“Patience is a virtue, but there comes a moment when you must stop being patient and take the day by the throat and shake it.” – Laurell K. Hamilton
Different stories have trailed the collection of permanent voter cards (PVC) across the country ahead of the 2023 elections.
Several Nigerians have accused some collection centres of testing their patience with the distribution. In some places, it has been easy, while in some, it has been a test of patience and patriotism.
On January 14, I arrived at Lakowe Town in Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos, at 8:30 am. The town was quite sleepy, as the bustling that characterises Lagos was shown only in bits.
This, however, didn’t stop residents of the community, whose collection centre is the Iwerekun Community Senior High School, from coming out early.
After seeking directions from two different young men, one was kind enough to point out the street where the community secondary school is located.
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Eight minutes into my walk down Lakowe bus stop, I saw Iwerekun Community High School from a distance.
People formed clusters and scattered all around as they waited for the INEC officials. The community high school was under lock.
From outside, the pinnacles of two white canopies rose high. They were visible from the fenced wall of the school.
Few people gathered in front of the black gate as they discussed several topics from the general elections to the most uninteresting ones.
Just opposite the community high school was a canteen and a food shed that served breakfast to some early comers.
“You can put your name down there so it can be on the list when the INEC officials arrive,” an elderly man who looked tired said. He pointed to a clustered group of people who were attempting to get ahead of one another.
I mumbled my thanks before taking a vantage position where I could monitor most of the activities and see the officials when they arrived.
More people arrived in dozens until every space was occupied by humans and cars. As the crowd grew, so did their impatience.
“Look at what these INEC officials are doing to us. God will punish all of them. I was here yesterday but couldn’t get my PVC. Now, they’ve started this morning,” an elderly woman ranted to her companion.
Almost like a fire waiting to be stoked, another young guy erupted.
“The only way forward for our country is for all our leaders to die. They should all be dead so we can start afresh. We will constantly have a corrupt system as long as they are still around,” he said angrily.
Peter Ike (not real name), a slim man, also fumed. I had seen him pace several times. The emotion accompanying his strides was familiar. I had seen him arrive and noticed how he checked his phone for the time at intervals.
“I was here last Saturday but I couldn’t get it; that’s why I came here today. Getting PVC in Lakowe is a lot of struggle,” he said as he walked close to where I sat with another young man I would later know as Felix. “It’s like a war happening, and it sometimes takes security operatives to maintain order.
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“How can INEC officials just be on their way by 9:37 pm? What could have been keeping them back? Isn’t it disrespectful to keep a lot of people waiting in this manner?
“Just look at it; there are different groups collating names. People had to step in to coordinate it themselves when the officials wouldn’t arrive on time. This should have been their job,” Ike said before he walked away to continue his pacing.
Felix (not real name), the young man who sat next to me, expressed his dismay at the lackadaisical attitude of the INEC officials.
“I was here yesterday but the crowd was much. There were people and cars everywhere,” Felix told me.
“This wasn’t my ward initially, but I transferred to Lakowe because it’s closer to my home. I applied to transfer from Falomo and was told to come to Iwerekun.
“See, it is a real struggle because I have been here since 7 am. I don’t think things are this difficult in other places. When I came here yesterday, I was 431 on the list, but the officials stopped attending to anyone way before then.”
Just as Felix was talking, Slyvester, another young man who had been running high emotions towards the INEC officials, decided to vent.
“Yesterday, the officials were on 142 but they stopped just before it was my turn, and only God knows if they would continue from there today. The entire process is so clumsy; only one person does the entire writing even if you are five on the queue.
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“Why not get a table for the names? They would rather complicate things than do this,” Slyvester added.
As more people arrived, I understood that the centre served residents of Awoyaya, Abinjo, Lakowe, Eputu and GRA.
‘OFFICIALS SHOW UP’
The sun bit harder and the rumbling restlessness in the crowd intensified. Just as more people were beginning to doubt if the officials would show up, they arrived in a white bus at 10: 23 am. Hope was restored in the crowd as it meant collection was about to commence.
