The Independent National Electoral Commission (“INEC”) on Saturday, March 9, 2019 conducted Gubernatorial Elections in twenty-nine (29) States of the Federation and also conducted elections into the Houses of Assembly of all the thirty-six (36) States of the Federation. Chairmanship and Councillorship elections for all the six Area Councils in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) also took place. The Elections were initially slated for March 2, 2019 but were postponed at the instance of INEC by one week.
The 125 (one hundred and twenty-five) branches of NBA deployed observers to the areas covered by the respective branches. NBA-EWG also utilized every lawyer who visited any of the polling units as an observer. Thus, the NBA-EWG received reports from its member-observers through its Toll-free line and other social media platforms. In appropriate cases, these reports were accompanied with photographic images and or videos. Critically, the NBA-EWG situation room made several telephone calls to its members who were in the field in order to authenticate reports received regarding incidents of violence, intimidation or threatened acts of violence.
In the light of observations of the members of the NBA Observation teams as well as reports received, the NBA-EWG reports as follows:
DEPLOYMENT OF ELECTION OFFICIALS AND MATERIALS FOR THE ELECTIONS:
INEC deployed ad- hoc Staff who were trained to conduct the various elections in their respective polling units across the country. From available statistics, a total of 2,763,990 ad-hoc Staff, mostly Youth Corps members, were deployed as Polling Officers or Assistant Polling Officers. There were reports of incomplete ballot materials in Orlu, Imo State which necessitated the return to INEC offices by INEC officials. In Ibadan North West LGA of Oyo State, ad hoc staff did not show up at polling units for fear of being attacked. These ad-hoc staff were later replaced.
In some places in Rivers State, blockade by security forces known as Joint Task Force (JTF) and lack of security details assigned to INEC staff hindered timely and safe deployment of staff and electoral materials.
COMMENCEMENT OF THE ELECTORAL PROCESS:
The NBA-EWG notes that INEC comprehensively tackled the lapses associated with deployment of electoral materials in the February 26, 2019 elections. This time, elections started on schedule in most polling stations as both materials and personnel responsible for conducting the elections arrived on time.
There were reports of ad-hoc staff (Corp members) in parts of Lagos refusing to kick-start accreditation and voting on account of unpaid allowances.
The NBA-EWG notes that in Owerri, Imo State, for example, INEC officials yet again conducted the elections using photocopies of approved ballot papers at the Government House polling units. In polling units where voters complained about this unwholesome practice, the INEC officials rebuffed them and proceeded to conduct the elections in that manner.
SMART CARD READERS:
The complaints about malfunctioning card readers or card readers that did not or could not recognize voters’ finger-prints were greatly reduced.
It was worrisome that in a few Polling Units (“PU”) there were reported cases of card readers’ malfunctioning and no back-up plans were put in place by INEC.
We received reports from Bauchi LGA, Bauchi State about manual accreditation of voters even though the card readers presented no issue. This is rather curious or instructive given the earlier announcement by INEC that the use of card readers for the elections was compulsory.
The feedback from the various observers across the country showed that the voters’ turnout was noticeably low. Persons interviewed by our observers expressed lack of confidence in the electoral process and unwillingness to participate in the process as they believed that their votes would not count. The extremely low voter turnout witnessed at the polling units was such that there were no queues and, as such,
the accreditation and voting processes were rather fast. Voters simply walked in, voted and left.
Our earlier observation about voters in many polling units helping to organise themselves by writing their names on sheets of paper so as to ensure orderly and seamless conduct of the accreditation and voting processes during the Presidential/National Assembly election was totally absent this time. This was no doubt attributable to the absence of crowds at polling stations on account of the very low voter turn-out.
In polling units observed, there were insignificant turnouts of senior citizens, women and persons with disabilities.
The political parties had a field day inducing voters with money, food items, soaps and various other items to vote for their parties’ candidates. These acts of inducement right before security agents within the voting precincts has the propensity to destroy the citizens’ confidence in the entire election process. Specifically, this was observed in Kano, Abuja FCT, Lagos, Bayelsa, Anambra, Imo, Akwa Ibom, Oyo and Kwara States.
There were several reports of electoral violence from all over the country. Party thugs and hoodlums had a field day invading voting centers to snatch polling materials, destroy voting materials, harass, molest and intimidate voters and, in some instances, INEC officials. Suspected political thugs, accompanied by security operatives particularly officers and men of the Nigerian Army, hijacked materials, destroyed materials, harassed, interfered with the voting processes, prevented the counting of votes at some voting centers, hindered voting, intimidated and prevented some people from voting, chased away some party agents and observers from polling units and collation centers, For instance, in Polling Units 5, 6 and 7, of Ward 4 in Ogbomosho South Local Government Area of Oyo State, political thugs forced voters to show their ballot papers after voting before depositing same in the ballot boxes.
In Abia, Kogi, Ebonyi, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Katsina, Osun (Ile Ife, East and Central) Sokoto, Kano and Benue states, the elections were marred by violence.
In Abia State, armed thugs invaded and unleashed violence at Ekiri Elu Central School, Aram Umuahia, forcing the INEC ad-hoc staff to abandon the election and run into private residences for safety.
