were found buried underground in some locations, including the compound of a high-profile person.
In a viral video, residents were seen gathered around several PVCs said to have been dug out of the ground in Imo State. “These are people’s original PVCs hidden underground to stop them from voting,” a voice in the video said.
Meanwhile, following the end of the statutory period for the display of the register of voters for claims and objections, Okoye stressed INEC’s readiness to make the collection of PVCs as seamless as possible.
To this effect, he said a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) has been developed.
“This will be among the issues to be discussed and finalised at a retreat holding in Lagos from November 28 to December 2, 2022, involving all the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) from the 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
“At the end of the retreat, the Commission will release the dates as well as the detailed procedure for the immediate collection of PVCs nationwide.
“The commission appreciates the patience and understanding of Nigerians, especially those who registered as voters or applied for transfer/replacement of their cards from January to July 2022,” he said.
In making the cards available for collection, he said the commission is also working to ensure that the process is hitch-free.
Nigerians Express Concern, Ask INEC To Reveal Source Of Unexplained PVCs
Meanwhile, reactions have trailed reports of proliferation of PVCs, with some Nigerians calling on INEC to explain the source of PVCs found in the hands of individuals to instil confidence of Nigerians in the electoral process.
A member of the House of Representatives, Hon Mark Gbilah, said Nigerians should be concerned about the integrity of INEC machines that will be deployed for the elections, as well as the general preparedness of the commission.
Speaking with our correspondent last night, the lawmaker who represents Gwer East/Gwer West federal constituency of Benue State in the Green Chamber, noted that if INEC does not have explanation for the anomaly, the commission should prompt relevant security agencies to commence an immediate investigation to unravel the mystery.
“INEC must explain to Nigerians how individuals manage to secure these hundreds of voter cards because they continue to play the Ostrich, which is not right. If INEC cannot explain it, the commission should invite relevant security agencies to carry out a full investigation,” he said.
The lawmaker also alleged that some politicians, particularly in Benue State have been going around collecting voter cards from eligible voters with the intention to corrupt the cards and prevent the BVAS machine from recognising such cards.
“We have also been informed that some politicians are collecting PVCs numbers from eligible voters with the sole aim of corrupting the numbers so that the BVAS will not recognise the cards.
“INEC should begin to enlighten eligible voters not to allow anyone collect their voter cards to the serial number of their cards,” he added.
Gbilah had in July moved a motion urging the House to investigate INEC process of voter’s registration including alleged constraints on timely procurement/production of voter’s cards.
Similarly, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has called on INEC to remain resolute in its determination to use the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), saying with the device the cards will be useless in the hands of multiple card holders.
CDD said INEC is on the right path by insisting on the use of modern technology for the 2023 elections and also discarding the use of incident forms.
A senior CDD programme officer, Austin Aigbe, while speaking with LEADERSHIP yesterday in Abuja, said with BVAS it will be very difficult for anybody to use such cards except it their own.
“INEC should put its BVAS machine to use. INEC must not go back to its archaic method of manual voting. In North West for instance there are reported cases where PVCs are forcefully collected from voters,” he said.
In such cases, he said such thugs threaten residents and collect their PVCs.
He added: “So, this implies that they didn’t collect these PVCs from INEC, however, if they are collecting them from INEC it will disenfranchise many Nigerians. This will lead to cases where people will go to INEC offices to collect their PVCs they won’t access their PVCs for collection.
“This issue stresses the fact that INEC must maintain its stands and ensure that they use BVAS during the 2023 election.
“They should insist on accreditation before voting. Sadly, these persons can only reduce the votes of eligible voters because they won’t find their cards.”
He urged Nigerians to report anybody found with multiple PVCs.
“Nigerians should continue to blow the whistle of people found with multiple PVCs.
“I also think they feel we are still in 2019 where if you fail electronic accreditation you will use the incident form to vote and in certain areas, you will see people voting en masse it won’t work this time,” he added.
Also, Nigerian representative of African Students Union Parliament (ASUP) Comrade James Uneze, however said the parliament has expressed confidence in the chairman of INEC and the Commission for its readiness to conduct a free, fair and credible election.
Uneze urged INEC to strengthen security in its offices nationwide.
He said that those with multiple PVCs should be aware that it won’t earn them any results as INEC would conduct the 2023 general election with BVAS in which every electorate must be identified with fingerprint.
He added that BVAS will help in minimizing electoral fraud.