Ahead of Nigeria’s 2023 general elections, residents of some hard-to-reach communities in Gombe State cannot participate in the general election. They were disenfranchised by INEC officials who accepted kickbacks in order to travel long distances to capture potential voters. IDRIS Kamal and HAFSAH MUHAMMED report that, for failing to mobilize resources for INEC officials, many residents of remote communities will not get the opportunity to vote for candidates of their choice during the polls.
Umma Yarima, 40, a resident of Tukulma ward in Akko local government area of Gombe State, waited patiently for the commencement of the Continuous Voters’ Registration exercise by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to get her Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC) to enable her to participate in the 2023 general elections. But Umma’s eagerness turns into frustration when the registration started because she could not bear the financial burden of travelling about 10km to Akko town, where INEC stationed its only PVC registration centre in the district.
“I cannot spend N1,500 to go to Akko to register for next year’s election. I am very poor and N1,500 is a lot of money for me. It takes me months to raise such an amount,” Umma told WikkiTimes.
For Aishatu Tahir, a 30-year-old woman who stays more than 150km away from Umma, the story is almost the same. She explained that it is extremely arduous for her to brave the sandy narrow path on a motorcycle from Kunde to Dukku town to obtain PVC.
“It is time-consuming and painstaking. Commercial motorcycle riders charge passengers between N2, 000 and N2, 500 from here — Kunde-to-Dukku,” she said.
WikkiTimes’ findings showed that despite the difficulty in accessing most of these settlements, the impoverished agrarians and herders who live there could not afford to go to the closest PVC registration centre at their respective local government headquarters.
Despite orders from their superior officers, INEC registration officers did not go to these villages to register potential voters. They argued that settlements such as Kunde in Dukku; Tukulma in Akko and Dokoro in Nafada local government areas of Gombe state are not accessible due to bad road network, absence of electricity and cellular network.
Additional findings revealed that in a few cases where INEC officials accepted to travel to these remote villages, they did so for a reward from members of the communities. This is in sharp contrast to the commission’s PVC registration procedure.
As the one-year-long registration exercise window closed on July 30, these people – due to malpractices by INEC employees and the inaccessibility of their areas – have been disfranchised and lost their only ticket to participate in the 2023 general election.
Residents of no fewer than three Gombe hard-to-reach communities in Akko, Dukku, and Nafada local government areas told WikkiTimes that due to the unwillingness of INEC officials to visit their communities for the registration exercise, they had to mobilize resources among themselves to convince them.
These communities, WikkiTimes gathered, provided accommodation, power supply, transportation and feeding for the registration officers throughout their stay.
For them, this arrangement with INEC officials solved the problems they encountered in their bid to get PVC. For the registration officers, on the other hand, it is a subtle window to enrich themselves.
Alhaji Magari Muhammad Bashar, the District Head of Tukulma, said it wasn’t easy for his community members to travel to Kumo and Gombe to get PVC due to the high cost involved. Therefore, they had to mobilise through the communal effort to bring the registration officers down to Tukulma.
“When the challenge became unbearable, we had to appeal to INEC to send its officials here and they came and conducted the exercise,” the District Head said.
With over 40 communities under it, Tukulma ward has approximately 32,000 populations with 23 polling units scattered across dispatched settlements which are primarily accessible only by bike.
Malam Usman Liman Abubakar, Wakilin Hakimin Kunde, said when the community realised that most people who have attained the voting age will be disenfranchised, a committee was raised and sent to the INEC office in Dukku where they pleaded with the electoral umpire to send registration officers to register them.
He added that the community shouldered the responsibility of these officials throughout their stay in Kunde.
Political leaders across party lines in remote villages in Gombe state ‘helped’ to get their kith and kin of voting age registered as against the country’s PVC registration guidelines.
WikkiTimes learned that community associations also played a key role during the exercise as they canvassed resources and coordinated efforts to get more people registered.
Jalo Yarima, Chairman of Tukulma Youth Progressive Forum, said when they realized that a majority of their community members were not able to go for their PVC registration due to financial constraints, they had to seek ways to assist them.
“We realized other community members could not afford to go to Kumu or Gombe and register, so we decided to come in to ease their woes,” he said.
The chairman continued, “So, to ease their difficulties, we met our political heads who contributed money to bring down INEC officials. We got the fund and the exercise was conducted in three days.”
While Jalo’s group’s effort paid off, the same cannot be said of some other communities around Tukulma as many residents in those areas were not registered because they could not afford to sponsor registration officers to their places.
“Only a few villages including Panda and Berto could afford that. Other villages in Tukulma ward could not afford, hence people there are without PVCs against their wish,” Jalo said.
Abdallah Adamu Panda, the PDP chairman, of the Tukulma ward, confirmed that out of 700, only about 50 residents were able to afford N1, 500 to travel to Kumo to register for their voter cards.
“It became necessary to beg those people (INEC officials) to come. I had to personally sacrifice for my people and sponsor their journey
“The INEC officials were reluctant at first, as a result of the narrow and bad road. I had to convince them before they agreed to come,” he said.
Adamu said to the east of Panda lies Jurara, one of the largest villages in the district. According to him, of Jurara’s 3000 population of eligible voters, only 300 voters were registered because they could not bear the financial cost of going to Kumo or Gombe to register.
Saleh Ciroma, a resident of Kunde, also confirmed that community members could not endure the tedious process therefore; many had to accept their faith.
“Some of us that travelled to Dukku to register would spend the whole day in a queue and still not get registered,” he quipped. “The expenses became a burden that so many of us just had to give up and accept our faith.”
However, in Kaloma village, Nafada local government, the story is different. Despite the presence of the INEC officials during the exercise, many were not captured. Adama Kaloma, a resident, said this is because the officials refused to stay and register everyone.
“When they came, they only spent a few days and left knowing that many of us are still yet to register. They promised to come back but never showed up again,” he said.
When contacted, the Gombe state Independent National Electoral Commission INEC flatly refuted the allegations.
According to the commission’s head of the Voters’ Education department, Nuhu Ibrahim, INEC officials have visited all nooks and crannies of the state to carry out their duties.
He added that the commission in its effort to register voters had mobilized its staff to the remotest part of the state to register eligible voters.
Reacting to the bribe-for-PVC allegations, he said, “INEC is not aware of its officials collecting money before they travel to any village. But if we receive any confirmed report on that, we will bring the culprits to book.”
Nuhu added that about 75 percent of the state’s eligible voters have been registered, stressing that such a figure is relatively impressive.
This report was published with support from Civic Media Lab