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    Assessing INEC’s 2019 General Election



    Despite efforts put in place by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct free, fair and credible elections in 2019, some politicians made attempts to subvert the process, a development that almost put the nation’s electoral process in jeopardy, SUNDAY ISUWA writes.

    The elections were initially scheduled to hold February 16, and March 2 for the 2019 presidential and the national assembly elections, and gubernatorial, State House of Assembly and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Councils elections respectively.

    But the electoral umpire ran into a logistics problems and had to announced its postponement in the early hours of election day.

    Several political parties and their candidates, stakeholders and other local and international observers accepted INEC’s explanation knowing that it was geared towards validating credibility in the electoral process.

    A lot of Nigerians who earlier expressed worry over the Commission’s action, trooped to their polling units enmass to exercise their franchise on the new dates for the elections that were fixed as February 23 for presidential and national assembly elections and March 9 for governorship and state assemblies elections.

    The presidential elections experienced large turnout of voters all over the country. At the end, incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari emerged winner, polling 15,191,847 while Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) polled 11,262,978 to emerged second.

    As expected, there were problems in same areas which were either due to human errors or deliberate. And the electoral umpire went ahead as prescribed by the constitution to cancel the election in such areas. The main opposition candidate and it’s party is challenging the outcome in court.

    On Saturday 9th March 2019, Nigerians went to the polls again, to elect governors in 29 States, 991 members of Houses of Assembly in all the States of the Federation, 6 Chairmen as well as 62 Councillors for the Area Councils in the FCT.

    A total of 1,082 candidates were supposed to be elected by citizens across the country but some states, constituencies and area Councils experienced hiccups leading to the declaration of such elections as inconclusive.

    Learning from the experience of the Presidential and National Assembly elections held earlier, it was obvious to everyone that INEC tackled some of the logistics challenge it encountered in the presidential and national assembly polls. Materials for the election were delivered to all States and the FCT. Movement to the Local Government Areas were smooth.

    All materials and relevant personnel arrived at the Registration Area Centres (RACs) which made most of the polling units to open by at 8.00 am.

    In addition to elections into 1,082 constituencies nationwide, the Commission conduct supplementary elections in 14 States of the Federation covering 7 Senatorial Districts and 24 Federal Constituencies. Elections in the affected areas were disrupted mainly by acts of violence involving ballot box snatching, abduction of INEC officials, over voting and the failure to adhere to regulations and guidelines. The number of registered voters in the polling units involved in each constituency was more than the votes received by the candidate with the highest number of votes.

    Therefore, Supplementary elections was required to determine the winners. Consequently, the Commission decided to conduct the supplementary National Assembly polls on Saturday alongside the Governorship and State Assembly elections.

    In the gubernatorial elections, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Election Analysis Centre (EAC) had identified nine key battleground states where the race for the position of the governor would be fierce.

    CDD listed Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Imo, Adamawa Ogun, Plateau, Bauchi, and Sokoto among the states the contest will be fierce.

    Among these states, Kano, Adamawa, Plateau, Bauchi and Sokoto happened to be the states where election were declared inconclusive. Even though analysts did not rate Benue as one of the states in which the election will be fierce but the process was also declared inconclusive.

    A rerun election will be conducted in that six states on Saturday, March 23, 2019.

    The 9 March 2019 elections were described as strategic since governors, State House of Assembly and FCT Area Council chairmen and Councillors are more closer to the people.

    “Governors are about the most strategic positions in governance and who emerges often have a direct bearing on good governance and improved or worsened security,” Dr. Joe Abah, an analyst at the EAC and the Nigerian director for  UK Department for International Development, said.

    “The greatest challenge to good governance in Nigeria is the relatively high percentage of governors who are excessively corrupt, irresponsible in their governance mandate and often almost completely absent from their respective States,” Abah said adding that citizens must closely monitored and assessed the performance of their governors.

    Even though INEC was commended for blocking the loopholes it earlier encountered in the presidential and national assembly elections, there were significant challenges which affected the smooth conduct of the gubernatorial, State House of Assembly and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Councils polls.

    The Smart Card Readers (SCRs), which authenticate the Permanent Voters Card, accredit voters and matches voter biometrics to the INEC database, was dogged by glitches, mainly when it came to reading and matching the fingerprints of voters.

    In some places where they deliberately refused to use the smart card readers, manual voting was reported by some observers in locations like Kazawa Primary School polling unit in Kazawa Ward of Kano Central Senatorial District and Unwanar Ganji Open Space  Ward in Rimi Gado of Kano north Senatorial District.

    Voters turnout was low in many parts of the country during the March 9 elections.

    Most people said they were only interested in the outcome of the Presidential elections, while some expressed doubt as to whether their votes will count. The threat of violence also kept away some voters from the polls,” it was gathered.

    Over 30 people were reportedly killed in various violence in the 2019 general elections.

    LEADERSHIP reports that armed thugs turned their guns on citizens and opposing political parties which led to the killings.

    “We also noted the actions of armed bandits and Boko Haram insurgents in Katsina and Adamawa states. We also note with dismay the activities of security personnel around the country, who have been accused of interference in the electoral process and failure to protect electoral staff and materials.”

    “We flag the need to review the rules of engagement guiding the involvement of security personnel in election duties. It is saddening that a suspected ballot box snatcher was killed and that an aide to a candidate also lost his life to so-called accidental discharge,” a report by CDD said.

    CDD in its report, said different forms of threats, harassment, intimidation and assault were reported during the elections.

    “We reckon that these attempts are aimed at undermining the system usually to favour the perpetrators. Our monitors on the ground did not only report cases of intimidation but were victims, too.”

