By Patrick Obia
A non-profit organization, ‘Vote Not Fight, Election No Be War Campaign’ implemented by FACE initiative has released its observations of the 2023 presidential and national assembly elections.
FACE in a press release made available while applauding the large turnout of voters, peaceful atmosphere, enthused and patient voters, also observed the Independent Electoral Commission’s flaws during the conduct of the election.
Ranging from poor logistics by INEC, incomplete ballot materials, relocation of new polling, and transmission of results among others, the organization calls for improvement.
While there was an iota of electoral violence, snatching of election materials in some polling units, vote trading among other vices, the NGO implore the electoral umpire to work with security agents, fish out perpetrators and punish them accordingly.
Vote Not Fight also enjoin INEC to ensure citizens access the Report Viewing Portal and give regular feedback to Nigerians on the result collation and announcement.
The press release reads: “The long anticipated 2023 general elections for the office of the President, Senate, and National House of Representatives were held on Saturday, 25 February 2023 as planned across the 36 states and federal capital territory, Abuja. The Vote Not Fight (VNF) Campaign partners, their state, local government, and community volunteers were on the ground to observe the elections in different parts of the country.
“In the build-up to the general elections, the VNF campaign had several engagements with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at state and national levels and feedback from INEC indicated that the Commission was adequately prepared for the elections, however, election day observation shows contrary circumstances. While elections commenced late in most parts of the country, voters waited patiently, the whole day in some polling units without INEC personnel and materials arriving their polling units. There were cases where materials were inadequate which led voters to take to the streets in protest. These resulted in the extension of voting to 26 February 2023 in these polling units to allow voters to cast their votes. Contrary to the concern raised by the INEC Chairman, in his keynote address at the National Youth Summit in Abuja on the 2023 general election that “the fear of threats, violence, and intimidation of intending voters on election day, is the number one cause of voter apathy in Nigeria,” the elections were relatively peaceful across the country. It was observed that the enthused voters displayed considerable knowledge of election day processes and voting procedures, with a particular interest in counting and protecting their votes. The VNF Team and volunteers made the following election-day observations;
“High voters’ turnout: Unlike previous elections, the 2023 general election for the president, senate, and house of representative positions recorded high voter turnout. Amongst voters at polling units are young and elderly persons. There were first-time voters of young and elderly voters, including women.
Enthused and patient voters: Voters arrived at the polling units across the country very early, hoping to commence accreditation and voting on time. Despite the late arrival of polling materials and personnel, voters waited patiently for Polling Unit Officers to set up. In some polling units, voters waited until 6 – 7pm expecting INEC personnel and ballot materials. In areas where voting commenced very late, voters waited until 11pm – 12am to cast their votes.
Peaceful atmosphere: Although there were pockets of violence in polling units, across the country, there was relative peace in polling units. There was a visible presence of security agencies at strategic locations, major roads, and polling units. Aside from reports of the inaction of security personnel towards inappropriate action in polling units, security agencies were on ground to ensure the safety of lives and properties. Despite a long delay by INEC, voters did not incite a breakdown of law and order due to anxiety resulting from the late arrival of polling materials and personnel.
Vote trading: Election Day vote-trading was minimal in polling units. This does not rule out the fact that vote buying and selling took place, but voters came out in their numbers to exercise their franchise in deciding their next leaders, without being induced by money or other gifts to vote for a particular candidate.
Voter’s determination to protect their vote: Aside from voters exercising a high level of patience to cast their vote, they also ensure to wait to protect their vote. Voters insisted that their votes be counted and uploaded from the BVAS to ensure that polling unit results are not manipulated. This is expected to make it difficult for political parties and their agents to manipulate the election result as they would desire.
The VNF volunteers also observed some challenges posed by INEC and desperate politicians and their followers that hampered the smooth running of election day activities. They include;
Poor logistics arrangement by INEC: It was observed that election materials and personnel did not arrive at most polling units on time, across the nation. This is a fundamental flaw in INEC election day management. Field reports from VNF volunteers indicated that the earliest commencement of accreditation was about 10 am, while accreditation and voting commenced as late as 4 pm in some polling units. Late arrival of personnel and ballot materials was not peculiar to hard-to-reach areas, which is most times the concern of stakeholders. Materials arrived at polling units in city centers late. Materials and personnel did not arrive at some polling units in city centers at all. Logistics for electoral officers were also very poor and inadequate, putting ad-hoc staff under unnecessary pressure and inconveniences.
Incomplete ballot materials: Ballot paper brought to polling units in some wards across the country were incomplete. This led to voters in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State taking to the street to protest against INEC for wanting to disenfranchise them of their civic right to vote. Voters went around chanting “we must vote.” This is a positive awakening of the voting population that is needed to bring about change in the Nigerian electoral and political process.
Location of new polling units: The allocation of new polling units and transfer of voters to these new units was also a major challenge for voters, as some voters used the whole day trying to locate the polling unit they had been sent to. Most often, INEC staff could not properly explain to voters how they can locate their polling units, some voters could not cast their votes as a result of this.
Transmitting of results: While some Polling Officers (POs) were able to transmit the reports from their polling units after declaring the same, some POs had difficulties while others outrightly refused to transmit claiming they did not have the code needed to transmit the reports.
INEC Report Viewing Portal (IReV): INEC report viewing portal was not active all through the election day and even the day after, to enable citizens follow up with the progress of the result collations. This heightened anxiety amongst voters and Civil Society Organisations (CSOS) on possible irregularities, putting INEC’s principle of transparency in question, as citizens remain uninformed. The lack of access to the INEC report portal gave room for possible misinformation through social media posts of election reports.
INEC Poor Feedback Mechanism: With the poor implementation of INEC before and election day logistics plan, the Commission did not deem it necessary to address the nation, particularly areas of obvious challenges to reassure citizens of the Commission’s effort to ensure everyone cast their votes until the protest started in Yenagoa. Although INEC announced the extension of voting to Sunday 26 February, to allow for people that could not vote on election day to cast their vote, the number of voters that turned up on Sunday was not as many as those that turned out on Saturday 25 February to vote.
Snatching of ballot materials: There were isolated reports of incidence of ballot box snatching in different parts of the country. This, however, was not considered a major challenge to the electoral process, unlike previous elections where party agents and supporters would snatch ballot materials to enable them to go and thumbprint for their parties. Voters were confident that the introduction of the BVAS would make void votes beyond the accredited number of voters.
Shooting and holding electoral officers hostage: Incidence of political party supporters shooting sporadically in polling units that they perceive they have low chances of winning, to scare voters and deter them from voting sparsely occurred across the country. INEC staff were also held hostage to prevent them from declaring and or transmitting the reports at the polling unit and Registration Area Center or to act in line with the dictates of political parties were also recorded.
Vote trading: Despite the Central Bank of Nigeria’s monetary policy to discourage vote trading and the fact that many voters came out of their volition to cast their votes, party agents and loyalists made efforts to engage in vote trading.
Due to the above,
- VNF campaign calls on INEC and security agencies to prosecute persons that have been arrested for different forms of electoral violence before, during, and after the 25 February 2023 general election in line with the Electoral Act 2022 as amended.
- INEC and security agencies should work with community groups to identify, arrest and prosecute persons that engaged in ballot box snatching, creating a disturbance and shooting in polling units, and those that abducted INEC officials and electoral materials.
- INEC should ensure citizens access to the INEC Report Viewing Portal and give regular feedback to Nigerians on the result collation and announcement.
- INEC should give a brief on the issues raised during the election especially since they had indicated the commission’s readiness to deliver free, fair and credible elections across the country.