BY AWO JAIRUS
Amid the advocacy for inclusive and widespread participation in the 2023 elections, officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Benue state are demanding payment from the electorate attempting to obtain their permanent voter cards (PVCs).
Although INEC’s guidelines on voter registration frown against the act, TheCable observed that there is a charge attached to voter registration in Oju LGA of Benue, a situation which discourages residents from undertaking the process.
Susan Abari, 25, is an indigene of Ebenta village. She travelled from Zaria in Kaduna state, where she is based, to enrol for her PVC, but rather than get it without a cost, she was asked to pay a fee of N300.
“This is my first time ever, I have not done PVC before and I was told by my people that to do PVC is free,” Abari told TheCable.
“When I got to the office, I met a crowd outside complaining. Amongst them were women, youths and even elderly men. A lot of them went back home. I found out later.
“I waited a few minutes until it was my turn. When I sat down, the first thing they did was ask me for money. I was surprised. I was not expecting it. Seeing that I was hesitant to respond, the enroller got angry and asked me to stand up and leave the seat.
“I couldn’t pay so I left.”
Unlike Abari who refused to pay, Samuel, 19, thought it necessary to cooperate and collect his PVC. Samuel said nothing will stop him from voting in the 2023 elections — even if he has to bribe INEC officials.
“At the time they sent people out of the room, I knew I had to pay,” he said. “Although we were told that it is supposed to be free. However, what is happening here is different and it looks like nobody is saying anything.
“I paid N300. According to what I heard, the N300 is for the data and for slip lamination.”
Like Samuel, Ode Ruth was willing to make the payment, but when she reached into her purse, she could only find N200.
“They were unwilling to collect. It was at that time I ran back home to borrow N100 to add,” Ruth said.
According to the INEC guidelines, fresh voter registration is free and can be done for anyone above 18 in the designated location approved by the electoral body.
However, an INEC official in Oju LGA, who identified himself as Mr Nelson, said the government is no longer providing funds for internet accessibility.
“Because we need to keep the office running, [and] we have a limited time frame to enrol people,” Nelson said.
“It is why we are collecting N300. But when we go to a community, it’s a different thing.”
VILLAGERS OPT OUT
Iyande Janet, a resident of Obugbehe, lost her voter card shortly after the 2019 elections and was hoping to remedy the situation before 2023.
Travelling from her community to the location of the enrollment cost Janet about N2,000, but she was determined to get it done — and subsequently help other affected women undertake the process.
“At the entrance, I saw a lot of people stranded. We all speak one language so I asked a few of them what the problem was, they told me they had come to get PVC and the money they are charging is too much for them,” she recounted.
“Inside the hall, I met a few people. When it was my turn, I entered. I was told that I could not proceed without paying money which they said was for data, and paper lamination.
“That was how I left even though I had spent more than that for transportation. As it is, no one is coming to register or go for a renewal.”
Matthew Eniya, a resident of Ukpute in Ainu Ette, said he boarded a bus with some women to register for PVC, but once they realised it would require payment, about ten of them returned home without enrolment.
N20K PER COMMUNITY
With several individuals unable to afford the fees, John Adekpe, a resident of Obugbehe, said he approached the officials to visit his community and accept a one-time payment to register willing residents.
“While I was there, I first met with Mr Lazarus, He told me it is possible to come to the community. He then whispered to my ear that going to my community will cost N20,000 a day,” Adekpe told TheCable.
“He said that once the N20,000 is paid, there would not be individual payments except the N100 for lamination.”
Adekpe was however unable to gather the required money to pay for his community — hence, they could not benefit from the ‘special treatment’.
But Eje Joel, a resident of Ekpong, successfully convinced members of his community to contribute N40,000 to have the INEC officials present for two days. “We have paid N40,000 already and we are ready to bring them again,” he said. “We want to upgrade and have more polling units.” LG ‘NOT AWARE’ OF INEC CHALLENGES
Clement Onaa, the chairman of Oju LGA, said the INEC officials operating in the local government have never complained of lacking the resources to carry out voter registration.
Onaa acknowledged the receipt of complaints from residents on the matter but noted that the officials have never been to his office to intimate him of their challenges.
“I have never received anybody from the INEC office since the commencement of the continuous voter registration to ask for the help of subvention,” he said.
“As [an] independent body that has been charged to carry out functions for the federal government, I think they should contact the local government if they need help for anything from the government.
“Also, it is defrauding… if they collect money from the enrollees or allow money to determine their services. This is barbaric, and as a local government, I will still make further research on it.”
Meanwhile, Achigili Samuel, the INEC training officer, Benue state, told TheCable that no official is permitted to collect money from applicants, adding that the commission takes care of their needs.free vector