MOST Nigerians have wondered if the recently concluded elections were indeed free, fair and credible.
The basis for this position is the unpleasant occurrences that shaped the poll. About 260 politically motivated deaths were allegedly recorded since October 2018 when the campaign started to the last day of the election, aside reported cases of military harassment.
“We must tell ourselves the truth that this has not gone well, if anything, this is an unfortunate example of retrogression from where we should be,” says Jude Ilo, Head of Nigeria Office, Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA), Tuesday on Channels TV in Abuja.
“We have heard stories of INEC officials being kidnapped, INEC officials being forced under duress to sign off on results. I think as a country, we should be collectively ashamed as to what has happened in these elections.”
Ilo was worried about the transparency and failure of the entire electoral process.
A retired Navy Commodore, Abimbola Ayuba, also wrote off the 2019 election as the most violent, describing the visuals, especially from Port Harcourt, as warlike.
Inclusiveness, transparency and accountability are the ingredients of a credible election, said the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Anan, in his 2016 lecture: Credible and Peaceful Elections.
These ingredients were missing the Nigerian 2019 elections.
The ICIR highlights factors that might portray the 2019 general election as one that lacked credibility.
Killings and kidnappings
There were reported cases of killings during the presidential and governorship elections. The Situation Room, a coalition of Civil Society Organisations claimed that 35 people were killed in the February poll while not less than 50 died in the governorship election, according to OSIWA.
“We are in a situation where we lost more than 50 people, just because we went to polls. At the presidential election, it happened, also at the governorship. We should be worried that our INEC officials are not safe. We should be worried that our RECs are living in fear. We should be worried that our process is reckless and impunity is out of the roofs, that people can do whatever. As I said, it is a counterfeit democracy,” said Ilo.
In addition, support staff of the electoral commissions were either killed or kidnapped for selfish political gains. Apart from INEC officials, voters and security operatives also died in the unfortunate attacks. A good instance is the Oyo State Federal Lawmaker, Olatoye Temitope, who was shot at a polling unit and died shortly after.
Two persons were reportedly killed in Benue; stray bullet killed another in Enugu while 44 police officers sustained injuries at different polling units during the poll.
Monsuru Hamzat, a 25-year-old Ad-hoc staff was also killed in Lanko, Oyo State. At Odu polling unit in Delta, a young man was reportedly killed. There were cases of violence in Nembe Bayelsa and Akuku-Toru, Rivers where 15 people were claimed to have died as well.
These irregularities no doubt caused voters apathy and also led to public distrust in the electoral commission.
Ballot box snatching
Ballot box snatching is no doubt an electoral offence but this is one of the incidents that characterised the 2019 general elections. The poll is believed to lack inclusiveness in several states where people were disenfranchised due to ballot snatching. This happened during the presidential and governorship elections. Hoodlums were visibly seen carting away ballot boxes in broad daylight, some armed while others allegedly did so with the connivance of the security operatives.
— The Jonathanian (@The_Jonathanian) March 9, 2019
In Owoseni Primary School, Oshodi, there were reported cases of ballot box snatching. It was a similar situation in Osun
From Benue to Kwara States and across most of the 36 states where the general elections held, there were reported cases of vote buying. This was done either directly or by proxy. A lawyer, Monday Ubani, who spoke during a national television programme – Sunrise daily, claimed someone approached him during the poll if he would buy 17 Permanent Voters Card (PVC).
He said PVCs were bought at the rate of N10, 000 each at the hinterlands.
The anti-graft agency, Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), while monitoring the election exercise made several arrests in the states. In Ogun State, for instance, a state assembly candidate, identified as Sotayo Olatayo Johnson was arrested by the Lagos Zonal office of the EFCC.
Also in Gombe, one Musa Umar and Babangida Ciroma were arraigned before Justice Sa’ad Muhammad for vote buying. Money meant to influence voters’ decision was intercepted in Benue while the arrest was made in Kwara, Imo also in Borno state.
Burning of election materials
Lagos, Benue and few other states experienced the burning of election materials before and during election excercise.
