Nigerians have been collecting Permanent Voter Cards on behalf of others contrary to the guidelines set by the Independent National Electoral Commission as adhoc workers have turned the process into a money-spinner, Saturday PUNCH investigations have revealed.
Findings by our correspondents show that some INEC ad-hoc workers at various collection centres have been acting against one of the commission’s lay down rules, which forbid the collection of PVCs by proxy.
In some cases, voters allegedly bribed INEC ad-hoc workers to collect the PVCs on behalf of their brothers, sisters or friends.
Ideally, PVCs should be collected personally by the owners who are also expected to sign their signatures, thumbprint and tender their Temporary Voter Cards or passport photograph.
However, when a resident of Egbeda area of Lagos, Mrs. Chinwe Onwudiwe, got her PVC from a collection centre around the neighbourhood, she also collected for two friends. Onwudiwe said she gave N1, 000 to the ad-hoc staff on duty at the collection centre after she was told that that was the only way she could collect the document on behalf of her friends.
She said, “After I collected my PVC, I asked the official there if I could collect for others and she said I would have to “see” her. I knew she meant I would need to give her some money. She gave me the PVCs of my two friends and I gave her N1, 000 and their passport photographs. I also signed and thumbprinted for the two of them.”
Another voter at Egbeda, whose husband is abroad at the moment, Mrs. Funke Olubunmi, said she had already collected his PVC ahead of his return.
Olubunmi said a stranger, who described himself as a youth leader in the area, went from house to house, distributing PVCs. She said the young man knocked on her door and offered to issue her husband’s PVC to her.
She said, “I didn’t know the man but he said he knew my husband in the area. He had a bundle of PVCs in his hand and demanded for my husband’s passport photograph before giving me his PVC. Initially, I could not find a passport photograph of my husband in the house and the man refused to give me the PVC.
“He insisted I find a passport photograph belonging to my husband and only released the PVC after I found one. I gave him N500 for his trouble, although he didn’t ask for money. He only told me that he was a youth leader assisting the people to collect their PVCs.”
A trader in Oyo State, Mrs. Lolade Adeyemo, said a member of her church in Ibadan, the state capital, collected PVCs by proxy for many members of their congregation, using her position as an officer in the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.
Adeyemo said all the church members who were assisted by the NSCDC officer had registered at Akinyele Local Government Area and only had to give her their TVCs without having to sign or thumbprint.
She said, “We did not have to do anything except give her our TVCs; she brought all our PVCs to us.”
One of the INEC ad-hoc workers at the Oredo electoral office on Ekehuan Road, Benin, Edo State, who confided in one of our correspondents, said collection could be done by proxy based on mutual understanding.
He said, “Ideally, we are not allowed to issue the cards to any other person other than the real owner, if you know someone in INEC who can help, then you might be allowed.
“People are no longer many here. So, one or two assistance could be rendered. But that is at your own risk and that of the INEC staff because it is impersonation. Besides, any staff caught in the act will be dismissed.”
Investigations by Saturday PUNCH revealed that people now collect their PVCs by proxy in Ekiti State, too.
However, it could not be confirmed if financial favours are demanded in return. Officials of INEC approached by one of our correspondents at a ward in the state confirmed the development.
The official said, “We will give you an affidavit to fill with your photograph attached. With this, you can get for your brother.”
Another official, who painted a slightly different picture, said, “We will need his Temporary Voter Card. It is with this you can get his PVC for him.”
In Oyo State, investigation revealed that there were attempts by aides of top political figures to forcibly collect PVCs on behalf of the people. This practice is rampant in the rural areas where security is loose.
Saturday PUNCH gathered that in one of the wards in Ido council area of Ibadan, an aide to a politician who is contesting election to the House of Assembly in the state almost beat up an INEC official because she refused to hand over PVCs to him. A resident of the area, who was also present at the ward to collect her PVC, said that political thugs were also hired to threaten INEC officials.
“We know him as Ajape but I don’t know his full name. We were on the queue when he broke into the venue and demanded for the cards of his sister and brother who were not around. He told the officer that the two had gone to the city and might not be back so soon.
“The official told Ajape that it was impossible even though the two PVCs were ready. A scene was created when he threatened to beat up the lady but a policeman attached to the council told him to leave immediately.”
At one of the INEC offices in Ibadan, a member of staff who did not want to be named said that politicians had offered up to N2, 500 for a card.
“I work at one of the distribution centres and what we hear daily is terrible. Some people came one day and said that a politician wanted them to get the PVCs of his supporters. They said they had the words of those people to do so.
“I told them it was against our guidelines but they offered to give N2, 500 for each of the cards. I asked them how many cards they were looking for and they brought a list of about 15 names. I asked them how sure they were that the cards were ready. But they said their principal gave them the names and that he could not be lying. I rejected the offer but they said if I did not give them, someone else would do.”
