AS the 2023 elections draw near, there have been concerns that many students will likely not vote due to the short holiday given by schools, Mustapha Usman, reports.
During the long recent ASUU strike, Abubakar Sherif, 22, thought he would have the opportunity of voting his preferred candidate during the 2023 elections as he was able to register for his Permanent Voter’s card, PVC, in his state.
Sherif, a student at Federal University, Dutse-ma, Katsina, was one of the millions of young people who registered for voter’s cards in 2022.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities embarked on a long, and comprehensive strike which led to the shutdown of universities for eight months. During the strike, many University students went back to their various homes and, as such registered for PVC in their respective states.
Schools have resumed, and many of the students have returned, thereby being away from their polling unit. Those who want to vote will have to travel long distances to do so and may also risk missing lectures and other academic activities.
The ICIR gathered that some institutions, especially universities, give a few days break for elections. This, according to students who spoke to The ICIR, is not enough for a journey that may take a day or two to their destinations.
For instance, in 2019, Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto gave a three-day break to students for election. Also, Obafemi Awolowo University gave two days break to students to exercise their rights.
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Similarly, insecurity, bad roads and economic capacity are factors that may hinder students studying faraway from home from returning to perform their civic responsibility.
The Independent National Electoral Commission said it recorded a historic number of registered voters this year. In another report, The ICIR gathered that about 40 per cent of registered voters are students.
This, however, has led to arguments and discussions amongst Nigerians as to what the preparedness of INEC and institutions are relative to the situation.
Students groan over inability to collect PVC
The Commission will likely end PVC distribution by January 29 after it has extended it by a week. On January 5, 2023, the electoral body moved the distribution from Local Government Areas to Wards.
However, travelling students who are part of the additional 12.29 million citizens registered for the card between 2021 and July 31, 2022, may not be available to collect their PVC.
Abdulganiyu Adam, a student of Ahmadu Bello University, explained that he would not be voting as he does not have the chance to collect his PVC in his state.
Mustapha Ahmad of Federal University Abuja also disclosed that he registered for PVC in Kwara state and won’t have the opportunity to collect it before the deadline, even if he wishes to vote.
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Ahmad said, “We heard that the University will be giving us a week holiday for the election, but I am not sure I will be travelling because I don’t even have the PVC.”
Opeyemi Olalekan, a student of the University of Ibadan who is an indigene of Delta state, said she wouldn’t be voting because “I didn’t collect my PVC when I went home, and even if I did, my polling unit is not in Oyo state.”
A 200-level Business Management student at Federal University Dutse-ma, Katsina Abdulfatai Abdulsamad, said he won’t be voting because he hasn’t gotten his PVC due to their just-completed examinations.
Many of us didn’t vote in 2015 and ‘19 because of school activities
There have been issues regarding voter turnout in the previous elections.
In 2019, only 35.66 per cent of the 84.0 million registered voters across the country voted. This translates to 29.3 million accredited voters in the presidential election.
While in 2011 and 2015, Nigeria recorded 53 per cent and 43.6 per cent turnout of the total registered voters, respectively.
A graduate of Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Idris AbdulGaniy wrote on his Facebook status that he couldn’t vote for his preferred candidate in the 2015 and 2019 elections due to the ongoing session in the school.
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According to him, he registered for PVC in Kwara state but was in school during the election and couldn’t take the risk of travelling back to Kwara, which would take almost 16 hours to make for a three-day holiday.
“For two consecutive years 2015 & 2019 I was unable to vote for my preferred candidates in the last two general elections because I was out of my state where I was supposed to cast my vote.
“In 2015, I was in Sokoto UDUS studying that year and it’s not possible for someone to vote in another state apart from his own state, local government and polling unit where the person was registered with. That is the reason why I missed the election of that year 2015,” he wrote.