    “One of our observers was arrested by soldiers in the Mile 2 area of Lagos by soldiers on his way to cover the protest over non-payment of allowances by ad-hoc staff.”

    “Political thugs slapped and abducted our observer in at PU 2 Afaha Nsit ward of Akwa Ibom and later requested a ransom.  Our observer was abducted by political thugs for reporting and sharing photos and permanent voter’s card of underaged voters in Polling Unit 15, Ward 04 of Shendam local government area of in Plateau state.”

    “He was later released. In a related incident, a politician slapped a BBC journalist in Lagos in a brazen show of power.”

    “By extension, the weaponisation of abductions of INEC staff and the ad-hoc staff is worrisome and constitutes a drawback to the progress we have made so far.  INEC officials were kidnapped and later released in Benue, Katsina, Kogi, Imo, Akwa Ibom and Rivers during voting and collation of results, with Katsina alone recording 20 cases of abductions,” CDD said in the report signed by Prof. Adele Jinadu.

    Irregularities were reported in Imo State were open ballot stuffing at polling unit 010A and 010B at Mbutu Ward, Aboh Mbaise, Local Government Area of the State were experienced.

    “This was the polling unit for Emeka Ihedioha, former Deputy Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives and the winner of the election.

    Ihedioha had not yet cast his vote at the time of the incident, so it was difficult to know whether his supporters did it or sponsored by his opponents who wanted to humiliate him by making him lose at his polling unit.

    INEC announced on the election day the sacking of its ad hoc staff in the state on the grounds that they had been compromised by politicians and announced new ad hoc staff on the election day apparently to ensure they would not be compromised.

    However, it was said that even the new set of ad hoc staff appointed on the election day were also compromised.

    In Eziama Obire,   Nkwerre Local Government Area of the State, political thugs reportedly murdered a PDP party agent following an argument in one of the polling units in the state.

    In Ward 002 Karanolu, in Nwangede Local Government Area of the State, angry youths upturned and destroyed ballot boxes in protest against voting by unaccredited voters.

    Before upturning the ballot boxes, the angry youths had reportedly demanded the cancellation of some votes by the unaccredited voters but were allegedly rebuffed by the electoral officials.

    The police reportedly arrested no fewer than 105 political thugs in the State. The thugs were allegedly arrested for offences that ranged from ballot box snatching to disrupting elections, harassing electoral officials and impersonating police officers.

    Vote buying remains a significant concern for Nigeria’s election considering what happened during the governorship and state houses of assembly elections.

    Buying and selling of votes prevailed despite the warning by INEC, security agencies and the anti-corruption agencies.

    Observers reported seeing EFCC arresting people involved in vote buying in Benue, Kwara and other states but their numbers were insignificant to totally arrest the scourge of vote buying in many parts of the country.

    Voters and politicians strived in the vote trading market during the last elections bargaining for a higher amount and sell their vote to the party with the ability to meet their demand. The trend is that votes traded from as low as N250 to N7,000.

    Cases of underage voting were reported in Kano, Bauchi and Plateau States which according to observers, INEC needs to address the issue in future elections.

    While civil society organizations and observers advocated for an effective result collation process, observers were denied access to collation centres in some parts of the country, particularly Rivers, Zamfara and Akwa Ibom States.

    Late commencement of collation was reported in many states, especially Plateau and Benue states, it was gathered.

    “We note with dismay the invasion of collation centres by some prominent politicians, the abduction and attempted inducement of collation officers. More worryingly was the fact that some lives were lost in a collation centre in Ondo State. This is a troubling development,” CDD director, Idayat Hassan said.

    Adhoc staff welfare were also not well taken care of, some observers say.

    In Mile 2 area of Lagos state, there were protests over non-payment of adhoc staff allowances which might deter corps members from participating in future elections.

    The nature of training offered to ad-hoc staff in the run-up to the elections was also questioned with observers insisting there were reports of inefficiency and poor technical knowledge among election staff.

    The collation challenges for Nigeria’s 2019 elections led to cancellations of the result which makes a rerun to be organized in six states holding on Saturday, March 23.

    The election witnessed an unprecedented amount of cancellation of results . These instances place a further administrative and financial burden on INEC, who are charged with organizing supplementary elections in such affected areas.

    In Benue state, the pronounced challenge at the ward and local government level was over-voting. In several cases the total accredited voters number was less than the total vote cast. In Makurdi LGA, collation officers and party agents had to go into long arguments before reaching a compromise on how to go about declaring the results. In Imo North Senatorial District results were cancelled in three LGAs, causing the elections to be declared inconclusive. In Akwa Ibom, the votes from Ikot Ekpene senatorial district with 10 LGAs was also cancelled as a result of failure to use card readers, and over voting with some polling units recording above the number of registered voters in contravention of the provisions of the INEC guidelines.

     

    In Rivers State there were an unprecedented number of cancelled votes: more than 942,000 as declared by INEC. Cancelled votes exceeded the votes cast (666,000) by nearly 300,000. This was a result of two LGAs where election collation did not take place at all and four other LGAs where ward collation was moved to the local government centres but seriously disrupted by violence.

    “The violence around collation had a severe impact on election officials. Two ad hoc staff died amidst shooting as they moved to local government collation in Degema and Emohua LGAs.  Whilst clashes in Obio Akpor LGA meant that four wards were not collated, contributing to turnout of just 13% in the LGA. Overall disruption in Rivers state reduced the turnout from over 60% in 2015 to under 20% in 2019,” the report by CDD added.





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