Up till the end of August, get your PVC (Permanent Voter’s Card) was the anthem of every politically aware Nigerian. News channels, political parties, and even music stars were at the forefront of the campaign to encourage more Nigerians to express their civic responsibility by voting.
Considering that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recorded 14 million new voters in the recently concluded PVC registration process, it is safe to say the campaign was successful.
But this story is not about that. This is a story about why I did not get my PVC.
I set out to get my voters card on Thursday, August 30th, a day before registration closed. I know, it’s my fault; I had from April 2017 to get it done. But bear with me.
I had the address of a registration centre in my local government—Ifako-Ijaiye—but no clue how to get there, so, hopping into a Keke Napep, a dark middle-aged man from Benin offered to take me directly to the place. “That place you wan go na primary school. Na for there dem dey do voters card,” he announced in pidgin, setting off towards the Iji Ishaga axis of Lagos. The trip would take one hour. I checked the time on my phone—6:52 am.
The driver told great stories about his wives in Benin, and I listened without comment, checking out a few times to run through what I needed to get registered. Suddenly, he announced that we had arrived, cutting into my thoughts.
Before I got off, I asked for his name. “My name na fineboy.”
I checked the time again as I made my way to the centre—7:37 am.
The registration centre was massive. It was a compound with about four public primary schools. I spotted a small crowd passing around a list in front of one of the schools and knew that I was in the right place. To my surprise, some people had been there since 4:30 am.
I wrote my name down on the list. Number 198. A quick glance around the compound made it clear that the names on the list far outnumbered those around; people had been putting down names of family and friends not yet at the centre.
Nearby, two middle-aged women murmured about the process. “Even the first person on today’s list will not be attended to until everyone from yesterday gets registered.” It seemed the INEC officials gave preference to people on the list from the previous day.
And when they finally strolled in at 9:36 am, one of them, a light-skinned petite lady, bellowed as she set up. “We only have 200 forms. If you are number 201 and above, come back tomorrow.”
The protests began immediately, wailing against repeated chants of “there is nothing we can do”. After a while, some people left, and the rest of us took our numbers and waited.
The process was simple. An official would call out a name and number, and the person would step forward, provide his or her proof of identification, and fill the form. After that was the photo and fingerprint entry (I wondered if the biometric register would be used outside the elections, given Nigeria’s identification problem). At the end of this process, you got your temporary voter’s card (TVC).
At about 12:45 am, a group interrupted this process, cutting straight to the front of the queue. I did not realise what had happened until someone screamed: “This is unfair!!”.
The protests went unheeded, and the officials attended to this group of about twenty people before everyone else waiting. According to one of the officials, a tall woman with hoop earrings the size of bangles, they had been on the queue a day before, so were ahead of us on their list. As more time passed, and more people from previous days strolled through, I grew impatient, wishing that 'fineboy' was around to tell me more stories.
I looked online to see if other registration centres had the same problem and found that a lot of people had been unable to get their voter’s cards. In one centre, the INEC officials closed at 2:45 pm and another was so rowdy that there was no list and no queue.
The potential voters at the Falomo centre had things much better. Jennifer Okafor and the Culture Custodian group got their cards in under two hours. Her registration centre, like mine, was a primary school, but on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi.
“The process was smooth, and I was shocked especially because before registering, my friends had told me it was difficult to get the TVC,” Jennifer said when we met up.
Her centre had seven officials registering people, and like mine, they used a list. According to her, people that arrived in groups were attended to faster than those that came in alone, and although she did not understand the logic, she was glad that it favoured her.
“There were at least a hundred people when we got there. We waited a bit before the officials registered us,” she explains. Her details, fingerprints and photo were taken within minutes. Jennifer probably benefitted from registering on a Saturday, as many people were unaware that the registration process was extended to the weekend.
Back in my centre, more people were leaving in anger. It was now 4:00 pm and two officials who stepped out for lunch at 2:40 pm had not yet returned. Naturally, the process had slowed. I contemplated leaving but I heard that voice again: get your PVC.
“They are not coming back.”
Joe, a youth corper, tapped me gently on my left shoulder as he made the announcement. Before I got the chance to ask how he knew this, the remaining INEC officials declared that, like their colleagues, they would be leaving for lunch soon.
Joe and I ended up talking for a bit. We figured that the flawed registration process could work in our favour the following day and plotted to walk in anytime and “chance” those on the list. I agreed to meet him at the centre at 9 am the next day. More than anything else, I wanted to walk out holding a temporary voters card.
I left when Joe left.
Thursday’s experience demotivated me. I blamed the INEC officials for how things turned out, but a part of me regretted leaving it till the last minute. After being nudged by my Editor, I made it to the centre at 9:25 am, confident that I would not have to hustle with the early-comers.
There was some commotion when I arrived, and I recognised some people from Thursday arguing with the officials. Evidently, they had decided to jettison the previous method and begin registering people as they arrived on the day.
I was furious.
When the list got to me, I noticed my name was already on it, thanks to Joe. I looked at my number: 222. There was no way I was going to get my PVC.
I eventually found Joe in the crowd, and incredibly, he had not lost hope.
We sat through the process, rushing into one of the small buildings when the rain began to pour. It was then I decided to leave. I left at 2:27 pm, clutching on to Joe’s promise to call me 'when' they got close to my number.
They never did.
By 5:00 pm, Joe was on his way home; the officials had left without registering everyone, again.
I did not get my PVC. I was guilty and angry.
I was mostly annoyed with myself for not doing it sooner or not going on a weekend like Jennifer and her team. And I felt guilty because I understood the meaning behind the message, the importance of participating in the democratic process.
And finally, doubt. Doubt from a nagging question; if I don’t vote, can I truly judge the government without being a hypocrite?