Permanent Voter Card (PVC) collection at the Iba registration unit of Ojo Local Government Area is a brutal test of patience, and I learnt this the hard way.
I was a tad frustrated when I arrived at Local Authority Primary School, Iba, on Wednesday. Relying on word of mouth for my direction, rather than Google Maps as I often do, led me to two wrong turns.
The better known Iba Estate and Iba Junction are bus stops within Iba, but they are leagues apart. So, when I got to Iba Estate and asked around, I heard that I had gone past my bus stop a while ago. Google Maps also told me I had been wrong with a long blue line stretching to LA Primary School in the opposite direction.
When I got to Iba Junction, I decided to walk the remaining distance with Google Maps guiding me. I had almost reached LA Primary School when I took another wrong turn after a misdirection from a resident. Five minutes more of walking taught me to rely solely on the map and retrace my steps.
‘IF I BE APC OR PDP’
Just as I positioned myself to take a photograph of LA Primary School from the outside, a very angry man in a black T-shirt came out of the gate shouting his discontent.
“If I be APC or PDP, all dis nonsense no go pain me,” he said in Pidgin English.
He was in the company of two stockily built men and one lanky young man. Moving in short paces, back and forth, the man in the black T-shirt spoke to the three men in a raised tone that could have offended them:
“I no be party person, I just want dis card to vote for my own president and go!”
Then he left the gate and took the road I had trekked from Iba Junction. His anger had warned me against asking him what I could ask others inside the school.
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It was 11:39 am when I entered the LA Primary School compound. The sun shone so persistently that my cotton and polyester shirt absorbed heat as though an electric iron was constantly gliding through it.
A crowd of people swarmed one of the three elongated bungalows inside LA Primary School. They were waiting to collect their PVCs, and I could tell they were over 100 individuals.
There were no chairs, and the five short benches that were available had been possessed by 20 people. Others sat on the floor of the bungalow because they couldn’t stand like others.
Just as I wondered why everyone was patiently waiting without an INEC official in sight, a short man came out of one of the open classrooms in the bungalow with a white megaphone.
‘I HAVE BEEN HERE SINCE 6 AM’
Victor’s hairy arms were exposed by the deep blue basketball jersey he wore. He was in the crowd as I moved closer to capture the man with a white megaphone who I confirmed to be an INEC official.
He stood on the passageway of the bungalow which was serving as a platform to address the assembly.
The megaphone amplified 10 names, middle names and surnames each. A short pause followed, then another batch of full names were announced. Two short queues formed parallel to one another right in front of the man with the megaphone. Not every name was represented though.
When I asked Victor, he told me that he had been waiting to collect his PVC for almost six hours.
“I have been here since 6 o’clock this morning. We have to be here very early only to wait for so long,” Victor told me.
“I must collect this card today. So I will wait all day if I have to. I was here yesterday too. Some of the people whose names have been called are absent.”
Others didn’t share Victor’s patience though.
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Pa Ayokunle (not real name) was not raising his voice but he was clearly running out of patience.
“This is really not the way to go. Why will he be coming outside once in a while just to call a few names and go back inside for another 30 minutes?” Pa Ayokunle, who was in his 70s, asked.
“The whole thing is disorderly. Why don’t they sort all the cards first then arrange them in alphabetical order? We are being forced to waste time here.”
Speaking with Pa Ayokunle, I found out that the INEC officials had decided to attend to the waiting crowd at intervals. The man with the megaphone went into the classroom where PVCs were kept and discussed with his colleagues before returning with a list of 20 names to attend to for another 30 minutes.
“They have been sorting the cards inside that room this whole time,” Pa Ayokunle told me. Looking at the septuagenarian, I pitied him even though he did not need my pity. The ageing man was enduring the heat of the sun in his buba and aso oke cap.
After an hour in the same situation, I wondered why the officials failed to make the PVC collection process more efficient too.
It didn’t have to be an alphabetical sorting; each registration area could be subcategorised into units such as polling units. Instead, the officials spent half of the day sorting the cards.
‘STORY FOR THE GODS’
One of the disturbing trends I noticed came from some people waiting to collect PVCs too.
At 2:23 pm, ‘Michael’ and ‘Glory’ were announced on the megaphone. The names shared the same surname. Only one person answered. He was neither Michael nor Glory.
“Oga, are you Glory or Michael?” The official with the megaphone asked.
“They are my children,” the middle-aged man answered.
“We have to wait for them to come before we can give them the PVCs. We cannot give the cards to you, sir,” the INEC official informed the man.
Another man claimed that his wife was a soldier and couldn’t come down to collect her card herself.
“Story for the gods,” the INEC official snidely responded.
The third person, a woman who had just heard her name and her husband’s name, wanted to claim her husband’s card too.
“My husband is sick, and he is in the hospital,” she pleaded.
“Sorry, ma. God will give him strength, then he will come and collect his PVC himself.” The official was on a roll.
A suppressed laughter followed.
These were but a select few; many people came to collect PVCs for others. Some were genuinely unaware of the fact that a proxy could not collect a PVC for another.
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NINE-HOUR WAIT ENDS IN HEARTBREAK
A few cycles of name-calling had passed, and Victor finally got his own PVC some minutes after 3 pm.
I don’t even know why I congratulated Victor. It might have been a reflexive gesture after the endurance test we had both faced.
Another man who claimed to have been waiting for his PVC with Victor since 6 am, with the thickest beard I must have seen there, was not so lucky.
As the officials were done with Victor’s batch, they brought out some temporary slips submitted the previous day and called the names on each slip.
Their PVCs were not found, according to the INEC official with the megaphone.
The INEC official told us that we should go to INEC’s Ojo office in Igbede if our PVCs were not found.
The man with the thickest beard was one of them.
“This is heartbreaking. That’s all I can say. To wait for almost 10 hours only to be told that your PVC was not found. I didn’t come here for this,” he told me before slowly making his way for the gate.
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