An observer group in the February 25 general elections, The Centre for Accountability and Inclusive Development (CAAID) and its partners, accredited by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), have presented a report on the elections, calling for the unbundling of the electoral Commission over poor logistic arrangements.
CAAID partnered with 321 watchers across 22 States, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to observe the just-concluded elections.
Speaking at a common press conference on the conduct of the 2023 presidential and National Assembly elections in Abuja, Executive Director of CAAID, Aanu ’ Rotimi, said in the majority of the polling units observed by its members, the INEC team arrived late and attributed it to difficulty in sorting and transporting of sensitive election materials, leading to a meld-up of election materials and creation of new Polling Units, and multiple of the Polling Units monitored, elections started between 10:00am and 1:00pm.
Rotimi said the elections recorded low voter turnout in most of the Polling Units covered with a many exceptions, adding that some voters who turned out beforehand to meet the absence of the INEC team left in frustration and didn’t return.
On accreditation of voters, she said; “The use of BVAS to accredit the enthusiastic voters in most of the Polling Units went well across the venues covered by our watchers. The BVAS was slow in some venues as a result of specialized challenges, the incompetence of the INEC team to effectively operate the machines and in other venues there were internet connection challenges. ”
Speaking further on the upload of results on the IReV portal, she said; “ Our watchers reported that uploading of results went well in most of the venues. still, in some venues, the network made it delicate to upload the result. What’s suspect is that the challenge was faced when uploading the Presidential results, while those of the National Assembly elections went on easily.
On collation of results, the observer group said; “ The incompetence of INEC to precisely adhere to the Electoral Act and Election Guidelines is an anti-climax and has cast a shade of skepticism on the credibility of the outcome of the Presidential results.
This has created an atmosphere of query and pressure across the Country. As of today (1st March, 2023), the IReV showed only 149,897 out of the hoped 176,606 results have been uploaded. The failure of INEC to convincingly communicate the cause of the glitches that led to its incompetence to upload results immediately after the elections at Polling Units has further raised the skepticism of Stakeholders.
Also speaking, Administrative Director, Initiative for Africa Society Inclusion and Diversity for Development FCT Coordinator CAAID Domestic Observer Group, Olayinka Akeredolu-Martins, said INEC should address Nigerians and stakeholders on what went wrong during and after the elections.
She decried the stress voters went through in voting, even as many still could n’t vote at all in the process.
She said as the gubernatorial elections draw near, INEC must get it right.
INEC should re-train their staff and ad-hoc staff to be more effective in handling the election process.
INEC should organise a stress-free election. People shouldn’t stay for long hours to vote into the night. At a polling unit I visited, I saw pregnant women struggling to vote. It isn’t supposed to be that way, ”she stated.
Speaking on the BVAS machine, she said when INEC came up with the technology, there was a high status of trust that was vested in the Commission, because the technology was presented to cut off all excesses of those that planning to rig.
People came out to cast their votes believing that the process will make their votes count.
People came out to exercise their rights and voted, the trust was still there even when INEC officers and election materials arrived late, and people still trusted the process. They held on and some voted late into the night, which isn’t supposed to be.
The issue of trust began to reduce when uploading of results became an issue, they began to suspect manipulation, 24 hrs later people went to iREV to see if their results have been uploaded and found nothing there as against what INEC umpire said it’ll be uploaded in 24 hrs, ”she pointed out.
In their recommendations, the observer group called on INEC, in line with the Electoral Act 2022, to ensure that all polling unit results are immediately uploaded on the IReV portal, and that the Commission should initiate the review of the results to verify the allegations of concession of the integrity of the process.
Critical steps must be taken by the Commission to avoid a repetition of the pointed challenges during the forthcoming Governorship and State Assembly elections. “
We call for unbundling of INEC around material and staff logistics, noting that the system of distribution of kits and sensitive materials need to be upgraded on.
INEC needs to enhance efforts around voter education in collaboration with CSOs, media and political parties in order to reduce the occurrence of invalid or rejected votes. The number of invalid/ rejected votes in the presidential election alone is close to 1 million, ”they added.
The observers, howbeit, urged displeased Nigerians to remain calm and direct their dissatisfaction through the legal process and avoid actions that will kindle social unrest.