I was back at the Shomolu INEC office. This time, I wasn’t there to register but to collect my permanent voter card (PVC) ahead of the 2023 general election.
I had gone in November after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the voter cards ready for collection, but Sope had taken a look at my almost faded slip that morning with his back reclined against his seat and said, “Come back in December.”
“December?” I asked wanting to know why.
He looked averse to more conversations and dismissed me with his face before using his words: “Just come back by December.”
I didn’t return to their office in December. I didn’t want to be asked to return again for my voter card or face the horror of having to sort through thousands of PVCs to locate mine. I thought January would be a great time to go for the collection because of the different stories trailing PVC collection in many parts of the country.
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When I arrived Shomolu INEC office the day after New Year’s Day, I was surprised to find it open, as it was a public holiday, but I was more surprised to find only a handful of people there.
There were seven persons seated under the lone dusty white canopy when I showed up at the gate of the electoral commission at 1:45 pm.
Their demeanour was familiar. They were waiting to be attended to by the INEC officials.
I approached the small crowd and inquired about the waiting. I had sighted three pieces of A4 sheets with names written on them on a white plastic table. The sheets were restrained from joining the fluttering leaves in their dance by a pen laid in the middle. I made to write my name on it, but then I thought to ask a slim middle-aged woman who had round glasses on.
“Excuse me, ma. Are we to write our names? I asked pointing at the pile.
“No, the list here is invalid. One of the officials would come out to collect the slip you were given at registration and then call you out from the window for your PVC,” she explained.
“All you have to do is ensure you have your slip ready besides waiting for them.”
I became the eighth person and waited for an official to appear from the white gate surrounded by yellow-painted walls.
The gate was slightly left ajar, and there was no one manning it, unlike in June, when it was manned judiciously by men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and was treated like the pearly gates of heaven.
From the window of the office overlooking the compound, a female voice called out names which I understood were the names of those whose PVCs had been found.
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Most persons she called walked in through the gate and came out smiling, except for a man who returned unhappy.
“The officials said there is a mistake on my PVC. They said it was an error made during registration, which wasn’t from me but their end,” he said to the slim woman.
“Do you mean you will be disenfranchised for an error committed by them?” She asked.
“Yes. They said I will have to wait until the next registration,” he said before walking away.
The small crowd kept thinning out until only four of us were left. By 2 pm, no one had showed up to collect our slips.
Some three other people who arrived behind us, after a few minutes of waiting, grew impatient.
“Why is nobody attending to us?” The slim woman asked. “Why are they just chatting and not coming out to collect our slips? We don’t even know what the problem is. Someone should at least address us.”
“I have been here for quite a while. Those who arrived right after I got here have left. One of the officials has collected my slip, but I am beginning to worry that my PVC is missing,” one of the women I had met there said.
All we had under the canopy to keep our company were the voices of the officials filtering through the window as they discussed among themselves, the intermittent car horns from across the road and the swaying of the leaves of the only tree in the compound.
The almighty act from the previous months had returned. No explanations. No information. Only “we would attend to you when we’re ready”.
By 2:15 pm, a lady in a short blue dress and long braids spoke up: “Please can’t we go inside to give them the slip since no one is attending to us? They will close by 3 pm, and before you know it, we will be asked to come back some other time.”
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Everyone agreed and we all went in through the gate to the corridor where we met one of the officials who asked that we present our slips. We obliged and were given seats.
Our slips were taken into a large office where the PVCs were sorted. There were four officials in the large office checking the voters’ register for names and giving out the cards.
A young lady appeared and summoned me into the large office while a middle-aged man attended to me. He confirmed my last name and then asked that I append my signature on the voters’ register to show I had collected it.
After these rites, he handed me my PVC and I walked out by 2:32 pm.
The process was seamless for a task that most Nigerians are finding unbearable.
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