Gov poll: INEC overcomes IReV hitches, parties trade words over intimidation

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The 2023 elections came and went, GIFT HABIB compares the electoral processes of the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections and the March 18 governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections

The much-anticipated second phase of the general elections in Nigeria was held on Saturday, barely three weeks after Nigerians came out to vote for the next president of Nigeria.

The governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections were earlier scheduled for March 11, alongside two National Assembly elections suspended by the Independent National Electoral Commission in Enugu and Edo States.

For the first time since 2011, the presidential and National Assembly elections in 2023 have not been completely postponed.

However, it was not different from previous elections as it was marred by violence in some states, widespread delays in the commencement of polling units, late arrival of election officials, snatching of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System machines, and intimidation of registered voters by thugs, technical difficulties in using BVAS, and delays in uploading results to the results portal.

With the approved N305bn for the conduct of the 2023 general elections and several assurances by INEC for credible, free, and fair elections, the electoral process could not be delivered.

During elections, polls were scheduled to open at 8.30 am and close at 2.30 pm the same day.

However, a report released by Yiaga Africa showed that election officials had arrived at only 27 per cent of polling units by 7.30 am.

Also, a think tank, the Centre for Democracy and Development, observed the late arrival of election officials in most of the polling units its observers visited.

For instance, at polling unit 023, Alhaji Kukawa, in the Lawan Bukar area of Maiduguri metropolis, INEC officials arrived at 10.42 am. The venue is the polling unit of the All Progressives Congress vice presidential candidate, Kashim Shettima.

Similar delays were also reported in the Federal Capital Territory, Bayelsa, Lagos, Rivers, Taraba, Edo, and Cross River States.

However, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, claimed that the late arrival of officials was due to the “perennial insecurity in the country.”

Also, in some parts of the country, issues relating to logistics delayed the arrival of election materials and officials, which marred the voting exercise. Some voters lamented that INEC officials brought the wrong BVAS to their polling units.

Violence disrupted the voting process in some parts of the country. It was reported that thugs stopped voting midway in Elegushi, the Ikate area of Lekki, and other parts of Lagos on Saturday.

In some polling units in Oyo, Lagos, Borno, and Kogi, Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development observers reported incidences of BVAS malfunctioning, leading to difficulties in accrediting voters on February 25.

CJID noted that network fluctuations hindered the work of election officers at PU 009 in Rivers State, which resulted in agitation among voters.

It was also learnt that some residents of Sokoto State, especially in the Goronyo Local Government Area of the state, lamented over the failure experienced with BVAS.

Aside from the poor function of the BVAS, over eight of them were snatched in Delta, Katsina, Lagos, etc. Once again, Mahmood said they were quickly replaced to allow voting to continue.

INEC received backlash from political parties, observers, individuals, and various interest groups for failing to immediately upload polling unit results to the portal prior to the collation.

Notably, paragraph 38 of the INEC regulations and guidelines for 2023 makes electronic transmission of results and their upload to IReV mandatory.

The paragraph requires that when voting and announcement of results have been completed at a polling unit, the Presiding Officer “(1) must electronically transmit the result of the polling unit to INEC’s collation system; (2) must use the BVAs to upload a scanned copy of the EC8A result sheet to the INEC Result Viewing Portal; and (3) [must thereafter] take the BVAS and the original copies of all forms in a tamper-evident envelope to the RA/Ward Collation Officer in the presence of security agents. Polling agents may accompany the PO to the registration areas or ward collation centres.”

However, INEC claimed that technical challenges with its system were responsible for the delay in uploading the election results. The delay caused opposing parties to reject the electoral process that made the APC presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, the President-Elect, as declared by INEC.

Some political parties and individuals relied on the glitch to demand the cancellation of the results.

The INEC Chairman admitted after a review of performances with his Resident Electoral Commissioners from the February 25 elections that there were hitches.

He noted that the elections were painstakingly done, but they came with issues ranging from technology to delays by election officials to the attitudes of the agents of political parties, among others.

Yakubu stated that a lot of lessons have been learnt from the presidential elections ahead of the governorship and state Assembly elections.

