By Eneh K. Achadu
This is a specific experience in a local government area under the FCT. How far it can be generalized is open to question but my experience is a tale for the books. Waking up as early as 5 am wasn’t the craziest part of it but still landing on a list as the 200th person to be attended to for the day on arrival at the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) office, a stone throw from my house. That’s how herculean a task for the average Nigerian in order to obtain their voter’s card. The process of acquisition of the voter’s card is a disaster and a slap on the face of democracy. Citizens have been extorted, insulted, humiliated and manhandled in the process. It is tempting to believe that Nigeria has been designed to make life hard for its citizens and that the citizens require a medal of honor as compensation for the series of hardship they experience over such things that others take for granted elsewhere. And this goes on here and there daily.
One started by finding out that, usually, only about 50 people or a little more are captured daily. However, the number usually reached over 800 people before 10 am when it is suddenly survival of the fittest, smartest or the craziest. To start with, the INEC office had only two functional machines and the officials did not show up until about 10 am by which time people have been on the queue for almost five hours. The authority and disrespect for people they manifested was appalling aside from how they broke the law and the rules with so much impunity. Citizens were, in some cases, required to bribe or have a personal relationship with the officials or even the security personnel in order to be attended to. I had to stand on a very long queue for hours, and the official did exactly as she pleased. She kept changing the same instructions she was issuing and any opposition from the queue attracted a punishment. She would stop calling the names each time someone pissed her off. She would disappear for a long time, leaving hundreds of people in line and under the sun.
My experience was shattering enough to make me wonder what gave the celebrities and social media influencers the confidence to collaborate with several brands to promote the need to register and vote. It seems paid celebrities and influencers hardly understand the hardship ordinary people faced and still face. After all, there are only a few functional machines where I found myself contrary to the surplus of functional machines we were told or heard to be existing in other places. Citizens were being begged to come out for capturing.
More than the number of machines were lots of employees who didn’t get permission to be absent from work to enable their details to be captured for the voter’s card. The process is one that requires multiple trials and as such absence from work at different times would definitely not have been tolerated especially by private businesses and organizations. Meanwhile, influential individuals enjoyed the luxury of being captured in their homes but government workers didn’t get the same treatment. During one’s service year, some corpers claimed that INEC officials were stationed in residential areas and estates urging residents to come out and be captured. That treatment could have been extended to citizens from rural areas in Abuja.
Eligible voters have been unnecessarily put in confusion over the collection of their permanent voter’s card just few days to the election. There are voters lamenting online about how INEC officials have directed them to different locations for collection and their efforts have proved abortive. Some potential voters have alleged being told that only voters who registered recently will be attended to. And then a few days to the election, about three INEC offices and centers have been mysteriously razzed by fire and election materials as well as thousands of uncollected permanent voter’s cards have been destroyed.
The sneaky feeling is clear that the Nigerian system has been designed to frustrate and demean its citizens, set obstacles that dampens everyone else’s as well as break their zeal for a new Nigeria. As we continue to live in a nation that threatens our sanity, undermines our rights and do so with so much impunity, we must realize that change must take place and we strive for it.
I have a question. Why should the acquisition of the voter’s card be done once in every 4 years? Why isn’t this an activity that citizens can undertake at least a year or two before the election or why could it not be yearly, so that by the end of 4 years, everyone would have registered and acquired his or her voter’s card? This reduces the burden and averts the chaotic situation people experience. Wouldn’t a lot more citizens be willing to participate if the process for acquisition is less stressful?