Agents of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are going around Enugu State to collect the identification number on voter cards and the personal information of voters. Ben Aroh of The Whistler investigates this game plan of the two dominant political parties in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.
Ebere Okorie, a resident of Nkwo Nike in Enugu, has been looking forward to cash out from the ballot.
Okorie who is not a member of either the All Progressives Congress or People’s Democratic Party has already given out her personal data to both parties in anticipation of cash reward.
“I have submitted my numbers and name to PDP and APC,” she told The Whistler “APC has a form I filled. Their own has a column for PVC VIN. I filled all. I am waiting for money they will give.”
Okorie continued: “the guy promised us that at the right time, that the party will contact us. We want to get money from those parties. Let them bring the money. After that, we decide who to vote for.”
Another voter, Marcus Nnamani, told The Whistler that APC and PDP have been collecting voters’ personal information in Obollo-Afor.
“Our ward coordinator for the PDP came to us and demanded us to fill our names and phone numbers,” Nnamonu said. “He said they would give us something to vote for PDP. I have not done for APC, but my sister filled even her PVC identification number in the form APC gave her. That is where I am afraid.”
Similar mass collection of voters’ data is happening in other parts of the state.
Raphael Eze who comes from Nsude in Udi said he had filled the forms given to him by PDP and APC.
“We will collect money, but still vote for the candidates we want,” Eze said. “I don’t care what they do with my voter identification number because they say it is going to be electronic voting. I doubt if they can rig it.”
Investigation by The Whistler has found that APC has sent forms to most of the electoral wards across the state with their ward coordinators actively gathering voters’ personal information that includes the identification number on their voter cards.
A copy of the form seen by The Whistler requires the people to fill their name, local government, ward, polling unit, voter identification number, and phone number.
At Olo in Ezeagu, an APC ward coordinator who spoke on condition of anonymity claimed that many political parties had been running similar campaign to collect the data of voters. “We want to know those that will vote,” he said. “Then we approach them to vote our preferred candidates. The voter identification number is to be sure that such a person actually registered to vote.”
Ken Oforma, spokesman for Ugo Agballa, the state chairman of the APC, in an interview, said, “the state publicity secretary should provide answers because it is a party issue. But to the best of my knowledge, I have not seen that happen in APC. If they want to build a database for their members and they request certain information, I don’t think it is out of place to embark on such collations. If they go outside their members, it becomes something else. I am a member of APC, and nobody has asked me to submit such information.”
Charles Solo-Ako, the publicity secretary of APC in Enugu State, denied that the party is collecting such data from voters:
“If a party is making arrangements of having a database of their members, there is nothing bad about it,” Solo-Ako said. “But where it is thrown wide to the members of the public, that is where you have a very big problem.”
He added that, “we have an arrangement of getting the data of our members in each ward or polling unit for easy running of our party. It is our own internal arrangement, and not for people outside the party.”
APC is not alone in this collection of voters’ personal information.
The Whistler found that the PDP has also been actively gathering names and phone numbers of eligible voters across the wards in the state.
“We are collating names and phone numbers of all eligible voters in those units,” said Osita Okafor, a PDP agent tasked with getting voters’ data at an area within a particular polling unit in Oji River. “We don’t collect PVC VINs. That one is a crime. The measure is to be able to reach out to those voters to solicit their votes. It is not vote-buying.”
The Whistler could not get Augustine Nnamani, the state’s PDP Chairman to comment on the issue.
But a senior member of the party who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the matter said there was no wrongdoing in such exercise. “What’s wrong with that if the party is not demanding the voter verification numbers? Parties that demand such should be your focus, and not those doing legitimate things,” he said.
Hilary Onah, director general of Pinnacle Movement and member of the PDP, said nothing is wrong with such exercise. Pinnacle Movement is a support group of the PDP gubernatorial candidate in the state.
“Anybody can generate data provided PVC VIN is not included,” Onah said. “But as a support group, we do that to enable us to know the total number of our members for easy access.”
While the collection of such data is giving room for misgiving about the intention of APC and PDP, other political parties pointed out that collecting only the contact details of eligible voters should not be a concern.
“If it is for vote-buying, it is an electoral offence,” said Ndubuisi Elechi Onyia, chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance in Enugu State. “It depends on the purpose of the action. For APGA, we believe that votes will count this time around. That is why the mobilisation is becoming intensive, including getting contacts of eligible voters.”
Hyginus Ugwu, the House of Representatives candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance for Udenu/Igbo-Eze North Federal Constituency in Enugu State, added that there was nothing wrong with collecting such information from eligible voters. “Every political party is doing one thing or the other as a strategy to win an election,” he said.
But the Labour Party in the state is suspicious of the motives of the parties that are collecting voters’ personal information.
The party’s state public relations officer Ibuchukwu Ezike told The Whistler that, “I don’t know their reasons for doing that. I think that this is an electoral crime, but INEC should be in the right position to know if it is allowed to impersonate a voter at elections and, if it is possible, whether such act is not unlawful and punishable under the electoral law.”
However, Charles Odenigbo, a constitutional lawyer, pointed out that the motive for collecting such data is subject to many interrogations, but the outlook is against the law.
“It is contrary to the Electoral Act. Are they campaigning or mobilising members?” Odenigbo said. “It is illegal because the data of voters is in the custody of the Independent National Electoral Commission. Again, political parties have the data of their own members.
“But to now go out and start getting data of eligible voters is illegal,” he continued. “This is because they are supposedly not their party members because various political parties already have the data of their party members. INEC has the data of those with PVCs.”
Odenigbo suggested that it could be a new method of committing frauds in the elections.
“Those people giving out their data do not know the implications. It is unfortunate that they have descended to this level. Parties don’t have the right to do that with the voters. It is only INEC that is supposed to do that.”
Pius Eze, INEC’s public relations officer in Enugu State, said he was not aware that parties are collecting voters’ personal data.
“I have not heard that,” he said. “I have not received such complaints in the office.”
A senior official of INEC in the state who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter told The Whistler that it would be difficult for politicians to rig the elections
“It’s going to be electronic, so data capture will be part of it,” he said. “However, we always tell voters to protect their PVCs for many reasons. It is an identity, and criminals can replicate it and do whatever they like with it.”
Murray Okeke, an ICT expert based in Awka, Anambra State, called for caution.
“Nothing is impossible. I don’t know the sophistication of the security applied in making the PVCs. But those taking those identification numbers may be thinking towards cloning them,” Okeke said.
“The implication is that the capture machine could reject the rightful owners and accept fraudulent bearers. Some can simply damage them to make voting unable to reflect the true wishes of the electorate,” he added.
This report was published with support from the Civic Media Lab.