Armed men stormed some polling units in Imo State and snatched election materials. In Ganaga/Township, PU: 09, Ajaokuta LGA, Kogi State, persons believed to be political thugs, aided by some security operatives, disrupted the counting process at the PU and destroyed both the ballot boxes and papers. In Polling Units 04 and 07, Kuchi Ward, Kebbe LGA of Sokoto State, voting was disrupted by thugs who attacked the polling unit and beat up both INEC and police officers.
In Kaura Namoda, Kyam Baruwa Ward, violent scuffle among party agents led to the destruction of election materials and an attempt on the lives of some security personnel.
In Ile Ife east and Ife Central of Osun State, there was intimidation of voters by thugs and security agents. Voters were also compelled to vote for a particular political party and those who refused were prevented from voting.
The outbreak of violence in Oba Akoko in Akoko South West Local Government Area of Ondo State forced the state government to impose a curfew on the community. It was reported that no fewer than two persons lost their lives when security agents and some political thugs engaged in a shootout consequent upon the attempt by the security agents to prevent the thugs from gaining entrance into the collation centre in the town.
In Akwa Ibom and Rivers States, political thugs accompanied by Nigerian Army officers, reportedly highjacked materials. In Rivers State in particular, a policeman and three others persons were reportedly killed by gunmen while a chieftain of a political party, Mrs. Emilia Nte, was reportedly kidnapped. Ballot box snatching, destruction of voting materials, prevention of vote count at polling units, prevention of party agents and observers from accessing collation centers, vote-buying etc were rife in these two States.
These acts of election violence and malpractice led to deaths in Ondo, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Enugu and Ebonyi States. The development discouraged voters from casting their votes as many either refused to come out to vote or returned to their various homes after initially coming out to vote.
In parts of Imo State, party agents reportedly forced voters to vote for particular candidates.
Five (5) cartons of ballot papers meant for governorship election were intercepted by security agents on election duty at Giginyu Ward of Kano state. A female NYSC member and some others persons were reportedly arrested.
In Katsina, Katsina State, gunmen reportedly killed security officers and abducted INEC’s staff.
Surprising in most places where these dreadful acts were recorded or reported, security agents were either complicit or indifferent. Yet again Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Kogi states ranked high in this regard.
Additionally, the NBA-EWG situation room was inundated with widespread reports confirming the manipulation of election processes by INEC officials coerced or aided by party thugs and security agents.
Despite the presence of security men mounting road blocks and checks across the country, there were reported cases of political thugs moving freely around polling units and disrupting the election process thus making it compelling to ask a lot of question about how the thugs were able to access polling units and collation centres to the extent of carting away polling materials or freely burning and destroying electoral materials. Some electoral officials and voters were assaulted.
There were credible reports of harassment, intimidation and killings which called for serious security concern and put the credibility of the entire process in issue. The specific incidents noted here are by no means exhaustive.
SECRECY OF THE VOTING PROCESS:
We observed that the insufficient secrecy of the voting process contributed to intimidation of voters, vote-buying etc. As we noted in our earlier report INEC booths did not offer sufficient privacy to voters. Party agents and some other persons had widespread, easy and unrestrained access to voting areas to either supervise voting by coercing voters on who to vote for, forcing them not to vote for candidates of their choice, or prying into how they were voting. The different modes of the violation and or abuse of the voting process occurred nationwide. Once again, the electoral officers and the security agents posted to the voting areas made no effort to arrest the unwholesome practices that occurred in this regard.
It was observed that police personnel posted to voting centers generally arrived on time. It was however observed that in some voting centers the number of police personnel posted there was not commensurate with the large number of registered voters in the centers. This did not constitute a problem as a result of the nationwide low turnout of voters.
There were cases where police personnel even though present were inattentive or indifferent to apparent violations of electoral laws. In cases where there were infractions of electoral laws or threats of violence or actual violence, it was observed that the police personnel at those polling units stayed aloof and did nothing to prevent or stem those infractions and/or acts of violence.
Policemen and Nigerian Army personnel were in some places complicit in the snatching of voting materials, ballot boxes, intimidation or voters as well as perpetration of various acts of violence. In fact, at polling unit 006, Ward 12, Ogba/Egbema Ndoni in Rivers State, it was reported that a policeman with Force number 442884 was seen compromising the voting process by telling people which party to vote for.
INTIMIDATION OF OBERVERS AND JOURNALISTS:
There were reports of security agents preventing observers and journalists from accessing polling centers and or collation centres. Security agents reportedly prevented observers from gaining access to some polling centers in Tsafe LGA of Zamfara State. Also, Kunle Sanni, a Premium Times journalist was reportedly abducted in Plateau State and forced to delete photos that he had taken from his phone. He is believed to have been released. A TV reporter was also reportedly beaten by security agents in Akwa Ibom State.
In Yobe State, soldiers barred journalists from covering the election. All these acts occurred despite INEC guidelines which make it clear that all accredited observers and journalists have a right to access polling units and collation centers.
This our 2nd interim report may be followed by other interim reports, as deemed necessary and required by the NBA-EWG. A detailed and final Report of all the Elections conducted by INEC in 2019 will be published by the NBA specifically, after the release of all the Elections results by INEC.
Mazi Afam Osigwe, FCIArb. (UK)