Prof. Mamman Tahir, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) condemned high level of immoralities of the politicians whom he said are willing to go the extra mile to get what they wanted.
“As long as the reward system remains as what it is, obviously, these practises will continue. This is where we need to focus.”
There were clearly military presence and all forms of harassments at some of the polling units, especially in locations prone to crisis. The military were either accused for intimidating voters or being partial in the electoral process. While most Nigerians kicked against use of the military, the federal government insisted on deploying the camouflage men to the polling units.
This was also noted by both local and international observers, who criticised the development.
Personnel of @HQNigerianArmy and @PoliceNG attached to NDDC EDFA Mr. Chris Oyirinda Amadi, just stormed my polling unit 003 in Ward 1,Kelga LGA Rivers State, kidnapped @inecnigeria ad-hoc staff and made away with results and card readers.@vanguardngrnews @AIT_Online @seunokin pic.twitter.com/Ctx6NFz7Pc
— Amadi Dike (@dykamadi) March 9, 2019
For instance, in Rivers State Polling Unit 003, Ward 1, Kelga Local Government Area, the military allegedly kidnapped INEC ad-hoc staff and made away with the card readers as well as election materials. Similar incident was reported at Adanta Isiokpo, Unit 003, Ward 1.
This is no sambisa, but a polling unit in Adanta Isiokpo,unit 003 in R/S Kelga ward1 to be precise, you can see how @HQNigerianArmy and @PoliceNG officers are shooting directly at unarmed voters attempting to stop them from carting away the ballot boxes and Result sheets pic.twitter.com/sJK6zobFql
— Amadi Dike (@dykamadi) March 9, 2019
“Nigeria has consolidated its position as a counterfeit democracy because what has happened between presidential and governorship election in my view is really sad. We would have assumed we have turned the corner in 2015, that some of the things we are seeing now are not possible; unfortunately, we are seeing an election that was badly run, participants who did everything within their power to undermine the election. We have seen security agencies that went into the fields, and went into the arena also, being used by politicians to undermine the democratic process.
“……. but then, make an effort to make sure that all the people who are complicit in undermining this democracy, this rascality we have seen across the country are punished.” OSIWA country director added.
Though, the National Democratic Institutes (NDI) acknowledged reported cases of violence across the major states such as Rivers, Adamawa, Yobe among others, but denied any of its observers saw military interference during the poll.
Burning of INEC offices
A few days to the commencement of the general elections, there were reported incidents of state INEC offices went ablaze. Initially, it was termed to be an accident until it reportedly began to look like a deliberate move to allegedly disrupt the process at the strongholds of the opposition parties.
It started in Abia State on Saturday, 2nd February, followed by Plateau State five days after and then to Anambra INEC office on 12th February before it extended to other states with promises that people whose PVCs were destroyed would get new ones before the election date.
On 8th March, there was also a fire incident in Akwa Ibom, Ibesikpo Asutan local government area of the state.
All these fire incidents which occurred a few weeks to the election is believed to be part of moves to fault the election.
Card readers and logistic failures
The problem of the failed biometric card reader is peculiar to all the 36 states. In fact, it delayed commencement of the election in some polling units. For instance, at PU 06, Oro, Irepodun LGA, Kwara State, where the Minister of Information and Culture voted, the card reader failed and he had to revert to the manual process of voting.
Initially, thousands of card readers had to be reconfigured within the space of one week when the presidential election was postponed. The card reader failure also led to the nullification of thousands of votes across the 36 states during the governorship poll.
Meanwhile, Ilo and other concerned stakeholders have called for an independent panel to investigate the entire electoral process.
He called for an independent enquiry into the election and the need to punish those found guilty, starting from procurement process to announcement of polls.
“It is important clearly to understand where we did go wrong. Who are the people responsible, which institutions are responsible for what has gone wrong and then make an effort as a country to collectively address these challenges. Punish those who are culpable.”
Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, the INEC Chairman did acknowledge the faults in the electoral process when he declared that the country needed to have a conversation around the elections if it must move forward. He made the utterance shortly after the poll postponement at a press briefing held in Abuja – a position which was also shared by international observers.