THE rigvoters 3 (600 x 396)ht to vote is one of the fundamental human rights recognized globally, and is undoubtedly one of the most important. Apart from several other reasons, it seems only appropriate for an individual to partake in a process that will produce a group of people who will run the government in a democratic society.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly of 1948 posits that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government: this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot or by equivalent free voting procedures.
In a country like Nigeria whose nascent democracy stands with utmost fragility on a precipice, and whose leaders (obviously yet to recover from the impunity of military rule) exhibit autocratic tendencies, one of the critical ways that individuals can influence government decision-making is through voting.
The right to vote which is otherwise known as Suffrage or Franchise, is an integral component of democracy as it ensures participatory government through transparent and open elections as provided in Article 21 of the UDHR and the Nigerian constitution.
As we approach February 14, the date set aside for general elections in Nigeria, there are certain events in the polity which may have already disenfranchised many Nigerians over a month to the elections, and which threatens the credibility of the elections if not addressed by the Attahiru Jega-led Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Chief of these threats is the alleged ineffectiveness of distribution of Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVC), the document that confers voting eligibility on Nigerians, and which many could not get. The situation makes it statutorily impossible for such Nigerians to vote despite having attained the minimum age requirement of 18years, have registered, and obtained a temporary voter’s card.
In the Punch of Wednesday 7th of January 2015, the Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC), Adeyinka Jeje, reportedly appealed to INEC not to disenfranchise eligible voters for lack of permanent voter cards.
Jeje asked INEC to review its insistence on the permanent voter cards as the criterion to vote and allow those with the temporary voter cards to vote.
According to him, “ INEC should not allow itself to be an instrument in subverting itself in the process of free, fair, and credible election.
“It should allow, without any controversy, the use of Temporary Voter Cards during the 2015 election, or else it might open itself to litany of litigations which I hope may not add to frustrating credible 2015 General Elections in Nigeria… if INEC is not called to order, it would embark on unconstitutional disenfranchisement of eligible voters.”
In a similar vein, there seems to be nationwide apprehension over the possibility of conducting elections in the North-East considering the heightened security challenges in the zone. The thought of setting up polling booths with innocent electorates queued up to exercise their constitutional right in a state like Borno is heart-wrenching.
According to the federal electoral body, there are over 8million eligible voters in the North-East, about 16% of the 54million voters registered nationwide. Many wonder if such North-eastern electorates can vote freely in the face of the dreaded Boko Haram sect and its inhuman activities.
Many Nigerians who spoke to Weekend Observer correspondents in Lagos and Benin expressed fears that the February 2015 General Elections may yet go the same way of previous elections in the country, marred by irregularities and electoral malpractices. They point to such unfolding events as signs that the election results may not enjoy general acceptance.
According to Clement Okhira, a Telecommunications engineer and social commentator based in Lagos, “the whole world is watching and we must be careful not to fall short of expectation. Apart from the fact that disenfranchisement is a denial of fundamental human rights, whatever results we get from the elections, it will not be a true reflection of the people’s will if these issues are not addressed,” he said.
Speaking further, he said, “added to the known issues that characterized previous elections, this time, we might have a more troubling situation where a lot of qualified Nigerians will be disenfranchised. The situation in the North-East is worrisome. I don’t see how our seemingly clueless security forces will be able to guarantee the safety of Nigerians at polling booths.”
For Dr. John Abhuere, a scholar and well-respected public affairs analyst, the year 2015, is one of miracles and silent revolution.
“The 2015 presidential election is not a North-South duel as we knew it before but some quasi-ideological struggle with in the cultural and religious boundaries” he enthuses.
Unfortunately, millions of Nigerians may not note if INEC insists on the use of PVCs only. It will leave many Nigerians disenfranchised. And the democratic revolution as envisioned by Abhuere may be imperiled.
Benin-based public relations practitioner, Amen Osifo like millions of other Nigerians is angry and very bitter that he was unable to collect his PVC during the distribution exercise.
“I made serious efforts to collect my PVC but it was nowhere to be found”.
