The Independent National Electoral Commission has declared that it will not print Permanent Voter Cards to replace those burnt in Plateau State recently.
In an exclusive interview with Saturday PUNCH on Friday, the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr Husseini Pai, who spoke through the Head of Voter Education, Mr Osaretin Imahiyereobo, declared that given the short period left for the commencement of the elections, it would be impossible for the commission to print new cards.
A fire incident had a few weeks ago burnt the INEC office in the Quaapan Local Government Area of the state. The inferno destroyed many valuables, including ballot boxes, generators, voter register and unclaimed PVCs. Sources at the commission’s headquarters put the number of PVCs burnt at over 5,000.
INEC had blamed the incident on a drunken security man.
Pai said, “When the elections are over, I can assure you we will look into the issues with a view to replacing the burnt PVCs. But as it is, those who don’t have PVCs as a result of the fire incident will not be able to vote during the 2019 General Elections.”
But reacting to the development, the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party alleged that the refusal of INEC to replace the burnt PVCs was part of the plan by the ruling All Progressives Party to weaken the party in its strongholds.
The Chairman, Media and Publicity Committee of the PDP Campaign Council, Mr Yiljap Abraham, said, “It is unfortunate that INEC could deliberately deny eligible voters their rights to vote for candidates of their choice for no faults of theirs.
“We are not surprised at what is happening because the APC is desperate to cling to power by using all manner of lies, deceit and mischief. But no matter what they do, the people, who have seen them for what they are, have rejected them and are ready to resist their rigging plans during the forthcoming poll.”
But the APC dismissed the PDP’s allegations, describing them as a figment of their imagination.
The state Secretary of the APC, Mr Bashir Sati, said the party in the state would not be distracted by the allegations but would focus on winning the election for its candidates.
Similarly, the Chairman of the Jos branch of Nigeria Bar Association, Mr Bon Ngyou, flayed the move to disenfranchise eligible voters in Quaanpan as a result of the fire incident, warning that if such was allowed to occur, it could lead to litigation that might invalidate the outcomes of the polls.
He said, “I think the ideal thing to do is to understand that it is not the fault of the voters whose PVCs were burnt. Given the circumstances of their case, INEC should have made an alternative arrangement and allow those who have duplicate copies to authenticate their eligibility and then vote. Nobody should disenfranchise any eligible voter. This is important because if this happens, they have the right to challenge the outcome and the elections might be nullified in court, particularly if the margin between the winner and the loser is considered less than the number of those who have been disenfranchised and whose votes would have made a significant difference in the result so declared.”
Some of the affected voters who spoke with Saturday PUNCH complained that since the fire incident occurred, they had not heard anything from INEC despite their repeated demands on the commission to replace their burnt PVCs.
George Njak said, “We don’t know what is happening. We were told that we would get new PVCs after the fire incident and now the election is around the corner and I have not received any new card.”
Another voter whose PVC was among those burnt, Mrs Grace Emmanuel, said she had planned to visit the council area on Monday to collect her card when she learnt of the fire incident.
Two other residents, Yusuf Lardang and Bulus Kwande, expressed their readiness to participate in the poll and called on the electoral body to release their PVCs to enable them to vote for their preferred candidates.