Judging an umpire •Observers’ verdicts and INEC’s scorecard
The verdicts of the international and local observers on the 2019 elections are not too palatable. STEPHEN GBADAMOSI examines some of the sore points picked out of the process and the recommendations of one of the international bodies, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute (IRI/NDI) in aid of future elections.
THE 2019 general election was marked with some high and low moments. While ordinary Nigerians either see the process as credible as a sham, depending of the different political inclinations, the international and some local election observers, it is believed, would look at the process dispassionately and come out with objective recommendations.
Thus, it was no surprise them that many Nigerians looked forward to the final reports of the international observers like the joint International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) and other local ones like CLEEN Foundation, Situation Room, YIAGA Africa, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and Youngstars Development Initiative (YDI) the elections.
Since the release of the IRI/NDI final report in June, many stakeholders in the electoral process have been pointing out areas of note that the country needs to be looked at critically, if it would hold elections that would not continually fall below local and international expectations.
The international observers had noted that “only on March 9 – the day of the elections – did the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) publicise the names of the winners of the Senate and House of Representative elections and the list of constituencies and polling units where supplementary elections were to hold.
“Additionally, INEC had yet to release detailed results from the national polls, had not responded publicly to questions about the discrepancy in the number of registered voters announced during the collation process, nor explained the high number of cancelled votes in the February 23 polls.”
The implication of this, according to some stakeholders, is a damaging communication lacuna between the INEC and its publics.
They also observed that “the percentage of women candidates running for governor and deputy governor increased slightly this year from six and 17 per cent respectively in 2015 to eight and 26 per cent.
“However, the two major parties did not field any women candidates for governor. Additionally, of the 276 women running for deputy governor, only five were candidates of either the All Progressives Congress (APC) or the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“Similarly, of the nearly 1,900 women running for state Houses of Assembly seats, only 75 were from the APC or PDP. As was the case for the February 23 national elections, the vast majority of women candidates for state-level elections ran on the tickets of newly created parties, with little prospect of winning.
“Thus far, the Nigerian government has not applied the 35 per cent affirmative action principle included in the 2006 National Gender Policy and the National Assembly has repeatedly missed opportunities to adopt legislation that would support greater participation of women in politics. A Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill has been before the National Assembly since 2010.”
Apparently, this is an indictment of the legislature and lawmaking process in the governance of the country. As many Nigerians have observed, the National Assembly, as a critical stakeholder, needs to provide legal frameworks for elections that will take care of all interests, including gender inclusiveness.
The group said further that: “In the lead-up to the March 9 polls, representatives of the two major parties accused each other of planning to disrupt the electoral process in various states, and the mission received reports of a spike in violent confrontations between the APC and PDP supporters.
“In Akwa Ibom, an alleged arson at the INEC office in Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area on March 8 destroyed smart card readers, and INEC had to mobilise nearly 200 replacements from other states within 24 hours. In this context, the INEC chairman felt compelled to state publicly that the commission would not declare any winners in cases of electoral malpractice, including cases in which INEC officials may be forced under duress to declare a winner, as happened in Benue and Imo states during the February 23 national polls.
“The killing of some INEC staff and citizens as a result of the February 23 and March 9 elections, as well as incidents of rape and other acts of sexual violence against women, are abhorrent acts that merit serious investigation with the aim of ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice,” the group stated further, in an apparent reference to the culture of impunity that has always characterised election periods in the country. This development has made some people to question the roles of security agencies usually deployed in large number during elections.
It also said “overall, voter participation in the polling units observed by the NDI/IRI mission was low. Women and youth were well represented as polling officials, party agents and observers, with a significant number of women serving as presiding officers in polling units.
“In addition, observers found that voting rights for internally displaced persons (IDPs) were generally respected, with IDPs in Benue and Adamawa permitted to vote in their camps.
“However, IRI/NDI observers noted significant impediments to voting for persons with disabilities and the elderly, as many polling units were not physically accessible to these voters.”
Indicating incidences of logistical problems and lack of respect for timeliness, the mission added that “most polling units that NDI/IRI observed opened on time and received all essential materials prior to opening. However, in parts of Lagos, Nasarawa and Kaduna states, observers noted serious delays in the opening of some polling units.
“Such delays were generally due to the late arrival of INEC staff or party agents and the late distribution of materials from the Registration Area Centers (RACs).
“In Ikeja Local Government Area of Lagos, many polling units opened late, some as late as 11:00 a.m., due to a strike by polling officials demanding back-pay for their services on February 23. These delayed openings created tension and disorder.”
It added that “in some polling units in Lagos and Nasarawa states, the delay caused by malfunctioning smart card readers raised tension among voters who had been waiting in line for long periods. As was also noted by IRI/NDI observers during the February 23 polls, the secrecy of the ballot was not uniformly protected in polling units observed.
“Insufficient physical space within some polling units meant citizens marked and cast their ballots in very close proximity to party agents, polling and security officials and the general public. Some polling units in Lagos State did not have voting cubicles and did not provide adequate space to protect voter privacy.
“Moreover, much like the February 23 elections, instances of assisted voting exceeded the mandate set out in INEC’s regulations.”