Online Protest over alleged move to disenfranchise ‘3.5 million’ students
Nigerians on social media using the twitter platform are protesting over the alleged moves to disenfranchise ‘millions’ of university students in the 2023 elections.
The ICIR gathered that the online protest emanated after Daily Sun newspaper front page headlines that about 3.5 million Nigerian students won’t vote. The newspaper cited that students will be in school despite registering for PVC at home.
Several tweeps, however, showed displeasure over the development, noting that INEC should work with ASUU and University students to release students for PVC collection and give them 2-3 weeks’ holiday for the elections.
A Twitter user, @IdokoEm58807717 wrote “FUTMINNA has even released exam table already, which will commence on 13th of Feb till 1st march, and I did my voters card in Benue during the Asuu strike, so there is no chance of me voting anymore.”
Another user with Twitter ID @moipackage, also tweeted that “I really don’t know why @Asuu cannot give a compulsory one-week break for all students to return home and take their PVCs and do the same again the week before elections. The FG kept you home for 8 months, and your salaries are still withheld till now.”
The ICIR confirmed that Bayero University of Kano scheduled a two-week holiday for the 2023 General elections in its calendar.
However, a student of the University, Saliman Ibrahim, who spoke with The ICIR explained that although the two weeks may have been fair enough for students to exercise their rights during elections, many of them still couldn’t travel to get their PVC as they registered in their respective homes.
Similarly, insecurity, fuel scarcity and inflation of transport fees are other reasons why many said they have decided to remain in school during the general elections, according to Ibrahim.
FUTMinna to hold exams two days after presidential election
The ICIR gathered that the Federal University of Technology, Minna (FUTMinna) would be writing exams during the period of the presidential election.
According to the school examination timetable that The ICIR obtained from a student of the university, the students will write exams a day before and two days after the election.
The students have Saturday, the election day and Sunday exams free.
A student of the university who preferred not to be named for fear of victimisation said some of them would write exams a day before the election as the school only gave Saturday the election period.
The source stressed that the examination continues two days after the presidential election.
Reps ask FG to shut down schools
Following the reaction of Nigerians, the House of Representatives has also asked the federal government to shut down tertiary institutions to allow students to exercise their rights during the general elections.
The house called on the Federal Ministry of Education and other relevant stakeholders to direct all tertiary institutions to suspend academic activities during the period of elections.
According to Kebbi state representative Ibrahim Tukura, over 3.8 million of the newly registered voters are students, accounting for “40.8 per cent of the total number of newly registered voters.
He also called for a special PVC collection for students.
“The students are busy with academic activities, and the Independent National Electoral Commission is engaged in distributing PVCs at the wards across the 774 Local Government Areas of the federation, which deprives students of the opportunity to collect their PVCs,” he said.
Electronic election, a way forward – ERC
National Coordinator Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Hassan Taiwo Soweto, has called on INEC to adopt the use of electronic election to allow people to vote for their preferred candidate, adding that Nigerians should be able to vote irrespective of where they are once they register with them.
Soweto, in an interview with The ICIR, said the INEC seems unconcerned about the millions of students who may likely not vote due to the ongoing session, stressing that the electoral body should have planned for this ahead.
According to him, school management should grant students who are willing to vote leave so as to allow them to exercise their constitutional rights.
Varsities can’t be forced to close for elections- INEC
The electoral commission, in an interview with The Punch disclosed that the universities can’t be forced to close for elections, adding that the commission don’t have such power.
According to INEC chairman’s media aide Rotimi Oyekanmi, “Each university has a governing council that decides how the university should be run. I doubt it, although I stand to be corrected if the National Universities Commission can indeed issue a directive to universities on when to go on holidays or operate.”
Ministry of Education declines interview
On January 25, The ICIR reached out to the Ministry of Education spokesperson Ben Goong to seek reactions on the alleged move to disenfranchise millions of students, but no response has been filed.
Other efforts, such as SMS and WhatsApp messages, were also not returned.
Produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) with support from Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO).