Beyond expectation, the crowd kept pouring out. But as the voters registration exercise ended after the seven days extension period, willing and eligible voters only found that they had been denied registration. Some of them did all that was necessary including sleeping out in the night at the registration centres. Yet they were not lucky to be registered by INEC officers. This was despite determination shown to discharge their civic responsibilities.
Maybe it was a trust in President Goodluck Jonathan avowed posture that gave them that encouragement. He had promised to make every vote count in the April general election. Fear of the authority propelled a large number of them to register too. Some local government council chairmen including community chiefs and leaders had vowed to banish or expend other kinds of punishments on any indigene who refused to return home to register.
Some state governments directed its civil servants and workers in Parastatals to submit photocopies of voter’s cards at the office of the Director of Finance at each of the Ministries. This suggested it would be used to qualify who should be paid his/her salary in the coming months in Rivers State, particularly. And voter’s card is also a pre-condition to access government provided social services both in Rivers and Imo States. But in Lagos, the government said it would not use the voter’s card as a prerequisite to pay salaries.
It was surprising that Mr. Chris Oruge, labour chairman of Rivers state waited until workers had complied with the directive and submitted their cards. Then he reacted condemning any act to use the voter’s card as condition for salary payment. He said the labour would resist it.
INEC greatest ordeal during the registration exercise was the breakdown of equipment, slow operation of the DCM, the lack of or inadequate supply of a back-up memory pack to enable quick transfer of information away from the system.
There was also the lack of other materials like printing papers, lamination cards and lack of regular stand-by electricity. And the quick urge among INEC officers to make money off the electorate because those who provided electricity wanted a return. Each electorate at such centres were made to pay at least fifty naira to be served. INEC authority was quick to accuse the ad hoc officers of NYSC stock for fraudulent practices in Zamfara State.
But the NYSC Director had defended the Youth Corps members. He said that members of the community were the real culprits. An immediate investigation was undertaken that led to the arrest of the culprits. He said the youth corps’ members were well behaved servicing their father land. It did show that INEC lacked the capacity to find solution to match all the promises it made to Nigerians. And it was never able to make it easy for all willing electorates to register.
Now, it was obvious that they would be disenfranchised as voters. This quick speak has become a regular feature of INEC. On January 13, just two days to the commencement of the exercise which started on January 15, the INEC chairman, Alhaji Attahiru Jega told newsmen that the commission was fully prepared to undertake the exercise. He assured it would distribute Data Capture Machines to all the 120, 000 polling centres across the country.
But that was not to be because on the first day of the exercise, despite that the DDC machines were in short supply, most of them were in bad condition and could not function properly. And the slow pace of operation of some of them frustrated the exercise. That made Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi, who registered on the first day of the exercise to call for an extension of day to allow more Nigerians to register. His outcry was echoed with a call on INEC to immediately rectify all identified faults.
INEC swung into action and as Alhaji Jega told members of the National Assembly, he was on top of the situation. But those problems never abated. It remained till the end of the exercise. In fact more erupted. It was obvious that most officials engaged for the exercise were ill experienced. And really INEC trained officers including some undergraduates, immigration officers and youth corps members.
And up till when the exercise ended none of these categories of officers knew that their lives were contracted in an assurance policy. And they may never know how to claim it. Indeed some of them were attacked. An unconfirmed number of people were killed. Some desperate armed men attacked INEC Ad hoc officers either in a shoot-out and to intimidate them personally.
In Ebonyi and Edo states armed youths attacked officers and shot those attached to Ndiagwu Amagu centre in Ikwo local govt in Ebonyi state to leave a bullet penetration from the back side of Mr. Alobu Benedict’s into his stomach, Mr. Uche Nwajo and Clement Igboji also sustained injuries. A youth corps member was said to be killed in Jos. But INEC boss had debunked though the allegation but affirmed that in Yobe state, an immigration officer working as registration area centre officer was killed when he was locked up in a room with generating set put on. And in Kebbi state another guard died.
These added to other inconveniences of poor welfare, with holding the allowances of ad hoc staff; 30 thousand naira without justifiable reason. That made them to threaten to withdraw their services on January 25, 2011. And many people including the leadership of Action Congress of Nigeria had doubted the capacity of INEC to detect multiple registration, which was rampant and the reason why INEC officers were attacked.
The doubt hinged on the fact that if the multiple registrations were not done on the same machine, the install server in INEC cannot detect it. That leaves much to worry about as many had registered in multiple to create room for rigging during the April general election. But the Director of Silver Bird communications, Mr. Ben Bruce had urged INEC to institute continuous voters’ registration centres across the country to allow people to walk in and get registered.
However, the Director of Registration in INEC Alhaji Ibrahin Biu said over 70 million Nigerians had been registered. He said the new amendment to the new electoral Act that empowers INEC to continue with voters’ registration until one month before the April election. He applauded the work they had done saying that it was ready to move to the next phase of displaying the voters’ registers for objections.