The presidential and National Assembly elections, which are part one of the 2023 elections, have been conducted. For the first time since 2011, the federal elections were held on the day it was slated for, rather than moved forward. So, that was a good sign of preparedness from previous elections or so Nigerians thought.
The d-day that many Nigerians had been itching for – Saturday, 25 February 2023 – arrived and by 8:30 am, the allotted time to commence this sacred democratic task, they thronged their polling units in their numbers to obey the clarion call and exercise their civic right. But behold, officials of the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), were nowhere to be found in numerous polling centres. They were, as it is said in football parlance, “missing in action”.
At polling centres where they either arrived early or late, verified reports of logistical nightmares clumsily supervised by these officials inundated the media space. Some of these negligent acts include but are not limited to: the shortage of ballot papers, shortage of ink, lack of backup BVAS (Bimodal Voter Accreditation System) devices, the ineffective network of BVAS devices available and inappropriate voter registers.
In some areas, INEC officials did not arrive till past 6 pm – that is 11 hours after the poll was supposed to have commenced and four hours after the election should have ended. The exercise stretched past midnight into the following day, with some persons lucky to exercise their franchise. For others, the election was postponed to Sunday and the famed tales by moonlight stories were retold as INEC officials did not return to their place of assignment the following day. Many Nigerians were disenfranchised.
Simply put: INEC floundered the 2023 elections. The commission executed the greatest catastrophe in recent Nigerian political history, with its officials going to bed thinking that they conducted a “free, fair and credible election”. This was a hubristic and imperious display of the N305.2 billion appropriated to the electoral body flushed down the drain. It was not as if Nigerians did not expect slight hiccups, but the shambolic performance by INEC leaves a lot to be desired, especially after getting a huge chunk of taxpayer’s money unchallenged.
It is still not late for Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC Chairman, to explain to Nigerians and international observers why the commission under his leadership bungled the election, especially the non-transmission of election results at the presidential level via the BVAS, which has heralded as the greatest innovation to checkmate election rigging. What is the justification for the 61.37 per cent increase in funds the commission got from the 2019 election?
As if that hotchpotch was not enough, political thugs had a field day in the 2023 elections, intimidating and/or suppressing voters, particularly in the South-West, South-East and South-South regions, carrying out acts such as physical assault, abduction of ballot boxes, masterminding chaos at various polling units and destroying ballot boxes and papers – the sacred materials that Nigerians use to renew their social contract every four years.
The security agents that Nigerians saw rolled onto the streets from 19 February all through the election week and were celebrated in anticipation to maintain law and order throughout this democratic process suddenly went M-I-A. Suddenly, thugs collaborated with law enforcement agents to wreak havoc on ordinary Nigerians, who came out to cast their votes and on election officers.
The viral video of the police officers seen snatching ballot boxes in Rivers State is a sad reflection of how low our “protectors” immersed themselves in truncating the democratic process. In that same Rivers State, the State Collation Officer, Professor Charles Adias, the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Otuoke, Bayelsa State, has refused to continue with the collation because of alleged threats to his life, as of the time of filing this piece.
It would do Nigerians a whole lot of good if the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, President Muhammadu Buhari, can explain to all the reason behind the sudden absence and mute response of his forces on election day and why he reneged on his promise to ensure a free, fair and peaceful election.
When thugs were not in cahoot with security agents in snatching ballot boxes, INEC officials were deemed to have acted as impartial umpires by reportedly manipulating the election result sheets (Form EC-8A and EC-8C). Videos and pictures have surfaced, reportedly showing tainted result sheets or how the INEC officials reportedly distorted the result sheets and how they reacted when confronted by party agents. If such actions were indeed carried out, they were not only illicit but were demonic and sacrilegious of the INEC officials to have done.
So, it is no surprise that several international election observers accredited to cover the election have berated INEC over the logistical disaster it superintended, the seeming lack of integrity following reports of election result manipulation and the sparse distribution and near inaction of the security forces in painting order and ensuring a free and fair election.
Therefore, INEC must up its game and intensify efforts around logistical arrangements and movement as Nigerians prepare for the March 11 governorship and state houses of assembly elections. The lacuna witnessed during the presidential and NASS elections should not be repeated. There should be swift movement by the election officers from their different Registration Area Centres (RACs) to their assigned polling units on or before 8:30 am, when the polls are scheduled to be open.
Also, there is a need for a review of the security architecture for elections. The days of sending unarmed police officers to polling units should be ended. Considering the unspeakable level of violence that characterised the presidential and National Assembly elections, one or two armed police officers should be deployed at least 20 meters from each polling unit, starting with the off-cycle elections after the 2023 general elections. While the reasons for not assigning armed police officers to polling units are understandable, criminals have exploited those genuine intentions to intimidate voters and cause mayhem. The presence of armed officers will probably deter political thugs from executing their nefarious acts.
At this point, I believe, irrespective of the BVAS failure, that Nigeria should begin to move from the electronic transmission of results and gravitate towards electronic voting, ahead of the 2027 general elections. E-voting, as it is fondly known, will help eliminate some of the aforementioned faults such as election violence and logistical problems. After all, Kaduna State has already utilised e-voting for its local government governments in 2018 and 2021, respectively. The electronic voting system is nearly fool-proof and it addresses issues such as multiple voting or overvoting and manipulation of election results. INEC should partner with Internet Service Providers to ensure that the network is adequate and provided on election day.
The adoption of electronic voting should also help to phase out the issue of voided votes. For instance, 21 votes were declared void at my polling unit in the 2023 presidential election because the ink smeared other parts of the ballot paper. The voices of those 21 people were not heard in the final tally of votes and they could, therefore, be technically said to have been disenfranchised. With the simple press of a button for a political party of an individual’s choice, electronic voting will ensure that voided votes take the place of the ancient rock of ages in Nigeria’s elections.
Finally, regardless of the final result, especially the presidential election, all Nigerians should maintain decorum. It behoves all presidential candidates, their aides and party members to steer clear of all forms of violence or even acts that may precipitate violence. For the majority of Nigerians, Nigeria is the only country that we have. There is no need to heat the polity.