In less than seven months, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will conduct a nationwide election that would allow Nigerians, yet again, an opportunity to decide their leaders. The sensitisation on how to register for and get a permanent voter card (PVC) has been loud from INEC, non-governmental organisations and even aspirants.
However, there have been numerous complaints from Nigerians about the human-induced difficulties that have made the PVC registration almost impossible for many. In this investigation by Banjo Damilola, a corespondent of Sahara Reporters, exposes the cases of bribery and extortion in select centres she visited based on hints from Nigerians.
INEC’s office at Ogbomosho North Local Government (LGA), Oyo State, has become notorious for extorting residents who come for PVC registration so much that motorcycle riders prepare the minds of their passengers before they drop them off at the commission’s office along Oke Owode road.
“They won’t attend to you except you give them money,” a rider told one of Saharareporters’ citizen reporters in Ogbomosho.
Getting to the office at about 8:30a.m on Friday, June 22, our correspondent observed that there were pockets of aggrieved people who were complaining about the conduct of the officials.
“I don’t know why they [INEC Officials] are rationing the form,” a woman who had come to register with her daughter said.
“They gave my daughter the form but they refused to give me form. This is the second time I am coming here and each time, they said the form has finished for the day.”
Another lady, who was also bitter about her experience, lamented that she was not allowed to put down her name as at 8a.m that she got to the office. “I was told the list is full,” she said.
Our citizen reporter and her friends then made attempts to get registered at the same centre but true to the complaints of others, they could not.
The citizen reporter approached one of the officials, Akinteye Femi, to lodge complaints about their plights but the conversation gradually deviated into a negotiation.
The negotiation… ‘won’t you give us something?’
After a long tale on why INEC was reluctant to register students, Akinteye assured our citizen reporter that he could ensure she and her colleagues got registered if they would get to the office as early as 6:30a.m and provide “man power”.
“We do have problems with students,” Femi began, “most especially the LAUTECH students. If I can show you the permanent voter cards that we have in our store now, it is more than thousands [sic] which the larger number of those cards are students cards. Those ones that have finished, even those that are still in school, they did not come and collect at all because they thought it is not useful to them.
“Let me just tell you, average of the students are not indigene and during election, there will be holiday for them to go back to their various places to go and vote. It is just better for them to go back home and register where they reside. Even if they register here, it is not useful for them. They might use it for other purpose but they cannot use it to vote because they will not be here during the election.
“If they are indigenes, let them go back to their various wards” he said.
“How can you help us because the students have to go to class… if there is a way you can help us,” our citizen reporter cut in. “We can get a bus to convey us here, maybe you’ll give us a day.”
He agreed that he could help before he went into another tirade of excuses on his limited capability to attend to a large number of people. He then called in another colleague, Mr. Toyin, to join the conversation.
“She wants us to assist them. She said when her people come, we don’t attend to them,” he told Toyin.
The conversation seemed to have ended with the agreement that the students should come as early as 6:30am so that they could be attended to before rush hour but as our citizen reporter made to leave, Akinteye promptly added: “And manpower or won’t you give us something? Are you not a student?”
N5, 000 is small for 20 people but I will help you’
Akinteye and Toyin blathered on about how the citizen reporter had been evading the ‘money discussion’.
“That was why I have been asking if there is any other thing we will need to do.”
“But you know now,” Akinteye said before Toyin interjected with a hysterical laughter: “He was suggesting it to you but you kept evading.”
Akinteye continued: “You know now but I will not tell you this is what to bring. You are students but you know what you’re supposed to do.”
“Okay, what is the range? Just tell me the range if it is something I can afford.”
“What do you have in mind like a range?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know the range. I am talking about 30 people. Let’s just say two buses.”
“Are you saying you want to do it per head or you want to do it collectively,” Akinteye asked.
“Collectively,” the reporter said.
“Ehn… so what range do you think?
“I have no idea”
The haggling went on for few more seconds and seeing that the citizen reporter would not name a price, Akinteye and Toyin went out to discuss.