Going into the March 18 elections, INEC said that its result-viewing portal which suffered glitches during the presidential and National Assembly elections was up and running and would be deployed in the governorship poll.

The commission assured that election officials would arrive on time and the elections would be free, fair, and credible.

In the same vein, security agencies such as the Nigerian Police Force, the Army, and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps assured Nigerians that the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections would be violence-free as hot spots during the presidential elections were spotted and more personnel were deployed.

The National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, acknowledged that March 18 would be complicated, adding that security agencies do not envisage violence.

Unlike what happened during the presidential and National Assembly elections, officials of INEC and security personnel arrived early at polling units in Kwara, Nasarawa, Plateau, Oyo, some parts of Lagos, and the Rivers, not to mention but a few.

Also, BVAS functioned optimally in most states across the country, especially in Ogun, Bauchi, and the FCT, among others.

INEC began immediately uploading the election results via its IReV portal.

However, the rescheduled governorship and Houses of Assembly elections were held in 28 states and 36 states, respectively, amid increased violence and voter intimidation when compared with the presidential and National Assembly polls held on February 25.

Despite the massive deployment of security agencies in many strategic locations, there was widespread violence in many states of the federation.

The conspicuous presence of officers of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was also noticed in some of the polling units visited across the nation.

Three persons were reportedly killed in Delta State; six in Benue; one each in Osun and Niger States; and an ad hoc staff member of the Independent National Electoral Commission was shot dead in Rivers State. Another person was burnt to death in Katsina State.

Hoodlums invaded some polling units in Lagos, Benue, Rivers, Taraba, and Ogun and destroyed election materials.

According to the election report by CDD, in the North-West, there was a reported increase in vote trading, primarily by agents of political parties. Money was used alongside other materials, such as food items, wrappers, and a “credit voucher,” to buy votes, and those items were to be redeemed after the results.

Similarly in the North East, political party agents in Taraba state infiltrated the queue, pretended to be voters, and used the chance to offer cash for votes.

In the South-East, there were reports of All Progressives Grand Alliance and Labour Party agents using materials, phones, and other souvenirs to entice voters in Anambra state.

Voter intimidation by thugs also characterised the March 18 elections, especially in some parts of Lagos, Oyo, Kano, Bayelsa, Niger, Kaduna, Nasarawa, and Rivers, some voters were intimidated, beaten, and chased out of their polling units by thugs and party agents.

The LP and the APC traded words over the attacks on voters in Lagos State.

In a Twitter post, the governorship candidate, LP in Lagos, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, alleged intimidation of voters across the state and accused INEC and the police of complicity.

“From all over Lagos, we are getting distressing reports of voter intimation, voter suppression. The worrying thing about this is that INEC and the police have shown to be complicit in this.

“I call on INEC, most especially, and the police not to set Lagos on fire. This is a state that houses 22 million people. Having that many people angry because of being disenfranchised is not something Nigeria needs now.”

Reacting to the development in a statement, the Spokesperson for the APC in Lagos, Seye Oladejo, described the LP as “bad losers”.

“This scaremongering is typical of bad losers who lack the spirit of sportsmanship. The security agencies should note Mr Rhodes-Vivour’s threat to set Lagos on fire as his predilection for violence and warmongering is well known to Nigerians.

Speaking with our correspondent, a security expert, Kabir Adamu, explained that increased violence influenced the outcome of the elections.

Adamu explained, “Violence played a huge part in the conduct of the governorship and state assembly elections. Most of the violence was mainly localised to electioneering events and involved supporters of the main political parties, including the PDP, APC, LP, APGA, and NNPP. Other developments include the activities of non-state armed groups, which continue to target individuals, communities, and state infrastructure.

“Violence was used as a tool to influence the outcome of the elections, and there were significant security challenges that affected the elections, although the general outcome is assessed as peaceful.”

Also, a political analyst, Busari Dauda, said, “The elections have not posted anything surprising. Generally, it has been relatively peaceful, with pockets of violence. INEC has improved tremendously in the presidential election. Nigerians have demonstrated that they are lovers of peace, and kudos to the security forces for being professional.

“The degree of fault in this election is very minimal. The diversity and spread of the overall results imply that they are not just written like they used to be during the Olusegun Obasanjo era.”

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