At last, I have collected my permanent voter’s card (PVC). So, by INEC’s rules, I should be able to cast my vote next year, choosing between two sides of a coin.
Despite the availability of enough motivation to cause a scene at INEC’s Port Harcourt office, I managed to stay calm and finally received my now highly prized possession. Here’s a few lessons I learnt at the collection centre.
Firstly, inefficiency is officially a well-regarded virtue. I arrived at INEC’s office to meet a small crowd waiting outside the gate. Enquiries showed that they could not gain access because the officials in charge of their wards were not around (had not resumed for the day). Time check: 10:40am. Luckily, for me, the officials for my ward were around and so I gained access into the premises.
Entering the premises was the relatively easy part. Getting the cards was a different issue. The officials there were virtually dragging their feet and working in slow motion. One even told us that they were doing us a favour by issuing our PVCs to us, and advised us to be “patient”.
Looking at the pace of work, one wonders whether no person at the collection centre knew anything about proper sorting of items. If those cards were sorted, then they must have been “sorted to confuse”. Voters are supposedly divided by states, local government areas, wards and polling units. Librarians with thousands of books and other materials to oversee, still manage to locate any required item. Things should be located easily. However, this is Nigeria where people’s time does not matter. Where are we even rushing?
Secondly, the only corrupt person is the Nigerian president. After all, he is quoted to have once said, “Stealing is not corruption”. My guess is that he wanted to say, “Stealing is not the only form of corruption”. As someone there pointed out, INEC’s officials are stealing people’s time. That should also count as corruption.
I learnt a new phrase for extortion: “sign on my hand”. An official would locate a person’s PVC and refuse to issue it until the person “signs” or gives “lunch money”. INEC’s regulations say you have to be physically present at a collection centre in order to get your card. However, I discovered that money could represent you. For the right sum, PVCs were issued to third parties. Although, at least from what I saw, the officials still tried to enquire whether the third party knew the owner of the PVC. With money, all things are possible.
Thirdly, nobody at INEC seems to bother about the security of the PVCs. Personally, I easily gained access into a room containing PVCs while trying to locate the official in charge of my ward. Later, while standing behind the official barrier, I saw that different individuals entered rooms where PVCs were stored. Imagine an individual having the intention to steal PVCs. Once he gets into a storage room, it’s “Merry Christmas!”
While waiting for my card, I got into a discussion with someone I met there. We discussed the security of the cards. We feared for what would happen if a politician sponsored armed criminals to steal large numbers of PVCs. With the lax security, it will be a bonus season for the thieves. Politicians are reported to have bought and are still buying PVCs. So what’s to stop them from executing mass theft. I doubt that INEC has the resources to cancel the cards and issue new ones this close to the elections.
Fourthly, no matter the pressure, you always have the choice between right or wrong. One guy refused to give money to receive his card. Even when the official put his PVC in her bra, he did not budge. Whether it was because he had no money to give or not, the point is that he finally got his card without giving “lunch money”. Most other persons gave money in return for their cards. Maybe they felt they did not have more time to waste.
When it reached my turn, my “humble defiance” took a front seat. I told the lady that she should choose between returning my temporary card, or issuing the new PVC that she was being paid for. Why should I pay someone for doing his or her own job? Finally, another official issued my card to me. I lost some time, but I walked out of that premises with my head held high.
Finally, there is hope for Nigeria. I met a smart young man, Anietie Etim. Despite spending almost the whole of the previous day without any success at the collection centre, he still came there by 7am to get his card. Unluckily for him, as at 12 noon, the official in charge of his ward (Ward 5) had not yet resumed for the day.
While we spoke, it was obvious that he had hope that our country would get better. Pessimists would say that he’s crazy (I’m also crazy) but the belief is there, steadily guiding him. He was willing to wait for whenever the official would decide to show up, and was even asking other officials for the phone number of the issuing official so he could let her know that Nigerians were waiting for her.
2015 is a few days away. The elections are just two months away. Some people say it is a “make or mar” election season. We hope for the best. We hope that eligible Nigerians would not be disenfranchised and that votes would count.
The ball is in the court of INEC, the political parties and the citizenry.