Saturday, 1 October 2016

"Largely peaceful, widespread inducement and vote buying" - Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room assesses Edo state election

The Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, a coalition of civic groups dedicated to monitoring and improving the electoral process in Nigeria, has described the Edo State gubernatorial election as "largely peaceful" marred with incidents of "inducement and vote buying". While commending the high voter turnout, the group noted lamented that the collation of results was a major weakness. Read full press release issued on Thursday, summarizing its observations of the election held on Wednesday.

Issued: 2:00pm, Thursday, 29th September 2016
The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room (Situation Room) observed the Edo State Governorship election held Wednesday, 28th September 2016 and received field reports from its deployed observers and other election observer networks. 
Accordingly, the Situation Room would like to make the following observations:
The election was held against the background of a postponement that had cited security as a concern. The postponement fuelled perception in the public mind of a likelihood of bias. However, the atmosphere surrounding the election was largely peaceful and devoid of any major acts of violence, which was a concern for several citizens of Edo State and election observers.
While the process and conduct of the elections went smoothly, a major weak link in the conduct of elections in Nigeria again manifested – the collation of results – and this raised questions over the transparency of this particular process in the election. 
Turn out at the polls was impressive and voters generally were able to vote without fear or intimidation, although incidents of vote buying by both major contending political parties cast a shadow of interference with the exercise of free will by voters.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) made good effort to commence accreditation and voting early in most polling units across the State. Reports indicate early arrival of electoral officials and materials in most of the polling units in the State (as at 8:30 am officials had taken position in most polling units). However, there were reports of delay in opening of polls in some units across the State with several polling units not opening polls even up till about 9am and 10am. Electoral staff was generally professional and exhibited willingness to do their work.

The performance of the smart card readers was restricted to the authentication of the Permanent Voters Card as there were reports of widespread failure of verification of the fingerprints, which seemed to slow down the process in some polling units. However, there were reports of seeming collaboration between INEC personnel, security agents and parties to encourage vote buying by setting polling stations in such a manner as to breach secrecy of the polls and encourage inducement.
Collation of votes was a major weak link in the conduct of the Edo State Governorship elections and marred the credibility of what was a well-organised election by INEC. Although voting ended early, the collation process was very slow and had to be suspended during the late evening, resuming the next morning. In the interval, there was no way of confirming or verifying the integrity of election materials, ballots and results. The gaps and challenges with collation of results certainly raises issues of transparency and integrity of the ballot and elections that INEC will need to resolve if elections in Nigeria is to be accepted as credible. 
The delays resulted in reports emanating from some Registration Area Centres and local governments of tampering with the votes. In Esan Central LGA, the Situation Room received reports of attempts to fiddle with the collation process by the inflation of voting figures in favour of a particular political party, after the process was concluded. In Oredo LGA – a largely urban area, the collation also progressed very slowly. 
In addition to slow collation and the attendant challenges, there were reports from several local governments of security personnel not being available to protect ballot materials and to accompany electoral officials from the polling units to the Ward Collation Centres and of their being absent at the different Collation Centres. This led to incidents of political party thugs attacking electoral officials and destroying materials as was reported in Ikpoba-Oka LGA, which has about 340 polling units.
Security agencies were present and commendably deployed personnel during accreditation and voting. Up to the point of arrival of materials, security personnel were very professional and courteous. However, there was lack of coordination among the different arms of security agencies and inability to caution vote buying at the polling units.  
There seemed to have been a failure in the synergy between the security personnel and INEC and among security personnel on the field. This lack of synergy led to conflicting activities and as well, the absence of security at critical times of the election especially during the collation of results. Before the election, there were reports of materials that were unescorted in a few local governments areas particularly in Ward 6 in Orhionwon L.G.A. 
Welfare of security agencies was also a huge concern for the Situation Room, as most security personnel who interacted with our observers mentioned that they had not be provided with payment of allowances or given logistics support to enable them effectively carry out their roles.
There were concerns of widespread inducement and vote buying in which two of the major contending parties were cited. The vote buying also led to the monitoring of the votes that were cast by officials of the said parties, apparently in a bid to ensure that voters who were paid voted as agreed. This monitoring was aided by the placement of the voting cubicles in a manner that enabled the party agents to monitor the ballots cast, thus violating the principle of secrecy of vote.
Reports from observers indicate good turn out of voters in most of the polling units visited.
Generally, voters were very patient and queued up to cast their votes. The atmosphere surrounding the elections was largely peaceful with only few incidents of skirmishes reported. This was in contrast to fears created before the election that violence would be more prevalent.
Following from its observation of the Edo Governorship election, Situation Room will like to make the following preliminary recommendations: 
1.     INEC:
a.     Situation Room calls on INEC to show a greater determination to improve on the electoral process by better managing the collation of results. A situation where voting concludes at the polling units early during the day and collation begins so much late at night does not allow for transparency and credibility of the electoral process.  
b.    In addition, INEC will need to take proactive steps to ensure that the secrecy of voting is protected and that political parties who buy votes are not placed in   a position that they can verify the thumb printing of ballot papers.
There is an important need for revitalization of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security to ensure synergy and delivery on results by the agencies. The deployment of security personnel also needs to be better handled. Most of the security personnel deployed for the elections complained of not being paid their allowances leading to their personally paying their way to attend to the important national duty of elections. Although they report of assurances of their allowances being paid, this situation is not good enough and should be avoided so that security personnel do not become even more prone to inducement by political interests. 
The Situation Room is made up of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working in support of credible and transparent elections in Nigeria and includes such groups as Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), CLEEN Foundation, Action Aid Nigeria, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Proactive Gender Initiative (PGI) Enough is Enough Nigeria, WANGONET, Partners for Electoral Reform, JDPC and Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA). Others are Development Dynamics, Stakeholders Democracy Network, Human Rights Monitor, Election Monitor, Reclaim Naija, Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, CITAD, Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE) CISLAC, Edo CSOs, CONGOs Edo State and several other CSOs numbering more than seventy.

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