Opinion: In Search Of My Elusive PVC – By Victor Anazonwu

“Go and get your PVC” has lately become a clarion call among Nigerians preparing for general elections in 2023. And rightly so. Everyone agrees that the next polls will make or mar a country literally hanging on a cliff with one hand. Not one to be reminded of his civic duties, I have been a registered voter since 2011. But I’ve not voted even once since then and may not vote again in 2023 – if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) does not move quickly to remove well-known bottlenecks that make voter registration and obtaining a Permanent Voter’s Card an ordeal for millions of ordinary Nigerians like me. Here’s my story.

I was issued with a Temporary Voter’s Card (TVC) when I first registered in 2011. Subsequently, I decided to apply to transfer my records and designated polling station from the area of initial registration (Magodo, Lagos State) to a place closer to my abode (Akute, Ogun State) where I could realistically vote on election day. Both locations was within half an hour’s drive of each other, barring traffic.

On 14th August, 2018, after 3 months of trying and 7 grueling attempts, I successfully applied for a transfer of my name on the Central Voters Register. My experience in making this simple transfer application will fill a story book. In summary, INEC field staff made it near impossible for persons with unknown political affiliations like me to perfect our applications or registration. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the same INEC officials were busy registering known party members and those covertly identified as “friendly” by party agents.

The INEC team showed up on random days, at random times and in random locations, so it was impossible to plan for and engage with the exercise. They processed only a handful of applications each day and always pleaded logistic challenges. It was either the network was unable to complete online processes or a vital form to be used was still on its way. On one occasion, they said their portable electric generator had malfunctioned. When a woman on the queue offered to bring hers from her home nearby, they flatly declined the offer! We dispersed after hours of waiting in vain. Someone later told me in confidence that my name (and ethnic profile) made me an electoral risk and “unsuitable” to be registered at that location.

But I persisted and on my seventh attempt I scaled the hurdles. For my troubles, I received a white acknowledgement slip with my details and an official’s signature written in Blue ink. I was told to wait for a public announcement to know when the  Permanent Voter’s Cards were available for pickup.

That announcement came three months later in November, 2018. I promptly went to the place where I applied, hoping to pick up my PVC. To my chagrin, I was told to go to Ifo Local Government Headquarters, over 30 kilometers away. I asked when the cards would be distributed to locations nearer to the people for ease of collection. “This is the only arrangement I am aware of”, came the reply. That was the end of my participation in the electoral process of 2019. I became an observer with no voting power despite my efforts.

Fast forward to Monday, 25th July, 2022. I decided to make the trip to Ifo Local Government Headquarters which had defied me four years earlier. I set out at exactly 11:00 am and drove through one of the most mangled roads in Western Nigeria today – the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway. By the way, that road no longer deserves to be called an “Expressway.” Especially the lanes taking traffic to Abeokuta. The road is better described as an obstacle course or, more politely, a former expressway.

Anyway, I survived the drive, assisted in large part by Google Map, a reassuring presence and voice throughout the journey. I arrived at the gates of Ifo LG headquarters at exactly 2:15 pm. Upon enquiries, I was told that PVCs were not collected there! I was directed to go 3 kilometers back on the highway to the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Determined to make my effort count, I found the place after multiple stopovers and wrong turns. I met about 200 other Nigerians, sprawled all over the compound and, like me, seeking to obtain their voting rights.

Aided, I think, by the generous sprinkling of gray hair on my head and beards, I gained entrance into the building before long. There, I met another hundred or so persons, in various stages of animation, waiting to be attended to. Most were registering for the first time, I learnt. A kind, elderly lady official agreed to help me find my PVC. I was beside myself in excitement and anticipation. “At long last…”, I thought to myself as I settled down on a wooden bench near a window.

But first, my data had to be verified. I submitted my acknowledgement slip to a cheerful young man attending to a long queue of intending voters. He punched my details into a green, INEC-branded tab and gave me the nod. “Your records are in order sir. Please take the slip back to the lady attending to you. She will find your PVC.” I felt good. These INEC staff were much better than the ones I met in 2018. Perhaps it was my lucky day.

The kind old lady took my slip and went into an adjoining room. It was a dark room and she had to use the flashlight on her phone for visibility. You could feel her steadying her nerves before pushing the door open. Minutes later, she re-emerged with a dusty black polyethylene bag in hand, set it on her table and methodically began going through the small boxes inside the bag. She glanced at my paper slip a few more times before isolating one of the boxes. Then she ran her fingers back and forth through the neatly packed cards in the box. She went through a few more boxes. Time stood still as I awaited the arrival of my very own Permanent Voter’s Card. I promised myself I would stop by for a celebratory lunch and drink once I laid my hands on it. But alas it was not to be. After what looked like eternity, the woman looked up sadly at me and announced the bad news. “Your PVC is nowhere to be found sir. I suspect it was omitted during printing, otherwise I should have found it here…”

If men could cry, I would have gladly cried if only to feel better. A lump rose and fell in my throat. My mouth felt dry.

As consolation, I was offered an incident form to fill. It stated that my PVC was “omitted in print” and I was applying for a fresh one. The details I supplied were promptly keyed online by the diligent young man who had earlier confirmed my information in the central register. I was given another paper slip and a tiny printout for keeps. I was asked to guard them jealously. “Before the year ends new PVCs will be available”, I was told.

I drove back home in abject misery. After 4 years, 8 attempts and a 6 hour journey, I was nowhere near getting my PVC to be able to exercise my civic duty on election day. I have a strong feeling that my PVC was not accidentally omitted in print. My instincts tell me I am one of millions of Nigerians who are not supposed to vote. Because someone, somewhere, is not sure we will vote the way we are expected to vote.

But the fight has only just begun. I have decided that I will vote in 2023 or die trying. And I will tell my story and the stories of others I meet along the way who may not be able to tell their own stories. I will tell the world what it takes to be a Nigerian voter.

Victor Anazonwu, a journalist and author, lives in Lagos.

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