Braving stressful waits, red tape and repeated visits, Nigerians are rushing to pick up their voting cards for next month’s presidential election, where three main candidates are vying to replace President Muhammadu Buhari.
Nearly 10 million new voters have been registered for the February 25 ballot, 84 per cent of them are people under age 34 – a key block of ballots. But the Independent National Electoral Commission, known as INEC, also claimed 1.12 million of those new registrations were invalid.
The election in Africa’s most populous country is shaping up to be an exceptional event.
For the first time since the end of military dictatorship in 1999, a third-party candidate is presenting a real challenge to the dominance of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
With Nigeria struggling with growing insecurity, high living costs and increasing poverty, many young voters say they are keener now to have a say about their future leader.
Over the weekend, crowds gathered at Lagos schools where election officials called out names, checked off lists and handed out a coveted ID, the biometric Permanent Voting Card or PVC.
Some would-be voters were successful, but others were frustrated to be told to come back.
“They told me my PVC is not ready. They have to go back to Abuja,” said Chuks David, a software developer in Lagos’s Surulere area.
“We need to get things right, and that is why I am taking the time and the stress to get my PVC.”
Last week, INEC extended the deadline for PVC collection by eight days. In some states, 100,000 cards were collected in just five days, it said.
Picking up her card in Lagos state’s Alimosho district, first-time voter, Gbemisola Akindola, said she hadn’t seen the need for change in 2019, but she is determined to have her say this year.
“Right now something is very very clear: that it’s time we transition to the younger generation ruling us. And that’s why, if I don’t do it now, when would I do it?”
Nigeria’s elections in the past have been marred by logistical delays, violence and claims of fraud and vote buying.
In 2019, INEC was forced to postpone the election by a week just hours before voting was scheduled to start because of difficulty getting materials to polling stations. —AFP