At the core of democracies are elections, essentially because they allow citizens to elect their leaders. Also, it is through elections citizens get the opportunity for popular participation in a democracy.
Having been a democratic state since 1999, Nigeria is no stranger to elections. Hence, as part of the preparation for the 2023 general elections, the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) began Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) in July 2021.
The Constitution mandates INEC to conduct voter card registration between electoral cycles to onboard new voters. But why make the registration continuous, and what are the processes for getting registered?
INEC conducts CVR to allow eligible Nigerians who reached voting age (18) after the last registration exercise to register to vote. Without the CVR process, a decent part of the population would be disenfranchised between electoral cycles.
The CVR also gives room for those who, for some reason, were previously unregistered and are above the constitutional age requirement.
It is also important for voters who can use the opportunity to transfer voting locations, correct personal details, and replace damaged or lost Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs).
Finally, the exercise is constitutional because “the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) mandates the Commission to carry out CVR nationwide and to make it available to every political party within 60 days”.
Local government area (LGA) offices or other locations within these offices act as INEC-designated centres for eligible residents to register.
But how does one register to vote, and what are the next steps?
Process of voters card registration
INEC introduced a portal for the voter registration process in 2021, which provides an opportunity to start an application process online by filling out your details, printing out the slip, and locating the nearest registration centre for data capture.
Online pre-registration is INEC's initiative to make voter registration seamless. This is also useful for replacing lost or damaged voter cards. Or people who want to change their voting locations or correct their information.
The portal means you can start these applications online. But you still need to get a voter's card. So, let's look at a step-by-step guide to getting your card.
Obtaining a voter card in Nigeria
To get a voter's card:
1. Visit the INEC registration centre in your local government area.
In looking for an INEC registration centre, we recommend that you select the centre nearest to you to avoid mobility or other inconveniences. You can check here for a list of all registration area centres across the country.
2. Make available proof of identity and have your biometric information captured by the INEC officials. Proof of identity could be a Birth Certificate, National Passport, Identity Card, or Driver’s License. Once your identity and age have been confirmed, an official will collect your information with a Direct Data Capture Device. Your photograph and thumbprint will be taken and stored in the INEC database.
3. You will be issued a Temporary Voters Card: The Temporary Voters Card proves you completed the registration process. The Temporary voter card must be kept safe because you must present it later.
4. INEC officials will contact you when your Permanent Voters Card is ready: After getting information that PVCs are ready, return to the centre where you registered and present your Temporary Voters Card. You should exchange it for your Permanent Voters Card, and you can now vote. Your PVC can't be renewed except for damage or loss. It contains electronically programmed information that can only be read or assessed electronically with a card reader. It also details voters' gender, address, date of birth, photograph, and occupation.
To qualify for a voters card, you need to meet the below criteria:
Be a Nigerian who is at least 18 years and has never registered to vote
A registered voter who has issues with accreditation in previous elections
Registered voters looking to change their voting locations
Registered voters whose Permanent Voters card is lost or damaged.
Registered voters who want to correct important information, like name and date of birth.
The registration process for the 2023 elections saw an increased number of registered voters, with 93.5 million voters announced before the claims and objections phase.
When will the voter card registration start and end in 2023?
With just days away from the 2023 general elections, people have been worried about collecting their PVCs, prompting INEC to extend collection deadlines. As of the latest report, this deadline elapsed on January 29, 2023.
The commission tries to control the process by closing the registration process before closing collections.
According to the law, INEC must suspend the CVR "provided it is not later than 90 days before the date fixed for the General Election as provided in Sec. 9(6) of the Electoral Act 2022.”
The INEC Commissioner in charge of Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, also explained that this timeframe enables INEC to do the heavy lifting in the cleaning and consolidation of the voter register.
For authentification, the commission would clean up the voter register to remove multiple registrants using the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS). This is followed by consolidating the national register of voters (existing voters and new registrants) and displaying the same on Polling Unit basis for each of the 8,809 Registration Areas (Wards) across the 774 Local Government Areas nationwide for public scrutiny.
After this process, INEC prints millions of Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) for all fresh registrants and applicants for transfer and replacement of lost or damaged PVCs. And ensure that there is sufficient time for voters to collect their PVCs.
The deadline for getting a PVC to participate in the 2023 elections is February 5th. So the luxury of time is absent for those without it. Voting starts between the hours of 8 am - 2 pm, and INEC says as long as you're in the queue to vote by 2 pm, you will be allowed to cast your ballot.
These activities are important for the public during elections because INEC is expected to produce copies of the final register of voters for accreditation and display at 176,846 polling units for national elections (Presidential and National Assembly) on 25th February 2023 and State elections (Governorship and State Assembly) on 11th March 2023.
Remember, INEC is also expected to make copies of the updated national register of voters to political parties not later than 30 days before the date fixed for the general election.
There are prevailing sentiments that citizens are enthusiastic about the election considering the increase in the number of registered voters and the rate of PVC collection. However, we can only be cautiously optimistic because it's one thing to register to vote, and it's another to turn out on election day.
● Why does INEC have to close the voter registration process?—We looked at the implications of closing the voter registration on the elections.
● What determines voter turnout?—To understand the rate of civic engagement in Nigeria, we analysed the link between registering to vote and election day turnout in Nigeria.
● Nigeria's ID (Cards) and Ego: I—Ebehi Iyoha breaks down why Nigeria’s identity management process is important and needs to be more successful.
● Follow Stears elections here to get personalised election updates, insights and results for races and candidates you care about.