“As I was saying, how much do you think can”? Akinteye said immediately he re-entered his office.
Akinteye had thought the reporter was working for a politician so he pushed to know if there was a “hidden agenda”.
“… I don’t want any hidden agenda. You have to come plain. This is our work and our work is not like this, we normally come straight. If there is anything there, let us know. Tell us… you understand? If there is anything behind it… we might even help more than your expectation when you come out plainly.
“Is there any sponsor?” he finally asked after minutes of meandering.
“How do you want us to believe that there is no one behind it?” Toyin queried. “So that something that you said you are going to bring, who is going to be responsible for the money?”
The reporter tried to persuade them she was doing it out of patriotism. “It is community service. It is something we have been doing. We do different campaigns on drugs and drug abuse. So we can always sponsor it.”
Toyin seemed unconvinced of the reporter’s story but the heightened inherent greed in him made him push further. However, he became more cautious of his words.
“We don’t commercialize our work,” Toyin attempted to be pious “but as far as you want to come in a group and for your own group and for easier something, that is why. And you are the one that even say [sic] that what should you bring because it might become another thing. We might hear another thing outside now that INEC, if you go there, they are collecting money and we are not commercializing our work.”
Akinteye and Toyin refrained from giving a price; instead, they urged the citizen reporter to give them an amount she could afford.
“What about N3000 for 20 people?” the reporter suggested.
“That is just too small,” Akinteye said.
“You just say the amount,” she urged the two officials.
“No, ‘jerk’ it up. We don’t want to name the price for you.”
“Tell me what you want… you know, me, I just mentioned a price now.”
“Jerk it up, jerk it up. If we mention N20,000 now, you will say it is too much because you are students but jerk it up”.
“Okay, how about we make it N250 per person; for 20 people that will be N5000?”
“How much?” Akinteye, who had been quiet for few minutes, asked.
“N5000”, Toyin replied.
Suddenly, the two INEC officials got suspicious of the citizen reporter’s phone that had been visibly up since the negotiation began. Akinteye looked through the phone to be sure she was not recording but somehow he missed the taped audio staring right into his face.
“N250 per person. That is N5000 for 20 people,” the reporter quickly redirected the conversation back to the negotiation.
“Don’t let me talk again. What I will do for that short period of time is not what it [the N5000].”
“Honestly! But don’t worry; let’s just make it like that.”
They received N2000 as initial payment for the 20 students that would later come to register.
‘A community financed its registration’
In the bid to convince our citizen reporter that incentivizing officials to do their duty is not uncommon, Akinteye narrated the story of a community that paid to have a registration centre.
“Something happened last week, some members of a community came here… they wanted us to bring the system to their place and register their people.
“I met with my boss and he said ‘okay, will they be able to finance it?’ And they said yes… because we cannot just take our system out like that; we will need ink, we will need some other materials and they agreed and we did it for them. It was even last week Thursday; I was the one that went there to register. I registered almost 100 in a day.”
N200 per registration is small for Akinteye
After the initial payment, 20 people were conveyed to the centre for registration. They all registered with ease; the process took less than 5 minutes to register a person. Not only were they promptly attended to — a thing that had been hitherto difficult to do — they were also given laminated Temporary Voter Cards (TVCs).
However, there was a need to pay Akinteye another visit. The citizen reporter had recorded only audio of the initial conversation with Akinteye. There was no evidence that any payment was made; if that went to press, the audio could be denied.
On Friday, June 29, the citizen reporter in company of another reporter paid Akinteye a visit, this time the conversation was captured in video.
“Those who are giving me the money want to know if we can have it at N200 per person,” the reporter asked.
“It is not possible” Akinteye said.
The reporter made pleas to have Akinteye reduced the cost to N200 per person but he insisted he could not have the price reduced.
“It is not possible,” he said repeatedly.
Akinteye collected another N5000 for the second batch of 20 people.
The reporter asked for his bank account details for ease of future payment — a request he gladly obliged
This report first appeared on SaharaReporters.