“What this translates to is that I will not be able to exercise my franchise. I am pained and this is very disappointing.” He told Weekend Observer.
“I don’t think INEC is prepared for this election. If it had problem with mere distribution of voter’s cards wonder how it would be able to conduct a free and fair election.” Moses Idemudia, a Businessman rang out in anger when Weekend Observer cornered him.
“And for Richard Imoisili “I doubt if INEC knows the implication of starving millions of Nigerians PVCs. We are talking about change. How will it come when millions cannot vote. We are not talking in terms of thousands, but millions. I must say I am afraid. “I feel incomplete because not having PVC is like not being a Nigerian as I will be disenfranchised when election comes up in February.
And for Senator Chris Ngige “what is happening, INEC is likely not to enforce the use of PVC. It is likely that if you have a temporary voter’s card, you may be allowed to vote alongside those with permanent PVC. “My advice to INEC is allow every voter with temporary voters’ card to vote. What the commission should focus on is the issue of multiple voting and registration.
That is the only way that will prevent most eligible voters from being disenfranchised.”
Tsav on his part said: “Before now, there were rumours that some parties were buying the PVC. INEC dismissed that, insisting that it was in control of the whole process. What we have seen now, shows that the commission has a lot to do regarding its readiness for the elections.
“Those who have called for the postponement of the exercise may not be totally wrong in view of what is happening. But if that should be done, who will be in charge of the country? Is it still going to be President Jonathan? All peace-loving Nigerians should do everything legally possible to ensure that INEC does not disenfranchise Nigerians.”
In his remarks, Junaid Muhammed said: “This is not the first time INEC will be messing up a national assignment and it is very unfortunate. The first PVC registration was a mess, they failed woefully when they made the second attempt and the third attempt ended in a fiasco. I feel they should be ashamed of themselves. INEC blamed power for their system failure”.
I feel strongly it is a very foolish excuse as we all know that power outage is not new in this country. The same set of people that has been leading INEC are still the same set of people there right now.
“They cannot conduct a free and fair elections because they will continue to fail woefully with this set of people at the helm of affairs in INEC.
INEC had four years to organize and prepare themselves for this elections, so they have no excuse to give Nigerians for their failure to conduct a free and fair elections. Calling for another six months extension for this election is not right. I think INEC should be disbanded for its failure to fully prepare for this elections.”
On his part, Opadokun also said: “the elections are here and it will be unfortunate if INEC refuses to do its job. If they refused to do it, who will do it for them; so we have to further engage the INEC and ensure the right thing is done ahead of the February general elections. The failure by INEC to ensure people get their PVCs will lead to another failure.”
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral commission, INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, has promised that every eligible Nigerian would be provided with his or her permanent voters’ card, PVC, before the general elections next month.
Jega was responding to a request by President Goodluck Jonathan for INEC to ensure that every Nigerian who registered to vote was provided with PVC to enable him or her vote in the elections.
Jonathan spoke while swearing in a new national INEC commissioner representing Oyo State, Prof. Akinola Murtala Salau, saying no Nigerian should be disenfranchised because of his/her inability to get the PVC.
The President said the level of interest shown by Nigerians from all walks of life in getting their PVC was an indication that confidence was being restored in the electoral process.
He said: “Nigerians are getting worried over whether INEC can actually conduct free and fair elections because of the (scarcity of the) PVC. Talking about the PVC, even some governors are yet to get their voters cards, of course that means that so many Nigerians are yet to get theirs and people are a bit worried.
“But to me I am quite pleased, not pleased in the negative sense, but because of the awareness that has come; that Nigerians want to have their voters cards.
“Before 2011, No Nigerian complained about voter’s cards and that is why when some politicians talk, I just laugh. Nobody cared.
“The chairman of INEC luckily is here. All Nigerians must get their voters cards. We cannot conduct an election where some people will not have the right to vote. People must decide who rules them at all levels not just about presidential elections, at the lowest level of elections conducted by INEC.
“All Nigerians must vote and INEC must do everything possible to make sure that all Nigerians have their voter’s card because we cannot have a situation where some Nigerians will not vote that day”.