The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on the night of 8th March 2023, postponed the earlier scheduled gubernatorial and state assembly elections of 11th March 2023 by one week. This was against the backdrop of outcries against the conduct of the 25th February Presidential and National Assembly elections across the country, said to have been hampered in a number of locations by logistical challenges, electoral malpractices, and violence, which are currently subject to litigation by the two leading opposition parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP).
In the recent history of our democracy, we have experienced not a few postponements of presidential and National Assembly elections. These generally impacted INEC’s performance and conduct of those elections, and perhaps the outcomes. In 2015 and 2019, INEC postponed the general elections due to security concerns and logistical challenges, respectively. In 2011, INEC delayed the general elections by two days as a result of the delayed delivery of election supplies in several regions of the country. Voting had already started in certain areas on 2nd April 2011, when the then Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, announced the cancellation and postponement of the election due to the lack of materials in several locations.
Following the request of candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party (LP), who disapprove of the results of the last presidential election, and have protested the widespread non-compliance of INEC officials on the use of the results collation website, IReV, the Presidential Election Tribunal has restrained the electoral commission from tampering with any sensitive materials — including the BVAS machines — used in the conduct of the disputed presidential election. It is hoped that this will be settled prior to the start of the gubernatorial and state assembly elections now slated for 18th March 2023.
The 2023 presidential election created a lot of controversy in Nigerian politics. Not only because of the diversity of candidates and their appeals to various Nigerian demographics but also due to the irregularities in the electoral process. Reports from our deployed observers and organisations like YIAGA Africa and CODE have called attention to a number of inconsistencies in the operational and logical procedures in the organisation of the previous polls that demand adjustment before the newer 18th March elections.
In order to ensure that the elections not only take place but are also perceived by stakeholders as free, fair, and credible, this statement aims to elaborate on some of the key gaps that need to be filled before the next round of polling, which are in a few days’ time.
SOME AREAS FOR FOCUS
The Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) believes that with a commitment from critical stakeholders led by INEC, the 18th March elections can serve as a template for future elections. The postponement of the gubernatorial and state Houses of Assembly elections is an opportunity for the election management body to right all the wrongs noticed during the presidential and National Assembly elections.
We believe that by now all stakeholders must have been afforded ample time to reflect on the various strategies that could have provided better outputs earlier, and factor this into doing a better job in the forthcoming editions. Here are areas we believe INEC should keep an eye out on:
LOGISTICS AND PROVISIONS OF MATERIALS
Sensitive and non-sensitive materials required for the just-concluded presidential elections arrived late on a number of occasions. Even worse, in some voting locations, there was not enough information available to meet the needs of the electorate. This brought about an increase in the number of polling units that started accreditation and voting processes late, causing further irregularities in the polling.
The Commission would need to pay close attention to this area and ensure that the electorates receive the materials they require on schedule. This needs special consideration in the South-East and South-South zones, where deployed observers and other observer groups have reported that election materials were supplied embarrassingly late.
In order to develop solutions to prevent a recurrence of these scenarios, INEC should make sure that it builds up on the deployment data gathered during the past elections.
PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY (PwD) PROVISIONS
The provisions of Section 54 of the Electoral Act demand that INEC must ensure that the needs of PwD are catered for in every election. This, however, was not strictly adhered to in the recently-concluded elections.
Deployed observers in the North-Central geo-political zone, particularly in Kwara State, received seven reports of non-deployment of assisting devices in various local government areas (LGAs). Currently, INEC has announced a total of 85,362 PwDs who have been newly registered to vote. To ensure that many more continue to engage, it is important that election processes are made inclusive and accessible, especially the upcoming elections.
RESULTS TRANSMISSION AND COLLATION
The collation and transmission of the results proved to be INEC’s biggest challenge and failure, leading to the discontent of a huge cross-section of Nigerians with the electoral process during these past polls. Still, nearly two weeks after the elections were held, only about 94% of the results have been uploaded to the IReV portal.
Due to this delay, there have been several allegations of inconsistency between the results declared at the polling units and the actual results uploaded on the INEC Result Viewing platform. This rather unfortunate delay has allowed for claims and suspicion of electoral fraud, particularly as expressed passionately on social media, which significantly weakened public confidence in the process. Despite the allegations of external interference and various causes for this failure that INEC has intimated to the public, it is obvious that this is one area that INEC must ensure is unassailable before the polls on 18th March.
To ensure that there is little possibility for arguments and speculations about the authenticity of the next round of results, it is crucial that the INEC and its employees (full-time and ad-hoc) guarantee that all results are transmitted as swiftly as they are declared at the polling units.
For the oncoming gubernatorial elections, the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) would be deploying 60 observers across 30 states to witness the 18th March elections. The general public should please follow us on Twitter @CJIDAfrica for real-time and verified information on happenings during the elections. CJID will also be collaborating with 18 media houses to ensure that its finding on the field is broadcast as far as possible and to a diverse audience.
To this end, we would like to inform Nigerians that they can contribute to crowdsourcing the declared and pasted results sheets (EC8A) by sending WhatsApp messages to the phone number – 0907 700 7057.
Finally, any observer or journalist who is harassed or finds himself or herself being endangered or is experiencing security challenges should find ways of quickly filing a report on our Press Attack Tracker portal (pressattack.ng) or sending an email to [email protected] or to the number 0810 419 8112, either through regular text or WhatsApp messages.
The general public can equally use these channels to file complaints on behalf of vulnerable journalists or observers. This will allow us to keep track of threats against them and take appropriate actions.
As earlier mentioned, it is believed that the postponement of the elections at the state executive and legislative levels have hopefully presented INEC with a great opportunity to fine-tune its processes and improve on the conduct of the next round of polls across the country. It is hoped that the Commission and other key stakeholders would be able to have used this period to consolidate their plans, organise better and structure feasible contingency plans.
As civil society partners and stakeholders, we will keep doing our best to offer the necessary information and support to the public and relevant institutions in a way that enhances the credibility and sanctity of our electoral system and democracy in Nigeria. We enjoin citizens to continue to engage positively with the electoral system and exercise their civic responsibility in the upcoming elections while abiding by a regime of law and order.
This piece is signed by Mboho Eno, Deputy Director and Team Lead, Media in National Elections Project; and the Executive Director of CJID, Dr Tobi Oluwatola