The observer mission also faulted the procedure of closing of voting exercise in some instances.
“In the majority of polling units where NDI/IRI observed, the atmosphere at closing and counting remained calm and orderly with polling officials mostly following procedures outlined in INEC guidelines.
“However, in some locations the atmosphere was tense and procedures were not followed. In particular, observers in Rivers reported party agents were not given an opportunity to sign the results form. In Akwa Ibom, party loyalists attempted to disrupt the counting process. In Imo, polling officials were uninformed about the procedures to handle unused ballots; and in Nasarawa, polling officials were not provided the means to transport election materials to the collation center, hindering the security of sensitive materials.
“Of most concern, IRI/NDI observers witnessed a melee in a Benue polling unit when, during the count, aggrieved voters looking to receive cash for their vote violently confronted party agents. INEC officials in this polling unit were forced to stop counting ballots and relocate to the collation center to complete the process.”
The forgoing development, according to analysts, was not unconnected with the do-or-die sensibility of the average Nigerian politician towards elections. They noted that where security agencies had not been compromised by the same politicians, perpetrators of such acts ought to have been arrested and made to face charges of electoral offence.
IRI/NDI noted further that “the delegation heard concerns expressed by reputable citizen observer groups about serious irregularities and violence at collation centres in many parts of the country. These groups also reported that observers and party agents were chased away or barred from the collation centres.
“IRI/NDI observers similarly noted issues at collation centers in Adamawa, Benue, Lagos, Nasarawa and Rivers states where observers saw INEC officials flee a collation center due to a rumored threat of an attack.”
The mission reported cases of violence and intimidation in Imo, Adamawa and Akwa Ibom states.
“In this last state, frustrations rose between party agents and among voters over overt campaigning in the polling unit. NDI/IRI observers also reported in Benue that four polling officials were kidnapped as they travelled to the collation centre and that voting had to be rescheduled in at least three locations where violence occurred.
“The civil society coalition Situation Room reported a total of seven deaths by midday, in addition to several kidnappings in Rivers State. These incidents and the fire in Akwa Ibom that destroyed smart card readers and voter registers for one local government area on March 8 reinforced the impression of concerted attempts to disrupt the election process in certain localities.
“Overt vote buying in the form of distribution of cash and food inside or near polling units was observed in Akwa Ibom, Benue, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Imo State. Notably, open voting in polling units in Akwa Ibom allowed party agents to see marked ballots and to direct voters to a location near the polling unit to receive payments.
“The Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Benue State confirmed an incident whereby large bags of cash were intercepted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The EFCC officials were subsequently attacked by party representatives,” it said.
Without doubt, the 2019 elections were heavily monitised, according to these reports. Analysts said this has become a major bane of credible elections in the country, pointing accusing fingers at both the ruling party and the opposition.
Indeed, this is a part on which notable Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome, harped on most when reacting to the observer groups’ reports.
Reacting to the security situation during the elections, the observers noted that “police and unarmed security officials, for the most part, conducted themselves with restraint and professionalism in polling units where NDI/IRI observed.
“However, our observers reported a heavy military presence in some areas, including near polling units, which heightened tensions and raised fears of imminent military intervention in the election process. Media and credible observer groups also reported that the military disrupted the polls in some areas, including in Rivers State where soldiers were deployed heavily around INEC’s office.”
The question on the lips of many Nigerians is ‘who ordered such a close involvement of soldiers in the civic exercise?’
“As with the presidential and National Assembly elections, the over-involvement of party agents was widespread in polling units observed, including instances in Nasarawa and Benue states where party agents accompanied voters to the voting cubicles and helped them mark and cast their ballots, in violation of procedure.
“Finally, the poor accreditation and training of party agents remains a major hindrance to an orderly and free voting process,” the group concluded.
The delegation said it heard from many Nigerians and that, in comparing the conduct of the 2019 polls to those of 2015, it was disappointed with the lack of progress in election administration and with the performance of political parties in elections, saying; “Nigerian democrats recognise that this election cycle coincides with the 20th anniversary of the country’s transition to civilian democratic rule. We, therefore, urge a national conversation on progress made and vulnerabilities that must be overcome to further strengthen the credibility of electoral processes and safeguard the country’s democracy.”
‘A damning case of deep-seated corruption’
In his reaction, Ozekhome, SAN, apart from lampooning the system for heavily monetising the elections, also called for a drastic change in the entire process.
“The just-released report on the last presidential and National Assembly elections by the EU Observer Group, The International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute is simply a damning case of deep-seated corruption that has eaten deep into, not only the electoral process, but also into the entire moral fabric of the society.
“Cancerous and leprous corruption, especially within government circles and among those opportunistic few who control the levers of power and means of production and distribution of scarce national resources, has completely eroded our national ethos and cherished moral values and elevated mediocrity and hypocrisy to high heavens.
“The electoral process has been horrifically bastardised, monetised, militarised and privatised by the rulers, elites and their prostituting collaborators and allies, both local and international, who see politics as a full-time profession and a ‘do-or-die’ and ‘winners-take-all’ occupation.
“The 2019 elections were probably the worst in the electoral history of the nation,” he said.