The partnership between Nigeria’s election umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and media practitioners in Delta State, was on recently taken a notch higher with the inauguration of INEC Press Corps, IPC, where the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Monday Udoh-Tom, a cleric, charged journalists in the state to help create awareness for registrants to collect their Personal Voter Cards (PVCs).
Udoh-Tom expressed concern that from the 2019 registration exercise till date, over 300,000 PVCs had remained uncollected from INEC’s offices across the state.
Speaking at the event, which also witnessed the swearing-in of a four-man executive of the press corps led by Festus Ahon of the Vanguard Newspapers, at its headquarters in Asaba, the state capital, Udoh-Tom gave a breakdown of the uncollected PVCs to include 244,715 from the 2019 exercise; 69,946 for those who registered between June and December 2021, and 17,000 PVC transfers. He feared that the number could increase when the electoral body commences the distribution of new PVCs which are expected to arrive in November.
He noted that the first step towards participating in the elections was registration for the PVC but lamented that the seeming apathy of the people towards the electoral process was already manifesting in the number of uncollected PVCs, which he stated, would in turn take a toll on the number of persons who would vote in the elections, hence the PVC Collection Sensitisation Programme.
Udoh-Tom disclosed that there were 2.8 million registered voters in Delta state in 2019, but only 1.1 million voted in both the national and state elections, while 1.6 million others did not vote.
Appealing therefore to eligible voters to come forward and claim their cards to avoid being disenfranchised in next year’s elections, Udoh-Tom said the commission had already stepped up sensitisation efforts and urged stakeholders to assist in mobilising voters to come for their PVCs.
According to him, “The commission expects that by the end of November, we will receive more PVCs, hence, our desire to embark on the aggressive mobilisation of registrants to collect their PVCs through the PVC Collection/Political Campaigns Sensitisation, which has so far taken us to the state House of Assembly”.
The REC stated that the inauguration of the press corps in the state testified to the commitment of the state management of INEC to replicate what is happening at the national level, where an IPC already existed for over a decade, noting that Delta became the first state to inaugurate it after Abuja.
Swearing-in the state IPC executive, the REC congratulated journalists in the state on the unveiling of what he described as an important addition to the interface between the Commission and its gamut of stakeholders, adding that the event represented the induction of the press corps into the Commission’s value chain of stakeholder engagement matrix in Delta State.
Udoh-Tom said “It is significant to mention here that your induction at the state level will benefit the media, particularly in understanding the language and nuances of political reporting, and by extension, the activities of INEC, more so now that the Electoral Act 2022 (as amended) has devoted a significant portion to what is expected of the media in the political process, particularly sections 94 and 96 of the Act.
“On the part of the Commission, we here and now commit to respecting the desires of the media to access information on the activities of the Commission in an open and timely manner, without undermining the Commission’s rules and regulations, particularly as they relate to its communication policy”.
While urging them to collaborate with the INEC in its ongoing efforts to ensure free, fair and credible elections in 2023, Udoh-Tom admitted that achieving the desired results would be difficult without the support of the media. He asserted that aggressive media campaigns were required to get Nigerians to truly understand and comply with what was expected of them to guarantee a seamless electoral process.
Earlier, the Head of Department, Voters Education and Publicity, Bukola Ojeme, said that the IPC would help journalists in the understanding the nuances of certain INEC activities. He explained that “this platform seeks to do this, and make sure that every member of INEC Press Corps, like it has been happening in Abuja in the last 10 years, you know where to go when you need some information”.
According to Ojeme, “We have an open platform; it’s an open source for members to be able to access to any information we have. You may wish to know that since we set up this platform, everything that is happening in the Commission, we upload to the platform and most of our colleagues have been able to access everything that needs to go to the public. They come to the platform first”.
He said the platform was very critical in the value chain of information management for the Commission as it would enhance quality reportage and eschew fake news and other negative tendencies that could mar the electoral process.
The INEC Press Corps executive that took the oath of office included Ahon, chairman, Oghenero Eghere, secretary, Ifeoma Okafor, treasurer, and Austin Oyibode, public relations officer.
Responding on behalf of the newly inaugurated body, Ahon thanked his colleagues for the opportunity given them to serve, promising that “As a group, we are going to work with other stakeholders in the discharge of our duties. We shall continue to interface with the Commission and our people to ensure a cordial relationship”. Ahon further pledged that the team would “not betray this confidence that has been reposed in us to serve them in this capacity”.