As the ongoing Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC) collection exercise enters its final week following an extension by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), an investigation by THE WHISTLER has uncovered how voters can collect their PVCs by proxy.
The weeklong investigation follows the open advertisement of PVC collection by self-appointed ‘agents’ who take advantage of the lack of verification of voters’ identities before the issuance of PVCs by INEC officials.
Earlier, when THE WHISTLER monitored the PVC collection exercise, it was observed that voters were only required to provide a general polling unit code and their name, from which the officials then search from a pack, after a voters’ card is found, the card is just handed over to him or her, without any means of identity verification – save a register where another official will input the card details and phone number of the voter.
This means anybody can just walk into the collection centre, provide a name, get the PVC and just walk out without any means of determining whether he/she is the actual owner of the card.
When our correspondent contacted one of the agents − who openly displayed a banner advertising PVC collection along Arab road, off Kubwa expressway, Abuja − he was charged 5,000 naira for the service.
A young man, probably in his late twenties, who identified himself as Jude met our correspondent at a local restaurant in the Kubwa metropolis, where he collected cash and the details of the PVC (Name, Registration Ward, Polling Unit and Polling Unit Code) promising to bring the PVC to an agreed location the next day.
The next day, Jude brought our correspondent the PVC at the agreed location. Explaining the nitty-gritty of the business, he admitted to impersonating voters at the PVC collection centres.
“It’s quite simple, what we do is to go and queue with your information, then we can collect it as though we are the owner, the INEC people cannot catch us because there is no way to know if we are the real owners or not. Also, we don’t just go about collecting people’s cards, we only deal with people who have paid and we get the PVC for them without issue.
“In some of the centres like LEA School, Kubwa and LEA School, Dawaki, I know people there who help me facilitate it, so I just send the polling unit code and name, and before I get there they would keep it aside. I settle those ones with like 1k. For other places, I have to go and join the queue myself.
On the number of people he has ‘helped’ and how much he has made from the business, he said, “Personally, I have collected PVC for like 17 people before now, you are the 18th person, and the price varies depending on the location, I have gotten PVC for people in Kado, Katampe, Kubwa and that Bwari side.
“Before they sent the PVCs to wards, I was getting many people, but now the number has gone down. So far, I think I would have made about 50 thousand naira,” he said.
Jude told our correspondent that he is unemployed and has tried a number of menial jobs which he is likely to return to when the PVC collection exercise ends.
Another agent who adorned electric poles along the Kubwa expressway with his posters charged our correspondent 7,000 naira for his services, which according to him is targeted at busy people.
He requested only voters’ name and polling unit code, opting to get paid when he brings the PVC to our correspondent the next day.
The card would not arrive until after three days, a delay he said was caused by the crowd at the GSS Gwarimpa collection centre, Life Camp, due to the upsurge of voters seeking to get their cards before the deadline set by INEC.
When our correspondent attempted to transfer money to his bank account citing scarcity of cash due to the introduction of new naira notes by the Central Bank of Nigeria, he refused. Instead, he followed our correspondent to a POS point where cash (old notes) was withdrawn and handed to him.
“This thing I’m doing is risky and I have to be very careful, so I can’t give my account number, I will manage the old notes like that, but try and add something for the stress,” he said while refusing to go into details of how he got the PVC.
Peter, another agent who our correspondent met at the PVC collection centre in Kubwa LEA II Primary School charged only 1,000 naira to get the PVC, he collected voters’ detail and directed the reporter to come back to the school the next day. The next day he handed our correspondent the PVC after collecting the agreed sum in cash.
Days later when our correspondent approached him to facilitate the collection of another PVC, he said the price had gone up to 2,000. He collected the details and the next day produced the PVC after collecting cash.
An INEC official at the Kubwa LEA collection centre, who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, said it was hard to verify voters’ identity because there is no mechanism put in place to ensure that.
“It is impossible to know if you are collecting someone else’s card because we can’t start comparing the passport on the picture with your face, most people registered a long time ago and it is an unreliable means of identification.
“Also the voters don’t even enter this place, we collect their details from the window and give them the card like that, you can see the crowd, if we start saying we want to be sure or start verifying people before giving out the cards, we are not going to finish the distribution before the deadline,” he said.
INEC National Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, did not respond to a request for comment, as several calls made to his line were unanswered.
Editor’s note: names have been changed to conceal the identities of the agents and all the PVCs collected through them belong to members of THE WHISTLER editorial staff