FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
With the deployment of Uzabe’s 20,000 observers, Connected Development (CODE) and her media and CSO partners observed the process and conduct of elections in polling units across 774 LGA’s of the 36 States and federal Capital Territory. Our findings raise several concerns about the management of the Presidential and NASS elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Following recent events, this interim statement will bring to light some of the discrepancies observed and will be followed by a more detailed report of the entire exercise.
A breakdown of negative and positive events observed at the polls include:
We observed late deployment of INEC staff and election materials, which led to the late opening of polls in 64% of polling units we observed, which saw many polling units close before exhausting the 6 hours of voting time, citing nightfall as an excuse. In many other polling units across the country, citizens’ resilience saw voting conducted late into the night with no power supply or light bulbs, under very unsecured conditions. For this purpose, many Nigerians were disenfranchised, and the most affected demography were Persons with disability, pregnant women, and elderly people. Registration Area Centers (RACs) were introduced by INEC to decentralize the coordination of logistics and effective deployment, to achieve early opening of polls, yet polls opened in some polling units across the country by 3pm and above.
We also observed that INEC in many polling units failed to adhere to her guidelines, stipulating that where election fails to hold because of the late opening of polls or failure of the Bi-Modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), INEC shall conduct elections in such polling units the next day. INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu reinforced this in his communication on Election day, assuring Nigerians that if elections did not hold in any polling units, that INEC will deploy staff and materials to hold election in such places the next day. We observed that in many of such polling units, INEC staff and materials were not deployed to these areas, like in Imo state primary health care development agency, New Owerri 1, PU 0I8, and as such citizens again were disenfranchised.
We observed that in some of these places where elections did not hold, results of polls were returned. An example of this is in Oru East LGA, Imo State. This systematic disenfranchisement of voters can partly be blamed for the 26.7% voter turnout witnessed in this election, which was anticipated to be much higher.
In the lead-up to this election, we had praised INEC for being very responsive in communication. However on Election day, when the situation arose on election day that INEC was needed the most to communicate timely and clearly, INEC was mum.
We observed that in 73% of Polling Units, an average of 2 Security personnel were seen present, very early in the day. We also observed the presence of armed Security Personnel in 28% of Polling Units observed. We observed that Security personnel deployed were civil in 71% of the polling units. While we commend the early deployment and spread of Security personnel, we however observed that there were several cases of voter Intimidation, and disruption of polls targeted at suppressing votes in favor of other political parties. Security personnel were seen to be in these polling units, yet thugs carried on with their criminal acts unhindered. This is way below the expected threshold of a civic exercise, where the security of voters should be protected, and citizens allowed to vote their choice without coercion or intimidation.
We also observed that Nigerians approached and participated in this election in high spirits, trusting the process, on the assurance of INEC’s promised innovations which will ensure transparency of result collation and result management. The deployment of BVAS and INEC Result Viewing Portal (IREV) were presented to Nigerians as game changers in this 2023 general election. We observed that citizens found it difficult to log in to the IREV until late in the day of election. The IREV failed to upload any result of the Presidential election as at 10pm of election day, and even when the results started uploading, it was in trickles. At this moment, 4 days after the Saturday Presidential Election, only 85% of the results have been uploaded. This is in sharp contrast to all the promise and assurance given by INEC.
We also observed that BVAS was used in 99% of the polling units we observed. We commend the swift efficiency of the BVAS in most of these polling units, which eliminated manual accreditation, ghost voters, and frivolous unreal results. We observed that the BVAS checked result manipulation and rigging to a very large extent, as biometric accreditation was used, and the number of accredited voters was applied in the process, eliminating over voting. However, there were many polling units where BVAS failed to work. As we saw at the National Collation center, many State Collation Officers for Presidential Elections that announced results, stated the failure of BVAS as reasons why elections did not hold in many polling units in the State, but they all did not explain why they failed to timely replace the BVAS, as stipulated in section 47, subsection 3 of the Electoral Act 2022.
We also observed that in 95% of the polling units where our observers were present, the polling units had a voting booth positioned in a way that ensured the secrecy of the ballot. We believe this may have reduced vote trading in these polling units.
As Nigerians prepare to go to the polls for the Governorship and State House of Assembly elections on 11th March 2023, Connected Development and her partners appeal to INEC to ensure that the many challenges that marred the credibility of the Presidential election should be handled; ensure a swift deployment and early opening of polls is put in place, professional conduct of security personnel, and INEC’s strict adherence to the use of BVAS for biometric accreditation, and electronic transmission of results from polling unit as stipulated by the Electoral Act 2022 and INEC 2023 Election guidelines for the conduct of election. The Governorship and State Assembly election is yet another opportunity for INEC to redeem her now battered image, and earn the trust and confidence of the Electorate in our electoral process.
More importantly, INEC should ensure transparency of the result management and collation process and make certain that polling unit results are uploaded timely on the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IREV), to stand a chance at redeeming her already deflated public confidence, and her almost blown-away goodwill which they have enjoyed from Nigerians.
The Uzabe election observation mission was focused on the election day process; focusing on the quality of the election, with the notion that if the process is right, the outcome will be right and accepted by all. Drawing from these observations, Connected Development and her partners conclude that the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly Election failed to meet the basic threshold of a credible election, as it failed short of Citizen’s expectations, INEC’s assurances, and benchmark of international election best practice.