On Tuesday, an ecumenical organization expressed concern about the apparent intentional denial of access to voters to acquire their Permanent Voters Cards, PVCs, based on triball or political reasons.
According to the group, such intentional behavior is a sign that those who registered for the exercise were intended to be disenfranchised.
In a press conference with journalists in Abuja, the group “Community Life Project/ReclaimNaija,” working with religious authorities, noted that there are numerous shortcomings in the general election’s preparations. They urged the Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC, to make an effort “to get it right at the various stages and processes from pre-election to Election Day.”
It also gave INEC advice on how to calm the growing concern that many of the more than six million voters who do not have PVCs will lose their right to vote.
The warning was raised less than 24 hours after the electoral umpire expressed fresh concerns that there are strong threats to cancel and postpone the upcoming general elections if security problems in various parts of the country do not get better.
The President of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, Rev. Israel Akanji, noted an avalanche of stories of frustration from many Nigerians about the long process building up to the exercise in a prepared text read at the interfaith conference in Abuja.
The All African Baptist Fellowship’s President, Dr. Akanji, expressed with concern that“there are still stories reflecting the old politics of PVC distribution where in some state and LG offices it is said that people are deliberately denied access to their PVCs based on ethnic or partisan considerations, which indicate manipulations to disenfranchise citizens.”
He said, INEC’s reported clean-bill process notwithstanding, “in some places, citizens have had to make several visits or wait for long hours before collecting their PVC. Many new registrants or those who transferred to new polling units are being told to return in mid-January.
Rev Akanji, joined by Rev. Ini Ukpuho, Chairman, Christian Council of Nigeria, North Central Zone, Gidado Muhammad Yolde, representing a Community-based organisation in Adamawa state and Zainab Abdurasheed, Programme Officer, Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) urged INEC to improve on the observed lapses and “urgently consider extending the deadline for PVC collection at the ward level beyond the January 15 deadline.”
Akanji who was also joined by Rev (Mrs) Uzoaku Williams, Assistant General Secretary, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) further expressed concern over the heightened insecurity in the land.
Decrying the development, he lamented that violence and civil strife have continued unabatedly and seem to have spiked in the lead-up to the 2023 general elections.
According to him, “The spread of these acts of violence to other parts of the country has added to the tension as regards the elections,” adding “the implications of these unfortunate acts of violence are grave for our country.”
He also called on religious as well as opinion leaders to use their amplified voices to push for issues that are important and relevant to the overall well-being of the country, saying “this period affords them the opportunity to inform the people of the importance of responsibly exercising their civic duties. They must lend their voices to the cause of getting citizens to collect their PVC and vote peacefully and participate in all aspects of our civic life with a true patriotic spirit.
“We except that they would use their enormous influence over their followers to encourage participation in the electoral process while admonishing them to shun all forms of violence.
“We must remind ourselves that we have a moral obligation to protect poor and vulnerable citizens, especially people at the grassroots and in our rural communities. We should not look the other way as the poverty and ignorance of our vulnerable population are being exploited by unscrupulous forces who are buying their PVC and votes.
“The onus is on us to rigorously educate our faith communities on the adverse consequences of selling their PVCs and their votes. We should have the courage to call on all politicians and those vying for public office to act ethically and play to the rules.”
Continuing, the cleric said” We also expect that hateful and divisive rhetoric which sometimes finds its way to the pulpit will be a thing of the past. Our land needs healing and cleansing. Hateful speeches and fiery rhetorics are poisons that destabilise the nation. Much more is expected of the people of faith.”
Also in his remarks, Ach Bishop John Praise urged Nigerians to ensure that only persons with impeccable character emerge victorious to lead the citizens and move the country forward.
He appealed to INEC to ensure that their logistics are in order so that the electorate will not be frustrated and leave the polling units.
Rev. Ukpuho said that the forthcoming elections can make or mar the country, advising that Nigerians should be cautious and ensure that voting of candidates should not be based on religion or ethnicity rather on competence and character.
“If we don’t vote people of impeccable character, the election will be an exercise in futility.”