March 28 has come and gone and here we are.
Events continue to unfold, days after the presidential. The results of one of the most keenly contested elections in the history of Nigeria’s democracy have not been released yet but snap shots of the results are emerging. Privileged to see unofficially verified results from 93 local governments within 11 states it is clear PDP won the 16 LGS in Ekiti while from the results of the 24 out of 31 LGs in Osun, APC is winning.
For many and rightly so, the results are the most important aspect of the elections but there are other aspects of the presidential and national assembly elections to recognize and appreciate.
The card readers
The most disparaged and the most anticipated use of technology in the elections was the card reader that was supposed to do at least 3 things. It was designed to provide a 2-step accreditation process of each voter by authenticating the permanent voters card (PVC) and confirming that the voter is at the right polling unit. The cards should automatically keep count of the number of voters verified and finally, it was to aid authenticity of the election results i.e., no polling unit would be able to declare results which when tabulated would exceed the number of voters accredited. According to Jega, these numbers of the accredited voters would be centrally collated to give the country the exact number of voters who came out to vote.
The good news is that in most PUs the readers achieved the first objective albeit with uneven success at fingerprint authentication. Unfortunately, while we know that the number of readers with issues is statistically insignificant i.e., 450 out of 150,000, as a result of the announcement that readers could be dispensed with, we will never know the actual number of voters. For the purpose of transparency, the PUs where readers were dispensed with should be public.
Logistics and general preparedness
We are still struggling to get this right. In the Federal Capital Territory, less than 50% of the PUs opened at 8am and in many places the process went on long into the night to make up for the late arrival of the INEC teams and the delays caused in some places by the card readers. INEC teams could be better prepared, better informed and better cared for. For instance, in one polling unit, the INEC team claimed they spent the night before the Saturday elections in a field without so much as a mattress between them and the ground. This is not the frame of mind and body we want those managing our elections to be in. Candidates to the national assembly in Delta will have to wait another 2 weeks – enduring a total of 8 weeks of postponement because ballot material was still not available.
INEC will acknowledge that there is a lot of room for improvement but because we collectively have short memories, particularly for unpleasant things, it is anyone’s guess how well we will fix these things in time for April 11 or even 2019.
The good ol’ rigging mechanism
It was only when Governor Amaechi raised an alarm over result sheets that many volunteer observers across the country realized that they should have asked their Presiding Officers to show it to them. And maybe this is not something the polling unit officials have to show anyone, but for those with a keen understanding of how elections are rigged, the lack of result sheets has caused concern in many states, particularly Rivers and Akwa Ibom.
What is the protocol to be followed by INEC when they get reports that a governor or a person has hijacked ballot material and manipulated the results? Indeed, when does INEC consider itself ‘notified’ of allegations of irregularity? When candidates and stakeholders cry out, hold press conferences, write letters to their RECs and the leadership of INEC with evidence in the form of pictures and videos what,ideally, should happen? Considering how far back in history our elections have been tainted with allegations of rigging it is disheartening that the checks and balances are not clear. As state returning officers troop into Abuja today – what will INEC do to independently verify the results from states where alarms have been raised?
Our elections continue to live up to the reputation of being deadly. Bombs went off in Anambra and Enugu, Boko Haram killed 41 in Gombe and in Ekiti, Rivers and Akwa Ibom, people lost brothers, husbands and fathers. We continue to live in hope that the Ministry of Justice will fill in the gap and prosecute the perpetrators. As long as our elections remain violent, it will continue to keep people away – creating the vacuum required for manipulation and retaliatory violence. For instance, @inibeheEffiong tweeted a picture of a dead man, Richard Frederick Okon, allegedly killed by a commissioner in Akwa Ibom yesterday – will this case ever be investigated and the killer brought to justice?
Those who wanted to – old, invalid, young and voting for the first time, women with babies strapped to their backs – were determined to vote and were largely orderly, patient and vigilant. Such was the desire to exercise this one in 4 years opportunity that people unable to transfer their voter registration travelled across states to vote. But there are also those who have disengaged from the process for all the things that are wrong with it. In one polling unit of 2,545 registered voters, only 661 were accredited.
All across Nigeria on Saturday night, voters stayed in their polling units – in PU 023 in the FCT, counting only finished at 9.50pm and there were still over 150 people waiting to hear the results and counting aloud with the polling unit officer. It was magnificent and awe inspiring to experience the passion and belief in the power of their votes – one part of democracy in action.
Whatever the results are on Tuesday – we hope the second part, government accountability, will develop as deeply in order to balance the equation and strengthen our practice of democracy, for however imperfect our processes, our best option is to continue to work at it.
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