The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, yesterday explained before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja why it would not allow registered voters that failed to collect their Permanent Voters Cards, PVCs, before the deadline, to participate in the forthcoming general elections.
The electoral body, through its team of lawyers, led by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Mr. Abdulaziz Sani, while urging the court to dismiss a suit seeking to compel it to allow those with temporary voters card or proof of registration, to vote on election day, maintained that the PVC was critical to its planned accreditation process.
INEC told the court that unlike in previous elections where it allowed eligible electorate that had issues with accreditation to vote after filling the Incident Form, it said in the impending elections, only those with PVCs duly authenticated with the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, would be allowed to cast their ballot.
The commission was responding to a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/2348/2022, which alleged a plot to disenfranchise over 20million eligible voters in the country.
The suit was brought before the court by a non-governmental organization, under the aegis of the Incorporated Trustees of International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law, alongside two other plaintiffs- Emmanuel Chukwuka and Bruno Okeahialam.
The plaintiffs told the court that they filed the suit for themselves and on behalf of registered voters about to be disenfranchised by INEC in the 2023 general elections.
In the suit that had INEC as the sole Defendant, the Plaintiffs, through their lawyer, Mr. Max Ozoaka, argued that in view of several administrative bottlenecks and challenges that are currently trailing the collection of PVCs across the federation, many registered voters would be denied the right to exercise their franchise.
They asked the court to determine whether; “Having regard to the clear and unambiguous relevant provision of the Electoral Act, 2022, and the true intendment of Section 47 (1) thereof, whether the defendant, can as a consequence of their own contraption, bottleneck, compromise and negligence, dasenfranchise or otherwise deprive the plaintiffs and a class of persons they represent in this suit, the right and opportunity to vote in the forthcoming general election fixed for February 25 to March 12, 2023”.
Upon determination of the legal question, the plaintiffs, are praying the court for: “A Declaration that having duly registered and been captured in the Defendant’s Register of Voters and electronic database of registered voters, the Plaintiffs and all persons they represent in this suit are entitled to exercise their right to vote in the forthcoming general elections fixed for February to March 2023.”
“A Declaration that all persons who have duly registered with the Defendant as voters and whose names are contained in the Defendant’s Register of Voters and or electronic database of registered voters should not and cannot be deprived of the right and opportunity to vote in the forthcoming general election fixed for February to March 2023.
“An Order of the Honourable Court compelling the Defendant to release forthwith the Permanent Voters’ Cards of the Plaintiffs and all members of their class to enable them vote in the forthcoming general election fixed for February to March 2023”.
As well as, “An Order of the Honourable Court directing the Defendant to reprint, distribute and release the Permanent Voters’ Cards of the Plaintiffs and all persons they represent in this suit or otherwise allow them to vote with their old (temporary) voters’ cards or registration slips already issued and released to them by the Defendant the affected persons having been duly registered and captured in the Defendant’s register of voters and or electronic database of registered voters”.
The Plaintiffs’ lawyer, Ozoaka, told the court that INEC had lamented that some of its offices were recently attacked, with many PVCs destroyed.
He argued that since the electoral body had already issued temporary voters card/registration slips, persons whose PVCs were affected in the said attacks, should in the event that their voters’ card were not reprinted and collected before the deadline, allowed to participate in the election.
He told the court that INEC previously disclosed that the BVAS could authenticate electorates with the entering of the last six digits of the Voters Identity Number, VIN.
However, INEC, in a counter-affidavit it filed before the court, challenged the competence of the suit, insisting that the legal action was premature, frivolous and speculative.
The electoral body told the court that it has already extended the time within which PVCs could be collected.
While accusing the plaintiffs of failing to supply the court with particulars of the 29million persons they claimed may be disenfranchised, INEC, said the reason it extended the period for PVC collection was that so many fresh ones, especially in areas that were attacked, have been reproduced and ready for collection.
“My lord, it is a mysterious submission that the BVAS use last 6 digits of VIN. That is totally wrong and not true. In fact, I am hearing it for the first time. Without the PVCs the BVAS cannot work.
“Even the election will surprise people. There are many innovations that I don’t want to divulge here.
“As far as this suit is concerned, no particulars was provided to show that any PVC was destroyed. They should have waited until the expiration of the time for collection, which is January 29, before filing this suit”, INEC lawyer submitted.
He, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the suit, adding that the 1st plaintiff failed to attach its Article of Incorporation to show that it has the mandate to embark on such public interest litigation.
Meanwhile, after she had listened to both sides, Justice Binta Nyako, who also narrated how members of her household had been finding it difficult to get their PVCs, adjourned the case till January 30 for judgement