The Peoples Democratic Party Publicity Secretary in Kwara State, Chief Rex Olawoye, also alleged that some prominent members of the APC had been collecting the PVCs in large numbers from INEC officials in the local government areas of the state.
He told Saturday PUNCH earlier in the week in Ilorin that such practice was illegal and unacceptable to the PDP.
Olawoye said, “There is an allegation that APC has been putting pressure on INEC to release the PVCs to it. That happened in quite a number of local governments. So, we believe that is not the right way to do it.
“APC collected the PVCs and distributed them among their supporters not minding whether they bear the names on the PVCs or not.”
But his All Progressives Congress counterpart, Alhaji Sulyman Buhari, said Olawoye’s allegation was baseless, adding that with the INEC guidelines on the collection of PVCs, it would not be possible for anybody to collect the cards in large quantity. He said that the APC’s leadership did not collect PVCs for members as alleged by Olawoye.
Buhari said, “PDP does not know what it is saying because everybody knows the procedure. The guidelines for the collection of PVC are there. It is not possible for anybody to go to the collection centre and collect it in large quantity. You must return the old one after collecting the new one.
“Olawoye is just making false allegation. It is not possible for INEC to issue PVCs to any political party in such large numbers.”
Saturday PUNCH investigation also revealed that the same practice is taking place in Borno State.
Though no financial inducement could be established as of the time of filing this report, it was learnt that those doing this assist the officials deployed by INEC to their areas to sort and distribute the cards and in the process collect for their “friends.”
In other situation, they collect by proxy at IDPs camps for those they claim are still at the captured local governments, Saturday PUNCH found out.
Meanwhile, a document titled: “Guidelines for Permanent Voter Card Distribution 2014” on INEC’s website and signed by its Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, said, “A person is eligible to collect PVC if he/she has registered before; is in the register of voters displayed; has a TVC; has lost his/her TVC but his/her identity can be confirmed; and is physically present at the collection centre.”
Section 3.0 of the document further stressed that “There shall be no collection of PVC by proxy.”
In a telephone conversation with one of our correspondents, the commission’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Kayode Idowu, said the rules concerning the collection of PVCs had not changed.
He said, “It’s absolutely wrong to collect PVC by proxy because we don’t allow collection by proxy. This is because the cards may end up in the wrong hands and it may also deny eligible voters the opportunity to vote if their PVCs are not delivered to them.”
Idowu asked one of our correspondents to report locations where INEC officials or ad-hoc staff issued PVCs by proxy, threatening that “they will be sacked.”
“No proxy collection is allowed; if the husband or wife is not around, it should wait till he or she comes back,” he added.
Similarly, INEC Public Relations Officer in Ekiti, Alhaji Taiwo Gbadegesin, said, INEC would investigate the development and any official caught distributing PVCs by proxy would face disciplinary action.
speaking in the same vein, the Assistant Director, INEC, Alhaji Mohammad Shittu, during a stakeholders meeting on election organised by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in collaboration with the Jos Peace Dialogue Forum, explained that anybody, no matter how highly placed, should go and collect the PVC personally as the commission would not release the PVC to any person other than their rightful owner.
He said that though the commission could not rule out such practices by some of its workers, INEC would not hesitate to hand over to law enforcement agencies any of its workers found to have flouted the rule.
Shittu said, “There was the case of a traditional ruler, who said that he sent his driver to our office to collect his PVC and the driver was turned down. We told him that nobody was allowed to collect the PVC on behalf of another person.”
Meanwhile, INEC officials have complained about many uncollected PVCs lying around at collection points across the country.
For instance, they said there was a low turnout of registered voters at some centres in Kwara State for the collection of PVCs.
Some INEC officials at collection centres who pleaded anonymity because they were not authorised to speak with journalists, said the turnout of registered voters in Kwara had not been impressive over the past two weeks since they started distribution at the new centres.
Investigations by Saturday PUNCH revealed that many PVCs have yet to be collected by their owners in Ogun State also.
At Ward 10, Oke Ago Owu, Abeokuta, the PVC distribution centre was in front of the Abeokuta North Local Government Primary School.
The INEC official, Abiodun Karounwi, said there were many PVCs yet to be collected by their owners.
She said, “I have close to 300 PVCs that the owners have not collected. I learnt some of them had relocated, while some were just passing by this area in 2011 and they just stopped by and registered.”
“There are thousands of PVCs lying idle at our offices yet to be collected,” the state resident electoral commissioner of INEC, Chief Timothy Ibitoye, added.
The INEC Administrative Secretary in Delta State, Mr. Nathan Owhor, also said that about 700,000 PVCs have yet to be collected in Delta State out of the 1.9 million cards made for the state.[Punch]