Ahead of today’s collection of Permanent Voters’ Card in Lagos, residents of the State Thursday insisted that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must distribute the Permanent Voters’ Card in all the 20 Electoral Constituencies of the State as condition for participation in the electoral process.
In a unanimous agreement at the LTV Blue Roof Multipurpose Hall venue of a Voters Advocacy Stakeholders’ Forum organized by the State Government, the people also demanded a fair treatment from INEC threatening to boycott the process if electoral rules were not complied with by the Commission.
They also asked INEC to explain how over 1.4 million names of registered voters in the State disappeared from the voters’ register bringing the number of registered voters to 4.8 million from 6.5 million which was declared by the Commission before the 2011 General Elections.
The massive audience indicated their stand with overwhelming voice votes and show of the hands during an interactive session after an address by the State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, on the importance of their participation in the Permanent Voters’ Card distribution. They wondered why INEC should refuse to carry out the exercise in all the 20 electoral constituencies of the State describing it as unfair.
Some residents had earlier raised the issue during the question and answer session after the Governor’s address quoting INEC as saying that it was only ready for distribution of the cards in only 11 electoral constituencies while others quoted the Commission as saying that it was ready for 10 or 9 of the Constituencies.
They also described as strange the fact that INEC, which declared 6.5 million as the number of registered voters in the State in 2011 and used the number for the purpose of conducting elections that year, would turn around and declare the number to be 4.8 million in 2014 adding that the Commission owes the people of Lagos an explanation as to what happened to over 1.4 million names on the list.
Earlier in his address the Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, had urged the people to remain vigilant while assuring them of adequate information on evolving issues as the election processes continue pointing out that vigilance was expedient as the collection of Permanent Voters’ Cards represent the first and most important step in the election processes leading to the choice of those who would eventually lead the people at all levels of government from 2015.
Emphasizing the importance of today’s exercise, the Governor, who listed the election processes to also include issuance of voter identification material, printing and publication of the voters’ register, delineations of the voting centres, actual balloting, collation of results and announcement of results among others, said voter registration remains the most important of the processes because without the voters’ card one could not vote.
“We gather today to prepare to lay the foundation for tomorrow. What that tomorrow will look like will be a measure of what we do today.
Elections have started, make no mistake about it”, the Governor said pointing out that the collection of Permanent Voters Card signifies the beginning of that election process.
Attributing the massive turnout of Lagosians at the forum to the growing political awareness in the State, Governor Fashola, however, expressed regrets that such massive show of enthusiasm has hardly translated into massive turnout during the actual balloting.
According to the Governor from the balloting results collated over the years across the country during general elections, only about 52.3 percent of registered voters participated in the 1998 Presidential elections nationwide while the number rose to 69 percent in 2003 but dropped to 58 percent in 2007 and further to 52 percent in 2011.
In Lagos, the Governor said, voters percentage turnout in Presidential and Governorship elections were 43 percent for Presidential and 29 percent for Governorship in 1998, 30 percent for Presidential and 30.1 percent for Governorship in 2003, 29.3 percent for Presidential and 28.9 percent for Governorship in 2007 while in 2011 it was 31.8 percent for Presidential and 30.5 for Governorship.
The Governor, who said the situation was not different at the Local Government level, pointed out that in 1999 turnout of voters was 9.7 percent, 10.5 percent in 2003, 23.3 percent in 2008 and 12.78 percent in 2011 elections adding that the situation did not reflect the importance of local government administration in governance.
“What it means is that out of the 6.8 million of us that registered, only about 30 percent of us went to vote and that is why I am standing here. That is not an enthusiastic turnout, in my view, about what is most important to us”, the Governor said pointing out that the danger of non-participation in the exercise lay in getting wrong leaders foisted on the people.
He likened the situation to the fate of the legendary Cock, as dramatized by a drama group during the programme, which failed to attend a meeting of all animals where they wanted to choose which among them would be used as sacrifice adding that since he was not at the meeting, the other Animals decided that he would be used as sacrifice.
Comparing the situation with what obtains in other countries of the world, Governor Fashola said because of the importance which such countries’ citizens attach to choice of leadership there is always above average turnout of voters to effect changes that affect their life and wellbeing.
Citing India and America as examples, the Governor said in the last election in India about 70 percent of voters came out to vote while the midterm elections in America showed the people coming out massively as they recorded over 60 percent voter participation.
The Governor called on the Independent National Electoral Commission to be fair to the State in the conduct of the processes of the General Elections in the State pointing out that Lagos needs to be treated even better than other States of the Federation given the enormous responsibility she bears in accommodating Nigerians of all tribes.
“I am using this medium to appeal to INEC as an institution and to the leaders of INEC particularly its Chairman, Professor Jega and the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Ogunmola, to be fair to the people of Lagos. They should treat us fairly the way they have treated other states and, if I must say so, even better because the whole of Nigeria is here”, the Governor said.
According to the Governor, the State is waiting for answers from the Commission concerning the shortfall of over 4.8 million of the number of the State’s registered voters from 6.3 million as declared and conducted by the Commission in 2011 to 4.8 million in 2014.
Urging those who may not find their names in the register to wait till the 12th of November when they will have another opportunity to register, Governor Fashola declared, “We are waiting for answers. We are waiting for directive from INEC on how to proceed”
The Governor, who also enjoined Lagosians to remain vigilant, promised that Government would continue to keep the people informed, “step by step, stage by stage as things evolve”, adding, “But let me say that we remain committed to nurture, to sacrifice, to tend and to prosper this democracy”.
“If security, electricity, price of food, education of your children and general wellbeing are important to you, then the only way you can secure those things is by choosing the leaders you can trust, leaders that when you call them they will come, when they make promises to you they will keep them, when there is difficulty they will come and explain to you. The only way to get such leaders is to choose them by yourselves”, he said.
Responding to questions from the people, Governor Fashola explained that whether one has the Temporary Voter’s Card or has misplaced it, once the person is registered on the voters registered for the last elections his or her photograph would be there adding that the Permanent Voters Card is printed from the last register.
He expressed surprise that some people are saying INEC has said it is only ready for eight local Governments in the State while others say the Commission says it is ready for 10 or 11 Councils pointing out that the Commission has not informed him of such a change.
“So I am still waiting to hear from them, our rule of engagement in Lagos is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best”, the Governor said promising, however, that if the Commission says that it is not ready in all the 20 local governments of the State, the people of Lagos would act together in whatever decision they take.
He explained that INEC has the responsibility of updating the voters register continuously by collecting the data of births and deaths as well as feeding such information into it pool of data for the continuous updating of the register adding that this would reduce the pains of registration inflicted on the Nigerian electorates every election year.
Earlier in her welcome address, the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. (Mrs.) Oluranti Adebule, said the importance of the forum lay in the fact that since democracy was about the people, it was imperative that the people must be involved all the way and all the time adding that the forum was part of the practical demonstration of the State Government’s commitment to carry the people along in all things.
“This forum is another medium of creating awareness and sensitization of the people of Lagos to take advantage of the forthcoming INEC programmes for the Voter Registration Verification (VRV) distribution of Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) and the Continuous Voters Registration (CVR)”, the SSG said.