They drove straight into the school compound and barred anyone else from entering.
Just then, one of the officials, a thickly built fair-complexioned man, approached the crowd who had gathered towards the gate in anticipation.
He drew his ears emphatically and said, “If you are a nursing mother or you’re pregnant, please move here.” He pointed towards his left as he repeated the instruction.
Another official, whom I would later know as AZ or A Plus, appeared with stacks of exercise books in his hands. I would later understand that the names written earlier in the morning were transferred into the books held by AZ.
The crowd was quick to submerge AZ who was constantly pressed with the needs of looking for the names of over a thousand people.
“The crowd is unusually large today because it’s weekend. Professionals who had no time to come during the week are all here today,” a tired-looking woman said. She looked like the wait had worn her out.
“Chika, Adebayo, Matthew,” AZ called out from the list.
Each person he called joined a new queue in front of the big black gate that led to the school.
The INEC official who manned the gate took his job seriously, as those who stood before him were subjected to extra scrutiny before entering.
This went on for 30 minutes before AZ decided he was done calling names.
CANDIDACY OR TRIBALISM?
About three women who sat waiting for AZ to resume the name-calling exercise complained about the slow collection process.
“I wonder why the officials are making the process complicated. If they had wanted a smoother process, they would have arrived earlier,” one of them said.
“They are frustrating people with the collection as an attempt to discourage them from voting their preferred candidate. Meanwhile, people are really serious about this election. Everyone is taking it seriously compared with previous ones,” another elderly woman added.
“Nigerians would suffer for everything from voter registration to the collection of PVCs. Even during the election, you’d still be subjected to another form of suffering. When you want to vote, if it rains, you will have to remain there. If the sun is scorching, you will have to put up with it. Eventually, when the elected candidate assumes office, he would still do rubbish and maltreat us.”
Mercy Audu, a chubby woman with long braids reaching down to her waist, had a different opinion.
“There is the segregation of those who are not Yoruba. Every Yoruba person I know has got their PVC, but they are making it unbearable for the rest of us,” she said.
“There is a deadline for the INEC officials. People are coming for their PVCs, but the officials are deliberately hoarding them.”
“The officials and the system can’t be trusted. The system is bad and flawed,”
AZ’s reappearance at 12:10 pm disrupted their conversation. However, their hopes were dashed when they learnt he wasn’t calling names.
I observed that AZ called out names intermittently. When he resumed at 12:14 pm, it only lasted for ten minutes.
The INEC official who advised the nursing mothers returned with another instruction, “If your card is a new one from Awoyaya 07, go home. You can’t have your card until next weekend. Go home.”
Tens of people rushed forward, showing him their slips and asking whether they were affected. The few affected ones turned back dejected. They had spent half of their day there.
‘IT’S EASY ONCE YOU CAN GET PAST THE GATE’
More people than those inside the compound waited in front of the back gate. Martins’ smile was brighter than the sun as he emerged from the gate. He wore an orange shirt which matched the brightness of his smile.
He held his PVC in his hands and was willing to share his good news with anyone willing to listen.
“It was easy inside,” he beamed.
“Once you’re beyond this gate, it is all sorted. The process is easier inside. You could even collect for someone.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes, all you need is the slip given at the point of registration and you can pick up their card.”
“Congratulations,” I said before he walked away.
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At intervals, AZ would return to call new names which were marked by random bouts of anger and confrontations with INEC officials.
By 1:35 pm, the crowd had dwindled drastically but not for pleasant reasons. I walked up to Felix and asked if he had been lucky, “No, it’s still the same,” he said dejectedly.
“They can be delivering it to our houses to make our lives easier. They are comfortable with the hard life and archaic system,” a young man said.
“People are suffering in Lagos. You are made to bend over for everything. Why is getting a PVC this tough?”
When I left Iwerekun Community High School at 2 pm, Felix was still loitering, hoping to be attended to, and there were more disgruntled Nigerians than satisfied ones.
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