By now, you must have seen the viral video of Catholic priest Kelas Gogwim, who stopped parishioners without their Permanent Voter Cards from entering and observing the mass in his parish. According to the priest, they must show their PVCs or not show up. He intoned, “If you don’t have your PVC, don’t bother coming. Because there is no way you have Christians filling up the church but only a handful of them go to vote during elections. So, it means our population and numbers mean nothing. So, we want Christians to take their responsibilities and roles seriously.” I know that the church diocese in Plateau State has disowned the actions but he is not alone in that desperation to see otherwise laid-back people take the electoral process more seriously.
The campaign for Nigerians to get their PVC is ramping up. Some of the mobilisation efforts border on using illegitimate tactics. Meanwhile, denying people access to their religious houses or workplaces or even their income based on whether they have a PVC or not is not new. In 2019, presidential aspirant Fela Durotoye went as far as suggesting that women should deny their husbands’ sex if the men do not get their PVCs. I want to believe he was being facetious but that should also remind us that we have seen this movie before. Come 2027 elections, there will be another replay.
People should get their PVC and vote, but they need not be forced. Drive people to perform their civic duty at all costs is one of the major reasons for the huge disparity between the number of PVCs people collect and the actual votes they cast in the general elections. You will recall that in 2019, INEC announced that they had registered 84,000,484 potential voters and that a whopping 86 per cent of that figure—that is, 72,775,585—collected their PVCs. At the end of the general elections, the figures show that only about 37.5 per cent of the people who had a PVC eventually voted. In fact, the number of uncollected PVCs was slightly more than the total votes the Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential candidates got. Meanwhile, 2019 had more registered voters than 2015. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission, by the time they closed voter registration for the 2015 elections, they had registered 68.8 million people. Out of that figure, 81 per cent—that is, 56 million—collected their PVCs. The irony of the statistics between the two seasons is that the registered voters increased by 15 million between 2015 and 2019 but about 800,000 fewer people voted. The self-evident lesson here is having a PVC is not equal to voting in the elections.
We are on the march again and the people driven by one disaffection or the other are already collecting their PVCs in droves. There are also several ongoing campaigns urging people to get their PVCs. You might have seen videos of these people waving their PVCs like an article of civilisation. Some social advocates even staged a concert to get people to register to vote. Their efforts are commendable but there is no guarantee that advocacy will translate to anything on election day. The question that passionate political advocates like Father Gogwim need to grapple with is why many people register, collect their PVC and still fail to vote. Maybe the energy dedicated to pushing people to go get their PVC should be redirected towards showing them what is in it for them if they vote? But even that effort will run against the Nigerian reality.
The first is that election day in Nigeria is just one day while the process of voter registration and PVC collection stretches into months. If everyone who has a PVC should turn up to vote, it is not likely that INEC will have the logistical wherewithal to manage the surge. Even with a mere one-third participation of all registered voters, the logistics are overwhelming for the electoral body. In some places, people queue for hours on end. To be able to set aside the necessary amount of time to participate in voting goes beyond being civically responsible or patriotic. It could be that you are either economically comfortable enough to join the throng or simply unemployed.
Nigeria needs to seriously think of demolishing the structural barriers that prevent people from voting, and one way to go is to extend the voting schedule beyond one day. Another option is to explore means such as online voting or mobile phone technology. I know that virtually everyone reading this is already thinking of all that could go wrong with an e-method of voting. You are right to fear but there is nothing to the technology of voting that we cannot get right. Our existing mode of voting is analogue and getting unwieldy. Nigeria’s financial institutions have long used technology to send money efficiently, so why not use it to vote right from inside your homes?
Second, when it comes to 2023 and the drive to push people to vote, we must also acknowledge the elephant that is not only in the room but also sitting on our laps: the quality of the candidates and what they represent. For now, we have four visible candidates: one is Atiku Abubakar of the PDP; Peter Obi of the Labour Party; Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, and Rabiu Kwankaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party. Of all of them, the only one who can make me leave my house on election day is Obi. For others, especially the sides of the same rusted coin called Atiku and Tinubu, you might as well choose between being eaten by a wolf or a hyena. Obi is not a revolution but he is an antidote to the looming necrocracy that will befall Nigeria if one of the candidates of the old guard wins.
Third, there are no issue-based elections in Nigeria and that is a big issue for some people. Our election campaigns insalubriously revolve around personality cults and sentiments. Given how much Nigerians have suffered in the past seven years of the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari one would have imagined people would not be so cheaply swayed by the primal sentiments of ethnicity and religion but here we are, debating religion and region as if we are pairing wine with food. Make no mistake, identity issues are essential. There is no known set of voters in the world who shun identity politics to vote “rationally.” All politics is the politics of identity. Humans everywhere are tribalistic and will always respond to certain sentiments. Emotionalism was why the despoiled victims of the APC could be persuaded to overlook how they have been systematically robbed over the past two decades and get them to support a candidate like Tinubu. Really, how better could you have summoned the necessary disaffection for one Yoruba candidate against another without sorting people into emotional camps? By moralising the issue and creating narratives that will elicit emotional reactions.
That same tendency for emotional manipulation is currently at work now that the APC faces the choice of a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket. They are saying religion should not supersede competence. Coming from people who campaigned to choose a presidential candidate with a deteriorating health condition, they cannot convince any reasonable person they know what “competence” means? Besides, after months of waging the campaign of an RCCG-fication (aka Christianisation) agenda against presidential aspirant Yemi Osinbajo, religion suddenly does not matter? We seem to have come a long way from the alleged agenda of mafiasation of the Nigerian political sphere by the Redeemed Christian Church of God (and which must be resisted). These ever-duplicitous collective now insist that adjoining Tinubu with a Muslim vice does not matter since his wife is a member of the RCCG. The agenda has now been downgraded to mere tokenism but you can be certain the exploitation of sentiments will continue further as we approach election day. For millions of Nigerians out there, who see through all the politics of cynical manipulation by a self-serving elite and their regular dupes, there is no point in wasting time and energy on voting. None of the “issues” being debated by the hucksters jockeying for juicy positions represent their realities in any way. They might collect their PVC to satisfy the Father Gogwims on election day of this world but you can bet that on election day itself, they will never show up anywhere.