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An observer’s diary: Roadmap to 2019 elections, INEC’s readiness and the electorate
By – Alao ABIODUN
REMINISCING the words of Owei Lakemfa, which echoes succinctly my growing up phase, He said: “My first awareness about elections was during my growing up as a kid, I was told the story of how the Jews were asked to vote between setting Jesus Christ free or Barabbas, a robber and murderer; Barabbas won that election by a landslide.”
As an electoral observer who had undergone several pieces of training and has been exposed to some measure of journalistic rigours, it was indeed a worthwhile experience observing the local terrains and assessing the level of INEC readiness towards the 2019 elections.
As one of the accredited Electoral observers for Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), in collaboration with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) who witnessed the Ekiti state Guber Elections held on the 14th of July 2018 and also the recent Osun State 2018 governorship elections held on Saturday 22nd of September 2018 but was declared “inconclusive” by the almighty INEC, it’s not totally out of place to opine that the 2019 election may be one of the toughest polls across various states going by the emerging indicators.
After a three-day intensive session on the principles guiding election observation amongst other variant subject matter, we were charged with the all-important role of promoting open electoral data principles and practices as a means of increasing public confidence in genuinely democratic elections in Nigeria.
Upon my arrival to Osun state, as part of my pre-election assessment, the tension in the air was palpable alongside a lot of frenzy activities – the political gladiators were busy jostling for advantage, relevance and domination over one another. Interestingly, the epochal Osun State gubernatorial Elections was marked with series of campaigns, mega rallies and tour-like familiarization adorned with Carnival like settings from various parties round the 30 Local Government Areas in the state. After proper training on election observation at the hotel (undisclosed), it was basically a centre for we (observers) to freely exchange ideas and share the information, disinformation and misinformation flying all over and most importantly learning the theoretical aspect of election observation. Few of us also decided to make a detour round Ife, one of the notable flashpoints in the state.
The streets of Odo Otin Local Government Area, Okuku, Osun State where I observed, served as the home base of a quondam Governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola. However, despite the ramshackleness in the area, the people were in high spirit ahead of the elections, the INEC office which is located at the entrance leading into the LGA was a beehive of activities prior to the election day proper, electoral officers, corps members, security operatives trooped in and out of the office and interestingly I had my own fair share of witnessing what it felt like to sleep overnight at the office alongside others.
Election observation is an integral part of the electoral process, the significance of this process in determining the credibility of elections cannot be overstated, so therefore alongside other colleagues we strategically observing the electioneering process in various PUs across the local government areas in the state due to the quest for transparency of electoral practices and processes during the election.
I must, however, stress that the presence of “electoral observers” during electioneering process has continued to create ambiance of confidence in a section of the electorate who would have shunned voting for the doubt and palpable fear that their votes may not count due to their preemptive notions on elections in Nigeria. For the sake of clarity, due to different perceived insinuations and puerile notions, as electoral observers, we are silent watchdogs and as such do not interfere with the electoral process because we are not election monitors but some people do not understand the difference. We observe, take note and report to improve the process in future.
Electoral observers are process watchers, and as such, it is necessary to assess the prevalent conditions and other activities connected towards electoral process; observing the distribution of electoral materials, opening of polls, accreditation process, voting and the process of announcing the results. However, the overriding responsibility of the observers is to basically verify whether all the competing political parties, individuals and groups enjoy complete freedom of organisation, movement, assembly and expression without hindrance or intimidation, violence or coercion or any other such acts capable of thwarting the will of the people. Therefore, as an evaluator of the process, I was accredited to do so by INEC. The accreditation process conferred the official recognition and also gave me and colleagues (observers) access to various locations where voting, counting, collation and the announcement of results took place.
INEC’s readiness: prepared or work-in-progress?
Based on the foregoing, it is imperative to begin a narrative on the changes in the electoral process to help voters understand what to expect when they go to the polls ahead of the 2019 elections.
Osun, Ekiti and host of other state gubernatorial elections is symbolic in view of the fact that the elections held this year or prior to is an off-season/cycle election, it therefore serves as a veritable platform to test the preparedness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Just like I observed in the Ekiti and Osun Elections respectively, there was timely distribution of electoral materials across various PUs, the tracking of electoral materials was quite commendable unlike in the pasts where politicians would connive with electoral officers to divert these materials especially ballot papers. It’s however not totally out of place to commend INEC for challenging the dilemma of delay in early voting during electoral process but as a matter of candid recommendation, INEC as a body must improve on its face-look especially in terms of cleansing its negative image acquired over time, and most importantly deal with persistent, prevalent aspects of electoral fraud, including ballot paper and results sheet snatching, ballot stuffing, Vote buying; and making pre-election and the election day logistics and procedures transparent, accountable and efficient.
Roadmap to 2019 elections
The tensed electioneering campaign between the two major parties across the state among others has heightened the propensity for a tumultuous election in 2019. For those following the political polity of the nation daily, it’s no longer spectacular that each day are breaking news reports about emerging and developing political trends at the state level and even at the centerpiece – federal sphere, each of these political moves indicates some of the dynamics that could ultimately characterize next year’s crucial national elections.
The off-cycle election held in some states is just a presage what we should expect in the 2019 Elections. Even as the electioneering signs rage silently, it’s advisable to buy a ringside ticket and await the signalling for the much-envisaged contests in 2019.
The electorate: vote sellers or conscientious voters?
According to reports, the elections in Edo, Ondo and Anambra states were largely monetised, but it was noticeable in Ekiti state elections where there was crass involvement in the trend of “see and buy”. Political parties wooed votes with the meagre sum of “5,000”.
While in Osun State, there was a reformed/repackaged devise as developed by these parties, they collated names of people prior to the election day and made them to swear to an oath just for a meagre sum N2,000 in respect to the vote selling stock exchange.
At Ekiti, party agents had huge cash and were close to voting points but sadly, security agents were indifferent to inducement of voters. The unwholesome practices of voting buying, a trend in Ekiti tagged ‘see and buy’ in local parlance, where voters surreptitiously showed which party they voted to party agents who went behind to settle them however transformed into “Vote and take” in Osun State, where people collected their share upon swearing to an oath to vote for such party. One would begin to wonder why there were at least five policemen and one civil defence personnel in each polling unit and they were unable to prevent or event curb this criminal offense.
The fluctuating dynamics of elections in Nigeria is evolving, the role of money has never been this pronounced in any election in recent history, the efficacy of money underscores the consequences of poverty in moulding democratic values. As Nigerians, we must go beyond the pursuit of just armchair analysis, we need proactive engagement in pre-election, election and post-election issues.
Alao Abiodun is a Journalist, He writes from Lagos, He can be reached via Alaojoshua200@gmail.com